ANNIHILATOR – Ballistic, Sadistic

ANNIHILATOR – Ballistic, Sadistic

What does annihilator do? Annihilator annihilates, that is, destroys everything in its path without a second thought or prejudice. In the case of the Canadian thrash/heavy metal Annihilator it is all too true on the so aptly named "Ballistic, Sadistic". Many legendary thrash bands claim return to the initial "old school" form and some deliver (Testament, Kreator), while others only partially (Megadeth, Anthrax) or barely (Slayer, Metallica), but with this album, Annihilator definitely steps up to the first category, the most old school record since Testament’s "The Formation Of Damnation".

 As with its American counterpart (more on that later), Megadeth, Annihilator is, essentially, the creation and work of one man, in the latter case, one Jeffrey Bruce "Jeff" Waters, currently with drummer Fabio Alessandrini, the only other band member. Spawned in 1984, in Ottawa, Ontario, the band debuted 2 years later with "Phantasmagoria" demo (1986) followed by the now legendary full length, "Alice In Hell" (1989), a technical thrash metal masterpiece with a slight progressive edge, which made such signigicant waves that it impressed the Road Runner Records’ Monte Conner who signed the Canadians. It just so happened that Megadeth’s father, David Scott Mustaine was looking for the second guitarist to help him unleash the future classic, "Rust In Peace" and offered the position to Jeff Waters, who declined, adamant on keeping the momentum going with Annihilator, while Martin Adam "Marty" Friedman acquiesced to Mustaine’s offer. Jeff was asked to join Megadeth twice more, and later was offered the job of being Dave Mustaine’s guitar tech, but declined on all occasions. Waters had a good sense as Annihilator’s sophomore effort, "Never, Neverland" (1990) was even bigger than the debut album.

I remember trading then still pirated (sorry, Jeff!) copies of "Alice…" and "Never…" cassettes, headbanging to the likes of "Phantasmagoria" with my best friend, back in post-communist Poland, alongside the contemporary records by Megadeth, Metallica or Testament, and that is why Annihilator’s third installment, "Set The World On Fire" (allusion to Megadeth?) (1993), harkening to Pantera’s "Cowboys From Hell" yet with more hard rock leanings, was such a dissapointment save for the fantastic ballad, "Phoenix Rising". Annihilator disappeared from my musical radar until "Criteria For A Black Widow" (1999) and "Carnival Diablos" (2001) rekindled the fire, but then, I lost track of the Canadians again, for some or other reason, as I passively registered the news of subsequent Annihilator releases, until last year, when I saw the lyric wideo for "I Am Warfare" and was floored, while with the rest of remaining consciousness I succesfully requested the download digital copy of the album. I was sold, expecting the finest thrash ore and that is precisely what I got with "Ballistic, Sadistic".

While the lead off, "Armed To The Teeth" doesn’t exactly hit you like a ten ton hammer (to quote a known classic Machine Head track), it does immediately establish all the right perimeters, what with the "Power Metal" Pantera-ic riff and a near autoplagiarist breakdown (Death In Your Eyes), but it is the ferocious "The Attitude" that nails you to the wall with its energy and, shall we say, attitude? of a pure punkish/thrash classic reminiscent of "So Far So Good So What" Megadeth and cuts such as "502" or "Liar". In fact, it’s no longer 2020 (hindsight, anyone?) and you have been instantly transplanted back to 1987, and if you doubt that, take the Anthrax-ian "Psycho Ward" where Waters brilliantly mimics Mustaine’s snarly vocalizations (and will continue to, a few more times)! These 3 tracks set the mood, prepare you what you cannot be prepared for, the total technical thrash annihilation, pun very much intended. By the time "I Am Warfare" rolls in, you are sitting firmly amids "Rust In Peace" wondering who Slayer is (vide: chorus riff) but the old RIP feeling carries on to the favorite "Out With The Garbage". These two are the unquestionable highlights of this record, and once you hear the guitar solos, especially on the former, for the first time in your life you’ll think "Hangar 18" is not as fast as you had thought. Granted, "I Am Warfare" smacks of "Take No Prisoners", but when it’s this good, I am not the one to complain. The brilliant and spot on indictment of wolves-in-sheep-clothing "Christians", that is "Dressed Up For Evil" carries some of the thrash but its still Megadeth-ian stylings are more "United Abominations" and, while highly reminiscent of "Word Salad" from the debut, they function as a transition to the more hard rocking, "Set The World On Fire" leanings, whereby I secretly hope for a "Phoenix Rising" type of ballad.

Not interested in ballads this time around, Jeff serves a very interesting, if rather short number, "Riot" with a great chorus and first genuine melody. My craving for ballad-ic vibe is somewhat satisfied with "One Wrong Move" as its middle part, indeed, harkens back to "Phoenix Rising". At the point of "Lip Service" you realize Waters PURPOSELY uses classic song riffs in new material as this is, essentially, "Knight Jumps Queen" reloaded, but a very good one at that, and then comes the "She-Wolf" Megadeth dual solo that is, to quote Waters own words from it, second to none, the type of harmony which reminds you why you love metal. Finally, "End Of The Lie" end the proceedings on a "Rust In Peace" meets "United Abominations" note, a very effective conclusion to an excellent album.

Since, as you might guess by this review, the instrumental and vocal performance, to say nothing of Waters’ expert production, are all top notch, where is the missing point? Firstly, for a thrash metal missile, it starts rather carefully, as if judging whether to rip your head clean off or leaving behind some remaining tissue. I would have loved a more ferocious opening. Secondly, the first 3 songs are great but once "I Am Warfare" rolls in with its mind-numbing technicality, you forget all about them. Thirdly, I’m sorry, Jeff, I get the point, but the profanity of "The Attitude" is way over the top from such a brilliant social commentator (Dressed Up For Evil). I do love this song, though, it’s perfect when people piss you off!

Jeff Waters aptly summed up this record when he said: "take the Alice In Hell, Never, Neverland, and Set The World On Fire records, make them angry, combine the old-school production with modern hi-tech studio gear, then add the best guitar work I didn’t know I still had in me, and you’ve got the best we could possibly offer". Well, if that’s really the best you could possibly offer, I am already looking forward to the follow up to this beast! Highly recommended.