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Why do I put myself through this? This is a rare reader request, but to be honest I am content to finally close the book on Annihilator, and Criteria for a Black Widow was intentionally saved for last, and oh boy let me tell you, this one is an experience. Advertised at the time courtesy of the reunification of the "classic" Annihilator lineup (or however close we can get to that) sans Wayne Darley (who never rejoined the band after the '93 touring fiasco), many were pining for a return to form, or hell anything other than the bizarre crap Waters was pumping out on his own like Remains and the sort.
I'm not one to account too heavily into face value, but I really have to get some of this off of my chest right away. The thoughts running through my mind upon first experiencing this included, but were not limited to: Is this cover art a fucking joke? Where is Jeff's girlfriend from the artwork of Set the World on Fire and In Command? Who is this bimbo, and why does she look like a clown? Why do Davis and Hartmann look like they've aged thirty years since Never, Neverland on the back cover? Parallel to that, why does Waters never seem to age at all? Rampage got kicked out of the band on the subsequent tour for being a blithering drunk? You could have fooled me! He sounds like they propped him up in the studio here and simply recorded whatever rants he decided to espouse in arbitrary fashion. All of the pain elicited by these bizarre happenings is punctuated by the fact that musically, Criteria for a Black Widow is quite respectable for an Annihilator record. Its place in the timeline does not necessarily belie the output, as this is definitely closer to Carnival Diablos than King of the Kill and Refresh the Demon.
This means that amongst a morass of overproduced groovers, we can find a few solid thrashers tucked into the folds. Annihilator have simply never been able to pull groove off, as Waters wholly fails to evoke the bouncy subtext so critical to the style. Instead, he just slows his technically-inclined riffs down to the point that they logically become something else altogether, and there you have it: "The Box," "The Perfect Virus," "Punctured;' all among the band's worst material. Criteria for a Black Widow is clearly no exception here, and what really hurts it even further is honestly the return of Rampage. Rampage as a vocalist means power ballads are out of the question, and there goes the only possible redeeming quality of '90s Annihilator out the window. There are some clean vocals dispersed about, like on the chorus of "Loving the Sinner," and as usual Waters is pretty decent in this regard, so more of that, please.
Instead, we get a number of spastic, faster numbers that while fairly invigorating in isolation, fail to stick deep in your cerebrum afterward. Examples of this are "Bloodbath" and "Sonic Homicide," both baring their teeth in a rather intimidating manner, but easily diffuse into the rest of the band's catalogue at the end of the day. The positive exceptions to the rule here are "Back to the Palace," parts of the title track, and "Schizos (Are Never Alone) Part III." The latter is mercifully an instrumental and contains all of Annihilator's better features all condensed into one song. A spectacular acoustic opening as expected, followed by a swarm of tense riffs and ricocheting leads; a great track. It shouldn't be surprising that "Back to the Palace" features a reworking of the riffs from "The Fun Palace," but it just takes everything good about the song and makes it slightly worse. Somehow this still manages to be a highlight, which is quite telling to be frank.
Rampage just kills this for me, though. He simply didn't fit Annihilator's style anymore at this juncture, and while I can't blame Waters for giving this lineup a shot, I'm sure he was relieved to get Joe Comeau out of the entire ordeal, who asked to join on the spot during the tour with Overkill when Rampage was rightfully sacked. Instrumentally it contains some of the band's greater work, but Criteria for a Black Widow is one that should probably be skipped on the whole. Check out "Schizos (Are Never Alone) Part III" and maybe give the album a whirl if you were exceptionally fond of the Comeau era of the band, as that is the closest parallel that can be drawn here. As for me, I'm just glad this is all over. For the few of you still scratching your heads over my opening statement, I will never review the debut, as I generally abstain from appraising the classics, which it certainly is; and as stated in one of my earlier reviews, I don't consider Metal a true Annihilator record.
No one can deny the contribution of Jeff Waters and his band Annihilator to the music that we all love. Though, not the biggest band in heavy metal, they gave at least two great albums, Alice in Hell and Never Neverland. In 1997, Annihilator released the Remains album with Waters on the vocals. Basically, he was one band himself. Remains was a very controversial album that divided both critics and the fans. So, Annihilator’s, or should we say Waters’, next step had to be very careful.
