25 years ago this month, Canadian thrash titans Annihilator released arguably one of the best albums in their catalog, King Of The Kill after a stream of what many consider to be their most classic albums like Alice In Hell (1989), Never, Neverland (1990) and Set The World On Fire (1993). But in 1994, when the band was going into the making of this, the group had lost their lead singer (their third overall at this point) and had to go back to the drawing board. As most know, times were tough on most metal bands in the ’90s –specifically for Annihilator in the States and even Canada (Still the same story for the group today, unfortunately). However, they still had a thriving fan base that kept the flame burning in Europe. That being said, bandleader and lead guitarist, Jeff Waters decided that instead of hiring yet another lead singer, he’d assume vocal duties himself. And to this day, many consider that to be the best choice he could’ve made. I, including many others, couldn’t imagine this album with anybody else at the helm of the microphone.
Line-up solidification aside, musically King Of The Kill is the most varied out of any Annihilator album that came before it, and practically any Annihilator album since. Although, it’s still incredibly cohesive throughout and only maybe a couple of tracks are slightly weaker than the others.
The album starts with “The Box,” which is a slow burn that expresses the addiction of television, which could honestly apply to today’s society of computers and smartphones. It’s interesting as an opener, because there’s no actual singing, which with fan’s first exposure to Jeff taking over lead vocals could potentially polarize. It’s more like barking with distortion, however, the effect is incredibly effective at displaying the mood of the song – pure evil.
Leading from there into the crowd-pleaser and forever live set staple, “King Of The Kill” is a constant onslaught of drums, bass, and RIFFS! This is pure classic Annihilator that every fan gets excited to hear anytime it comes on. Once the drums kick in officially, you can’t help but headbang and be filled with adrenalin. Jeff’s vocals are iconic. And it makes sense that even when he’s hired other singers later on for future albums and tours, he still takes over vocals for this song when being playing live.
The self-titled track “Annihilator” is where the band experiments and stretches out of the box (No pun intended). With a slight industrial flair, I can’t help but find this track incredibly catchy. When I was younger getting into this album, I used to HATE this track because I thought it sounded like a dance track, and I’m like, “Where’s the THRASH!?” But over time, this track grew on me and became a highlight of the album. You can tell that Jeff was taking influence from some of the industrial bands coming out at the time like Ministry and Godflesh with this song but still sprinkled with that melodic Annihilator flair.
“Bad Child” and “21” are straight-ahead rockers, with the former taking heavy inspiration from AC/DC. Jeff has stated on many occasions that the group massively influenced him. The latter serves as an essential live banger and fun track. It takes a lot of cues from “Knight Jumps Queen” from their previous album Set The World On Fire (1993) by talking about the intense process of playing a competitive game. Though slightly cheesy, it’s still a good time nonetheless.
What nice about King Of The Kill, is the little tiny instrumentals like “Bliss” and “Catch The Wind” that I find to be the crowning jewels of the album. The previous two releases didn’t feature instrumentals or interludes in between songs, so it serves as a nice way to break up the record and showcase the band’s variety. Jeff’s ability to write incredibly melodic and elaborate clean parts is something that I still marvel about to this day. “Catch The Wind” is the best representation of that.
Though the album has a lot of variation and tames back the speed a bit, there are still some quite relentless songs – like the title track and “Second To None” (another live staple), and “Fiasco.” The latter is still really fast and thrashy but also brings back some of the theatrics of previous songs from earlier albums. My favorite soundbite in the whole song is where you can hear someone say, “You talk about me so much you’d think you wanna marry me or something, Geez!” It cracks me up just about every time. Aside from the comedic value, the track is one of the tightest in the band’s catalog, and the riffs are pummeling.
If only I had time to talk about the whole album *sigh*. But in this retrospective, I only wanted to highlight the songs I feel best represent King of the Kill. Though other songs like “Hell Is A War” and “In The Blood” are worthy of listens, because those are great songs as well. The only song that could probably be left off would be “Speed,” though I don’t entirely hate it. Jeff Waters hates it though, and I don’t remember the exact reason why. At one point, he was asked what his least favorite Annihilator song was, and he stated it was that one. It’s a bit of a ‘Van Halen – Hot For Teacher’ rip off, and I think he knows it. However, while the song isn’t all that terrible, in the context of the other songs, it sticks out like a sore thumb. “Bad Child” isn’t necessarily the strongest track either in comparison to the others. But I found myself listening to it again and thinking, “This is a pretty good song honestly,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I got into this album around the time my fandom for the band was solidifying, and I’ve always adored it. It’s a trip down memory lane, and I still find it to be among their best. I wish I could get a physical copy, but they’re incredibly tricky to find because they’ve been out of print for years. I want an original, not a bootleg. That being said, the wonderful world of the internet allows fans to consume this album, and it’s better than nothing. Furthermore, you cannot find this album or any of the albums after Set The World On Fire (1993) up to All For You (2004) on any of the streaming services, so somebody needs to figure that out! For those getting into the album, some very kind people have uploaded the full album on YouTube, and I highly suggest listening to it. Even if you’re not an Annihilator fan, I feel like this is a great album to start with. I would probably recommend this album over their more progressive and highly regarded classic albums, but this album is a classic in its own right. In my humble opinion, King of the Kill is an album Annihilator never quite matched the vibe of since its release, and that’s why I find this one to be particularly special.