Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic Review

If I had to describe this album in three words? Absolute. Guitar. Pornography! – Thrash fans the world over can rejoice, because on their 17th studio album, Canada’s best Thrash band (no offence to Sacrifice, Exciter and Voivod fans) are truly on top form. I don’t know what has happened in Jeff Water’s life, but he sounds absolutely super-charged. Best vocals of his career. Superb song-writing. Astounding solos. Performances like a man possessed. If the band had broken up after their second album and this was their comeback, the music press would be all over this like ants on a picnic.

As it stands; Their previous album was a step in the right direction, but this album is an Olympic sprint in the right direction. Chocked full of lead guitar that would make most of the great virtuosos blush, fast enough to make modern Megadeth albums feel like a Doom Metal band, fun enough to make it endlessly memorable, Ballistic Sadistic is quite possibly Annihilator’s best album of the modern age. Perhaps their 3rd best ever.

The production is crystal clear but with nice crunchy rhythm guitar and hard hitting drums, all the instruments are perfectly balanced, nice thick bass, vocals not too loud. Its only 10 songs, no intros, no ballads, no joke tracks, just absolute “give the people what they want” thrashing. I mean it isn’t devoid of variety (they don’t call this man the Eddie Van Halen of Thrash Metal for nothing) but it is hyper-focused and filler-free.

Highlights include the opening three songs, including the very Never, Neverland-reminiscent single “Psycho Ward” (Jeff’s lyrics were never the most progressive when it comes to mental health, but I the music is brilliant) as well as the speedy “The End Of The Lie” and “Out With The Garbage” which channel the band’s faster material from their late ‘80s style and not forgetting the brilliant “Lip Service” which carries on that fun guitars cut out, rhythm section takes over style of song that the band tried on songs like Knight Jumps Queen” and “Pastor Of Disaster” in the early ‘90s.

When Annihilator are on, they are really on, one of the best bands in the whole genre when they get it right, and this my friends, is the band on and righter than right. Do you like to headbang? Do you like your air guitar? Do like a bit of melody with your Thrash? Then this red-hot scorcher of an album is highly recommended.

Protest The Hero – Palimpsest Review.

Canada’s Young Punk-Turned-Mature Prog act, Protest The Hero return in 2020 with their fifth full-length studio album, Palimpsest. It follow’s the creatively marketed and disturbed Pacific Myth EP from four years earlier, and is their first proper length album since 2013’s superb Volition (remember, the crowdfunded one with Chirs Adler from Lamb Of God on drums?).

PTH have been one of my favourite bands for years and years now. Their ridiculously-good debut album Kezia could well be in my top 10 albums by any band ever. I’ve seen them live a few times and utterly loved it. They haven’t released a record yet that I haven’t liked. So, you’ll have to forgive me if this review is a little biased, ok?

If you don’t know the band; they are a very techy, slightly complex, musically ambitious band focused on baffling guitar lines, awkward drum patterns, but anchored by a really emotive and varied singer who delivers their really insightful and creative lyrics with such power and personality thatI it gels into this really powerful whole that somehow seems catchy and fun despite how difficult it would be to actually play or hum along to otherwise. There’s also a sort of maturity and balance to it. It isn’t jarring mixes of styles, its all very cohesive.

As they’re such a varied band, its hard to know who to recommend them to fans of? Megadeth due to the guitar wizardry? Periphery due to the techy nature? Letlive due to the really powerful vocals and lyrics? Dream Theater due to the ambition? Killswitch Engage, as if you are the kind of person who hates anything ‘core then major aspects of the band’s sound might scare you off? All or none of the above? I don’t know.

