For a band that has split up then re-split up and had the kind of revolving door of members as Cancer has in their 31 years of existence and furthermore put out the worst of their career with their last two full lengths, it’s not your fault for questioning whether album six, Shadow Gripped, is worth any time at all. Would it matter if the original three members are on it? The same three responsible for arguably their best album, To the Gory End? The answer is a resounding YES. Why? Because it’s on par with said debut and should finally get the band the due they deserve – minus those last two, hoo-boy.
Look, I’m not even going to try and pretend that Cancer have ever been or currently is a band that pushes death metal forward or even blazes new trails that splinter into something bigger than the genre. They’re simply not, nor have they ever tried to be that band. But what they are for death metal is a band that is interwoven into its history and fabric due to their first three albums practically bleeding any and all different cells of the genre. UK death, Swedeath, and Floridian death are the most prevalent but the way in which they mixed this deadly stew was head-turning to say the least. I still count the aforementioned debut as one of my top 15 death metal albums and label-mates Bloodbath found inspiration in that same album’s opening track, so there’s that.
Then came Black Faith and Spirit In Flames which I won’t be overly harsh about but my thoughts were ‘what the hell happened and where did Cancer go?’ and thus were both tossed aside and chalked up as done, finished, kaput. So as you can see, I empathize with the mindset of ‘why should I care?’. Honestly, I had my doubts too but after seeing that all original members are back and then reading the song titles, I hit play. The results of this choice were exhilarating to say the least. As “Down the Steps” swaggers and sways with guttural groove and “The Infocidal” rips and tears with the kind of self-assured speed I hadn’t heard out of this band since the early 90’s I quickly realized Cancer is back and I mean back to what they did best all those years ago. Not only that but John Walker’s vocals have progressed to the point that he actually sounds like an angered member of the undead now, which obviously helps matters.
“Half Man Half Beast,” “Thou Shalt Kill,” and “Disposer” click by with the same arterial spraying gusto that any of your favorite classic death metal bands have upon releasing new material. That’s the thing I love about about Cancer and particularly on this album, they’re not reinventing the wheel but they are keeping that wheel well oiled with the blood spilt from having spent decades in this genre. Call it simple, call it meat and potatoes or call it whatever you want but for me Shadow Gripped is one hell of an achievement from a band that knew they needed to knock it out of the graveyard if they were to take on this task. This is death metal for those who love it at its most primal, raw and unfettered by progressive and/or experimental trends.