Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: Annihilator, "Ballistic, Sadistic"

Be careful what you wish for: For years, I’ve wanted Jeff Waters to drop the ballads and musical experiments and just deliver a blazing, no compromise thrash record with Annihilator. Ballistic, Sadistic does exactly that.

When I heard album opener “Armed to the Teeth” a month or so ago, I got excited. Here was everything that I’d wanted from the band for a long time – an absolute ripper of a riff, blazing lead work from Waters and a nice breakdown. There was no nonsense, no playing around with other genres. It sounded like the Annihilator I fell in love with around 30 years ago.

That follows through on the other nine songs on Ballistic, Sadistic, dare I say, perhaps a bit too much. At the risk of turning myself into a huge hypocrite after begging Jeff Waters to return to this sound, the new Annihilator album does suffer, at times, from a lack of variety. From the very beginning, it jumps on top of you and starts pummeling like the girl with the bat from the “Armed to the Teeth” video, and it doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

Waters really only lets off the gas pedal a couple of times, the first on “Psycho Ward,” which plays melodically a little more to classic metal and hard rock, particularly on the chorus and the closing lick of the song, which gives it a very 1980s ending. I also hear a little nod to Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine in Waters’ vocal delivery on the tune.

The second break comes close to the end on “Lip Service,” a song driven by Rich Hinks’ bass. It’s still very much an Annihilator song despite the tempo change, reminding me perhaps of something from 1999’s Criteria for a Black Widow. But that hard-rock aspect rears its head again on the chorus, with some shades of AC/DC to my ears – that is, if Angus Young cranked up the distortion and played a whole lot faster.

Now would also be a good time to acknowledge the strides that Jeff Waters has made as a vocalist on Ballistic, Sadistic. Of course, it’s far from his first turn on the mic. After three records that featured three different vocalists, Waters took over the duties for the next three albums from 1994-1997 and did a passable job. Then, after the departure of the band’s longest-tenured singer Dave Padden in 2014, Waters again stepped up. These later efforts weren’t so great. The musical experimentation often stretched Waters beyond his capabilities, and in many cases, the vocals were the weakest link on 2015’s Suicide Society and 2017’s For the Demented.

He’s certainly found the sweet spot here, though, as the vocals are perfect. You can hear shades of former Annihilator snarlers like Padden and the late Randy Rampage that were instrumental in the band’s sound, but Waters also infuses influences from other singers into his own style. He’s found the right niche, and he just sounds far more confident and comfortable.

The rest of the album, as I mentioned earlier, is pedal-to-the-floor thrash madness, just what Annihilator fans have been wanting for a while now. There are some real gems among those more aggressive numbers, too. The punk-influenced “The Attitude” is a profane romp that reminds me of the Misfits’ “Attitude,” both because of the lyrical similarities on the chorus and, well, the attitude.

“Dressed Up for Evil,” another favorite, is likely to earn me a speeding ticket at some point, and I never speed. There’s something about the song that puts me in mind of the band’s second album, Never, Neverland, and then amidst all the lightning riffs, there’s one of those classic tasty Annihilator tempo changes before the guitar solo as Hinks and Waters play off each other fantastically before some massive shredding.

“Riot” delivers a great vocal melody on the chorus with Waters delivering a snarling rasp. It’s perhaps the most hummable hook on the record, but loses none of its power in that.

Ballistic, Sadistic is, without a doubt, the best Annihilator album in many years. It delivers what fans, including me, have been asking Jeff Waters to do for a long time. Fans of the band’s debut Alice in Hell and sophomore album should be more than pleased with what they hear here, and I’ll admit, I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Is the album a little one-note? Sure. But it’s a damned good note.

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