Review Summary: At its best a joy to behold, the drawn-out arrangements and excessive repetition are what really bring the album down.
If not quite up there with the same bands in terms of overall fame, Annihilator surely rank right up alongside Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd in the “most commonly misspelled band” stakes. Ann-i-hil-ator.
The Trent Reznor of the thrash metal world, Annihilator mainstay Jeff Waters has changed line-ups almost as frequently as he has shirts in the band’s near twenty-three years of existence. As the only permanent member of the group, Waters have overseen the band's progress (against the odds) from dirty thrash metal to NWOBHM, back to thrash again and, through the 90s, various combinations of the aforementioned and alternative metal influences. Metal
is the group’s first release on celebrated German heavy metal label SPV Steamhammer, the primary home of less-than-extreme metal in Europe, and the band’s twelfth studio album total.
is somewhat of a landmark album for Annihilator, and for Waters, as it marks the first time the band has recorded three consecutive albums with the same vocalist. Singer Dave Padden’s powerful, commanding vocals belie his relatively diminuitive physique; he doesn’t quite have the same range as previous Annihilator vocalists, though he can dip into Dickinson-like higher register theatrics, but his comparatively straight vocals have helped shape the band’s sound in recent years. Waters’ writing has veered more towards the simplicity of early thrash and the texture-seeking of modern metal (e.g. the Deftones). The result? Metal
, like its predecessor Schizo Deluxe
, is as focused and coherent a record as anything in the band’s catalogue, and distinctive to boot.
Much has been made of Metal
’s impressive line-up of guest performers. Mostly guitarists, the guests have flocked in their droves to pay tribute to one of thrash’s more influential guitar-slingers; Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis guest solos on ‘Clown Parade,’ a rousing opener that recalls Therapy? both in terms of Padden’s Andy Cairns-like vocals and the simple distortion-starved metal riffing, but leaves no real impression on the overall sound of the track. Likewise, Jesper Strömblad’s harmonised solo on ‘The Haunted’ feels cut off from the rest of the track, as if it was pasted in the middle as an afterthought. Even the reputation that precedes Children of Bodom’s Alex Laiho has little effect upon ‘Downright Dominate,’ one of the more anthem-like numbers on the disc. ‘Army Of One’ cranks up the cheese factor, a tribute to the metal bands of old featuring (appropriately) Anvil frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow, but is melodically and instrumentally the best of the bunch.
On the whole, the guest appearances are borderline unnoticeable; at best, they’re prominent but not vital. ‘Couple Suicide’ features the dual-vocal talents of Canadian pop-rocker Danko Jones and Arch Enemy frontwoman Angela Gossow. Featuring airy, textured guitars, the track has shades of prog-black metallers Enslaved, a comparison aided by the contrast of death metal growls of Gossow against Jones’ more melodic tones. ‘Kicked,’ too, is helped by the guitarist’s willingness to experiment with tones and textures, transitioning between chill melodic passages and more militant death-infused verses, while Mangini impresses with furious rhythmic displays and Trivium guitarist Corey Beaulieu adds a Hammett-esque breakneck solo. Closer ‘Chasing The High’ features the rhythm guitar stylings of Lamb of God’s Willie Adler, allowing Waters to indulge himself with numerous shred guitar interludes and drummer Mike Mangini to demonstrate his double-bass capabilities.
The problem with Metal
is not necessarily its individual parts. Jeff Waters’ riffs are, if more simplistic, as well-conceived as ever. Dave Padden’s singing is surprisingly melodic considering that, given the aggressiveness of the music, it may have been tempting to adopt a similarly rough and abrasive vocal style. Rather, it’s getting from A to B that’s the problem. Padden’s chorus vocals are a strength for sure, but often they’re barely worth the meddling it takes to get there. Likewise, Waters’ riffs are simple, yet unique and engaging, but often lose some of their appeal when repeated to the extent that they are, and both Waters’ and the guests’ solos often hover close to the line of self-indulgence, to the point where they actually detract from the song.
There’s no doubt that a substantial part of Metal
’s appeal is due to the number of guest spots on offer. Fans of those bands and artists may be disappointed by the small roles played by their men (and women) in the songs, but as an Annihilator album, Metal
benefits from the consistency of a solid line-up and the clarity of songwriting that goes with it. If the guest spots are intrusive, it’s only because they sound tacked-on; they don’t infringe upon the trademark Annihilator sound- and when that sound is demonstrated best, on the album’s opening tracks, it’s a joy to behold. It’s the drawn-out arrangements and excessive repetition that really bring the album down.