For over three decades, Canadian thrash pioneers Annihilator have been cranking out tasty licks and addictive hooks with reckless abandon. Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland are two of the (unsung) classics in all of thrash, with the former and its sinisterly epic master-track "Alison Hell" a personal favourite of mine (Note: check out the recent cover by Cradle of Filth from their recent studio album Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay).
Yet, with this their whopping sixteenth studio record For The Demented, and with a revolving door of members from vocalists and every manner of instrumentation, there are questions as to whether the Jeff Waters fronted outfit are running on fumes after crossing the 30 year mark.
There is little debate to be had when discussing the pedigree of Waters himself. The man is a fucking jack of all trades: a one-stop-shop for assembling consistent, quality metal. He's a seriously, criminally, underrated guitar player and he's managed to act as the adhesive for Annihilator through the dark days of 90's metal flux, through the at times tumultuous 2000's and beyond.
Stepping back into lead vocal duties with 2015's Suicide Society, Waters finds himself in fine form performing double-duty with hard-hitting cuts like "Twisted Lobotomy", the title track "For The Demented" and the regrettably named "Altering The Altar".
Waters himself admits in a recent interview with Metal Injection that he has always worn his affections for his idols on his sleeve and, as such, has had a tendency to draw emphasis from the very same. And while there isn't the same level of homage to the likes of Exodus, Megadeth and Metallica on For The Demented, there is a certain level of familiarity at play. Listen to "The Devil You Know" and try to tell me there isn't Dave Mustaine-isms aplenty.
Tracks like "Not All There" and the sombre true-crime-inspired "Pieces of You" offer up a welcome throwback to some of the earlier thrash-meets-melodic stylings that earned Annihilator credibility amid a sea of copycat bands of the 1980s and early 90s.
It's always worthy of note that the introduction of bassist Rich Hinks into the studio and production sessions seems to have paid some dividends here. There's a renewed freshness that comes with a different set of eyes and ears, and it's welcomed at this stage in the game for a band that has seen its share of evolution.
While there are quite a few pros, it's not all sunshine and roses. As fresh and undeniably on-point as the composition and instrumentation is, there's a noticeable issue when it comes to songwriting. There are some groan-worthy lines throughout, but there's one particular offender that requires extended shaming. The albums eighth track, "The Way", is a particularly formulaic and toothless piece of work, albeit one with some impressive rockabilly-esque guitar. The lyrics, which are lazy and uninspired, are a far cry from peak Waters prowess. He can do better and shouldn't be content to coast.
For The Demented is not the record that is going to propel Annihilator into the stratosphere, nor will it convert doubters as to who truly rules the roost when it comes to the major players of the modern day thrash movement. It is however a worthy indication of a band that has no desire to rest on its laurels. At 16 records and counting, that's about all we can ask.