Canadian thrashers Annihilator have lived in the none-too-small shadow of their stunning 1989 debut Alice in Hell and its excellent follow-up, Never, Neverland (1990). Subsequent albums and tours have failed to capture the same excitement, with many fans losing interest or just outright losing track of the band. However, mainman Jeff Waters has stuck firmly to his guns and the band has just released its 13th album, a self-titled effort (out now through Riot!).
While not reaching the grand heights of their early output, the album still packs a sizeable punch. The first four tracks are some of their most blisteringly intense fare yet and the album is positively bursting at the seams with guitar solos – 66 of them in fact; sure to please any wannabe shredders. PyroMusic spoke to Waters about Annihilator, why he thinks the band largely fell off the map after a promising start to their career, ‘The Trend’ and more.
Spiritech: The new album has been out for a few weeks now. What has the reception been like that you’ve noticed?
Jeff Waters: Yeah, it’s been good. Usually, I mean everybody always says things like this, but this one kind of surprised us. Not from the fans or anything, but really from the press in Europe and then a lot of the Internet press from other continents in the world that we’re not really selling records in. It was kind of one of those things where I think some press people jumped on it and said, “hey, we really like this album” and then part of it was that I think it’s a stronger album than we’ve done in a while. But also it kinda snowballs sometimes, it’s just sometimes this domino effect, you know? A couple of big press guys say, “hey, this is a really good record this time” and a lot of other people jump on it. So I guess we got kinda lucky and that trickles down to the fans and they start reading the reviews and hearing from their favourite press people and go, “hey, we’d better pick this one up”. And of course, he diehard Annihilator fans that buy our records anyway and that follow us and criticise us when we do something not as strong as something else, but they’ve all come to the table and said, “hey, good job on this one”. So, yeah, I’m excited. Then I guess the other test of that would be, which is not really too important to me, but it’s important to keep going, but the label’s telling me, the numbers that they’ve been giving me… I think we sold more on this record than any of the ones we’ve done in more than ten years. So yeah, I’d say I’m happy (laughs).
Spiritech: At this point in your career, why a self-titled record?
Jeff Waters: I guess the reason it’s self-titled is simply because the titles that Dave (Padden, vocals/guitar) and I, my partner in the band, we just couldn’t come up with a good title. He suggested that we do a self-titled record this time and I though that usually self-titled records are done on the first or second album or to signify a big change. But in this case it was neither one of those and we figured, “well, you can only do it once, let’s get it out of the way, we’ll call it Annihilator” (laughs). Most of the album titles we have and I guess some other bands have, they take a song from their record and they use that for their record title. Our titles just didn’t work this time for that.
Spiritech: The new album contains some of your heaviest and fastest material in some time. What inspired this to occur?
Jeff Waters: Well, there’s been some people who have said to me that this sounds like a little more aggressive album, a little thrashier, a little quicker, a little heavier maybe. But I think the simple explanation (is) the production and the mix I did on it is a little grittier and the guitars are a little more crackly and distorted than some of the other records, which add to it sounding a little more aggressive. Also the mix is a little louder and more aggressive than previous mixes. And Dave Padden, the singer, he sounds really angry on this record compared to the past few. I don’t know why, but he really had more of an attitude of this record, so it came out as being heavier and definitely more angry. Then I guess the last reason I could say is that I kinda ordered the songs, stacked the songs in the order of I think… song two and song three seemed really fast and thrashy, there’s a lot of Slayer-ish kinda vibe in a few of them and early Metallica, speedier thrash vibe. It just seemed like there’d be a lot of energy if I put the songs in that sequence. So if you listen to the first three or four songs, you’re going to get the impression too that it’s a little faster and thrashier. But as the fourth song comes in, it settles down a bit into the typical Annihilator kind of craziness; fast, slow, medium tempos, you know? Long answer for you? (laughs)
Spiritech: (Laughs) No problems at all. Speaking of the more aggressive vibe, there are reportedly 66 solos on the new album. How did that occur?
Jeff Waters: Well, the actual labeling of that on the CD was, I think our European label, the guy at Earache, he actually counted the solos. He put on the first song ‘The Trend’ and it seemed to him like there was like five, six or seven solos in the song and I guess he got interested in counting them, which was kind funny, but interesting. That he took the time to do it is cool. I don’t know if there’s 66; I never counted them, but he sure did and he said there was 66 (laughs). That’s kinda cool, I guess it just means, if it’s true, it means that I did a lot of work on the guitar solos this time (laughs).
Spiritech: Is there a particular solo on the album that you’re especially proud of?
Jeff Waters: I think the song ‘The Trend’ has a bunch of solos in it that I think are really cool as a whole. Also this one called ‘Betrayed’ has got a pretty neat solo section in it. Not necessarily fast or difficult, but kinda tasteful. But the real tough parts were on the song ‘The Trend’.
Spiritech: Tell us about that very song – what inspired the lyrics for it?
