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Either by irony, or perhaps a strong lack thereof, Cancer plunged into the proverbial shitter the minute they signed to a label named after the Greek word for what goes in it. Many would have preferred that in the way of the absolute brilliance that was on display in the early 90s that this band hang it up after their 3rd album, but a slight tapering off before dying by leaving things as they were after the average sounding "Black Faith" would have been a respectable end for this outfit. But some time in 2003 there was this renewed interest in trying to rekindle the old flame, perhaps partly inspired by a gradual but ultimately massive return of the old 80s thrash metal days in the present retro-thrash scene. In light of this one would think that a return to first principles would come with this band's resurrection, but a very different picture emerges not long after the songs commence on "Spirit In Flames".
This is essentially a modernized mishmash of death metal influences married to the groove sound heard on "Black Faith", and comes together lacking any of the charms found in either as a result of the union. The drum and guitar sound is a bit toned down in comparison to the chunky thud of the 90s incarnation of the band, though they are mercifully better than the auditory mess that was heard on the preceding EP "Corporation$". But the meat and potatoes of what makes a metal album is the notes and rhythms put to the existing timbres, and what is heard on here is mostly stagnant, unmemorable fluff with a tired, over-the-hill semi-gruff vocalist at the helm. It's uncertain how John Walker's voice morphed into a near carbon copy of the gimped baritone heard out of Robb Flynn, but what is heard on here is an absolute dead ringer for what made "The More Things Change" an almost unbearable listen.
But perhaps most frustrating of all is the fact that the technical competency of all members in congress is on display throughout each song, making one think that they are intentionally trying to sound generic and uninteresting. The guitar solos are an extremely competent and well realized take on the effects heavy yet entertaining display that Phil Demmel continually puts on with this band's obvious inspiration, and the drumming shows a level of technical precision that would leave a number of 2nd tier progressive metal drummers in the dust. Sadly, the songwriting is so jarringly inconsistent that all of this is for naught. Take for example the plodding drudgery of "Hell House", which is basically C grade "Through The Ashes Of Empires" worship with a few less irritating guitar harmonics and no whisper-speak nonsense, and square it with D grade Slayer worship with occasional blast beats in "Insides Out", or the outlandish jazz drumming meshed to a "Sound Of White Noise" inspired meandering snooze affair in "Séance" (with the occasional up tempo section that comes from out of nowhere). Even after repeated listens, this whole album just can't seem to make its mind up on where it wants to go, and leaves a sense of sheer frustration in its wake.
It's sad that after almost 10 years in hiatus that this band reformed just to hash out a less inspired version of what essentially ended their career the first time. While fans of Damageplan and Hellyeah might find a fair number of things to like about this album, anyone who would hope for something resembling the band's professed death/thrash roots will be sorely disappointed and should avoid this like the plague. Sure, it's better than the disgusting mess that was the "Corporation$" EP, but the same could be said about "Through The Ashes Of Empires" in comparison to "The Burning Red" or "Supercharger". Wasting time comparing a more solid version of excrement to a pool of diarrhea might be a stimulating task for someone suffering from coprolagnia, but the rest of humanity has better things to do.
This is a pretty odd album. In the early 90s, Cancer was a British death metal band to be reckoned with. They had it all. Fast riffs. Fast drums. Heavy death vocals. Then they took a step into a weird little void that they created for themselves. In 1995, they released Black Faith, which was nothing at all like their previous death metal albums. It was slower, more spacey, and featured clean vocals. They broke up shortly after that. Fast forward to 2005, and here is a reformed Cancer ready to take on the death metal world once again….right?
This album is essentially a mixture of both previous styles of Cancer, and it flops horribly. There are a couple above average songs, but even these don’t hold a candle to anything from the first 4 albums. Mindless Reactions uses a bunch of stop start mid-paced riffage, before going into more thrashy territory. The vocals are pretty bad. He has a slight gruff in his voice, but he’s essentially just a British bloke not putting any heart or aggression into his performance. When the band breaks out of their stupid little mid-paced fever, they can thrive. There’s a bit of double bass thrown in here and there, which helps the music greatly. Most of the time though, the drums are simply progressively banging about pointlessly below the riffs.
The riffs all have a slight aura surrounding them. It’s not a very good aura though. The progressive drum patterns mixed with the not as progressive riffing leaves a bit of a bitter taste in one’s musical taste buds. This shows up pretty big in Hell House. This song is completely stupid. Heeelllll Houuuuuuse…… will somebody get this guy a fucking energy drink or something? I think he’s falling asleep…
Some songs that deliver in being halfway rad are Devil’s Playground and Ouija. The progressive drumming patterns actually work in the band’s favor on these tunes. Only until about halfway through Devil’s Playground do they fuck it up. They decide to fuck around again with this stupid gay melodic part that only takes away from the riffage. Ouija also has its fair share of stupid mid-paced crap that goes nowhere. Like I said, the best songs on this album still pretty much suck.
Oh, and Seance is groove metal with jazz drumming. Who are these fuckers trying to fool, anyways?
Cancer alienated me with this release. Whoever came up with the idea to try and marry the sounds of death metal Cancer and avant-garde Cancer should be fired. Then again, as these guys have been laid to rest once again, it doesn’t matter. It just sucks that a band with such a great back catalog will leave the world with an album like this.