I like doing reviews for any rock or metal album, but when it’s from one of my favorite bands, it’s always a lot more fun. Annihilator, one of the greatest musical acts from Canada, is an absolute favorite of mine. I’ve been a fan since 2000 and feel lucky to have discovered their stuff because, surprisingly, they are not as popular as some of the other thrash acts of the same era. I’ve recently started an “Underrated Albums” series on this site, and a lot of their albums would fit nicely in there. When it comes to thrash metal infused with melody and progressive elements, few bands can do it as well as Annihilator. And here we are with the band’s 16th studio album, For the Demented.
For those who are not familiar with Annihilator, the band’s history goes all the way back to 1984. Jeff Waters, the main driver of the band, founded the group with his friend John Bates, who was an early vocalist and lyricist. But soon after, Waters realized that Annihilator was his baby since not everyone in the band was as committed to it as he was.
Most fans will know at least two albums from them. Alice In Hell (1989) which is an iconic thrash metal masterpiece that showcased Waters’ versatile guitar skills in all its glory, and Never, Neverland (1990) that was equally brilliant as the debut and gave us one of the best metal songs ever recorded called Imperiled Eyes. What often gets overlooked, however, is that they also released some great albums in the ‘90s and later. If you haven’t listened to them already, check out Set the World on Fire (1993), King of the Kill (1994), Carnival Diablos (2001), and Schizo Deluxe (2005), just to name a few…
For some reason, Annihilator never became as big as some of the other metal acts that started around the same time. Since it’s essentially Jeff’s band, there’s been a lot of line-up changes, including a few different vocalists throughout the years. I don’t know if it had an impact on the band not getting enough attention, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. The good news is, as Waters recently mentioned in interviews, Annihilator’s popularity is growing, even after 3 decades in the industry, and the band has been busy with tours around the world.
I’ve always been a big fan of Jeff Waters. Yes, there are some albums where I tend to skip certain songs; but it’s difficult to keep the same level of creativity for all these years, especially during times of hardship. But I’ve always bought Annihilator albums, always listened to them, and always supported Jeff’s music in any way I could. The reason is because I think the guy is immensely talented! When I was reading some interviews to prepare this article, I noticed he doesn’t like to give himself too much credit when it comes to his innovative playing, but his playing really is innovative. You’d be hard pressed to show me another guitarist doing the same thing he does. Never, Neverland is my favorite album of theirs (Coburn Pharr is also my favorite vocalist they’ve ever had, but that’s a whole different story) but I’ve always found great stuff on all albums. Plus, in an industry where people can easily get a bloated ego and focus more on trashing others rather than improving their own game, Waters is the kind of guy who will always give you a candid interview, will not shy away from admitting that certain albums of his band were not as good as some of the others, and never say a bad word about other musicians in the genre. His focus remains on what Annihilator can do to keep its legacy alive.
Okay, let’s get back to our topic. A brand-new album from Canada’s thrash metal legends…
For the Demented was released on November 3rd by Silver Lining Music. I will say what I overall think before I even get to the details. I think this is a really strong record! Fans of Annihilator’s first 4 albums will have plenty of music they will certainly enjoy. It sounds fresher than anything released after Schizo Deluxe. To me, there was something missing in some of the later albums before we got to #16. There are good songs in all of them, but they all lacked cohesion. I’m an “album” kind of listener, I like listening to whole records and not just cherry pick songs – and I couldn’t really do that with those albums because I tended to skip certain tracks. For the Demented, however, gives us something special. It brings us back to a more cohesive “album” feel. I think Jeff was fully aware of the feedback, as well as where he wanted to take this new record. He seems energized to deliver something stronger. The songs have that familiar Annihilator feel without copying old riffs. When I do reviews of some of my favorite bands, I don’t always know whether I will really gel with an album or not; so, it’s always a ton more fun to write when I’ve already listened to the album 6 times and can’t get enough!
According to Waters, he intentionally did not want to get too much influence from some of his favorite bands like Megadeth, Slayer or Metallica. If you listen to Suicide Society (2015) you definitely hear these influences. There isn’t anything wrong with showing a little bit – but I think even Jeff would admit Suicide Society showed them a little too much (just listen to My Revenge). In order to make sure he didn’t do the same thing this time around, Jeff recruited his bass player of the last few years, Rich Hinks, to help him out with the songwriting. The idea was that after Jeff played a riff to Rich, he would help figure out whether it sounded like Annihilator or some other band. Rich ended up doing a lot more than that and co-wrote the entire album with Jeff. Remember when I said Jeff was one of the good guys and he doesn’t have a big ego? You can see that right here! Most metal guitarists who have been around for more than three decades would have never let their ego allow them to have a much younger musician co-write an entire album. But the priority was writing the best possible music – and I think they delivered.