Jeff Waters: Well, Dave sings it really angry, but it wasn’t an angry song. It was more like kind of an observation with a smirk on my face about some of the bands, not all of them, just some of the bands that used to be called… would never say the words “heavy metal” in their bio, or they wouldn’t tell people about their influences, because it wasn’t cool to say the word “metal”. But now that metal’s coming back and a bit of a trend, a lot of those bands are of course saying now they like Metallica, Slayer, Exodus and all the heavy bands now. I thought it was kinda funny, because there’s a lot of bands like Overkill, Annihilator, Exodus, Testament and Nevermore who have been slaving away at metal their whole lives haven’t really changed and we’re the ones that are still around, and a lot of the other trendier, kind of jump on the bandwagon bands end up doing one or two records and that’s the end of them, you know? So it was just a fun sung to do, but Dave made it sound very angry.
Spiritech: What have the band got scheduled touring-wise for this album and could we see Annihilator Down Under for the first time as part of this album’s touring cycle?
Jeff Waters: Yeah, it’d be nice if we could get there. At the touring end, we’re doing lots of touring, but of course it’s not in our home country, which is typical, and not in Australia, which is typical. We haven’t been to Australia, playing at least. But not because we didn’t want to, but as you know the old story; if you’re not selling enough records a promoter’s not going to be able to want to bring you down, ’cause he’s going to lose money and you know how that goes, right? So it’s not for lack of wanting. I’ve been to Melbourne for four or five weeks last year and I think I’d love to live there, let alone tour (laughs). (We) sure would love to come there; hopefully this is our year to come down.
Spiritech: I was reading an interview with you yesterday, where you discussed how for a lot of people, they’re approaching this Annihilator album almost like a comeback album, or theorising that because they hadn’t heard anything from the band for a while that there must have been a recent reformation after a lengthy hiatus. They often don’t realize that the band have been at it consistently for 20 years now. Why do you think after the first few albums, which were so well-received, that the band fell off the map somewhat, or at least went off many metal fans’ radars?
Jeff Waters: You’re talking about the British magazine? That’s only one country in all of Europe and in the UK, Annihilator kinda has fallen out of grace, it just hasn’t been really touring there or anything since 1993. But that’s only one country, one magazine. When I go the UK on press or something, it’s funny because even some of the journalists were not aware that there are ten more records after the ones that they were listening to, or that they’d heard of. But that’s just what happens when you don’t go into a country and do well and you don’t tour there very much. People just sort of assume that you disappeared. But the rest of Europe, we’ve been putting out an album every year-and-a-half since 1989. Going over there every year touring and playing to 500 to 35,000 people every time we do a show (laughs). So there’s a couple of countries that we just don’t have anything going in, but the magazine you picked up on (Terrorizer) is just one of the countries, right?
Spiritech: Do even many people in your own country just think the band just doesn’t exist anymore?
Jeff Waters: It’s just that I gave up kinda in my own country years ago, when way back, I think ’93 when the heavy metal stuff really went out in North America. Alanis Morissette, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam – all those bands came in and metal got thrown out real quickly by everyone. I just never went back, I just never… When I came back to see if there was going to be any support; ie. a record label that wanted to sign us and get us on tour, they weren’t really interested because a lot of them had never heard of us. We were never a huge band over here, so it wasn’t like a grand comeback or a reunion or anything like that, so… We’re not a young band, so the last couple of years when I tried to get the records out there, the labels didn’t seem interested at all. And I’ve been lucky – I don’t really have to give a shit. Europe and Japan have been buying our records since ’89 consistently. So you make a living and you have fun in the summer over there and you have fun during the year touring. Touring once a year in Europe is a dream come true for any musician.
Spiritech: There has been a lot of reformations of bands from the late 80s/early 90s, while others have experienced real resurgences in popularity during the past few years. What do you out this whole new fascination with thrash and heavy metal in general down to?
Jeff Waters: Well, the reunion stuff, some band reunions are fantastic and great and some are just are just obviously go in there and try to make some money. There’s a lot of great reunions. I mean, when Dickinson came back to Maiden and Halford came back, those are great reunions. (It’s) just a good time for metal. The metal thing’s been coming back here since around 2005, in North America at least. Kids were starting to realize… A lot of kids came from the school of the 90s, which is a school when most of the guitar players were just rhythm guitar players, nobody learned how to play solos and that was just what happened in the early 90s when Nirvana and all these guys came in. there was no emphasis on lead guitar anymore, because all the good lead players in metal had given up or changed styles or lost their deals. So there was a whole generation of kids that didn’t know how to play lead guitar. Then you got the Alexi Laiho’s and these guys starting up, spreading the Marty Friedman’s and the Randy Rhoads and the Van Halen’s and the (raises voice) Jeff Waters and all these lead players. All these guys bringing their lead guitar influences back into metal. Then when metal started getting popular again, we had Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Priest, Slayer and all that here in North America. Kids would go, “Who’s Randy Rhoads? Who’s Marty Friedman? Who’s this?” And that was because of guys like Alexi and all the younger players. So it’s been slow in coming, but now all the lead guitar players, people are starting to learn about all the great guitar playing that was going on back in the 80s and 70s and now it’s finally coming back into the vocabulary of new musicians.
Spiritech: Final question – any famous last words?
Jeff Waters: Last words? Number one, I sure hope I can get there someday, because a lot of friends of mine, Dave Mustaine and everybody’s been telling me you’ve got to get your ass down there. I have been there, but just not playing and it would be quite an honour to finally get there before I die (laughs). I hope that people out there into metal, I hope they like the Annihilator record, because they tell me people like this one, so that’s a good sign (laughs). It’s probably the one to check out then if you haven’t heard of the band.