It appears that Waters was not too satisfied with his vocals on the previous albums, so he decided that that the best thing to do would be to find a new singer. And he did. His name was Randy Rampage and if it sounds familiar you are right. Their first vocalist had returned to give them the push they needed since their already low popularity had decreased. Ray Hartmann took back his place behind the drum kit, completing the puzzle.
An expression says that you cannot judge a book by its cover. In our case, Criteria for a Black Widow, Annihilator’s new album, features on its cover the young lady that appeared on Set the World on Fire, who is also supposed to be Waters’ girlfriend. The line-up and the cover are not criteria enough for you? Then, you will need to wait until the first riff begins. Clearly Annihilator make an attempt to go back to the early days and to the sound of Alice in Hell.
All the songs are written by Waters and their friend, John Bates has helped with some of the lyrics. In general, Criteria… is a quite good release with its few bad moments. Same old Waters, same old Rampage. After a decade, he can still deliver! I don’t know how things went in the studio between the two of them but the result turned out well.
Now, let’s start with what NOT to listen to. The self-titled song is nothing but a big load of shit! What on earth were they thinking? Apart from the solo there are no riffs, it is mostly the bass guitar and the lyrics are so boring with Rampage repeating: can you this, can you that, blah blah. A total waste of six precious minutes. Then we have Double Dare, which is quite fast but really dull. They are trying to play some thrash there but somewhere along the way they lose track of their intentions. There is nothing interesting in that song and no one will blame you if you skip it.
There are two instrumentals in the album and I can’t understand why. Okay, Schizos Part III is not bad; it’s the early typical sound of Annihilator. The only problem is that it shouldn’t be that long in duration. Three minutes would have been more than enough. On the other hand, Mending is totally boring and was added in, just to complete the fifty minutes in duration. They have done silly and weird things in the past like Braindance but this one is completely meaningless. I guess they had run out of inspiration at the moment. Also, Punctured is a song easy to listen. It is kind of a mid-tempo one, which gets a bit faster and heavier at the refrain. You can say that it is not that bad in the end.
Now, we are getting to the good stuff. Nothing Left is worth listening. It’s fast and steady creating a feeling to start breaking things around you. It could have been written for the Alice in Hell album. In general, everything in here gives the sensation that this only Annihilator’s second release. So does Sonic Homicide. As soon as it blasts off, the adrenaline hits the ceiling. Somewhere in the middle, a slow bridge fools you but when the light turns green again, you feel the pieces of yourself scattered on the wall. The vocals are kind of “computerized” but don’t mind that. Thrash motherfuckers!!
A song that differs from the rest is Loving the Sinner. Its basic riff is more heavy metal and less thrash. More Judas Priest than Exciter. Nicely done guys. It is exactly what I would expect to hear from Waters. Well, once metal, always metal. But now you must hold on to something. Don’t let yourself go, for the Bloodbath begins! This one’s a killer. Absolute power and speed! The spirit of Word Salad and W.T.Y.D. relives! Your ears ache from the ultimate metal explosion and you pray for mercy as shockwaves of pure thrash pound inside your head. Not yet my friend. First you must go Back to The Palace. All hell breaks loose as Waters and Co. remind us of what they used to play and hopefully will keep playing. Some will say that it is only a copy of The Fun Palace. Well, the basic riff reminds of it but basically I would prefer to consider it as the continuity of Fun Palace, both musically and lyrically.
Bearing in mind that these are the first two songs of the album, can you think of a better way to do so? Yes, Annihilator is back. They have not forgotten how to play heavy or how to play metal. No doubt about it. And the best is yet to come.
Like every other thrash metal veteran, Annihilator sought a return to form after a near decade of inconsistency that cost them a good deal of their fanbase (That and poor management...). Guitarist Jeff Waters proceeded to abandon his vocal duties, rehired "Alice in Hell" vocalist Randy Rampage and original drummer Randy Hartmann, and began to write songs in the vein of (and sometimes making reference to) the band's classic era. Fortunately, Waters had the riffs and songwriting skills to back up his ambitions...
