The ups and downs of Annihilator’s 35-plus year career are dizzying on every level, from lineup churn, label changes, and good old fashioned album quality. The one consistent, of course, has been mastermind Jeff Waters, who by all indications seems completely unfazed by it all. He just keeps touring and recording because goddamnit he loves this stuff. Never mind the fact that his band hasn’t had a proper US tour in at least the 20 years that I’ve been listening to them, or that he basically handles the entire writing and recording process by himself – he’s in the metal business, and no one gets into that for the money or the stability.
To quickly recap the time I’ve been paying attention: a short-lived reunion with Randy Rampage (R.I.P.) resulted in the presence-reannouncing Criteria for a Black Widow, then gave way to the slightly longer-lived union with Joe Comeau and a couple of presence-reestablishing albums. Then there was the interesting Dave Padden era, bringing the polarizing (and damn near destabilizing) All For You, the guest-laden Metal, and the largely forgotten self-titled album. (Man, did Earache screw the pooch on that deal.) Feast appeared primed to finally bring them to the forefront (solid run with the same vocalist, rerecording classics to bring them into the present fold)… and then Padden abruptly left, having grown tired of the travel, leaving Waters to once again step behind the mic for Suicide Society.
Really – and most of those albums mentioned above ended up in the top 10 of my annual best-of lists. This one is primed to follow. It’s really fucking good.
Everything just feels like it’s come together, like Waters has fully embraced the fact that he is Annihilator. As first addressed on “The Way” (from For The Demented), he can write, perform, and record what he wants, how he wants, and when he wants (the schedule of drummer Fabio Alessandrini notwithstanding). He serves no master, and knows he has a devout, worldwide fanbase. There’s a confidence that comes with that, and it just pours out of the speakers here. I’m not sure that he had that during the three album run of King of the Kill, Refresh the Demons, and Remains (all recorded in similar situations).
The opening salvo of “Armed to the Teeth” confirms this right away: Jeff Waters ain’t fucking around, a menacing vocal sneer underscoring those goddamn riffs that hit hard, hit fast, and repeat. That vibe carries, inversely, into “The Attitude,” with the goddamn riffs now underscoring the vocal sneer targeting what I have to assume is every negative presence he’s ever encountered. “Psycho Ward” brings it all back to center, with a more mid-tempo thrash feel that has characterized Annihilator’s most recent works. It’s catchy, it’s punchy, it’s got a vocal hook you can get behind… it’s Annihilator, and it’s spectacular.
Some of the lyrics do get a little hokey on “Out With the Garbage” and “Dressed Up For Evil”, but the music is so solid you’ll find yourself singing along anyway, unironically pumping your fist while pantomiming the trash man or gesturing towards your skull/death rock t-shirt – true meaning be damned (oh, the perils of being abstract). Then “Riot” comes up and smashes you in the face. You thank it for the honor, help it out with its made-for-crowd-participation chorus, and all is once again well with the world. Before long we’ve reached “The End of the Lie” and the commendable achievement of an album closing as strongly as it opened.
I’ve learned two things in regards to Annihilator over these past 20 years. The first is that I often stand alone amongst the people I know. They’ve either never heard them, only like Alice In Hell (and sometimes Never, Neverland), or simply don’t like them at all. It’s a tough position to be in, losing my mind over a new album only to be met with a chorus of indifference. But of course, if I gave a damn about aligning my musical tastes with people, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’m going to listen to and talk about them, and they’re just going to have to deal with me.
The second thing is to never count Jeff Waters out, because he always seems to bounce back from adversity. Lack of label support? He’ll find one that will give it to him. Vocalist quits? Here’s a list of people eager to take their place (or he’ll just do it himself). Poor album sales? Who cares, there’s always the next one.
2020 has been a rough year already, but at least it’s off to a great start musically with Ballistic, Sadistic. Hell, it brought me back to reality after almost a year up my own ass. Now if I can just get that US tour…