What do you expect from a new Annihilator album? If it’s anything but a whole big ol’ boatload of rippin riffs and fiery shredwork in songs that are about equal parts killer and filler, then you haven’t gotten to know Jeff Waters. The man has produced among the most consistently hit-and-miss catalogs in all of metal, and with the exceptions of the debut thrash classic Alice in Hell and a couple of terrible records in the 90’s, most of the variation in quality happens within an album. Such is the case again with the self-titled release.
The first thing to notice for anybody familiar with Annihilator’s late output is that Metal’s buttoned-up and over-buffed production has been roughed up a bit, given a coarser grit that is much more consistent with the thrash flag the band has always flown. Still very modern, but it’s good to have some burn back in the ol’ buzzsaw blade. Although Waters’ bass tone is fat and satisfying, the other half of the rhythm section is relatively colorless, even mechanical, though the drums were handled by a real human being in session kit man, Ryan Ahoff. Probably by design, the robotic feel of the drums makes more space for Waters’ leads which, of course, are bright and engaging and fucking everywhere. The Annihilator promo material actually boasts sixty-six solos and, while the man surely deserves every spotlight minute he can handle, whether the album ultimately has room for all the shreddery is open to debate. It’s all pretty awesome in isolation, but sometimes makes the songs feel like aftermarket accessories.
As expected, the ten songs run the full range of quality, with the majority tilting the ratio of good to bad one way or the other to varying degrees. “The Trend” is a pretty kick ass opener, sporting a two minute intro of tasty melodic leads and five minutes of rippin modern thrash. (Funny, the railing of the music industry in the kick off track, where Waters even takes the time to mock the Hot Topic crowd, since he has never been too shy about glomming onto the metal mode en vogue. Latest case: the Triviumogrification of many of Annihilator’s choruses. Even so, this record boasts more thrash authenticity than a Pakistani busload of Triviums.) Equally pleasing, the twisty epileptic fits and starts of “25 Seconds” and the bluesy, cockrock swagger of “The Other Side” add color and texture to the base.
But then the bad songs are really bad. “Betrayed” is horribly one-dimensional, obvious and redundant, whereas “Nowhere to Go” takes the blandness to a duller shade of grey and then wraps it in a candy-coated chorus. Chalk up the closer, a cover of Van Halen’s Romeo Delight, to hero-worship and disregard.
The remaining tracks relegate themselves to the coin-toss for repeated spins. For example, “Ambush” definitely triggers the ol’ headbanger and would probably feel like a real winner if it didn’t conjure the lyrics to “Damage Inc.” as much as its own. “Death in Your Eyes” frustrates by virtue of its indecisiveness, bobbing back and forth between simple but slammin’ verses and more of that candied chorus. A killer melodic bridge and solo nearly save “Death…,” but these are two more pieces among too many and it ends up feeling disjointed and over long.
Seriously, there should be no surprises here. Even if Annihilator outshines its immediate predecessor and stacks up well with the band’s other new-millennium output, it’s still uneven enough to redirect your reaching hand to Alice… or Never, Neverland when you’re jonesin’ for the Annihilator sound. But that’s just as it’s been for the longest, and Waters seems to be okay with that. The dude writes the songs he wants to write, critics be damned, and this is to be commended. The problem seems to be (and we’ll never really know for sure) that the songs he wants to write too often smack of a quixotic desire to span the gap between authenticity and commercialism. It’s a bit of conundrum, that, and the result has been the defiant inconsistency that has become and remains the band’s unfortunate calling card.