Review Summary: Refresh The Demon is predictable in almost every way imaginable.
The 90’s were rough on many old school acts, namely those who had come up in the thrash scene and were still trying to carve out a comfortable spot in a dying genre. By 1996, Annihilator had certainly contributed much to thrash, with two critically acclaimed albums, 1988’s “Alice in Hell” and 1990’s “Never Neverland” respectively. But by 1996, it would seem that Annihilator’s had lost their creative drive, and the technical thrash found on the band’s early works was a thing of the past.
Refresh the Demon can be seen in a couple ways. On one hand, the album isn't necessarily awful. It is actually quite enjoyable. The guitar playing is most exceptional, with catchy riffing and expertly executed solos spread out throughout the album in just the right places. It would seem as if this album is almost exclusively tailored for guitar loving aficionados. In fact, I would venture to say that Jeff Waters never really lost his ability to shred, and he only got better as the years went by. This album also marks a slight return to a more thrash oriented sound, which is nice considering the band had been moving away from that sound in the years leading up to this album. The first couple tracks in particular showcase the bands heavier material, with fast and riff packed songs letting the listener know that Annihilator can still thrash when necessary. And a good majority of the songs have really catchy riffs that easily get stuck in your head. However, most of Refresh the Demon doesn't due Jeff’s talents any justice. It still has that signature Waters feel to it, but the material is awfully stale. The riffing is repetitive, the drumming is repetitive, and the album lacks any variation from the band’s traditional heavy metal and thrash metal styles. In fact, most of the more high quality material is found at the beginning of the record, and the album turns progressively more average as the record drags on. The songs do little to really distinguish themselves apart from each other, and while many of the songs contain really excellent guitar play, this is all that the album has going for it, as many of these songs simply fall flat and sound stale and predictably tame in comparison to some of the bands former work.
In the past, Annihilator still had the same masterful guitar play courtesy of guitarist Jeff Waters, but the band also had a few more enticing elements that they lacked on this album. Namely, the band doesn't have vocalists Coburn Pharr or Randy Rampage. In the absence of a traditional vocalist, Jeff Waters has take up vocal duties. While he may be a skilled guitarist, Jeff really fails to grab my attention at the microphone. He shows almost no vocal range, and rarely uses any clean singing. His standard vocal tone consists of a raw and harsh sounding shout or yell, and it really just sounds boring and fails to give the band the edge they had when Jeff wasn't on vocals. This album is largely bread and butter heavy metal, with a few good riffs and solos thrown in for good measure. I feel as if the band didn't want to take any risks with their sound, electing to instead play it safe and not branch out and grow musically. This is in stark contrast to the band in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when they did have progressive and technical arrangements in their songs.
This album is quite average, painfully predictable and repetitive, but at the same time inoffensive and fun. It is leagues away from the bands past material, but it does have its moments, that being the guitar play .The guitar play is the only thing that saves this album from mediocrity, and while I am a huge Annihilator fan, Refresh the Demon is a huge disappointment, and is in my eyes one of the bands worst offerings from the 90’s.