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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.