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We're almost there! Feast is without a doubt the most compact and straight-to-the-throat Annihilator record since I don't even know when, and easily blows both the more recent post-millennial swill and the dubious solo-Waters records out of the water. Padden still embarrasses more often than he enthralls as a vocalist, but Waters is definitely having a blast behind him, banging out both his manic solos and chunky riffs in near-multitudinous quantities. As such, Feast is certainly far from perfect, but for modern Annihilator you gotta hand it to Waters on this one.
To draw some historical comparisons, many of Feast's riffs showcase that great Annihilator bouncing groove that was extensively featured on Set the World on Fire on tracks like "The Edge" and "No Zone." We still get the band's traditionally bone-dry, dessicated guitar tone, which helps sell some of the less creative moments on Waters' end. It certainly isn't as overbearing and farcical as the distortion on Waking the Fury, but multiple parallels can certainly be made to the final Comeau-fronted effort on a compositional end, as many of these tracks hail back to some of the group's few brighter spots over the past two decades. Feast generally picks and chooses it's influences wisely, having the wherewithal to avoid most of the lame modern trappings that seriously plagued Schizo Deluxe and especially All For You.
It helps that Padden is much more tolerable here. His cleans are still sort of hit-or-miss, but his normally-irritable shouting is significantly improved. Still, at his best Padden is just simply there, laid over the rest of the music like a wet rag. Annihilator has never had a completely proficient vocalist, even while each singer had his charms. Rampage exuded attitude but couldn't sing if his life depended on it, Pharr had a unique tone but rarely utilized his air-siren wails, Randall's cleans were smooth as silk but his barking inert and forceless, and while Waters has a good singing voice, his harsh yowls sound like a parody of extreme vocalists. This leaves Comeau, who still takes the top spot by quite a margin and elevated the two records he was featured on (especially the latter) to an echelon normally unattainable to late '90s Annihilator.
Despite his improvements, Padden still falls down toward one of the lower rungs of the aforementioned vocalist ladder. The requisite ballad "Perfect Angel Eyes" proves that he has passable singing chops if pressured, but the horrendous lyrics butcher what is otherwise a decent performance on his part. Some of the vocal melodies (especially on "Wrapped") are extremely lame and phoned-in, invoking memories of times less reputable. To his credit, I can confidently state that he isn't actively irritating here on Feast, which allows the listener to focus on Waters' input - even if he doesn't necessarily add much to the music either...and really, that's the biggest issue with Feast. This album focuses so much on it's torrential firepower (Waters' riffs) it forgets to watch it's blindside and is easily flanked. While Feast is certainly top-heavy in this regard, it still fires some real winners like "No Way Out" and "No Surrender," both of which move efficiently and feature some blistering riff sets, so cool deal.
While I threw All For You under the bus for it's overlong nature, Feast wraps up with two of it's more epic numbers in "Fight the World," and "One Falls, Two Rise." Both are highlights and embody new territory for Annihilator. The former is probably the best song here, and the section right after the five-minute mark is a true adrenaline shot. Please, Jeff, give us more of that! "One Falls, Two Rise" has a more cinematic scope and really ends the album on a great note. On the other end of the spectrum we have the rather directionless "Smear Campaign" and "Demon Code," so Feast is certainly not without it's fillers. Still, for Annihilator this is a great followup to the passable self-titled record, and the band is definitely consciously riding an upward swing similar (yet not nearly equal) to Overkill with Ironbound and The Electric Age. I still don't think Padden is the greatest fit, but what more can we really ask for at this juncture?
Jeff Waters has been at this whole technical thrash gig for a while now (almost 30 years to be exact), and now hitting studio album number 14, is showing zero signs of slowing down. Quite the contrary, the last couple of albums has seen the Canadian thrash outfit known affectionately as Annihilator returning to the speed obsessed character of their early days, albeit with a vocalist that has a uniquely modern take on gruff vs. clean vocalizations. In the beginning, Dave Padden's husky yet somewhat metalcore oriented voice was a bit of a liability that served to further aggravate an already troubled victim of an album in "All For You", but he has since become a far better fit for the style, and largely makes the otherwise cliche modern zombie apocalypse themed "Feast" the unique creature that it is.
One lesson that Waters seems to have taken to heart when it comes to putting together a thrash metal action is the need to start things off on a high note, and damned if "Deadlock" doesn't kick the listener square in the teeth in the process. For any longtime fans of "Alice In Hell", and particularly those who couldn't stop mangling their vertebrae to the mayhem that was "Human Insecticide", this is cut from the same high flying block and comes with a slightly less nasally vocal delivery. Interestingly enough, this tendency to kick things into overdrive proves to be a recurring theme in even a number of longer and otherwise groove or ballad-based offerings such as "Smear Campaign" and "Fight The World". The technical extravaganza largely comes in the form of blinding tremolo riffs and percussive, almost mechanical sounding low end groove riffs at a high tempo, but Waters definitely showcases his continuing ability to rip out a decent solo, though he's a bit less indulgent here than in the past.
Like with most Annihilator albums, there are a handful of bizarre moments that this album may have done well to either avoid or not dwell upon quite as much. The grossest offender of nightmarish debacles in genre splicing occurs throughout the duration of "No Surrender", which merges in some of the horrid Machine Head influences that Waters dabbled in back in the latter 90s into what can be best described as a funk-infused metal song that occasionally thrashes (particularly during the guitar solo), but otherwise just kind of coasts along and is way too comical sounding for its own good, especially considering that it's a song about drug addiction. But apart from this and some occasional nods to the smooth and slightly nostalgic balladry heard on "Set The World On Fire" that made its way onto the intros of "One Falls, Two Rise" and "Fight The World", and dominates most of "Perfect Angel Eyes", this is a fairly consistent thrasher that mostly listens like a late 80s venture stylistically speaking, though it's not hard to see the continual progressive quirks that probably went on to influence bands like Revocation in some of these songs.
Ultimately, this proves to be the best album that Waters has put out with Padden handling vocal duties, if for not any other reason than the fact that it is the least modern sounding of Annihilator's ventures since Jon Comeau left the fold. It doesn't quite ascend to the same level of sleazy yet majestic rage that Overkill has been pumping out over the past couple years, but this is definitely a decent offering that old school thrash maniacs can sink their teeth into, even when considering the fact that the zombies depicted on the album art are probably mere metaphorical representations of the mass stupidity that is continuing to consume Western Civilization. As it is in the song that kicks off this album, the idiots may well be breeding 20 to 1, but that doesn't mean we can't dream of them getting nuked into oblivion and thus cleansing the present gene pool, and this album is pretty much analogous to such pleasant yet disturbing thoughts.