In terms of music and style, it's pretty safe to say that this is one of the fastest, heaviest, and darkest Annihilator albums to date. Most of the songs on here go at an intense speed and showcase a direct approach. There is also less variety than most other Annihilator album and successfully leaves little room for the experimentation that only made fans wonder what the band was thinking on past efforts. Of course there are slight exceptions in the near-ballad styles of "Punctured," the bass heavy title track, the two melodic instrumentals ("Schizos (Are Never Alone) (Part III)" and "Mending"), and the complex mindfuck known as "Double Dare."
There is also a present air of darkness that seems to pick up where the more controversial "Remains" left off. While most Annihilator albums seem to be pre-occupied with themes of war, mental illness, or whatever else enters Waters' mind, there's something about this album's lyrics that make the themes more cryptic and personal. Maybe it has something to do with the production. Whatever it is, it's most evident on tracks such as "Loving the Sinner," which Waters claimed was not about his ex wife...
Unfortuntely, I think this album may also be the root of Annihilator's more desperate sounds and themes. In addition to the old school sound, there are so many throwbacks to the band's first two albums that it really makes evolution seem like a good idea. I know Megadeth wrote a sequel to "Hangar 18" with the "Return to Hangar" and I know Metallica wrote two sequels to "The Unforgiven," but having two sequels on the same album probably wasn't the best idea. On the bright side, I'm pretty sure "Schizos (Are Never Alone) (Part III)" is a sequel in name only...
All in all, this is a pretty solid comeback in spite of its desperate moments and easily makes the band's Top 5. Of course, it merely hints at the greatness that would soon come with the arrival of Joe Comeau...
1) Less experimentation leads to a more consistent overall album
2) Solid songwriting and an energetic band performance
3) An interestingly dark atmosphere
1) It's obvious that the band was desperately trying to make this as old school as possible
2) Rampage's vocals are as challenging to get into as ever
3) There are a few odd tracks along the way
My Current Favorites:
"Bloodbath," "Punctured," "Schizos (Are Never Alone) (Part III)," "Nothing Left," and "Loving the Sinner"
First impressions are almost always deceiving, particularly when it comes to alleged comeback albums. More often than not, you’ll get the best of what the album has to offer on the first 2 or 3 songs, followed by a mishmash of pure filler and maybe some half-decent experimentation, a happy ending for a finale is optional but occasionally employed as well. That’s basically how this half-hearted, half-thrash release by the classic line-up of Annihilator breaks down. You get some really excellent thrash metal, along with a load of other stuff that either doesn’t measure up or completely falls flat.
The return of Randy Rampage is definitely a plus, as Jeff Waters was definitely not getting the job done behind the microphone. He sounds about as weathered as he looks, although he looked a good deal older than the rest of the band back in 1989, and does not have the high notes that he belted out with ease on “Alice In Hell”. His vocal range on here focuses mostly on the gravely thrash growl and remains relatively flat throughout. In fact, the vocal work on here doesn’t really go much beyond what Waters did on “Refresh The Demon”, though Rampage puts a lot more character into the monolithic vocal presentation on here.
Annihilator has never been a straight up thrash band, but compared to what they did on their first two albums, this is not even consistent by progressive thrash standards. There’s too much variation of style, too much trying to be both modern and retro at the same time, and it doesn’t come off as well as it could have if the band had truly tried to 100% emulate their debut. When they get down and thrash it up, Waters finds himself constantly reaching into the same “Raining Blood” well that he pulled that amazing riff on “Human Insecticide” from. Likewise, the groove tracks on here continue the same spirit of halfcocked Pantera worship meets Machine Head nonsense that populated most of album space on the Jeff Waters trilogy that this came directly after.
Things start off amazingly enough with “Bloodbath” as the riffs are agitated and technical enough to make any guitar fret board reach the point of combustion. It’s not quite as catchy and simple in its riff approach as “Human Insecticide”, though it’s pretty clear that was what they were going for on this one. They frontload the song with a few different slower riffs that definitely reach for Slayer’s epic riffing style of the mid-80s, although the production pushes it a little towards a “Seasons In The Abyss” sound. Rampage’s vocal assault is definitely aggressive, but doesn’t quite have the ballsy, “Ride The Lightning” era Hetfield character that his parallel works on “Alice In Hell” did, and instead sounds like a slightly weaker version of Mustaine’s vocal work.
