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UDR Music (2013)
Rating: 6.5/10

Canada’s Annihilator never got the recognition they so rightly deserved if you ask me. Considering how talented founding member and lead guitarist Jeff Waters was, and still is, they never reached the glorious heights of the so-called ‘Big Four’.

Despite a noteworthy 1989 debut album in Alice In Hell and the excellent follow-up Never, Neverland (1990), the sound of the band always seemed to suffer in the vocal department. For me, Randy Rampage lacked the meat on that debut, and from there on, with Coburn Pharr, Aaron Randall, Randy Rampage again, Joe Comeau, Dave Padden and even Waters taking turns, there was still a distinct lack of authority one would expect from a thrash vocalist, with only Comeau shining as a versatile force, although Padden, who’s been fronting Annihilator since 2003, has provided a stability within the ranks.

However, those constant line-up changes somehow became part of the cult façade of Jeff Waters’ creation, and now we’ve reached album number 14, which, as expected, is another outing boasting technical prowess and cold steel determination.

Feast opens with the blazing ‘Deadlock’ – a raging, buzzing, thrashing chugger that goes straight for the throat from its opening chords and flailing drums. Admittedly, I’m still rather unmoved by Dave Padden’s unremarkable vocals which at times remind me of Slayer’s Tom Araya, only less spiteful. In fact, the whole melody of the track reeks of Slayer, complete with ‘War Ensemble’ styled strains, but it’s still a bruising opener.

Waters and company are clearly not here to mess around, and ‘No Way Out’ features another aggressive guitar and drum combo providing further juggernaut arrogance, but again I’m unconvinced by the ordinary vocals as Waters works his magic with those jarring structures.

‘Smear Campaign’ slows ever so slightly and exists as a muscular, albeit middle of the road pummeller. This is Annihilator at their most mainstream I guess, while the funk-influenced ‘No Surrender’ leaves a lot to be desired. While the track may have been suited to the irritating funk metal fad of the early 90s, it sounds awfully cheesy here as it blends mid-90s melody and nu-metal aesthetics, and without doubt this is the album’s worst moment.

Thankfully, ‘Wrapped’ comes rockin’ hard, but it’s not an Annihilator I recognise, being a punk influenced, commercial sounding rocker that boasts a sleazy edge and yet seems so far removed from the other tracks on offer.

Oddly, I’m sensing a record that is a sum of many lost parts, as if the band had various experimentations floating around that they originally had no home for, and this fear is justified with the inclusion of the ballad ‘Perfect Angel Eyes’ – a rather mundane crooner of a track featuring rather woeful vocals better suited to a mid-90s nu-metal platter.

The groove-based cacophony that is ‘Demon Code’ suggests a return to form when the band finally decide to thrash, and the epic ‘Fight The World’, with its simmering opening and eventual raging premise, works well. But before we know it we’re at the final track, the eight-and-a-half minute ‘One Falls, Two Rise’, which is another mediocre modern sounding number that only finds its feet a quarter the way through as a frothing face-melter. Despite its willower passages and complex segments I’m now finding reasons as to why Annihilator just didn’t appeal to the thrash masses back when they should have.

The limited edition digibook version of the album comes with a bonus disc titled Re-Kill, featuring 15 reworked Annihilator classics that I personally felt no need in altering. My suspicions are confirmed as the likes of ‘Fun Palace’, ‘Alison Hell’, ‘Never, Neverland’, ‘Stonewall’ and ‘Set The World On Fire’ clearly suffer at the hands of a weedy production and a vocalist who clearly doesn’t have the cutting edge to bring these tracks to life.

Although the original versions never boasted the most convincing vocals, these cuts still sound better in their original format on records that, at the time, were considered top-notch metal albums, but now with that added vocal melody I’m finding myself shaking my head with disapproval. Yes, Jeff Waters’ leads are still cutting, and the percussion is crystal clear with the bass holding strong, but Padden’s vocals add nothing to proceedings.

For me, the only tracks which shine on this bonus disc are the stirring ‘Bloodbath’, with its juddering intro, and the sneering ‘Ultra Motion’, which is pure Slayer in its attitude and malevolence. However, I’m still wondering if such a batch of reworked tracks were necessary? Personally, I’d still rather track down the originals, and I sincerely hope this isn’t part of a worrying trend where older bands feel the need to inject their classic tracks with a lethal dose of the modern.

I’m of the opinion that in general this is Annihilator’s way of introducing itself to a new horde of fans, and good for them for moving with the times, but as a new studio album, Feast dwells within the murky waters of the mediocre and offers up some real turkeys, despite the gifted musicianship on offer. For me, Annihilator has always been somewhat of an enigma, and this latest opus reinforces my opinion.

Neil Arnold

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