Annihilator - Annihilator (Riot)

Once-cool melodic thrashers Annihilator are releasing a new album (their best in years, naturally) with a title and hype machine indicating a "back-to-basics" approach and a sense of definitiveness, and a gimmick running through each of the songs. Wait a minute, weren't we hearing these exact words in 2007?
Release Date: 
17 May 2010 (All day)

We certainly were, with the much-hyped and painfully arrogantly named Metal, which seemed like a good idea at the time but a couple of months after its release turned out to just be more of the forgettable dross which has made up literally all of Annihilator's output since mainman Jeff Waters followed up the rockin' Never Neverland with the ill-advised attempt at Black Album-esque success that was Set The World On Fire.  Yes, the idea of one of metal's best guitarists trading licks with a half dozen or so of the best-known guitarists in metal today was one that seemed honestly quite brilliant on paper (at least to this fan of unadulterated shred), and hell, the solo sections worked!  It's just a shame that everything else about Metal was shit.

This time around, on their new self-titled album, the gimmick of the album is solos.  A veritable fuckton of them - 66 spread over the album, to be precise.  Which, it turns out, is the requisite amount to get bored of Jeff Waters' guitar playing, awesome as it is.   So what Annihilator have apparently done here is taken the only part of their music which is still interesting and made it boring.  Wow.  Great work, guys.

The problems with Annihilator these days are manifold, but most of them boil down to Jeff Waters being kind of a dick.  He's an egomaniacal guitarist, in the Mustaine and Schaeffer mold, who essentially is the band and doesn't give a shit who comes or goes, or whether anyone else has songwriting or hell, even emotional input into the songs.  Which leads to even the best stuff these days coming out sounding bland and robotic.  So while Annihilator have never had a really good vocalist, even the off-key screams of the awesomely named Randy Rampage - or hell, Waters himself has done lead vocals a few times and wasn't terrible - are much, much better than the flat emotionless drivel of current vocalist Dave Padden.  If you made a robot and told it to do "thrash metal vocals" it would sound like Padden.  Somehow, he's the band's longest-serving vocalist by this point - yet not once has he sounded like he's given half a shit about what he's singing.  Even the vocals sound energetic and emotionally charged next to the drums, though, which, triggered to all fuck, no variation on rythym or style, may as well be a drum machine.  Which I suppose just leaves the riffs, not a single one of which I can remember after listening to the album four times.  They sound flat enough before the production flattens everything out even further.

If Waters replaced the vocalist, held together a solid lineup over a couple of albums and tours, and really put his mind to it, I'm sure he's still capable of writing an album of the caliber of Alice in Hell (of course, it'll still have the silly lyrics and only half the songs will be great - even at their best, Annihilator sounded wimpy and lame compared to the greats of late 80s thrash).  But he's given no indication that he wants to do anything other than grind out some riffs which serve no purpose other than to go underneath Padden's shitty vocals and his own admittedly still very awesome soloing.  I wouldn't hold out for Annihilator becoming anything more than part of the metal furniture for a while yet.  Like, probably ever.

Except wait, what's this?  This last song! The drums are doing interesting things! The songwriting is being mixed up a bit!  Padden's voice isn't entirely flat!  The solos sound even better than usual!  What can it be?!  Wait, never mind, it's just a fucking Van Halen cover.  Don't worry, everything is still boring in Annihilator-land.

Annihilator's s/t release is out on 17 May 2010 on Earache/Riot.