This fifth album is both a mix of various areas they’ve tried before on other releases, and in some cases trying new things and breaking new ground.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read about this album focus on how guitar and drum parts are sort of reminiscent of the band’s first two albums, Kezia, and the ever-popular Fortress (I guess them recently touring doing Fortress in its entirety live might’ve affected their song writing – ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘Gardenias’ in particular stand out as being Fortress-like). But equally, I can hear a lot of the touches from their more recent album and EP, some of the orchestral touches like the end of ‘From The Sky’ & ‘Little Snakes’ are reminiscent of things they’ve tried on tracks like ‘Caravan’ a few years ago, and shimmering guitars from the break in ‘The Fireside’ could be on one of the deep cuts from Voltion. Most of all, some of the newer vocal styles that developed over the years wouldn’t be heard on those first two albums. There’s also parts that don’t sound anything like they’ve done before, such as the grand sweeping opening to the first track. This album is definitely more of a culmination of a whole career rather than a rehashing of the past.

My only minor flaw with the album is that it would probably be better if track eight was the closer, it has the perfect endeding with the nice little piano outro there.

Lyrically; this is a very interesting album, covering topics from the Hindenburg disaster, the plight of the Native Americans, female aeroplane pioneer Amelia Earhart and even the Make America Great Again movement from the perspective of outsiders. As always, its not even so much the topics but the balanced, intelligent and interesting ways in which they are discussed and the clever ways they’re turned into catchy lines you just want to shout out at a concert.

Highlights include the speedy ‘All Hands,’ the heavy ‘Soliloquy,’ the ambitious ‘Little Snakes’ and perhaps most of all, the feminist themed single ‘The Canary’ which is boundlessly catchy and sticks in my head for hours after every listen, (the pre-chorus is as good as the best chorus on most albums, the part where it says “7,000 miles of ocean stand between me and my destiny/Somewhere beyond it or inside it” puts chills down my spine).

Even after being out a few months, its still hard to know where to place this album ranked in the band’s discography, they’re the kind of band like Tool or Opeth that give more and more on every listen and everything they do is a grower that you don’t fully get all the nuances of on first listen, but my first impressions so far are that while it doesn’t dethrone my number one spot, it is definitely a damn fine album and in the upper half of the discography. If you aren’t a fan yet, it should be a great entry point, and if you are a fan already there’s no way you could be disappointed.

Annihilator – Refresh The Demon Review

If Canada’s Annihilator are an underrated band, and their albums after the classic first debut and sophomore releases, (such as albums three & four; Set The World On Fire and King Of The Kill) are underrated by the media, then the albums after that are a triple-threat of underrated, being underrated by even their fanbase.

The best among those for me, is the Refresh The Demon album. The 1996 follow up to King Of The Kill, was the second album in a row where after a period of line-up instability, guitarist Jeff Waters took on vocal duties as well. This makes it the first studio album in their career to have the same singer as the previous album.

Stylistically; the album is very much a sequel to King Of The Kill. There are even some direct analogues, such as both having brief guitar based instrumentals, both having ballads, both having a few groove metal tracks that raise eye brows among the older fans, both having a ‘Knight Jumps Queen’/’Brain Dead’ style song with an in/out guitar line and rhythmic vocals, and a couple of true blue classic thrashers that raise horns with older fans.

This is a brilliant album, better than a Thrash album from 1996 is likely to be for most bands. Its arguably an even tighter, well rounded version of King Of The Kill and if you that album, this one is a must own. You can consider them a pair. They’re the two albums with Jeff singing but a live drummer and no drum machine (unlike the next album, 1997’s Remains).

Highlights include the speedy title track, its pure Waters-Thrash, the kind of thing that could have fit on the first two albums, ‘Pastor Of Disaster’ which is the aforementioned ‘Brain Dead’-style fun one, and ‘City Of Ice’ which is like a blend of ‘80s Judas Priest and ‘70s Van Halen.

If you are a big Thrash fan, there’s a lot of albums released in the ‘90s that are disappointing. Refresh The Demon ‘aint one of ‘em.  Not by a long shot.

I’ve Just Been To See Tesseract and Protest The Hero Live

I’ve Just Been To See Tesseract and Protest The Hero Live at the Manchester Academy, on Thursday the 6th of February 2014. Fuck me. What. A. Gig.

