Those who’ve been around the blog a while know I’ve been feudin’ and beefin’ with Annihilator for so long, even AMG thinks my mind is gone. I’ve taken their past few albums to task because I know they’re capable of so much more than the half-hearted, formulaic party thrash they’ve delivered for the better part of their 26 year career. How do I know this? Because I’ve listened to their stellar Alice in Hell debut more times than I can count, and also love their Never, Neverland follow-up. It’s been a rocky road since, with every good album followed by one or more duds, making their name synonymous with disappointment in the stately House of Steel. 2013s Feast was a slight step in the right direction but still suffered from numerous (and typical) Annihilator issues. I expected another sonic dumpster fire on Suicide Society, but to my befuddled bewilderment, Jeff Waters and company took another step forward toward the good side of metal. Well, knock me over with a king-sized serving of poutine!
Right off the bat, Mr. Waters resuming vocal duties is a boon for the band. Dave Padden had been the man behind the mic since 2004 and honestly, I never cared for his voice. While Waters is no Jorn Lande, his style always seemed a better fit for the music he composed. With Waters at the helm, the opening title track sits somewhere between traditional metal and hard rock with minor thrash flair ups, and the whole enchilada reeks of early 90s Annihilator and long defunct but amusing acts like Powermad and Scatterbrains. There are even some 70s prog touches in the riffs that will make Opethians sit up and take notice. “My Revenge” is a fairly urgent thrasher with good energy, though it sounds close enough to “Damage Inc.” where Mr. Waters can expect an angry email from a certain Danish twit…ter user. It shares another trait with Metallica too – it goes on a few minutes too long. Not bad though. “Snap” is the oddball of the album, attempting a kind of hard rock and metal crossover approximating a Korn and Suicidal Tendencies collaboration circa 1994. It’s funky and chunky with a big, dumb chorus designed to stick in the ear like a pop hit. I want to dislike it, but I can’t, and that scares me a little.
“Creepin Again” is a ripper straight from the band’s golden age and one of the best songs they’ve penned in 20 years. It’s thrashy, punchy and the chorus is very memorable. There’s a Metallica vibe floating in and out of the arrangements and Waters’ slippery solo work is impressive as always. “Narcotic Avenue” is convincingly pissed off and angry, which is something Annihilator‘s sound has been missing for far too long. There’s an interesting Dead Kennedys vibe teamed with what sounds like outtakes from “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Hellion/Electric Eye” during “The One You Serve” and this results in a surprisingly heavy, grinding tune (and yet another email from Denmark).
Things begin to slide a bit by the album’s final third, but none of the songs are outright bad, and though Waters’ lyrics about the displeasures of being burglarized on “Break, Enter” are painful to hear, the lead riff and fiery playing partially make up for it.
As always, Mr. Waters shows he’s an elite guitar player. The entire Annihilator construct depends on his flashy playing and there’s plenty of it here. Though he’s had a tendency to write generic riffs in the past, the ones here are better than average and often take things back to the band’s early days. His bass-work is also fine and much more present than usual without sounding all slappy-happy like a low-rent Primus. Achieving the trifecta, he sounds good vocally, using a traditional hard rock delivery along with an effective thrash bark. He’s limited as a singer, but he’s always made the most of what he’s got and I’ll take him any day over Dave Padden’s “modern metal” delivery.
Though both Annihilator and Megadeth have drifted from their respective thrash roots towards a hard rock limbo over the years, Suicide Society shows signs of a second (or fifth) wind and this allows the band to avoid their own Super Collider. After this unexpected success, my days of beefin’ with Annihilator may have come to an end, or at least a grudging middle. Nicely played, Mr. Waters. Keep putting your best foot forward and never stop reaching for those glory days. That’s what guitar heroes do.