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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.