Annihilator have to be for my money, one of the absolute best Thrash Metal bands. Their greatest hits album calls the band ‘The Canadian Metallica’ and their virtuosos guitarist Jeff Waters ‘Canada’s answer to Eddie Van Halen.’ In terms of fame and size, this may be way off, but in terms of quality it is dead on. Their debut and sophomore albums, Alice In Hell and Never Neverland are near peerless masterpieces of the genre, full of concert classics. The blistering and incendiary lead guitar is some of the most impressive on any classic Thrash album.
Annihilator are a bit like Death, Nine Inch Nails or Megadeth in terms of having one key member and a revolving door cast of contributors. Their fourth album is their fourth in a row to feature a different singer. This time, lead guitarist Jeff Waters pulls the full Mustaine and becomes the singer. He may not be the most technically accomplished singer the band have ever had but he really suits the material. In fact; he pulls the full Schuldiner and is the bassist and rhythm guitarist too. The only other member on the album here is drummer Randy Black (Later of W.A.S.P, Primal Fear and Destruction).
As with many Thrash bands, they fell off the radar a bit in the ‘90s when Grunge and Alternative ruled the world. The extra interview tracks on the remasters of their ‘90s albums explain how their manager convinced them not to even put out their albums in North America during this time.
That’s a shame. Most fans only know the band for their first 2-3 albums. Less famous however, is the 1994 King Of The Kill album. For a Thrash band in the ‘90s this is a damn fine album and it’s a shame it isn’t better known. It remarkably well produced and clear without losing any bit. The lead guitar work is just as good if not better than before. There are some really memorable songs.
Fans of the band’s earlier thrashier material will fan in love with the concert favourite title track. Its tight riffing and punchy double kicks are everything that’s right with Thrash Metal. (About big cats. Jeff later comments it should have been ‘Queen of the Kill’ instead, as the female big cats actually do the hunting). ‘Second To None’ is equally hammering and would fit well on either of the band’s first two albums.
If you enjoyed the ballad from their third album you’ve got ‘In The Blood’ which is a more tasteful ballad with some nice classical guitar lines, or you enjoyed the slow quiet sections from the loud/quiet tracks on Never Neverland, then ‘Hell Is A War’ uses the same sort of style and tones but combines it with some mid-paced Pantera grooves and some Thrash. In the ‘90s some Thrash fans took umbridge with Thrash bands incorporating any Groove, but Annihilator do it right here.
There are admittedly a few other Groove moments that don’t work so well, like ‘The Box’ and ‘Annihilator’ which may be a bit too slow and repetitive for fans of the band’s technical, speedy, 200-ideas-per-song approach of yesteryear, but which add a bit of diversity to proceedings in all fairness. (The band made a mistake using ‘The Box’ as the opening track when the album was first issued, but future versions remedied this by making the title track first, which flows much better).
Speaking of diversity; fans of the band’s more eclectic and varied third album Set The World On Fire, will also find lots to love here. ‘21’ for example combines the Exodus’ ‘Brain Dead’-esque Thrash fun of ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ with the Van Halen worship of ‘Snake In The Grass’ and ‘Sounds Good To Me.’ You’ve also got the on-the-nose ‘Speed’ which lets Jeff show his guitar chops off further and ‘Fiasco’ is almost like a Thrash Metal version of something like ‘Romeo Delight’ or ‘Unchained.’ You can see how the band would come to cover aforementioned party-anthem later on their self-titled album.
I am a Thrash guy first and foremost. I got into the band for tracks like ‘Welcome To Your Death’ and ‘Wicked Mystic,’ fast, hard, aggressive and intense. That being said, one of the surprising album highlights here is the pure hard rock, cheeseball headbanger ‘Bad Child.’ It taps into the same AC/DC loving hard rock vein that the band would later drill on ‘Shallow Grave’ a few albums down the line. If you want pure catchy fun, this is the track for you.
There are also two very fine instrumentals in ‘Bliss’ and ‘Catch The Wind’ for the guitar aficionado. Jeff has a very unique and distinct musical vision and you can tell if he has written something right away.
Overall; King Of The Kill is another excellent album from Annihilator, and fans of Jeff’s Thrashier and more Hard Rock styles will both find a lot to like here. There’s also a few experiments but enough of what the fans want remains. It certainly retains the same quality the band are known for, even if you may not see it on quite so many Best Thrash Albums Ever lists as others. It may not be their most pure-Thrash album, but just in terms of being a good album, this is a must have.