Anyone who read my review of Annihilator‘s malformed 2010 outing knows I’ve met my fair share of frustration and disappointment at their diabolical hands. For those who missed that ill-tempered screed, I lamented how they’ve made a career out of underperforming and steadfastly refusing to live up to the potential promised by their Alice in Hell debut. Hell, you can’t even look to them to turn out consistently decent albums, as more than a few have been bad. The thing that galls me most, is that almost every album has one or two tracks that hint at what founder/guitar-wizard Jeff Waters is capable of. The man can shred the skin off a snake from 500 paces and can even translate that into a memorable song or two, but often no more than that. It’s with this warm and fuzzy history that I approached their fourteenth album, Feast and to my surprise, it’s a definite step in the right goddamn direction. While it still suffers from some chronic and album crushing problems, the majority of the tunes actually work and it has more speed, anger and balls than they’ve mustered in a while.
Opener “Deadlock” is fast, fairly furious thrash and Jeff’s riffing and leads sound way more urgent and in-your-face than they have in forever. Long-time vocalist Dave Padden also steps up his game and gets edgy and venomous, even managing to sound like early 90s Tom Araya at times. It’s far from a perfect song, but it’s got pluck and the guitar-work is worth the admission price. “No Way Out” keeps the juices flowing with more fret-board heroics as Padden switches between barks and semi-poppy, quasi-emo singing. “Smear Campaign” starts out as speedy hard rock, but gets harder and faster and it works even though lines like “judge, you should not” make it seem as if Master Yoda is rocking the mic.
“Demon Code” mixes driving thrash riffs with Faith No More-esque thumpy, funky bass and decently hooky vocals; “Fight the World” goes for anthemic, testosterone-y thrash and does a decent job of it and “One Falls, Two Rise” has quality ideas and is solid overall, but at eight-plus-minutes it gets tiring and drags.
The mistakes on Feast are fewer than usual, but they’re jarring and crippling nonetheless. “Pretty Angel Eyes” is a truly terrible, out-of-place teen love power-ballad with so much fake sweetness that it gave me diabetes AND gout and even decomposed my brand new box of Twinkies® with lines like “you’re beautiful inside and outside too, a new beginning, me and you.” Really guys?? If the song was intended as a parody I could deal, but it isn’t and that horrifies me. Also quite bad is the Primus-meets-goofy-thrash of “No Surrender” where Waters does his best Les Claypool imitation amid shitty staccato riffs, super generic thrash ideas and crappy, brain-dead lyrics. It’s a big schizoid mess and flops around like a dying fish. Lastly, “Wrapped” embraces an ill-conceived hybrid of thrash and cock rock which pummels the listener with embarrassingly stupid double entendres which even Jackyl would pass on.
As always, Waters plays the befizzle out of his axe and there are many cool solos and interesting flourishes. His melodic soloing during the intro to “Fight the World” is classy and sublime and he has a raft of such cool moments throughout “One Falls, Two Rise.” However, as is his want, he too often relies on simplistic, reheated thrash riffs to drive the material along, though less so this time out, thankfully. unfortunately, his experiments with funky, clicky bass styles throughout Feast often distract and undermine the material and feel ill-suited to the thrashy nature of the music. This ain’t Infectious Grooves, eh?
Though I’ve had my issues with Padden’s vocals in the past, he isn’t the problem here and he actually impressed on several of the songs. He isn’t what I’d call a vocal powerhouse, but he’s versatile and his vocals almost save tunes like “No Surrender.” He definitely gives a better performance than on the previous album and seems to be coming into his own.
I keep rooting for these Canuck lunkheads to uncork a ripper of an album and Feast teases just enough to keep me rooting. If they could just stop shooting themselves in the foot with terrible songs like “Pretty Angel Eyes” we might see them hit that late career high note. Until then, I’ll content myself with a six-out-of-nine ratio, cherry pick accordingly and hope for better tomorrows. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll.