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FUCKING CANCER! - 86%

Abominatrix, June 13th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Blue Fog

You know that feeling you get when something's been sitting under your nose a really long time without you even realising it? Then when you figure it all out, you feel great for having found that thing, but also stupid for not knowing it was there all along? That's kind of how I feel right now.

Rammer was a band that thrived in the underground in my area for a number of years. My friends and I went to a lot of their shows and hung out with some of the guys occasionally. I always thought they were a heavy and high-energy live band, but for whatever reason, even though by the time the band broke up, I had three or so of their Cds in my house, I just never really gave them much of a listen. I can't really explain this. Maybe it's just that I took them for granted, since they played shows often and were always just around; I assumed, subconsciously, that they always would be around. A lot of people played the hell out of Cancer,/i, and I would always nod and say “yeah, it's killer!”, but to be honest, the CD mostly just sat on my shelf collecting dust.

Rammer dissolved around 2008 or '09, leaving what many thought at the time was an unfinished legacy. Indeed, there was a completed album of great songs that was only finally released in a limited, posthumous run in 2014. A somewhat deflating end to something great, surely.

Anyway, all this to say, that I really should have been paying more attention. Not that I could have done something to help the band overcome their differences and persevere, but there was this great and fiery record,
Cancer, sitting here all this time and I hardly even noticed. On reflection, I think in part it was the sound Rammer always got in the studio that put me off just a little bit. It just seemed too dry, too modern, or some damn thing. It's happened before (and since) that catching multiple shows from a band has kept me from playing their recordings, most recently with Blood Ceremony, so I guess this phenomenon isn't entirely inexplicable. Now though, since we here on metal-archives are currently on a quest to review albums that haven't been covered yet on the site, I decided to dig out this disc and give it some spins. Maybe it's a factor of distance and time, but I feel like I'm hearing these songs with fresh ears, and what seemed before a somewhat unattractive sound now strikes me as being absolutely appropriate. I could kick myself.

I would call this modern thrash metal, in the sense that it's probably closest to the thrash sound, but has plenty awareness of death metal's developments and is eager to incorporate them into its framework. There's also, I think, a slight hardcore influence, but it's relegated to a few short breakdown sections and maybe the aggressive and somehow street-wise vocal delivery. The band isn't concerned with being the fastest around, because their muscular rhythms and chunky, palm-mute-heavy guitar-playing works as well at a more rocking tempo. As a matter of fact, and I don't say this often, but here it's the mid-paced parts that I probably look forward to most of all as they have something a lot of other bands lack: they keep the aggression cranked up to the maximum even when they are not thrashing at top speed. They do this mostly by incorporating some downright scarily heavy riffs that I could only describe as proper old-school death metal (think maybe early Floridian stuff in particular). They are so good at these sections that I can feel my spine tingling due to the pervasive pent-up darkness inherent in these guitar parts. For a first-rate example of what I'm talking about, just have a listen to the title song (the perfect album closer) and get a load of that absolutely beastly, ungodly, terrifying main riff. It sounds as though it came from the churning, smoking bowels of Hell itself.

Without doubt, the guitars are the great strength of this record, as they should be. Both axe-men have their own individual soloing styles, and you can really tell them apart: one has a somewhat more disciplined, methodical 'n' wizardly approach (though check out that ungodly noise he makes with his guitar in “Fleshstorm”), while the other sounds shrill, manic, and like it's about to fly off the handle and stab someone. In the supremacy of their riff-craft, they work together in perfect tandem. Not every riff here is stellar, there being one or two that could probably fit ok on a mid-90s Pantera record, but 95% of them are terrific. The band is, to coin a phrase from an old friend, “tight as a duck's ass”, and sound totally rabid with aggression and anger. Songs like “Uprising of Death”, “Dataslut” and “Living Torment” are enough to send any pit of wild metalheads or punks into a mad frenzy, and then there are these “oh my god what's happening!?!?” slower bulldozing behemoths like the title song and “Eat Your Guts”, which I suspect would send any suit-and-tie guys shrieking and running in a panic reaching for their phones to call the nearest authority figure to help them get out of this den of pugnacity.

I can't go without mentioning the drums, it seems, in any review, perhaps because I always pay attention to them and it's my own instrument of choice. Drummer Al has played in a number of bands in many different styles, from hardcore to traditional and black metal, and his hard-hitting attacks are really demonstrated here. He has a knack for keeping it straight and punchy, yet knowing exactly when to throw in a very precise, quick fill to ramp up the excitement. The band clearly recognises this, as he even gets a few short drum breaks – over in less than two seconds, but oh so goddamn effective. Contrary to my view of several years ago, I now think the punchy, dry and super-clear sound actually does the band a lot of favours, and invites one to crank up the volume in those moments of supreme ecstacy that only roaring, slashing riffs can provide.

This album is like taking a severe beating from a really tough bastard and paradoxically enjoying it and coming back for more. There's a mean swagger and spitting vitriol in this music that's unassailable. The guitars and drums are doing a lot of this work without the need for lyrical assaults, but of course the band has got plenty of that too, with vocalist Dave using a raucous snarl with a bit of a contemptuous sneer in its timbre to deliver some vicious attacks on everything that pisses him the fuck off. If there's anything I could say as a caveat, it's that I still feel, even after rediscovering this, it's that I still think they never really had a chance to reach the apex of their capabilities. All the members went on to do other things, some of which have been quite impressive in their own right, but the synergy they reached here remains unequaled