Tuesday 4 February 2020

Annihilator - Ballistic, Sadistic (2020)

Country: Canada
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
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I've been a fan of Annihilator since they released their debut album, Alice in Hell, way back in 1989, but not so much a fan as many critics. This band were press darlings for a while and, as good as they were, they fell into an odd gap in my tastes. For good old heads down thrash, I preferred a batch of the more straightforward American second wave bands like Testament and Death Angel, while for more experimental thrash, I preferred wilder European bands like Sieges Even or Coroner.

I was eager to try out a new Annihilator album in 2020, not realising that the band hadn't actually ceased to be back in 1994 and this is their, count 'em, seventeenth studio album. Apparently main man Jeff Waters kept the band going practically solo, playing all the instruments on studio albums himself and recruiting session musicians for tours. This may be the primary reason why he's been in Annihilator since 1984 but no other musician in the "band" dates back to earlier than 2015.

What they've created here is an excellent thrash album that's built out of a more straightforward set of sounds than I expected. For example, the opener, Armed to to the Teeth, rattles along like a mix of Megadeth and Metal Church, hardly a bad combination, with NWOBHM riffs in between the vocal parts. For those fans who keep wishing that Dave Mustaine stayed on guitar for Megadeth and hired a singer, this isn't too far off what you might end up with. When you get to Lip Service, it's exactly what you'd get.

That Megadeth meets Metal Church sound underpins much of this, but it varies as the songs require. For instance, The Attitude, maybe appropriately given its title and chorus, is a punkier affair throughout, adding Anthrax to the Megadeth base. Psycho Ward is almost like an Alice Cooper song, even Mötley Crüe at points, just faster and heavier than the fastest and heaviest Alice or the Crüe ever got. Lip Service gets to twin guitar sections straight out of Iron Maiden.

If I'm reading correctly, Waters is responsible for everything heard on this album except for the drums, which are the work of Fabio Alessandrini. I have to say that I'm very impressed with Alessandrini. He stays utterly reliable whatever the tempo, right up to very fast indeed, and whatever the changes, which are often tricky, this being technical thrash. He even stays reliable when playing something we've heard before, Out with the Garbage being about as fast and tricky as this album gets but featuring the highly recognisable riff from Metal Church's Psycho.

Of course, that leaves the rest of the praise for Waters, who takes care of the lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar and bass. He has plenty of solos and they often shift from one instrument to another, usually guitar to bass, in seamless fashion. He even plays with what the instruments can do too, like a number of more experimental sounds on solos in Dressed Up for Evil. Best of all, though, is surely the guitarwork on The End of the Lie, which sounds a lot like a battle squadron of fae hovering on frantic beating wings and then launching off when they hear the order for attack. It's a fantastic buzzsaw guitar sound.

What all this means is that, even though I expected to enjoy this, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's a great balance between sheer speed and melody, as many hooks as riffs, and with all the technical genius that Jeff Waters is known for. I should clearly go back to Alice in Hell and try out a bunch of the albums I didn't know existed. I do see some wildly different ratings on them, though, so I'll tread carefully. I'd expect this one to get consistently high ratings.

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