Thrash Under Pressure: Annihilator

12th June 2016 0 By Tim Jones

Following on from the last Thrash Under Pressure where I reminded you that thrash might have its roots in the good old US of A but thrived elsewhere too, this time we go north of the border into the land of Mounties and lumberjacks and where people ride polar bears to work due to the country’s perpetual winter.

OK, some of that might not be true, but the list of Canadian stereotypes is an odd one. The list needs a new addition too – that they’re a metal as fuck nation. Annihilator have certainly proved that.

Annihilator was formed by Jeff Waters in Ottawa in 1984. Waters is the only member to have been with the band for the full duration of their career, playing lead and rhythm guitar, providing vocals and even being credited with playing “all instruments” on some releases.

A look at the list of past members of the band reads like a phone book, but this hasn’t had any impact on the heaviness or indeed quality of the majority of their output.

After circulating multiple demo tapes for years, Annihilator were signed by Roadrunner and in 1989 released their first album, but what a first album. Alice in Hell starts with a medieval-sounding guitar duet (quite why this is a staple of thrash is baffling, but it works well every time someone does it). Then the show really starts. It’s well produced and chock full of riffs Dave Mustaine must wish he wrote and more than a few classical elements too.

The following year saw Never, Neverland hit the shelves and it continued where its predecessor left off. Annihilator were inventing their own style. They took the blueprint laid out by Metallica et al, tore it up, burned it and turned their amps up to 11. They weren’t looking over their shoulders at what anyone else was up to and were fast becoming a force to be reckoned with – having toured with Testament and Judas Priest.

Set the World on Fire came along in 1993 and was probably one of the year’s heaviest thrash releases, even though the competition wasn’t the stiffest it would ever be (it’s important to remember that Anthrax released Sound of White Noise that same year, which was decidedly un-thrash). They were still very much on an upward curve though. Sure, there’s a bit of balladeering sneaking on, but everyone was dabbling with that by this point.

There was a brief hiatus and general clear-out before King of the Kill came along. Waters did everything on this album except play drums. It’s heavy as hell from the outset and has a better bass sound than the previous three records – possibly a kind of reverseJason Newsted situation or possibly the most important band member wants everything he did to be heard. Nevertheless it is an amazing slab of thrash. The album contains the song Annihilator, not to be confused with another of the same name Waters had written ten years previously. Confusing much?

Touring musicians were drafted in and then it was back to the studio with just a drummer in tow for Refresh the Demon. Other than the drums and a couple of guitar solos, Jeff Waters did everything else besides design the album’s cover. It’s not bad, but it isn’t as good as King of the Kill. And with the lack of permanent studio musicians, was Annihilator becoming The Jeff Waters Band?

Yes, kind of.

Remains in 1997 was all Waters, It included a drum machine which he had of course programmed himself and had a more industrial sound. The album wasn’t especially well-received. Hardly surprising. A drum machine on a thrash album? No, just no. There was no supporting tour.

Annihilator were to bounce back with vigour on Criteria for a Black Widow. A full band was once again assembled and they returned to their roots – no gimmicks.

The band hit their stride in the 2000s and churned out thrash metal masterpieces with ease. Carnival Diablos, Waking the Fury, All for You and Schizo Deluxe made mincemeat of much of their contemporaries’ output at the same time.

Annihilator weren’t done yet either. 2007 saw the release of Metal, the most Ronseal of album titles. It was slightly less heavy, but still damn good.

The obligatory self-titled album followed this. The album sleeve is enough to give anyone nightmares, but the music won’t. This record might well be their best, even if the song 25 Seconds actually clocks in at 4:48. It’s shouty and full of raw energy. Annihilator seem to turn up at the studio each time with the energy of a band much younger and nail it nine times out of ten.

Feast and Suicide Society bring us up to date and show that Annihilator have still got plenty left in the tank.

The next time someone tries to tell you that nothing good has ever come out of Canada, give them a bottle of maple syrup and point them in the direction of Annihilator‘s back catalogue.

Put them on your playlist: Ultra-Motion, 25 Seconds