Cancer Bats – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton – 10th May 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

The lines between band and crowd are considerably blurred tonight, as Canada’s Cancer Bats return to Brighton for a very special show in celebration of sixth studio album The Spark That Moves. Last time round they were in full Bat Sabbath mode, but tonight is a glorious return to their true form. In a run of shows at 150-capacity venues (the tickets priced at a fiver!), this is an opportunity to get seriously up close and personal with one of hardcore’s finest groups. And they do not disappoint on a night where you can get close enough to feel the bands’ breath on your faces from the very start.

Support comes from Higher Power, a band that are on the cusp of greatness themselves. Winning over a crowd that are more reserved than expected initially, it is a bruising baptism for anyone unfamiliar with the Leeds quintet. Frontman Jimmy Wizard is a leaping, pulsating presence on stage while at points the venue creaks under the power of the three guitarists slamming riffs out of the front of stage. “This is the second time I’ve got to see Cancer Bats for free”, laughed Wizard telling tales of sneaking in to a show years ago. After this support slot and last year’s Every Time I Die opening role, chances are that there will be someone telling similar tales of sneaking in to Higher Power shows one day.

A murmur becomes a roar as Cancer Bats take to the stage on a night that has seen anticipation building ever since the surprise announcement of this tiny show. With the combination of the milestone of the mighty Hail Destroyer enjoying its tenth anniversary, as well as their latest being another exceptional entry into their catalogue, it is no surprise that it sold out in a flash. Frontman Liam Cormier is in the faces of the front row instantly as the band explode into ‘Gatekeeper’ and ‘Trust No One’. Eager arms are thrown around his shoulders, with every single syllable screamed back at him by one of the most passionate crowds all year. Alongside him, bassist Jaye Schwarzer is a bundle of boiling energy while guitarist Scott Middleton is a more reserved presence – still prompting devil signs from the audience every time he strides to the front of the stage to burn out another ferocious riff.

It becomes a show where all in the room play their part. The merest gesture from Cormier in the middle of ‘We Run Free’ lights the fuse for a high-speed circle pit (with the added thrill of danger due to the pillar in the middle of the room), as other crowdsurfers are pressed against the ceiling of the venue. ‘Brightest Day’ provokes even more of a reaction, and the show never ebbs from that point with each track building and building towards an unending crescendo. The nature of this show means that there are no mere bystanders, every single person in the venue fully giving their all. An hour feels like ten minutes, new songs are met with as fervent a reaction as the old. Though having said that, the run of four Hail Destroyer tracks in the middle of the set will take some beating for pace, passion and power this year – time has not made the title track and ‘Harem of Scorpions’ any less powerful.

With an obvious love for the city and this venue, (Cormier even calling the barman up from downstairs to make sure he caught his favourite track), this is a special night indeed. Seeing a band like this in a venue like The Hope & Ruin is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and that fact made the whole show more potent with every crowd member wringing the last drop of enjoyment from the night. With fist-bumps and high-fives on their way out, the band left behind a group of wearied yet psyched audience members who had been put through one of the most impressive displays that this old venue has seen for many a long year. Rarely has an album title been so fitting, for Cancer Bats had indeed lit a spark that will never go out.

Jamie MacMillan