What a gig, and I almost missed it. All week, I’ve thought that this concert was on on the Friday, so today after Uni I had dinner then got undressed and into my pyjamas (well, I don’t own pyjamas, so, into the normal clothes that I wear if its too cold to sleep without clothes) and got ready to drift away to sleep. At the last minute, for no reason I can discern, I got up to look at the tickets. Not to check the date or anything, just to look at them, covetously. That’s when I noticed that the gig was on tonight, and had to get dressed and head straight out the door and walk to the venue. Luckily doors hadn’t opened yet, but I wasn’t in the que very long.

I got in, walked straight to front row center (well, two human body’s distance to the right of center, to be specific) while others where buying beer or t-shirts, and rooted myself in for the night. I remembered jerk crowds the last few time I was here in this section of the Academy (upstairs, not the biggest part that’s in a separate building, where bands as big as Megadeth get to play), so I expected thugs to try come and uproot me. It never happened. Much like the Queensryche crowd, this was the politest, most honourable crowd anyone could hope for. I was really pleased. A little faith in humanity is restored every time you spend a whole evening in the company of people who don’t act like assholes.

The evening was opened up by the Canadian Djent band, Intervals. I didn’t know much about Intervals (no songs, so that’s pretty little) beforehand, but they really won me over. They were really, really impressive. Their musicianship was incredible for an opening band, they had a pretty professional demenour and good songs. A very good band indeed. The sound didn’t really help them out, but they were so good you could tell through the bad sound that they were seriously talented. They were also kind of the heaviest end of Djent you can be, without using any Death Metal parts. Their singer was pretty charismatic and their drummer was straight up awesome (at one stage he hit a cymbal so hard, he broke a big wedge straight off of it and left it looking like a shark had taken a bite out’ve it). Great band. Go see them if you can.

Next up came The Safety Fire. Who were a British Tech Metal/Prog Metal/Djent band. They were also absolutely excellent. Their sound was a bit lighter, more radio-friendly in parts, and sometimes they actually played little guitar runs that sounded like Protest, or those bits on Periphery’s new album that John Petruci from Dream Theater played.

Their drummer was freaking incredible. He plays like he’s trying to pass an exam. Watching him drum was like playing a videogame without dying on the hardest difficulty. Everything about that band seemed on, but the drummer especially was hot, hot stuff. Plus, no Death Metal. They were more like if a Djent band listened to a lot of At The Drive In.

The sound for them was less muddy but the vocals were mixed very low. Again, luckily, they were clearly brilliant so it didn’t matter.

They were really good. Go see them if you can.

Then Tesseract came on. Tesseract are a fucking incredible live band. I took a punt on them just before Christmas and went to go see them live without knowing them, just because I like Periphery, and the two are often spoken of together (like Metallica and Megadeth). Also because Karnivool were headlining and Karnivool are often spoken of alongside bands like Cog and Rishloo, so I wanted to try them out too. Tesseract stole the show, hands down and unequivocally. That show was absolutely incredible (despite a small section of annoying honking fans making clown-horn noises endlessly) and completely sold me on the band. I got their new album for Christmas as a result and absolutely love it.

Seeing them tonight was even better than the first time. These guys are one of the best live bands going. They are like fucking superstars, from their casually cool world’s-tallest-man guitarist, to their Danny Carey’s-maths-homework drummer, their business-looking bassist and the friendly looking other guitarist. That and the new singer. My goodness. That man can sing. Remember what I said about Jesse Leach? Yeah, well double that!

That guy is the best live singer I have ever seen with my own two eyes (and I’ve seen Maynard James Keenan!). If I could give him some sort of award I would.

In fact, maybe I can.

I hereby award Ashe O’Harra the ‘Kingcrimsonblog Best Live Singer’ award

Done. (And well deserved).

Tesseract are such an incredible live band, they just really draw you in, they are so powerful and captivating, it really makes my enthusiasm for live music grow and both times that I’ve seen them, they have absolutely dominated. Furthermore, they had great quality sound. Thank you Tesseract’s soundman.

As if that wasn’t enough, I got to see Protest The Hero too.

