The loss of a founding member is always going to sting. In terms of cataclysmic breakups, the departure of co-founding guitarist Scott Middleton from the CANCER BATS ranks last year was a big one. Along with vocalist Liam Cormier, Middleton had helped to steer the band through nearly 20 years of trials and triumphs. The prospect of recording a follow-up to 2018's widely acclaimed "The Spark That Moves" without him may have been daunting for the remaining trio of Cormier, drummer Mike Peters and bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer, but "Psychic Jailbreak" is all the evidence anyone needs that CANCER BATS have negotiated a change in personnel with eerie skill. Schwarzer is the principal hero, having stepped up to take on bass and guitar duties, but really this is a story of perseverance and bonds of creativity and friendship. It is also an album of blistering, genre-resistant rock 'n' roll, custom designed to cause havoc in dark, sweaty venues, albeit with just enough variety and freshness to keep CANCER BATS' career ball rolling inexorably forward. Still peddling the potent blend of punk rock, heavy metal and terse, edgy hardcore that made early records like "Hail Destroyer" so irresistible, the Canadians sound as righteously incensed as ever on the opening "Radiate". It's a belligerent, flailing storm of riffs and spat-out slogans, and as vital as anything in the band's catalogue. Pleasingly, it is immediately topped by the grinding, doom-core strut of "The Hoof" (which sounds like ALICE COOPER jamming with POISON IDEA) and the seething, desert rock spikiness of "Lonely Bong". Next, "Friday Night" noisily evokes a drunken brawl in the tiniest of punk rock clubs, while "Hammering On" slows things down to a surly, sludged-up crawl, as Cormier switches to sinister croon mode, duetting with maverick indie folk singer Brooklyn Doran and audibly reveling in the monstrous, swaggering power his comrades are pumping out around him. The album's most joyously metal moment, "Keep On Breathin" is a riotous, rumbling Southern-rock bombing raid, with a heroically intense Cormier vocal and some of the purest SABBATH-ian riffage anyone will hear this year. In contrast, "Pressure Mind" has the muscular presence of prime ROLLINS BAND and a dash of CHEAP TRICK-like pop suss, while the title track is a three-minute, doom-punk skirmish with a bad attitude, a badass chorus and a mischievous, split personality. Never mind the fact that every one of these songs is going to absolutely rip live: "Psychic Jailbreak" is an audacious comeback and one of the best records CANCER BATS have made. Proof, as if it were needed, that the best response to a setback is to get the fuck on with it and keep doing what you do. But more so.

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