Review Summary: Above-average thrash and speed-metal, dragged down by lacklustre vocals, and the cheesiest lyrics known to man.2 of 3 thought this review was well written
Well, it had to happen sometime didn't it? Eventually, I would find an album I don't like, and review it. Welcome to my review of the only album I have EVER taken back to the store for a refund...
"Why, Grimbo, why Annihilator?!" I hear you ask, "They're a legendary thrash band! Jeff Waters is one of the most highly acclaimed guitarists in the thrash metal genre!" With the recent rise of Trivium, many rock mags covering the band have delved into the annals of 80s thrash to unearth a number of bands that the reader may not have heard of. Obviously all the greats like Slayer
et al were mentioned, and usually, as an afterthought, Annihilator. Always the last band to be mentioned, one of the few 80s thrash icons who never quite garnered the huge success of Metallica
, or the underground acclaim of, say, Testament
. And why? Not because they're from Canada and therefore separated from the rest, geographically. Not because of the constantly revolving line-up around mainstay Waters. No, I'll tell you why Annihilator never "made it huge." It's because they were simply one of the worst bands the thrash period had to offer.
Jeff Waters is indeed an amazing guitarist, but as a songwriter, he fails miserably. And sadly, due in part to the aforementioned instability with the lineup, he was responsible for writing the bulk of the songs. You see, every song that appears on this compilation is a showcase for Water's amazing guitar skills. Opener "Crystal Ann"
is a beautiful acoustic piece, perfectly paced, with some great harmonies; a fitting album intro, the typical calm-before-the-storm tactic employed on many thrash albums, and in this case, from Annihilator's debut "Alice in Hell."
Following it are the same four tracks which followed it on the original album. And here we begin to encounter a few problems. Again, Waters' guitar-playing is sensational, all incredibly tight riffing, blazing leads, beautiful melodies, and spot-on harmonization. However, the rest of the band fail to live up Waters' skill; the bassist largely just rides the root notes, only very occasionally dropping in fills, or emulating the guitar riffs, and the drummer suffers from Ulrich-Syndrome, offering straight beats and completely failing to capitalise on some great opportunities for fills or variation. However these traits would be to some extent forgivable, were it not for the godawful vocals and lyrics...
The songs on this compilation are taken from three different albums, all with different vocalists. The first seven tracks are handled (badly) by Randy Rampage, whose shortcomings can be identified immediately in "Alison Hell."
Throughout the song he switches between a truly stomach-churning falsetto (which, rather unimpressively, he seems unable to hold for very long), and a horrible rasp, reminiscent of Dave Mustaine's vocals on early Megadeth
recordings, only without any of the anger and bite that made Mustaine's vocals tolerable. It doesn't help that those vile vocal chords are being wrapped around lyrics like "Alison hell, what were you looking for? / Alison hell, as I close the door / Alison hell, here you shall dwell / Alison hell, Alice dwells in hell."
Like I said, Waters isn't a great songwriter - and those are far from the worst lyrics to be found here.
Probably the best - or least worst - vocalist represented here is Coburn Pharr, who appears on tracks 8-13, from the "Never, Neverland"
album. He seems to have the best grip on the melodic style out of the three vocalists, and his unwillingness to resort to token growling is admirable, but his habit of over-enunciating every word takes things into dodgy power-metal territory and somehow makes Waters' (increasingly) terrible lyrics (try "Get back! Back! Just leave us all alone! Take that! And that! I'll break your every bone!
" from "Never, Neverland"
for size!) sound even worse. Also, his habit of doing what I can only describe as semi-dramatic "talk-vocals" just grates the nerves.
The other vocalist, Aaron Randall, would be considered the strongest of the three, holding a good balance between aggressiveness and soaring melody, were it not for his crippling lisp. Now I have nothing against anyone with a speech impediment, but in the same way that someone without fingers probably shouldn't play guitar, someone who can't actually pronounce a common vocal sound properly should maybe have thought twice before joining a band as a vocalist. That aside, the tracks that Randall appears on, towards the end of the disc (and due to the chronological order of the tracks, the later material), are actually the most tolerable. If you can look past the aforementioned vocal tic, the singing is actually quite impressive, the riffs (thanks in part to better production) are more hard hitting, the songs flow better (without sacrificing Waters' technical abilities), and the lyrics are marginally less cheesy than the rest of the material, (even ballad "Phoenix Rising"
manages to be cheesy in a good way, if you get my meaning...).
Perhaps the most dissappointing thing about Annihilator is that, were it not for the vocals and lyrics, they could have been a really solid thrash metal band. "W.T.Y.D.," "Never, Neverland," "Word Salad,"
and "The Fun Palace"
in particular have some amazing instrumental guitar parts which almost rival the dexterity and impressiveness of some of the material on Megadeth
's "Rust in Peace"
opus, and the last few tracks show progression towards a more heavy-rock sound which could have held some commercial potential. However, it's a sad indictment of the rest of the band, that my first thoughts when listening to Annihilator, were that Jeff Waters would have been better off persuing a solo-instrumental route, similar to the likes of Joe Satriani
When bad vocals and lyrics spoil an already bad band (Aiden
, anyone?), it's not that big a deal, but when such factors destroy the credibility and listenability of what could have been a well-above-average thrash metal band, it's a huge dissapointment. And "a huge disappointment" is exactly what one could label both this compilation, and Annihilator themselves.