Why does the music industry hate Annihilator? I suppose having a lineup that is in a constant state of flux could make a label leery to extend a contract. Quality-wise they have been one of the more consistent bands of recent memory, but that hasn’t stopped them from bouncing from Sanctuary/Metal-Is to SPV to AFM and back to SPV again during the last five years. That doesn’t seem to have affected resident mastermind Jeff Waters, who continues to write and record regardless of his contractual status, confident that one will materialize once the album is heard. Take Metal for example. SPV released it last April in Europe but made no indication of a stateside release. Not knowing if it would ever be released here, I picked up a copy shortly thereafter. Months later, the album has finally made its way stateside, and I have to think that had I not been so eager, it would have been worth waiting for – this is easily Waters’s best work in a decade, maybe even beyond.
I’m not the type of person to stop liking a band just because their recent albums aren’t as good as their earlier ones, so I won’t be going off on a rant about how nothing will ever match Alice in Hell or anything like that, because Annihilator is a different band now, and Metal can stand on its own. The cast of guest musicians reads like a “who’s-who” of modern metal and serves as a testament to the band’s influence over the years. In Flames’s Jesper Stromblad, who lends his chops to “Haunted,” has gone so far as to say “Without Annihilator, there would be no In Flames.” While we’re on the subject, this track is probably a bit long at 8+ minutes, but contains some of the fastest riffing on the album, and a few tempo changes keep things interesting. The vocal section at 4:57 is its weakest spot; everybody knows that when vocalist Dave Padden tries to SING, it can be cringe inducing (and, in fact, turned at least a couple of Annihilator die-hards completely off of All For You). That vocal style also mars the otherwise strong “Smothered” (featuring The Haunted’s Ander Bjoler), and could have done the same to “Detonation” (featuring virtual unknown Jacob Lynam of Lynam) if not for the “Children of the Grave” vocal melody adapted during the verses. It makes sense now why Waters enlisted Danko Jones to handle the majority of the vocals of “Couple Suicide” alongside Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow. I’ve grown to really like the track, but I don’t expect everybody to enjoy it. His vocals have a straight-up rock edge, and hers . . . well, just don’t seem to belong. The only reason I can think of for her inclusion is that she’s supposed to be the angry woman half of the couple in question, but this isn’t a Meat Loaf call-and-response duet so it doesn’t necessarily work well in that regard. Wait – didn’t I just say I liked it? I guess I’m a sucker for a good pop metal track. Damn you, 80s hair bands.
Anyway, enough of the negatives. Looking at the big picture, these are more like minor inconveniences than major defects. I can listen to this thing start to finish, never skip a track, and spin it again. “Clown Parade” (featuring Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis with a blistering solo) and “Army of One” (featuring Anvil’s Steve “Lips” Kudlow) feel like classic Annihilator. The latter track also has the novelty of being one of those “pro-metal” songs, praising the dedication and longevity of bands like “Priest, Metallica, Megadeth / Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath.” I’m sure there’s something in there about how great we fans are, but I keep missing it, as I’m too busy rocking out. Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom lends his quick hands to the pounding “Downright Dominate,” while Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott does likewise to “Operation Annihilation,” which also features Waters himself on vocals. These tracks are all memorable after only one or two listens, be it from a riff or vocal, which is the kind of impression that any good album should leave on you.
Just to wrap things up, then, Metal also feature guest appearances by Trivium’s Corey Beaulieu (“Kicked”) and Lamb of God’s Willie Adler (“Chasing the High”), which should help lure in some younger fans to discover the brilliance of Annihilator. Everyone else just needs to know that this album is available, and proves that Waters and his crew, whoever it may be at any time, still have plenty to offer to metal fans worldwide, even if it takes awhile for said offerings to reach their shores. This would have been in my Top 5 of 2007 had the domestic release not been imminent, so look for it to receive a similar placement at the end of 2008.