Annihilator were always a fringe metal band for me growing up. In high school, when it came to metal, I was heavily into ‘The Big 4' along with Testament, Judas Priest, Pantera, and Sepultura. I had my niche, and I liked it. A mate of mine, Wayne, had an older brother who was in EVERYTHING. His battle jacket was like a shrine to bands I’d never heard of at the time, so it was through Wayne and his older brother that I found bands like Annihilator, Kreator, Exodus and more.
I remember Wayne's brother and his mates would always have a small boom box with them at lunchtime and recess, and they'd go up the back oval, smoke cigarettes dressed in their battle jackets and bad hair and listen to metal. It was an extremely tight-knit group that, if you went too close as a young kid, you could get your arse kicked by year 12 blokes with fuzzy moustaches for no reason. But I wanted to hear the music.
Fast forward to today, and here we have Annihilators SIXTEENTH studio album, For The Demented upon us. They remain Canada’s highest selling metal band of all time and have influenced a gazillion bands, and, I’m happy to say that in the last few years (and this year), we’ve seen Aussie bands Mason and Harlott tour with them internationally.
With around 40 different members over the trip, fans everywhere will have their favourite periods of Annihilator, and it’s damn hard to try and pick favourite tracks, what with production values changing so much since 1989. But let’s give it a crack anyway. Keep in mind, these are in no order of preference, just songs I like from an extensive catalogue that evolved so much.
Denied - Carnival Diablos (2001)
I’m a sucker for a killer opening track, and this fuckin nails it. This was the first time we heard an Annihilator album featuring Joe Comeau on vocals, and he smashes it out of the park. But it’s not just the vocals. Denied sets the vibe so damn well, urging you to bang your head. It gets me amped, adrenaline starts to flow, this is exactly what an opening track is supposed to do, entice you to keep listening.
Ok, let's face it, I could list a heap more songs off Carnival Diablos, it's such a bloody brilliant album. Track 3, Battered, is a flat out monster, the title track has a swing and laid-back groove to it that's rad as balls, but if I start naming too many from each album, we'll be here all day. I'll admit it, I've written this much and realized I've bitten off more than I can chew. But stay with me.
Alison Hell - Alice in Hell (1989)
Inspired by the true story of a young Canadian girl who would have nightmares about the bogeyman, and believed she was being controlled by evil spirits. Her parents would lock her in her room, thinking it would pass, however, the girl would end up being institutionalized.
What a way to kick off your debut album (after the beautiful instrumental, Crystal Ann). This was the first time I’d heard Annihilator, and I was in. I thought it was truly evil, the playing was extraordinary. Really like nothing I had heard, almost prog in parts, it wasn’t just 3 chords flat out. It reminded me in parts, of Mercyful Fate.
Honourable mention to Wicked Mystic from this album too.
Set The World On Fire (1993)
I wanted to include something from Set The World On Fire (1993), but it wasn't the greatest album for me. In some parts, vocalist Aaron Randall would sound like Weird Al, and it gave them a far too commercial sound. 1993 kinda demanded that a bit, but I feel like they pandered to the ‘current sound’. It was a weird year - Rob Halford left Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson left Iron Maiden, Alex Skolnick was out of Testament, but I was all about Chaos AD that year. That being said, listen to Snake in The Grass, and you’ll know what I mean by ‘commercial’. It’s a fun song, a little bit Anthrax, but more Mr Big love song.
I often wonder why Annihilator didn’t become bigger than they are. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve had great success, but was their success hamstrung because like so many bands, they had to leave their home country to get to that next step? This is what the only original member, Jeff Waters had to say in a 2013 interview:
“With Annihilator, we never really got any support from Canada at all. We went outside of Canada to have our success and to sign a record deal with Roadrunner Records, out of Holland and out of New York. And in Canada that’s the bad thing, because a lot of the Canadian press and record companies, they just want to discover and make success with someone, they don’t want to have a Canadian band have success in other places and reach out to the United States and Europe, so Annihilator never had good promotion in Canada, we were always… Nobody wanted to help us. There was only really one magazine and online press, that was called “Brave words and bloody knuckles", and they were the only ones that supported us. And that is very sad, but it's just the way that Canada works. But lucky for me and Annihilator, we've had European and Asian, Japan success, and now South America is coming back for us too, and we've been able to keep going and never stop, so it's been really cool."
This isn’t an uncommon fate for many bands. Leaving home for greater success has been going on for a long time, especially here in Australia, but I found it interesting that we parallel so closely with Canada.
Listen to For The Demented now:
Nothing Left - Criteria For A Black Widow (1999)
When Jeff Waters reunited with the Alice In Hell line up (barring Wayne Darley) they found their form again. After what should have been a solo album in Remains (1997) for Waters, he needed a kick in the arse, and he got it as he explains:
"It was a pivotal moment in my life. After I'd done Remains, I was disillusioned. I wasn't into this anymore. The scene was not supporting the stuff that I loved back in the 90s. What changed that, was Slayer played a show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. There were maybe 2000 people there at the most, when they'd played to 15-20,000 a few years earlier, and I sat there and ate nachos at the side of the venue. Imagine a full-on metal fan like me ordering nachos to watch Slayer. Something's wrong there. I'm watching them and I’m bummed out about life, and I saw Kerry King and crew get on that stage and play with just the same amount of fury as if it was 1986 and there was 20,000 people in front of them. I realized then that I needed to get off my ass that night and get my [act] together, and stop sulking about the business and get out there and do what I love to do. (courtesy of axs.com)
The result was AWESOME.
Coward - Annihilator (2010)
I was am a big fan of the Dave Padden vocal era of Annihilator. I reckon his voice suited what they were doing so well, and that’s not a slight on any other vocalist who’s taken the reigns of Annihilator at all, because each served the band at the time as they should and added their own thing, I just like the mesh of his voice with the music, and on this track, they complement each other so well. This song is SO killer, it’s up there with my absolute favourite Annihilator tune.
Ok, I’m gonna stop there, because as I said, this article has the ability to go on forever. I’d love to hear your favourites from their stellar career, and I know I’ll be digging deep in to For The Demented today, and I dare say die-hard fans Annihilator will too.