Canadian thrash pioneer(s) Annihilator, in other words, Jeff Waters & Co. are back with what Jeff considers to be the band’s best album since Schizo Deluxe (2005); At least in the top 3 of their entire catalog. Quite an ambitious statement, coming from the mastermind behind classic records such as Alice In Hell (1989), Never Neverland (1990), and Set The World On Fire (1993), which many consider being their best albums. Furthermore, this is a record that is meant to hark back to those earlier classic records that are beloved by so many of their fans, including me. Today I’ll sink my teeth into whether or not I feel this statement can be backed and, as a fan, can either agree or disagree.
First things first, this is the second album recorded with the line-up of Jeff on guitars and vocals, Rich Hinks on bass, Aaron Homma on Guitars, and Fabio Alessandrini on Drums. This is a tremendous feat for the band, considering that the line-up changes in the Annihilator’s history are quite vast. However, I will say that this current line-up is potent, and one that I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to if it ends up being the line-up for a good while. Jeff took back the role of lead vocals on 2015’s Suicide Society after longtime vocalist/guitarist Dave Padden’s departure and has manned the position ever since. While I do enjoy his vocals, especially on older records like King of the Kill (1994) and Refresh the Demon (1996), I do happen to miss Dave Padden’s versatility and ability to give Annihilator the modern edge they needed at the time he joined in 2003. That being said, on Ballistic, Sadistic, I find that Jeff has really stepped up his vocal game. I certainly admire his determination to get better and better, and it definitely shows he’s been putting in the time and hard work to improve. For instance, on leading single “Psycho Ward,” he’s stretching his ability and singing more melodic than his usual Mustaine/Hetfield combo snarl and gruff that he’s known for, specifically the bridge section.
Aside from the obvious vocal observation here, musically, I can say that Jeff is right in the sense that the guitar riffing is very reminiscent of some of the earlier records in terms of technicality and precision. It’s a huge part of what truly makes Jeff Waters one of the best guitarists in the genre. His ability to interweave between dissonance and melodicism is quite impressive, and one that I’ve always admired. This is best represented on songs such as “Out with the Garbage,” “The End of the Lie,” and “Dressed Up For Evil,” whereas songs like the opener “Armed to the Teeth,” and “I Am Warfare” are the band’s attempt to bring in even heavier and more extreme influences.
While I can dig the throwback vibes that are laced throughout the record, there’s one thing that I miss. The main thing that really sets Annihilator apart from a lot of other thrash metal bands is their undeniable versatility. That aspect of the band has somewhat taken a back seat to having a collection of songs that, after a while, start to sound the same and lack variation. Some riffs in certain songs feel like they could be interchanged with each other, and even on previous albums. On top of the blatant recycling of songs like on “Psycho Ward” which sounds like a re-imagined “Stonewall” and also “Lip Service,” which is a clear revised version of “Knight Jumps Queen.”
This record has a lot of shining moments. It showcases some of Jeff’s most ambitious riffing since arguably 2001’s Carnival Diablos (a criminally underrated album!), and the personnel are delivering some really impressive work. What draws back Ballistic, Sadistic, is that some of the arrangements are a bit disjointed and schizophrenic. I suppose that’s somewhat the point and not too uncommon with the band’s earlier works, but they tend to lose focus every so often and then eventually come back to at least one more verse and chorus to complete the song. In other words, I feel like the constant changing of riffing styles without too much room for flow in the music comes off as the band simply trying too hard. I could’ve done without the obvious rehashing of beloved classics as well, and would much rather Jeff & Co. try to come up with something new and refreshing. While there’s a little bit of that ambition here with some of the more modern and extreme influences on a few tracks, I hope that on future records, they explore that a bit more while also letting the songwriting come more naturally. Moreover, the versatility that they’re known for is missing here, and an aspect of their sound that I feel really would have brought the record full circle. A good record overall, and most definitely a few steps above For the Demented (2017) and in the right direction, but I wouldn’t necessarily put it among the band’s best.