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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.