“Back To The Palace” works closer to a power/thrash hybrid that recycles some melodic riff ideas from the well-known “Never, Neverland” opener “The Fun Palace” and mixes it with the same Slayer riffing heard on the previous song on here. It’s an interesting twist on the older version of the song, but it would have been better if they put a couple of songs between this one and the previous one because they use an extremely sounding Slayer riff to accomplish the aggression factor. “Nothing Left” and “Sonic Homocide” take a more straight up approach, invoking some Bay Area influences to complement the Slayer-like tinge that this whole album exhibits, the latter of which goes a little overboard on the vocal distortion but is otherwise a solid listen.
Things get uninspired towards the middle of the album as things try to get groovy and vary away from the thrash sound that worked well on all of the previously mentioned songs. “Loving The Sinner” is mostly a straight up mid-tempo crusher, but has this really lame, almost grungy sounding breakdown with clean vocals that are not pulled off well. “Punctured” and “Criteria For A Black Widow” sound like rejects from Machine Head’s debut album with almost intelligible mutterings out of Rampage that almost sound like he’s imitating Beavis. “Double Dare” sort of straddles between being a Machine Head song and a semi-decent Pantera styled speed metal song, but completely falls apart during that lame, ballad-like interlude section. Parts of each of these songs are solid, but as a whole they either meander into incoherence or get bogged down in hypnotic groove ideas and never fully take off.
Basically, this album is about on par with “Set The World On Fire” in terms of musical quality, although it doesn’t sound a whole lot like it musically. It’s better than their middle era stuff that started in 1994, but it doesn’t come close to the magic that this line-up had back in 1989 when they showed the world that there was more to Canada than progressive rock bands, bacon and caribous. If you want to hear some solid mixture of thrash metal with modern touches, “Carnival Diablos” would be a better place to start, but this is worth your time if you’ve already heard that album.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on October 25, 2008.
This album has the absolute lowest survival time of any CD in my collection. I still have the Shaq Diesel album my friends made me buy on a dare, and I still have Kratornas' Battledemons to torture people. But this album was so mediocre, so bad, and so needless, that I gave it away to a random chick after listening to it probably half a dozen times. And that was the first two days I had it...then it sat in my bedroom, before I brought it to a bar and gave it to that chick.
So what's bad? Basically everything.
"Bloodbath" starts the thing off really well, blowing Annihilator's entire load as well as their whole arsenel of real thrash riffs before the damn thing is becalmed. Even the terrible vocals (kind of a whispered grunt) work on here, and my expectations are kind of high. All the elements combine to make an actual ripper of a thrash song, but then BAM! It's over. And in my opinion, this album is over.
"Punctured" is basically a Silverchair song played by Korn. Simplistic clean riffs, with a mallcore riff puncturing it. The vocals on here are the absolute worst, sounding like a mentally challenged kid. It makes me want to fucking spew. And that's not even as bad as the title track, which is trite, halfthrash with lyrics that read like a chat conversation featured on Dateline's "To Catch a Predator." Anyone who spells "you" as "u" should be kicked in the fucking head.
"Back to the Palace" is "The Fun Palace" with the riffs played a little differently, but nothing meriting a listen. Megadeth did this with "Hanger 18," and the subsequent "Return to Hanger" was total shit, played by a band that could no long achieve the speeds necessary for take off. Here, Annihilator still has the muscle to pull it off, but can't figure out why they fuck they're doing it. Why, really? That's what I want to know. Is it because your old vocalist is on here again, despite the fact that he is fucking terrible?
The rest of the tracks on here have some great solos, but are filled with rotten vocals and weak riffs that go right out the window. It's really disappointing, especially when you realize how good of a guitarist Jeff Waters really is, that the songs are so poorly written.
A friend of mine made a comparison to Boston with Annihilator. Despite styles being different I'd say it's spot on. You get some great ideas with one guitarist running everything and somehow everything loses its balls. There is a lot of potential, but it's sadly inexplicably ruined.
On the instrumental side, "Schizos are Never Alone 3" is not overly bad, and it does contain some decent riffs, but it doesn't make any sense. It's like Jeff took all his scrap book riffs and threw them in one song. "Mending" is a nice little outro, and thankfully announces that this album is over.
