Jeff Waters is in both a wonderful and awkward spot in his prolific career. He’s creative control as the primary force behind a legendary metal moniker that stands for two different things: the entity itself and the conductor operating it mostly on his own like a thrasher’s Lionel set. Now, if you peel open the vast list of musicians who have supported Waters in ANNIHILATOR over the span of three decades—in particular, young newcomers—you’ll find that the rotation and robust energy has pushed Waters‘s evolution, art and relevancy
Say anything you like about Jeff Waters, so long as you call him one of the genre’s great shredders and give him his due as a producer. Whether you dig a certain ANNIHILATOR album over another, or you feel the need to dig on an ANNIHILATOR album, Waters puts everything he has into his work, including a tight, crisp finish. Bands used to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the professional sound Waters does on his own. Even when fielding most of the instruments himself, there’s a clean orderliness to his recordings from “All For You” forward that’s undeniably expert. Yeah, there are haters of “All For You”, but for its quirks, it does boast some of Jeff Waters‘s most electrifying guitar work, along with bombastic, often tricky songwriting. “Both of Me” carries a mind-blowing intro.
In 2015, Dave Padden, who suffered more than his share of crap from sniping fans, was gone from ANNIHILATOR, which took away both a gifted voice and an extra six-string sidearm, and Jeff Waters assumed vocal duties on “Suicide Society”. As enjoyable as anything as he’s done before, Waters nonetheless takes himself to task for that album’s glaring nods to his influences, leaning heavily upon MEGADETH and METALLICA, and let’s not overlook the verbatim rewrite of RAMMSTEIN‘s “Ich Tu Dir Weh” on “Snap”. Perhaps the abrupt need to reassume the mike put Waters into a strange position for which he wasn’t quite ready. Yet he’s hardly shying away from that position on ANNIHILATOR‘s 16th album, “For the Demented”. If anything, he’s relishing it this time and having a blast.
Jeff Waters stated in a recent interview that this time he wanted less focus on memorable choruses, a part of his repertoire reaping both praise and condemnation over the years. Waters‘s focus on “For the Demented” is detailing the awesomeness of his riffs and letting the power amplify the omnipresent grooves. For the first time since 1990’s “Never Neverland”, Waters had a co-producer, bassist Rich Hinks, who also assisted in the songwriting and engineering.
This being Hinks‘s first time on an ANNIHILATOR album—along with drummer Fabio Alessandrini, the youngblood spirit in Waters‘s stable, which also includes second guitarist Aaron Homma—he delivers a raucous punch to “For the Demented”, still finessed and, at times, adventurous.
“Twisted Lobotomy” is close kin to the early ANNIHILATOR years, the intro calls back to “Never Neverland” before kicking out the speed. In the essence of “Alice in Hell”, “Never Neverland” and “All For You”‘s subjects remain steeped in horror-themed psychological battering. “Twisted Lobotomy” sets off a raging course with a prolonged, muscle-flexing breakdown before turning Jeff Waters loose. It’s a beast of an opener gobbled by a delightful, if predictable, mosher, “One to Kill”. Waters‘s vocals are quite impressive, dipping into gravelly octaves, and he is far calmer in his business on this album than on “Suicide Society”. It’s not so much a transformation to his vocals, but without a doubt, he executes with greater ease.
The title cut is a gas. The demented are now represented, as Waters utters snidely, and while he may seek to strive from less hook-oriented choruses, you can’t help but grab onto this one. The song depends on a lively sing-along, but the swinging riffs and the bubbly tempo are the bigger attraction, along with a decorative layering of effects to the bridge. Intended or not, “For the Demented” isn’t pop by any stretch of the imagination, but it will stupidly sink itself into you. “The Demon You Know” has as much jive as rock thump as the track grooves out with near glee—this, considering the lyrical theme of drug addiction.
Before you scream: “Not another ballad!” with the remote intro to “Pieces of You”, you’ll be blindsided by a full-on nod to “Ride the Lightning”-era METALLICA, as the song finds a sturdy footing through its initial wanderings. “Pieces of You” gains momentum from some terrific songwriting outside of the obvious pockets, and as Jeff Waters croons wistfully, he snarls as the song grows accordingly denser.
“Phantom Asylum” is one of the gnarliest cuts on the album, tipping a cap to “Never Neverland”, while the banging thrash becomes secondary to the creepy, echoing guitar plucks. Equally spooky tones are conjured into the 2:12 instrumental, “Dark”. Said pitch is captured within “Phantom Asylum”‘s slowed-down, dusty solo set as the prelude to a hawk-eyed Western altercation. That doesn’t mean Jeff Waters is going to lay off the heat with his fret cuddling, so get ready. Obviously choosing this section of the album to make a statement, the wispy synthesizers opening “Altering the Altar” yet again play a trick on the listener. Rumbling speed becomes the mojo, and longtime ANNIHILATOR fans will find their pleasure pill here, even with the caressing keys along the way. Holding out some of his flashiest progressive theatrics prior to, Jeff Waters goes to town on “Altering the Altar”, all of it fitting snugly within its steamrolling vigor.
“The Way” might be considered the album’s biggest goof-off track as it’s a loose cannon with a cheering section planted at the end like a presumed live recording running about with punk and rock ‘n’ roll huffing it along. Jeff Waters rakes his frets on a rowdy solo while nattering unapologetically about where he’s been and where he’s going as a musician. Subsequently, the funk bombs dropped into the all-over-the-place closer, “Not All There”, speak to everything Jeff Waters is trying to tell his audience at this point in his life. He’s not all there, and happy to be thus. However long this current inception of ANNIHILATOR lasts, the young supporting cast seems well up to satisfying his occasionally nutty whims, since his demon-dancing payouts are more often satisfyingly crazed than not.