One glimpse at the big photo inside their CD booklet is all you need to see just what era Toronto, Ontario, metal throwback Rammer is most fond of. Sloppily piled around a small, battered ‘80s boombox (complete with Kiss pins on the shoulder strap) is a huge mess of old school metal cassettes, ranging from Anthrax, to Whiplash, to Repulsion, to Judas Priest, to old mix tapes. It’s something every old school headbanger who spent their high school days trading tapes can relate to, a simple, yet vivid example of the fanaticism that came with being a metal fan in the ‘80s. Judging by that photo, it’s no surprise that this band’s debut album does more looking back than looking forward.
After slogging it out in the Toronto metal scene for seven years (yielding a measly pair of obscure EPs) and cultivating an appreciative local fanbase, Rammer have finally gotten it together and recorded their debut full-length CD, one steeped in the thrash metal sounds of the mid-to-late ‘80s. It’s a shame they come to the party about 20 years too late, because had Cancer been released back then, it would have been held in as high esteem as the work of other great bands of the Canadian thrash era as Razor, Annihilator, and Sacrifice. Instead, the late ‘80s sound of the disc is about as far from trendy as a metal band can get these days. While so many young bands today are heavily influenced by death metal progenitors like Morbid Angel, Death, and At the Gates, Rammer are strictly a thrash metal band, their music hearkening back to those salad days of two decades ago when we had everything from the rather accessible Bay Area thrash metal scene (Exodus, Death Angel, Testament) to the more aggressive, technically-oriented European bands (Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom), and everything in between.
Much of Cancer‘s emphasis is on the darker European sound of way back when, and while the quintet fail to score any points in the originality department, they do it all with a flair that we wish more young metal acts would display. “Uprising of Death” gets the festivities off to a rousing start, the riffs by guitarists Joel Militia and Ramsay alternating from sharp staccato picking to massive churns during the choruses, which are underscored by drummer Al Biddle’s blastbeats. It’s all but a written law that every metal band have an eponymous song, and “Rammer” dutifully keeps the tradition alive, a lively mid-tempo stomper that has lead screamer Davis Kristiansen carrying on about a creature (The Rammer, if you haven’t guessed) buried under ice and awoken by radiation to do away with the human race, while the very Slayer-esque “Astral Violence” (think Show No Mercy) has more fun with the whole fantasy element, which has always been a large part of metal’s charm, and which seems to be making a welcome comeback as of late.
After opening with some rather ornate dual guitar harmonies, “Butcher’ launches into a considerably more blunt assault, locked in a simple double-time thrash tempo, which is then followed by the decidedly Teutonic-sounding “Living Torment”, that Kreator influence kicking into high gear, each pick of the guitar strings echoed by some impressive kick drum prowess by Biddle. “From Russia” and “Fleshstorm” come the closest to sounding even remotely contemporary, as we hear traces of the death ‘n’ roll of Entombed and the stoner/doom of Eyehategod, but aside from that, it’s nothing but classic thrash all the way through, and the album closes in very fine fashion on the title track, which, after a lulling piano intro, bursts into a headbang-inducing riff that quickly segues into a musical theme as foreboding as the disease Kristiansen sings about.
The album is not without its minor stumbles, as “Eat Your Guts” is something of a lazy attempt at graphic imagery (seriously guys, these days you have to be a lot more creative than that if you want to gross out the kids), and “Dataslut” is a clunky attempt at sounding more modern than they have to be. Other than that, though, Cancer is a confident first outing by a band that is completely unafraid to fly in the face of fashion. Thrash might not have the same cachet as it did two decades ago, but those who still love those old bands know a good thrash band when they hear it, and Rammer will leave many new listeners impressed.