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CancerSlug - Book of Rats

Every so often, there comes a talent that is so unknown, yet so worthy of recognition that it drives one to bring an uprising to their name. Make note, Cancerslug is that talent. And I'm taking the self-appointed opportunity to shed some light on this Alabama-based underground horrorpunk ensemble.

Although frequently lumped into the horrorpunk sub-genre, Cancerslug characterizes an aggressively gruesome side than that of their fellow horrorpunk peers. Whereas many similar groups draw from external sources for inspiration (ie: sci-fi & horror movies, morbidity and the supernatural); Slug derives from material that brews internally on a misanthropic level. What's more, the manner of aggression portrayed is intensely graphic, vile, ruthless, and [most scary of all] realistic. Realistic, as in, they would personally rather slit your throat in the depths of the night, as opposed to singing about a random army of zombies slitting your throat (you get the point). You could draw the conclusion that Slug refers to a past of fucked-up personal experiences. This it what sets them apart from the rest.

Now, as much as I fucking love this band, and I could go on 'n on psychoanalyzing their material as a whole, I'd rather spare you of the Freudian babble. The value of this band lies not in deciphering the hidden meaning of their content, but within a presumed statement that Slug makes from themselves. No matter if you're a newcomer or life-long fan of the Slug, there's no debate that their album, Book Of Rats, is one of the more important pieces in their discography. For the newcomers, Book Of Rats is a perfect introductory album to start off with.

The Book Of Rats (BOR), released around 2005, is Slug's album of spankin' new material since releasing several compilations that featured re-recordings from past badass-ness. Their previous release of original material is going a ways back before BOR. Sometimes the best way to understand where a band has come from to where they currently are music-wise, is to start with where they've peaked as artists. This album illustrates a well-weathered band, albeit gritty in sound and content, that has learned to develop a serious talent, and a knack for writing songs that you can't help but want to play over and over again.

The Frontman
Vile and Vicious, Raw and Powerful, Cancerous and Bloody

Which, is one of the major areas that the Slug consistently shines in. On a very basic level, their songs are constructed with solid arrangements and melodies to an impressive degree. This is considerably unique, given that this is a balls-to-the-walls punk album. Previous Slug albums contain many of the same strengths, but BOR showcases them most effectively. Although most punk music has some form of a catchy rebellious hook; the Slug's unique way is uncharacteristcally addictive. They have a sultry way of leading your ears from the psychobilly high of a "Hateseeker" (track 4) to the melancholy wail of a death plead. Frequently, and expertly, they smoothly transition different tempos and beats throughout each song. As a whole, this concludes a varied, yet still cohesive piece of work. And before you know it, you'll be chanting along at the top of your lungs, "I want you/I need you/To have my abortion/so that I will know that you love me" (in the dumpster behind the clinic, track 3). It's as if they've seduced you into their own personal hell.

Going back. Comparing Cancerslug with other groups of the same nature, which heavily feature the theme of Death, neither skimp out of this topic as a key element of inspiration in their music. Other groups typically just glorify it as the dark and perverse embodiment that it is. With Slug, on the other hand, I can actually feel the mourning, as if the Mistress herself (Mistress Death, track 10) demurely takes a seat at "The Tortune Throne" (track 8). Is it all to be taken oh-so-seriously? No, of course not. Just keeping in mind that Slug's allegories are drawn from reality will suffice. Again, this sets them apart and above.

There is a downfall, which could be debated if it really is or not. If you think you've heard punk records at their peak of charmingly shitty production values, think again. Consistent with being screamingly loud and distorted, EVERY track sounds like a scratch track that they've managed to finish. While it could be a gutter's version of a Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound", the constant clipping and volume adjustment (meaning YOU adjust the volume so your ear drums don't combust) could drive sensitive ears into frenzy overload. It simply sounds as if the studio couldn't handle the mass amount of sound coming out of their amps. At least you're able to understand what the hell they're singing about, which could also be debated whether that's a good thing or not. In my humble opinion, I find the sound quality to be more charming than shitty. Maybe even admiringly shitty.

But who's to say there isn't some sort of purpose to this allegedly awful production? Nevermind that BOR is an indie release. The content it contains would be out of place if backed by songs that have been tweaked to clarity. For example: how odd would a song sound, that's about cutting out some bitch's cunt so it can fit in a pocket (Straight Razor Rape, track 12), if it was properly mixed with all the pretty, perfect dynamics, and levels? Would it be a true punk album if Slug didn't give a flying fuck for how their production quality could reflect them as artists? Would it be Cancerslug otherwise? With a band so clearly talented, it's conclusive that they rightfully choose to leave their work as is. There's something to be said about a band that appropriately adjusts their sound to backup the image and content they portray. Personally, I over-rule this objection. I WANT to feel their distortion, as it leads to feel their in-your-face aggression, which they pull off so naturally. Perhaps something to take from BOR is to value content over production quality. I'd rather choose a band that I can draw instrinsic depth from, over a band that takes too much time to facilitate a perfect sound. Sadly for other listeners, shitty production just simply equals shitty production.

Review Scoring System: Up to 11
Punch-You-In-The-Face Loudness11 out of 11
A Cure To Your Morbid Fascinations9 out of 11
Production Quality5 out of 11
Overall:Cranked to 9 out of 11
Potential Achieved81.818%

Final Thoughts...

Overall, I place this piece at a solid 9. If you had it any higher, your ears would literally explode, and unborn babies from the clinic would cry. Seriously though, I consider the overall score for those who value production quality, equal to (or above) the content of this album. I offer this as a pre-cautionary, hoping that all listeners will take heed, and overlook the sound quality. For the rest of us who prefer to hear art as it is, there is much to be taken from Book Of Rats . Not only as a staple punk album, but as album that questions what is to be valued.

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