If you’ve ever read this Blog before, you’ll probably know that I love Protest The Hero. Since I first got their debut album as a birthday present, I have listened to and talked about them absolutely constantly. Constantly! – According to my LastFM account, I’ve listened to them 1,361 times since August (at time of writing), and in that short time, they have become the band that I’ve listened to Eighth-most, in the entire last three-and-a-half years!

So, with that sort of context, you should be able to figure out that I was beyond excited for this gig. You may however have also seen my write-up about their Live DVD, which I was actually a little disappointed by. That made me a bit fearful that Protest’ were more of a studio band. I mean, their albums are some of the best ever made by anyone. Kezia, Scurrilous and Voltion especially. I mean, I just hammer those albums constantly!

Even if Protest’ were poor live, at least Tesseact had been headline-worthy.

Protest’ weren’t poor live though. Protest The Hero were one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. I had suuuuuch a good time. The energy level was off the charts. They were so good that they pulled out all my reservations. I’m more like a Japanese audience member than a western one usually, but boy did I make an exception. Ever since Lamb Of God’s concert, I’ve been getting more and more into things. I screamed my lungs out, I jumped about, air-drummed, air-guitared, gestured descriptively for all the lyrics and generally banged and danced away like I was having a damn great time (which of course, I was). I haven’t ever thrown more of myself into a gig since I was about 15. I had more enthusiasm here for that hour than I’ve had all year. I looooooved it.

But enough about me, the band, the band were unbelievable. Absolutely nailing such complex, multifaceted, incredible music like it was easy. Even the new drummer who didn’t write any of this bonkers material was absolutely phenomenal. Every musician was entertaining to watch and great fun to listen to.

The setlist was brilliant. They played more or less all of my absolute favourite songs, including ‘Underbite,’ ‘Mist’ ‘Sextapes’ ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Blindfolds Aside.’

The crowd seemed to be going pretty wild for them. Proportionately, it was probably the most sing-along concert I’ve ever seen, with the most knowledgable and into-it fans I’ve ever witnessed. It seemed like an absolute love-fest. Deservedly so. They make brilliant songs, and they’ve backed it up live with a stunning performance. I think the fact that they have some of the best and most interesting lyrics I’ve ever read also helps. People sang along like their lives depended on it, which I think is a big endorsement of the quality of those lyrics.

The sound for them was great too. Thank you Protest The Hero’s soundman too.

Roddy was pretty entertaining, commenting on a security guard being the world’s strongest man (which is not an unreasonable assessment) to the point where the bouncer even cracked a happy smile, joking about Buckfast, referencing WWF, WCW and Holywood Hulk Hogan, inviting a handsome crowd member up on stage to be ‘hunk of the week’ (the band played him a little specially-written hunk-of-the-week theme tune too!) and then joking about getting him into bed. He also started singing football chants about Stephen Gerard to annoy the football fans in the crowd, and fake-dedicated a song to Stephen Gerard. It was pretty amusing stage banter. I guess he takes what he written in ‘Underbite’ seriously.

The band’s performance overall was so, so strong. That DVD must have been an off-night, because what I saw tonight was a frigging phenomenal Live Band. It was such a good, good show.

It was such a good show I even bought a t-shirt afterwards (a thing my wallet has stopped me doing since seeing Queencryche Live – so you can tell how much I was impressed to be moved to t-shirt purchasing)

The gig, as a whole, is one of the absolute best I’ve ever seen. Two great Djent bands supporting Tesseract’s world-class superstar-quality live show and the most fun gig (Protest The Hero) that I’ve been to in the last decade.

If you have any interest in modern Metal, live music, or any of the bands mentioned, try and see them live. This was a fabulous bill and a brilliant night. The only way it could be any better is if Periphery also played, and Protest’ got a slightly longer set and were able to fit in ‘Dunsel’ ‘Skies’ and ‘Turn Soonest To The Sea’ – then it would have been the hypothetical best gig ever. As it stands it was pretty damn close.

“So How You Fucking Feeling Tonight?” – Boy, am I in a good mood!