Not many bands live to release a 16th album, but Annihilator is a testament to persistence through good times and bad (especially bad). Sure, some folks feel they should have closed shop after their well regarded sophomore outing, Never Neverland, but haters be damned. The band is the baby of founder/guitar wunderkind/sometimes singer Jeff Waters, and he seems disinclined to put it out to pasture anytime soon. Their last 3 outings showed a gradual upward trajectory in quality following a deadly mid-career rough patch, and I was happy to see Waters resuming vocal duties for 2015s Suicide Society. However, there were concerns when I saw the band’s notorious revolving door resulted in an entirely new crop of young guns this time, including a session guitarist from Vital Remains. Whatever could this opus, apparently written by and for the demented, bring us, I wonder?
Initially it brings us a dermis peeling courtesy of vicious opener “Twisted Lobotomy.” Starting life with a very “Alice In Hell” esque riff, it quickly becomes an unhinged thrasher complete with blast beats and black metal inspired riffs scattered throughout the blitzkrieging speed. It’s the most vicious thing Annihilator‘s done in years, with Waters’ guitar wizardry center stage. His fret-board mastery is just as impressive now as it was all those years ago when Alice in Hell took the thrash world by storm, and it’s always a blast to hear him run amok. Sadly, they can’t keep this level of maximum Satan going for long, and followup “One to Kill” is a standard Annihilator mid-tempo thrash piece (which makes no sense when written), but it’s decent with some inspired riffs and a fairly catchy chorus.
“Pieces of You” is a power ballad with a particularly ghoulish take on the classic break up theme1. This is the kind of emotional wreckage number Waters has proven himself adept at over his long career and though it has a vague Nickelback vibe and some cringe-worthy lyrical slip-ups, it’s still a dark and enjoyable little piece of sleaze. “Altering the Altar” is a throwback to the band’s golden era, mixing speed with melody and allowing Waters to show off his chops in the process. This one could have appeared on their debut or Never Neverland and fit right in.
As if required by some shadowy Canadian music law, there are the expected missteps. “The Way” is a autobiography of Waters and Annihilator executed in a faux-punk way that sounds like The Offspring drunkenly covering The Ramones and that’s not a good thing. Closer “Not All There” isn’t as bad, but it shares that cheesy, tongue-in-cheek style, like Hawaiian shorts era Anthrax without the charm. All that being said, the balance of the material still favors solid, entertaining fare and overall this is a minor improvement on Suicide Society.
With Waters taking on vocal duties for the second straight album, you know not to expect too much, but he’s an improvement over long-running frontman Dave Padden. His guitar prowess is legendary and though he isn’t an egomaniac showboater, he certainly lets his skills shine brightly during solo breaks, especially on the extended midsection jam during “Phantom Asylum.” His backing band is solid and provides a solid foundation for Waters’ manic riffing and wankery. Guitarist Aaron Homma is an especially nice addition who coalesces well with what Waters does and together they’re all sorts of shredtastic.
With For the Demented, the upward trend continues for Annihilator as they dig their way out of the late career doldrums inch by painstaking inch. This is the most lively Jeff and the Expendables have sounded since Schizo Deluxe and some of the writing is significantly better than expected. Waters would do well to keep this lineup intact as long as possible, as these youngins appear to be teaching that old dog some new tricks. Never give up on rediscovering Never Neverland, Jeff. Never!