REVIEW: ANNIHILATOR – “For The Demented”
Including the current line-up, Annihilator has had around 40 members (including live stand-ins) in their 33-year career (according to Metal Archives) – and through three decades, and two scores of member changes, there has only been one constant – Jeff Waters. One of the most under-rated guitarists and songwriters in the game, Annihilator is his baby. November 2017 will see Jeff Waters and Annihilator return to metal’s forefront with album number 16 – ‘For the Demented’.
The second album since the departure of long-time vocalist/guitarist Dave Paddon (the longest-serving member of Annihilator’s long list of ex-members), ‘For the Demented’has a lot to prove. 2015’s ‘Suicide Society’ was a bit hit and miss, focusing too much attention on big choruses and not enough on the meat and bones of the songs. In countless interviews over the last year, Waters has said time and time again that ‘For the Demented’ is a return to the sound from the first few legendary Annihilator albums, having more in common with ‘Alice In Hell’ or ‘Set the World On Fire’ than ‘Suicide Society’ or ‘Feast’.
Straight for the jugular, ‘For the Demented’ opens with album-highlight and lead single “Twisted Lobotomy”. Anyone lucky enough to catch Annihilator live over the summer will be familiar with “Twisted Lobotomy” – a teaser for this new record the band played live, it stood as the highlight of their entire set at Bloodstock Open Air, and for good reason. Almost guaranteed to be a mainstay in Annihilator’s setlist, “Twisted Lobotomy” is a shred-classic, standing should to shoulder with any of the highlights from the band’s extensive back catalogue. Showcasing thrash as it should be, it is one of ‘For the Demented’s’ best songs, by far.
Joining “Twisted Lobotomy” as instant thrash classics, “Phantom Asylum” and “Altering the Altar” come into play during the latter half of ‘For the Demented’. Opening with a seriously haunting intro, “Phantom Asylum” is a little more groove focussed than “Twisted Lobotomy,” and is set to be a pit-anthem with its hooky chorus and crushing heaviness. With another melodic, though still enticing, intro, “Altering the Altar” thrashes like it’s 1984 all-over again, bringing the speed to the forefront with just enough melody to burrow into your brain. Both tracks will be welcome additions to any Annihilator setlist.
Not every track on ‘For the Demented’ is a raging thrash-fest, however. The title track carries a healthy dose of ‘70s swagger, feeling a little more traditional and groovy in its execution. The sinister intro and reasonably heavy chorus are deceiving – the bulk of “For the Demented” is a sleazy, classic rock influenced banger – though with a bit of Annihlator’s signature thrash giving the track a really interesting sound. Jeff Waters has always been open about the influence he draws from other bands in his writing, and it’s not difficult to guess what commercial bulldozer he was listening to when he wrote “Pieces of You” – both his vocals and the instrumentation on “Pieces of You” leave the track sounding like a song Metallica wishes they wrote on their self-titled cash-cow. Bringing ‘For the Demented’ to a close, “Not All There” walks the line between the old-school swagger of the title track and the thrashy excellence of the previously mentioned highlights, packaged together with a stunningly hooky chorus and a brief flash of jazz towards the middle and end of the song.
The sheer excellency of the songs individually aside, there are two issues with ‘For the Demented’ that lower the score from a perfect 10/10. Firstly, and the more minor point, is the running order. The tracks could have been organised in a better fashion – for example, the haunting synth interlude, “Dark”, may have been stronger as an intro track to build the atmosphere for the rest of the album, and opening the record with its strongest track, “Twisted Lobotomy”, felt like a mistake. This is, however, a very minor point – but one still worth mentioning. The more serious issue is the confused identity the album seems to have. Taken individually, every song on ‘For the Demented’ is a straight up modern classic. Individually, there is almost nothing that can be faulted with the songs. However, as an entity, ‘For the Demented’ feels a bit unsure of itself – while most of the album thrashes just as hard as anything in Annihilator’s back catalogue, the ballady “Pieces of You” and the old-school metal throwbacks “The Way” and the title track feel a touch out of place. Excellent songs, for sure, but a little odd next to such a heavy selection of songs.
From the first listen, it’s clear Jeff Waters is feeling the most inspired he has in years – with some of the best tracks he has penned in his career, ‘For the Demented’ is pretty damn excellent as a whole. Though there are a few issues drawing it down from perfection, ‘For the Demented’ is a whirlwind listen, drawing a varied serious of emotions from the listener. Annihilator fans were promised a return to the brilliance of the “glory days,” and Waters has delivered.