Just when you thought Jeff Waters would go on to release something even worse than the industrial influenced Remains album, he recruits original vocalist Randy Rampage and original drummer Ray Hartmann and does just the opposite. Despite some inherent flaws, Criteria for a Black Widow is the spiritual reincarnation of the Alice in Hell/Never Neverland era Annihilator, modernized but recharged.
First off, the things about this album that own, of which there are many. Jeff Waters' writing emphasis is once again focused on metal, for which Annihilator fans can only be grateful. Though some of the riffing sounds recycled (or in the case of "Back to the Palace," is recycled) from older albums (and in the case of "Sonic Homicide," an old, old demo), there's a lot of new ideas present in the riffing, namely the return of some all out fucking thrash and a torrent of some of Waters' best lead work in years. Though there's a fair amount of Never Neverland style melodic and/or acoustic breaks to mix up the mayhem, much of this is pure heaviness and very fast. The distortion still has the lingering scent of modern metal that it acquired a few albums back, but it isn't really a negative factor here. Everything sounds as it should and is masterfully produced.
The return of Randy Rampage is a triumphant one, as his raspy voice perfectly compliments this one. He doesn't sound as good as he did on Alice in Hell, but he manages to make Waters' bland and ridiculous lyrics sound legit. Though the lyrics on this album aren't nearly as bad as on most of the earlier albums, they could still use some work (the actual line from "Bloodbath" is "No one here will miss the stench of your abyss," whatever the fuck that means, but it's certainly not as stupid as "stench of your piss") Jeff Waters does some melodic background vocals from time to time, but they don't sound as shitty as they did on the last few. Ray Hartmann owns here, as his drumming is intricate and spot on throughout. And did I mention that Jeff Waters shreds his ass off all over this thing?
So now for the things that hurt this album. First up, the above mentioned lyrics. Lyrical ineptitude has always held the band back in the quality department, though its not as big a problem if you don't take their lyrics seriously anyway. The second biggest thing is the riff recycling. I can't complain too much, since its still a thrash album that kicks my ass, but it seems like Waters put exercised the bare minimum in creative effort to get this one out. Yeah there's a lot of innovation, but it seems like he just wanted to get another metal release out there to save the Annihilator reputation. "Back to the Palace" is the sequel to "The Fun Palace," a classic tune that didn't need a sequel that pretty much just steals its riffs and modernizes it. "Schizos Pt. 3" is good, but not as nearly as good as pts. 1 & 2 off Alice in Hell. Robert Fripp: Waters is not.
But despite its mediocre lyrics and constant nods back to the older Annihilator albums, I still enjoy the hell out of this. Songs like "Bloodbath," "Sonic Homicide," and "Punctured" just don't get old. This is powerful, albeit modern, Annihilator style thrash metal and that's good enough for me.
Annihilator's formula has gone from "worn thin" to "this band must die". The album is a horrible fucking mess, ranging from poorly played thrash to pretty much mallcore. The vocalist sounds like fucking Beavis, the songwriting is irritating, and the riffs are lifeless. Half the time, they're directly ripping off an old album and doing a shitty job of it - the other time, they're pretending to be a washed-up Pantera clone.
The album kinda starts nicely, with the only song on here that I can stand to listen to repeatedly. That is "Bloodbath", which is pretty formulaic, but hey, it's thrash, and it's well-done for what it is. The lyrics are dumb ("know that you shall miss... the stench of your own piss"), and Beavis sucks at vocals, but the main riff is sufficiently Slayer that the song is good.
Then we go into a steady trip downhill from there... Back to the Palace is basically The Fun Palace riff, played with the notes half wrong, and the highlight is actually the little melodic break around 3:44 - it's VERY sad when a thrash album's highlight is basically the ballad section. The rest of the song isn't bad, but when it's good it is basically the same verse melody as Bloodbath. Boring.
After that, it's all fucking downhill. Punctured is basically mallcore. Also, it features the Great Cornholio on vocals... "Punctured! Punctured! Booiinnngg! TP for my bunghole! Fire! Fire!" By the time this is half over (THREE agonising minutes), you never EVER want to hear the word "Punctured" EVER again, and the next person that says it is gonna get an ass beating. This sounds like a Moderntallica song meets Linkin Park.
