If there’s one thing to admire about guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Waters, it’s his honesty. The Annihilator bandleader has always been open about the quality of his albums, sometimes just months after a release, and is quick to admit when a particular direction didn’t turn out the way it should have. The repeatedly expressed intent to capture the vibe of their early albums feels less like their peers’ similarly worded pandering and more like Waters and co just wanting to make the best album they possibly can. For the Demented is a pretty rocky release, but the effort that Waters and co put into it hasn’t been this tangible in at least a decade.
Annihilator has never been shy about showing off their technical skills on even the most straightforward material, but the songwriting hasn’t had this much emphasis on instrumentation since the 90s. It certainly helps that this may be the first “actual” lineup to be on an album since I was in kindergarten, but the songs themselves feature a lot of extended instrumental passages and structural tweaks that weren’t as commonly featured on Suicide Society or the Padden-era material. It may border on long-winded at times but it really keeps songs like “Twisted Lobotomy” and “Phantom Asylum” from being the fillers they might have been otherwise.
There’s also a dark undercurrent that’s not been felt since at least Criteria for a Black Widow. The production still has Waters’ signature polish but the riffs and structures try out some different keys and chord progressions that result in a more ominous feel compared to the band’s other recent efforts. The more violent lyrics also contribute to the atmosphere, most notably on the cannibal love ballad “Pieces of You,” though they still largely lack the eccentric character and more specific subject matter of the Alice in Hell days.
But no amount of involved instrumentation or spooky atmosphere can detract from Annihilator’s everlasting cheesiness. The band’s cheeky, eclectic approach to thrash will always be the thing that people love or hate them for (or more realistically, just think is kind of awkward) but it can still result in rather inconsistent tracks. “Pieces of You” is catchy and just self-aware enough to avoid throwaway status, but the title track’s vaguely alternative tinge and the punkiness of “The Way” aren’t quite as lucky. Fortunately, “One to Kill” and “Altering the Altar” do provide some solid thrash and “Demon You Know” makes for a decent “Knight Jumps Queen” update.
For the Demented isn’t a glorious comeback but it does fulfill the promise of sounding like an “actual” Annihilator album compared to the much more flawed Suicide Society. Any complaints that one can make are nothing new (Sorry guys, no one else will ever be Annihilator’s main lyricist; Jeff won’t answer my calls) and there’s enough of their signature elements to keep diehard fans happy. It’s more of a Refresh the Demon than a Never, Neverland but at least it’s no Remains…
“One to Kill”
“Demon You Know”
“Altering the Altar”
For the Demented is now available via Silver Lining Music.