Sound: For those about to thrash, we salute your resolve. It's a difficult act to carry these days, with youth and creativity having all but abandoned the genre. Those who continue to plug away do it knowing that they'll occupy the same space forever, both musically and commercially. Experienced and very well respected, Canada's Annihilator sit somewhere between the megastars of the big four, fan favourites such as Exodus and Testament and the likes of Voivod and Sabbat, who are hard-nosed enough to continue as truly cult legends. Most praise for Annihilator Jeff Waters, their virtuosic mastermind whose multi-instrumentalism and leadership has inspired many of metal's biggest contemporary bands. But, as any thrash junkie will tell you, their output has too often flirted with mediocrity, and their seminal debut "Alice in Hell" has come to be viewed as a sad reminder of unfulfilled potential.
Since scaling down to a two man operation in 2007, Waters and his vocal co-conspirator Dave Padden have released two albums: "Metal," a star-studded exhibition which would have been great but for the lack of good songs, and a crowd-pleasing self-titled album which confidently retraced the band's steps back to thrash. "Feast" is like the latter in style slick, lead-heavy thrash but there have been a few tweaks here and there in an attempt to keep things fresh. The first is in production, where Waters has given his guitars a lively crunch and boosted his mids for maximum loudness. The most significant change, though, is in the vocals, with Padden opting to sing as much as snarl and sacrifice a little bite for the sake of memorability. Unfortunately his melodies are trite and unimaginative, moving up and down the pentatonic as if on rails and squandering cadences on predictable rhymes and themes. More on that later.
Musically "Feast" is a mixed bag. The speed with which "Deadlock" comes out of the starting blocks is sustained through three tracks of old-school thrash but the Faith No More flavour of "No Surrender" with its bouncy grooves and jerky structure, disrupts the flow considerably. Waters never gets back into top gear for longer than a few minutes, though "Fight The World" is a highlight, with its unpredictable turns of shred-happy soloing and gratifying melodic leads. Pedestrian as it may be at times, the only reason to beware of this largely inoffensive album is "Perfect Angel Eyes," a profoundly horrible track which leaks dignity with every second of tacky, clichd, man-ballad dishwater. // 6
Lyrics: That brings us nicely onto the lyrics. Putting the botched love song to one side, "Feast" is limited to the subjects of thrash bands from time immemorial insanity, violence, brainwashing by the media. You'll have heard it all before (not least because Annihilator have sung about it all before) but it's particularly disappointing in this case because the lyrics are so audible, so hard to ignore. Meaning is constantly diluted by an overriding desire to stuff everything into rhymes, no matter how awkward ("I wanna break your will/and leave you an empty shell/I'll make that mouth of yours/take an early trip to hell") and hearing Padden butcher the language so he can get back to a particular sound starts to grate very quickly. Jeff Waters seems to sign off on a lyric as soon as it rhymes, which is a fast track to failure when you want to sound volatile and dangerous. // 4
Overall Impression: After 14 albums and almost 30 years on the road, you can't criticise Annihilator for a lack of effort. Their history and unwavering dedication to the cause will always command respect from their peers and successors, and though "Feast" is flawed, it is not their worst album by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they haven't sounded this energised in over a decade, but when you're dealing with a genre that's treaded water for twenty years you need something special to escape the ordinary, something Jeff Waters and co. Just don't have anymore. // 6
- Duncan Geddes (c) 2013