This album, just like the previous one, features Jeff on lead vocals. He took over singing once more after vocalist Dave Padden left in 2015. I liked Padden a lot, and he had been in the band for a long time, so I wasn’t sure how things were going to work out. Instead of hiring a new vocalist, Jeff decided to assume the responsibility once more (he sang for the band in mid ‘90s as well). I’m no stranger to his vocals and I think it works with the songs he writes. Obviously, he’s not as versatile as some of the other vocalists he’s hired over the years, but his style just works. In terms of the instruments, he also recorded all of them himself on the album; something he’s been doing for a long time. The way Annihilator usually works is Jeff would play all guitars and bass, and if he’s working with a vocalist and drummer at the time, they’ll do their recording. This time, he pretty much played or programmed everything himself, and he’s also singing. I looked at the booklet and it looks like the drums were programmed with Superior Drummer, which I assume Jeff handled. Touring, of course, is another story where the band does have a full line-up.
Overall, the style explored on this album is a combination of thrash/speed metal and some slower tempo groovier songs that remind me of some ‘90s material. The opening track, Twisted Lobotomy is my favorite. It reminds me of the first two albums – starts with kind of an eerily awesome melody which then builds into a fast-paced thrash song. The riffs are intricate and constantly changing; it’s old-school Annihilator right here – can’t go wrong with that! But there’s more great stuff – One To Kill, which deals with abusive relationships, has a few tempo changes to keep you guessing, and it’s a solid heavy metal song with some cool lead guitar work. It’s kind of in the vein of Schizo Deluxe, which is one of my favorites from them. The chorus, in particular, is very well done.
Then there’s the title track, which has a personal connection to Jeff. Musically, it has a nice, slow opening with a cool low-gain guitar tone. Then, in typical Annihilator fashion, the song kicks into higher gear straight from there! It’s got a cool, groovy riff that delivers a nice ‘90s heavy metal vibe and it’s really catchy. Lyrically, it talks about a time where Jeff went to a mental healthcare professional to make sure his son wasn’t negatively affected by some of Jeff’s own issues. He notes in the album booklet that this person chose to make sarcastic comments about the way he dressed and what he did for a living…essentially implying that heavy metal was the “problem”. Naturally, Jeff was pissed off. That’s why he says this song is for the “demented”, for people who are different and follow a different path than what society tells them.
Yes, priorities in life can come into play and one must be realistic in your goals… but don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong, in any way, for being different and trying to be a good person.
The next track on the album, Pieces of You, has some lyrical content that Jeff calls “sick” and “twisted”. The reason is it’s based on a real crime case he saw on TV…a fairly new territory for Annihilator. Musically, this wasn’t high on my list. I just couldn’t really get into it, though the middle section is really cool. But right after, there’s The Demon You Know which is another fun and catchy heavy metal song. The way the bass takes the lead during verses and Jeff talking instead of singing reminded me of “Knight Jumps Queen” from Set the World On Fire. At times, it sounds a little too close to Knight… but it offers enough differences to really enjoy it. Then you have Phantom Asylum which I guarantee will be one of your favorites! The intro could have been shorter – but when the main riff kicks in, you’re welcomed to another fast-paced, full-on thrash song. Jeff did some of his best singing on this one too – I think his voice is built particularly for these types of songs. The chorus has an amazing groove and Jeff’s leadwork is top notch as always. Altering the Altar, the next track, is another catchy heavy metal tune. It has another slow intro but then we’ve got a groovy riff that carries us through the song. Annihilator is one of those rare metal bands that can easily infuse groove and some progressive elements into thrash without sacrificing from how heavy the song is. I must add, this song in particular felt like it was meant for Dave Padden’s voice – I could actually hear him singing in my head – but to be fair, Jeff did a good job too.
As we near the end of the album, we’ve got The Way which has a punk-meets-AC/DC kind of vibe. It’s different from everything else on the album. It’s not my favorite; but on some level, it makes sense to do something different so you’re not tempted to do similar songs one after another. The lyrics talk about the band itself and how Jeff will do things his way, not anyone else’s. Dark is a short instrumental that serves as an interlude to the album’s closer, Not All There, which I think is a great way to end the record as it’s another great tune. Jeff was determined to deliver some good old thrash metal here! The song talks about ADHD – which Jeff suffers from – and serves as another reminder to not judge people who may seem different than you. And the song may be thrash for the most part, but of course this is Jeff Waters, and as I said, he’s a versatile guitar player who likes to have fun with music too, and we hear some funk vibes and that’s how we say goodbye to Annihilator’s 16th studio album.
Overall, this is a strong record. There’s no doubt about it. Waters feel energized and his trust in Rich Hinks paid off. Unlike the last couple of albums, this one feels great from start to finish. Even songs that I labeled as weaker links are enjoyable for what they are. And all the others are incredible to me. If you are a fan of Annihilator’s first 4 albums, or if you’ve never heard of them but love thrash infused with melody, then this album is for you. This band is just so criminally underrated and I will never understand why. So, do yourself a favor, grab a copy of this album and crank it up loud! You will not regret it.
Sources & Additional Reading:
- For the Demented – Album Booklet
- Annihilator – Twister Mister (Bravewords)
- Jeff Waters of Annihilator Talks “For the Demented” (YouTube)