Cancer – Opioid Review

It’s not often that depressive black metal comes across my desk, but when it does, I relish the opportunity to sink my teeth into it. The primality of black metal lends itself really well to the expression of misery in a way that other genres of music just don’t. So news of Cancer’s second full-length release, Opioid made me, paradoxically, happy. According to the related promotional material, this Australian duo’s self-mixed, self-mastered, and self-released full-length offers their own unique take on the genre. Frankly, I thought it was great just after reading that, but I’ve been instructed to actually listen to the material before I write anything more, so here we go.

Opioid is depressive black metal to the bone; hazy, ill-defined tremolo riffing carries the general semblance of melody across frigid black soundscapes, with agonized shrieks decorating the skyline. The album opens with “The Eater,” here to consume your hope and happiness. It begins without pretence or preamble, and makes certain you know of its pain. By the way, when I call the riffs “hazy,” I don’t mean in the atmospheric death metal way – tracks like “The Depths II: Mind’s Parchment” and “The Depths IV: Summit’s Delusion” border on catchy by using guitar melodies and tremolos that are easy to follow and enjoy, while maintaining that sour, thick bleakness you all know and love. The mix is fairly low-fi, giving priority to the vocals and thickening the guitars; the drums are largely unimpactful, the bass is mostly lost in the mists.

Those last comments may have seemed like criticisms – and, on some level, they are – but Cancer’s aesthetic on Opioid is well-deployed to balance raw emotion with a good sound. A clean, polished production may well have missed the point, and there are certainly moments where this jagged style works well. “The Dreamer” uses a very simple single-guitar tremolo lead and rhythm, giving the bass a rare moment to breathe, while blunted bass beats drive the whole as if from far away. In “The Depths III: The Dames of Affliction,” the vocalist unleashes a few of the true screams that appear uncommonly throughout Opioid; unhinged and raw, noticeably clipped, and genuinely perfect for the Cancer aesthetic. Raw simplicity commonly gives way to intelligent songwriting and well-expressed agony.

Opioid is definitely a good album, but the main reason I’m not ultimately rating it higher than I have is that it isn’t especially engaging. A part of this is, of course, a reflection of the style – as covered earlier, Cancer’s music is hazy, a bit droning, and generally miserable. This is all fine by me, but there are times where the music feels a little too insubstantial, with songs blurring together and failing to really define themselves. “The Depths I: The Child I Am,” for example, is a great song for feeling, but less suited for active listening. As well, while I admire the vocalist for his otherworldly passion – seriously, the shrieks are downright anguished – there isn’t a whole lot of variation in that department. Low growls appear on occasion, with touches of narrative effect, and I’d have wished to hear more of these kinds of stylings. Entire songs filled with shrieking tend to also be the songs where I most feel that not enough is happening.

I’m grateful that Cancer included the lyrics to Opioid along with their promotional material; they do a lot to tie the whole package together (and are certainly well-written). Reading them over, it becomes especially clear that Opioid is a well-thought-out, strong album that does a great job at conveying fury, misery, and pain in equal amounts. It isn’t, admittedly, as gripping or affecting as I was hoping it would be. But it absolutely is a record worthy of any number of bleak, gloomy, or downright miserable days, and I look forward to revisiting it as such.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: canceraus.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/canceraus
Released Worldwide: August 14, 2020

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