ANNIHILATOR - Far Beyond Metal
May 5, 2010, 9 years ago
The big question mark for a lot of Annihilator fan is how guitarist / part-time vocalist / founder Jeff Waters intends to try and top the band’s 2007 album, Metal. Their doubt is understandable because when a band creates an album featuring several well known guest musicians – in this case Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Michael Amott and Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy), Alexi Laiho (Children Of Bodom), Jesper Strömblad (ex-In Flames) to name a few – the only direction left to go is down. Waters went into creating the follow-up knowing full well some people were expecting him to do just that, pulling out a record that is remarkably thought provoking from the packaging inwards. Gone is the band’s trademark logo, there’s no sign of a Waters-esque album title, and the cover art is some of the darkest to ever grace an Annihilator album. Once inside, Waters makes it clear he doesn’t need a bunch of high profile names to keep Annihilator kicking and screaming for a few more years.“The Metal album, looking back at it now, I’d rate it a 6.8 or a 6.5 if it didn’t have the special guests on it, which makes it just plain old Annihilator,” Waters admits. “Having the guests on it kind of brought up the number of units sold, but the actual album didn’t end up in the Top 5 either. It’s lucky that I had the guests on there because that gave us a lot of attention and brought us out.”
According to Waters the changes in the band’s presentation has had the press, particularly the Europeans, muttering in confusion. Never mind the lack of an album title; an Annihilator album without the familiar red ‘80s logo is unheard of after 12 releases.“It’s weird with some of the things that the media pay attention to” he says. “I’ve had some media people say to me ‘Well, this is your self-titled record; is there something special about it?’ and I go ‘Yeah. At the time I was doing it I couldn’t come up with a title for the record.’ (laughs). I was actually going to call the album Defiance, but then the movie came out last year and some other band used that title so I went back to the drawing board. Normally I just take the songs on the album and pick the best one; ‘King Of The Kill’ worked perfectly, for example. Normally it’s the easiest thing about Annihilator in the world, picking the album titles, but this time I really couldn’t come up with anything.”
As for the horror film cover art, Waters claims it came to him in a dream. Literally.“I love watching horror movies. I woke up in a sweat one night just freaking out and there’s this little girl in a nightgown at the end of my bed, dead, with white eyes just staring at me. It gave me the same feeling I had when I watched The Exorcist in my early teens because back then it scared the shit out of me. I ran down to the computer and fired off a mail to my graphic artist saying that I wanted a portrait cover; “picture Alison Hell – dead – meets Linda Blair from The Exorcist.” Four or five days later I get this picture back, and the cover is exactly the same as the draft he sent me. We didn’t make any changes. I asked him where we were supposed to put the logo. He was like ‘We don’t put a logo. She carved in her forehead!’”
Musically, the new album is what the fans have come to expect of Annihilator. Waters’ signature riffing and hands-of-steel rhythm playing, songs ranging from double-bass thrash to up-tempo shred, the occasional curveball to keep people on their toes and strong melodic vocals courtesy of Dave Padden. The Annihilator wheel hasn’t been re-invented, but it’s nowhere close to slowing down. It’s also considerably heavier than the Metal album in spite of the fact that record featured guest guitarists as strong as or better than Waters in the shred department. Waters wasn’t out to one-up the Metal album but he agrees wholeheartedly that he did.“The only record that I sat down and said ‘I’m going to do this…’ was Set The World On Fire. Heavy metal as we knew it was absolutely on the way out and we’d just jumped from Roadrunner to Sony in the States. I decided to make the album a little bit more fun and commercial than the previous two, going melodic rather than thrash, which probably would have worked about eight years earlier (laughs). It was a fun and creative time, but it was only time I ever planned an album out. It didn’t backfire, either. It was a huge album for us in Europe but it tanked in North America.
“There was also the Remains album which came out at the peak of the bottom of metal. The worst state that metal’s ever been in in my lifetime. I thought that was it; I’d just do this one last album to get out of my deal with Music For Nations in England, then of to make music for videogames or whatever. I actually had offers with Electronic Arts to do a whole bunch of things.”
“I’m not sure what it was with this new album, but the fire was there. It just happened. I also think that stacking songs 2 and 3 ('Coward' and 'Ambush') gives the mistaken impression that this is a thrash album, but the rest of the songs really aren’t. The production this time is a lot more aggressive, which made everything a little more gritty. This time I used the same guitar and the same bass, same drums and same vocal microphone all the way through for the entire record. Instead of playing around with studio gear we just went in and turned the stuff on and played. The other thing was Dave Padden. I don’t know what was up his ass but he was a lot angrier this time, I think. So really, aside from stacking songs 2 and 3 it was the production, the mixing, and Dave just kicking ass that makes this album as strong as it is.”
“My co-manager mentioned to me that the few people that heard it initially – the album had been in the can for eight months at that point – said it was better than a lot of the stuff on the last record; did I feel that way as well? I did, but it’s always hard for an artist to make that kind of call because when you do a new record you always think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. That’s just normal.”
Annihilator is often viewed as a Jeff Waters solo project due to the constant flow of musicians that have come and gone since the band’s inception, something he has agreed with on record in the past. Padden has changed things up to a degree, having been on board since 2003, thus making him the longest lasting vocalist in the band’s history. Waters is first in line to sing Padden’s praises as a singer, second guitarist and collaborator.“Dave writes lyrics for two or three songs on an album. I’m the type of guy that when I’m off tour I go down to my studio and write for six hours. Dave goes home to find beautiful women and go out and have fun with his friends, which is totally fine. I force him to write lyrics because he’s absolutely brilliant at it. He could easily write the lyrics an entire Annihilator record on his own because he kicks my ass in that department, but he’s too fucking lazy (laughs). It’s a good balance, though, between his two or three and my stuff because he spices things up with his own style.”
“Another thing about Dave is that he’s evolved from being the new guy and getting a lot of criticism for it. Visually, he didn’t have the ‘80s thrasher long hair and he didn’t have a lot of stage experience. I gambled on the guy because I knew he had wicked talent as a guitarist and vocalist. Because he’s such a good rhythm guitar player I knew he was going to be a great singer with the notes and the timing, and he loves metal. Dave could have quit after our first record together because he took a lot of flak for it and so did I, but he’s evolved in this guy that pulls out a guitar and does a really hard job of playing and singing really well.
“James Hetfield, for example, will often write his riffs around his vocals and make them simple when he’s singing and complex when he stops. Dave has to play my riffs that don’t give a shit about the vocals and sing over those riffs. He’s able to go out there now and talk to the crowd, which is a big difference from seven years ago when he just couldn’t. I stood by him and he got by all the criticism. A lot of guys would have just quit or just turn into an asshole because they’re insecure.”
As for himself, Waters is uncharacteristically proud of his playing on the new album. Not that he’s fishing for compliments; he usually keeps his enthusiasm for his own work under his hat.“I never go around saying ‘Oh, I’m a good guitar player; I go around saying that Tipton and Rhoads and Hanneman and King and Hammett are it. I sound off about how great they are and how they’re all in my music. This is the first Annihilator album where I’ve got this weird feeling that I should actually stand up and say ‘Fuck that, I’m actually good on this record.’ (laughs). It’s a really killer guitar record.”