Then the next track... fucken almighty, you'd think that something with a title like "Criteria for a Black Widow" would be one of the dregs of the album, not the goddamn TITLE TRACK. What a stupid fucking title. The song is completely without value - insipid lyrics and a vocal delivery that makes Korn sound masterful.
Schizos 3 is sorta like Schizos 1 and 2: Jeff Waters's "all the riffs I've got lying around". There's a few good ones in there, but the whole thing is one fine mess, and the best riff is a ripoff of Toxik's Count your Blessings. "Nothing Left" has nothing to do with Agent Steel, "Loving the Sinner" is mediocre whiffle-ball thrash similar to what Annie has been spoonfeeding us with the last few years. Same with Double Dare, which is even more repetitive and stupid.
What a fucking WASTE. "Sonic Homicide" would be cool, except for the vocals, which are ... sonic homicide. Heh. Imagine Beavis through a megaphone. Really. Fucking. Lame. Sorta like the vox on God Hates Us All. What the fuck, man. Then, the last song is some shitty ballad, except for at the VERY end.
Now, if there were a part of the album that you NEVER wanted to hear again, what would it be? That's right... the asinine verses of Criteria, with that fucking irritating vocal delivery. Well, guess what's back. Except without any instruments. THAT is the hidden bonus track. It's like buying a CD, and getting a free ass-rape to go with it.
Kids, Annihilator basically sucks. This album is no exception.
Life has become harder and harder to live. The grim visage of life has even peared it's wretched self in the music we have all come to know and love. A prime example would be this latest release from "Annihilator".
Just by looking at the titles of Criteria For A Black Widow alone, you can tell that this albm is definately one of the darkest, most intense thrash albums ever recorded by "Annihilator". With such tracks as 'Bloodbath' and 'Sonic Homicide', anger and betrayal seem to be the biggest things on the album. And the music definately holds that same element.
Right from the start you are jolted into a world of pain, hatred and misery with intensely dark and extreme guitar riffs and drums, as well as lyrics. And the fact that all but one member of the original line-up has returned can assure you an amazing album, and that simple promise holds up with amazing music and vocal work.
Also notable about the release is that it is the most explicit "Annihilator" album ever as well, especially with the title track 'Criteria For A Black Widow', which is pretty much about sex, but in rather a very vulgar way.
But don't let that stop you from picking the album up for a listen. While most of their material is usually anger driven or very down to earth, the album is seriously dark and insane, and from start to finish you'll be wishing you left the lights on as you journey through a world of torment, only to end with a relaxing instrumental that indicates exactly what is done when all your anger is unleashed, 'Mending'.
The album is a trip deep inside of the world and mind of Jeff Waters, and all the torment that he had suffered over the years. Many of the lyrics in the album are very relatable to every day situations, which also can make the album an excellent anger management source. So if you have yet to check this one out, don't pass it by because of the grim visage that it holds. It is an excellent audio attack that no one should pass up for any reason.
Like many other acts Annihilator attempted to jump-start their career by throwing together their best selling (though their best was never that good commercially) line-up and releasing an album that is promised to bring back the 1980's glory of the band. Sadly for Mr. Waters, neither of these things was to happen with this release.
Randy Rampage (oooh, aaah) is back in the saddle with his strange thrash-vocal styles (looking quite old to boot). This, creates some fun, as the man most certainly adds a sense of personality to the band that is often lacking on Annihilator releases. The music he is given to yarble over is also a step up from the previous 1990's releases for the band, though not exactly amazing material. Jeff Waters knows how to shred, and he composes an amazing riff here and there but overall the mood is one of outdated cheeseball thrash metal that is meant to be non-offensive and friendly for "the kids". Thankfully...many of these problems would be corrected on the later "Carnival Diablos".
Annihilator also need someone to write lyrics for them. With unwitty titles such as "Double Dare" coupled with poor lyrical works such as "Loving the Sinner" and "Nothing Left" it seems as if the band is trying to be witty while they lack minds to be witty with.
This record is not terrible, nor is it very good. Much like the newest Exodus ("Tempo of the Damned") it's a well produced and well played effort that will serve as junk food upon the first few listens but most likely you will not be coming to the record year after year. I admire Jeff Waters drive to keep his band going and to not give up the metal banner...I just wish he had more natural songwriting gifts to work with to bolster his incredible guitar skills.