Bats feed on metal

Cancer Bats rolling into Guelph on Black Sabbath cover tour

The Cancer Bats are bringing a Black Sabbath cover tour on the road in the wake of a new album. Photo: Courtesy

The Cancer Bats are bringing a Black Sabbath cover tour on the road in the wake of a new album. Photo: Courtesy

The Cancer Bats might have recently wrapped up recording for Dead Set on Living, their follow-up to 2010’s Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, but they’re currently focused on the past – music history, to be precise. That’s because the Toronto hardcore outfit’s current Ontario tour doesn’t see them playing hardcore at all.

Prompted by a massive interest in a cover set they played on a Prague date of European touring music festival Sonisphere this July, the Bats are running into venues with marquees that have no mention of Cancer, but an entirely different malignant force: Sabbath (yes, that Sabbath).

“Whether you’re into hardcore, metal, punk rock or whatever, you know Black Sabbath.” – Liam Cormier

Touring under the banner “Bat Sabbath,” the group came up with the idea to perform entire sets of Black Sabbath material when, approached by Sonisphere organizers to fill an empty slot following a Slipknot performance, guitarist Scott Middleton jokingly responded with the suggestion that they play tracks by the English heavy metal pioneers.

Speaking over the phone from the studio while waiting on mixes for Dead Set on Living, vocalist Liam Cormier said there were other directions the performance could have gone.

“Other ideas that we had for doing a cover set were like Pantera and stuff like that,” Cormier said. “Pantera is a little ambitious I think, them being like a really amazing metal band, and us being a bit more of like a punk band. And I mean, that’s the thing, we wanted to do something too that everybody knows. Like, whether you’re into hardcore, metal, punk rock or whatever, you know Black Sabbath.”

Intent on delivering the best Sabbath covers possible, the Bats’ act is based on the classic Ozzy Osbourne/Tony Iommi/Geezer Butler/Bill Ward lineup of the band’s 1968 inception.

“Yeah, everybody’s been watching a lot of live Sabbath stuff,” Cormier said. His preparation has been slightly less informed by concert footage than the rest of the group.

“All of the live footage of Ozzy, he’s normally forgetting all of the words, so it’s almost better to not look at that as my example,” he said. “When we were doing the Sonisphere set I couldn’t find a live set of “War Pigs” where Ozzy sang the right words. Like literally does not exist, or at least I couldn’t find it.”

Still, the visual experience reaches back into the archives. For the cover shows, Cormier – usually playing Cancer Bats sets in an improvised tank top – dons a cape and prowls the stage with a black unbuttoned collared shirt and a cross hanging from his neck while he channels The Prince of Darkness.

It’s not the first time the group has returned from Sonisphere with covers to show people.

“It’s kind of funny how much Sonisphere is like the breeding ground for us doing covers. Like, originally we did that “Sabotage” cover at Sonisphere and it kind of blew up into this bigger thing, and then same with Bat Sabbath,” Cormier reflected. The group still plays “Sabotage” at concerts to mass appeal, and there might be a similar story with the group’s Sabbath covers after this tour.

“I’m sure we’ll end up doing some of them down the line. We’ll just do, like, a half hour version of “War Pigs” at the end of our set from now on,” the singer joked.

On the current tour, the Bats’ sets will consist solely of Sabbath covers, but Cormier says encores might be a different story.

“We’re gonna probably play eleven Black Sabbath songs, and then if people are still partying and wasted – which I’m pretty sure they will be – maybe we’ll play some Cancer Bats songs to keep the party going.”

Bat Sabbath plays Guelph’s eBar Dec. 13 alongside Farewell to Freeway covering the Ramones as the “Free-Mones,” and Wakeless, covering Pink Floyd as “Fearless.”

Originally published by The Ontarion on Dec. 8, 2011

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About Tom Beedham

Tom Beedham is a Canadian writer and photographer based in Toronto, Ontario. His work focuses on independent culture, DIY communities, and their relationship to the mainstream, reporting on a spectrum of creatives that has ranged from emerging acts to the definitive voices of cultural movements. In addition to contributing regular features to AUX, Chart Attack, and VICE publications Noisey and THUMP, he has appeared on Daily VICE, and frequently reviews concerts, festivals, and new album releases for Canadian arts and culture monthly Exclaim!. He is also a co-organizer and curator of the seasonal inter-arts series Long Winter, for which he oversees an online blog and print newspaper-style publication, printed for distribution at each instalment of the event. He was also a DIY concert organizer in his hometown Georgetown, Ontario in the mid-2000s.

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