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Kings and Demons, and Failed Pyromaniacs - 70%

bayern, August 13th, 2017

After the godawful “Set the World on Fire” whatever Jeff Waters would have produced was going to sound like a masterpiece; and it did, to some extent, on the first few listens. I was by no means planning to buy the guy’s next instalment; I was hoping to borrow it from someone who had already bought it… but here it was, this sinister king, staring at me from the shop window one day, at least looking a bit promising, and I had to buy the cassette, but only after I extensively reviewed the content in the shop beforehand…

So after the deplorable failure which the last showing was, Waters had decided to take things in his own hands, without interference from any other fellow musicians save for the drummer Randy Black (later Duskmachine, Primal Fear, Rebellion, etc.). The apprehension in my case wasn’t very big as the band never managed to win me fully for their cause as I found their repertoire good, but hardly too striking with the exception of one song (the colossal title-track from the debut). And when the creepy opener “The Box” started rasping forward, the minimalistic musical approach accompanied by the not very convincing synthesized, semi-whispered vocals of Waters, I was relieved by at the same time anticipating worse things to come, but the title-track safely puts things “in the box” with its sprightly thrashy rhythms even offering a nice memorable chorus. “Hell is a War” won’t do much for the hard-boiled thrasher with its tender balladic beginning, even less so during “godforsaken” times like the mid-90’s, but its mid-paced semi-intriguing groovisms should do the trick, not without the help of Waters’ more convincing performance behind the mike. “Second to None” jumps up and down pouring more energy into this mixed classic/modern thrashy carnival, the melodic/lyrical deviations a welcome change from the prevalent, somewhat mechanical delivery which gets even more rigid on the following “Annihilator”, a friendly groover that could have been dropped from the previous recording.

Not much faith restored by the next “21”, a frolic heavy metal hymn with cheese sticking on the sides, but “In the Blood” surprisingly delivers, a cool romantic ballad Waters pulling himself together for some of his finest vocal exploits. “Fiasco” tries to follow the same melodic line initially, but two ballads in a row would have dragged the album too far down, and Waters is only too well aware of that, turning this cut into a brisk speedster later. “Catch the Wind” would hardly help anyone catch even a slight breeze, let alone a whole wind, being a soothing all-instrumental ballad which at least shows Waters as a capable guitar player; not too many signs of the latter on the rest of the album… “Speed” should have been speedier to justify its title; now these jumpy optimistic riffs don’t make too much of a speed metal, staying firmly within the heavy/power metal confines, a niche heavily occupied by the closing radio-friendly quasi-groover “Bad Child” as well, another undeserved leftover from the “fiery” coming.

Waters wasn’t sure what to do in order to stay afloat during those uncertain times; should he carry on churning out dubious crowd pleasers along the lines of “Set the World on Fire”, or should he return to retro thrash territory and eventually restore some of his lost dignity… The album reviewed here is the answer to those wonderings, a blend of the two sides that definitely works better than its predecessor, but leaves quite a bit to be desired as for those who left their hearts with “Alice…” this effort would be the last temptation, and leaving the Annihilator camp seemed like a logical, if a bit premature for the time being, decision. Still, even Slayer’s same year’s “Divine Intervention” could be considered closer to the technical/progressive thrash roster than this opus: Waters had either made some huge compromises with his initial flamboyant, flashy style, or he had simply exhausted all his interesting ideas on the first two works, having nothing more intricate to offer to the seriously misled audience. At least here there’s still something fresh to be heard, this mildly entertaining alternation of softness and aggression has its naïve charm, but the sense of deja-vu was already too strong mere two years later on “Refresh the Demon” which was rather “Rehash the Demon” as from that moment onward Waters entered a perennial cycle of self-repetition lasting up to this day. Certainly, there have been more or less appropriate modifications witnessed along the way, but those who were expecting a second “Alice…”, or even a second “Neverland…” must have long since realized that this “innocent”, fairy tale-like period is irrevocably gone… Childhood’s end came a bit too early in the Annihilator saga, somewhere in the late-80’s/early-90’s.

“King of the Kill” hasn’t aged particularly well; I remember listening to it quite a bit back then. I gave it a listen the other day, and I have to admit it still pulls out a few condescending smiles out of an old cynic like me. It’s a product of its time, and it should be considered in the 90’s context for both its merits and flaws. “Annihilator” this is not, maybe not even “a king of the kill”; but it by all means fulfils the criteria (and not only for black widows) for an acceptable “inside the box” recording.