Of all the albums that ANNIHILATOR has put out since their debut, this is the only one that successfully navigates the ice berg filled ocean that is Jeff Waters’ creative well. There are no ballads or sideshow attractions to speak of, and very little genre bending going on. You could potentially argue that since this came out around the peak of the Power/Speed Metal revival that took place in Europe that this had some commercial motivations, which could also be argued about bringing in Jon Comeau on both this album and the last, but the quality of this speaks for itself. The jury is in and the verdict is that there will be a constant barrage of Speed Metal with a few occasional Thrash interludes for a sentence of roughly 50 minutes, no appeals, and no possibility of parole.
Some might point to 90s JUDAS PRIEST work with Ripper Owens such as “Jugulator”, but honestly this sounds closer to what IRON SAVIOR and PRIMAL FEAR were doing at this time. It differentiates itself from them quite a lot in the heavily Techno-like production, although the actual riff work mostly follows the same simplistic approach. The guitar sound on the rhythm tracks is sort of a hyper-fuzz drenched, modernized version of “Screaming For Vengeance”. Funnily enough it actually reminds me a little of the guitar sound employed on DARKTHRONE’s “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, although the rest of the arrangement doesn’t sound nearly as distant and reverb steeped. If you’re not used to this kind of guitar sound, have a large attachment to the METALLICA-like distortion used on most of ANNIHILATOR’s non-experimental albums and if you haven’t even heard any pre-1985 heavy metal, this might not agree with your ears very well.
The pacing of this entire cybernetic monster can be summed up by saying the title of the opening Thrash killer “Ultra-Motion”. When you couple the extremely fuzzy distortion with Waters’ extremely fast picking hand, the opening riff of this song is a complete blur, although the pick attack is sharp enough to pierce through the hazy guitar tone. The song then succeeds to fly back and forth between “Painkiller” sounding speed metal and “Eternal Nightmare” oriented Thrash riffing. Although this thing doesn’t quite throw out as many riffs as your typical Bay Area band circa 1987, a lot of it comes really close to invoking the same wicked feel. The lead work is utterly sick, trading in and out different ideas that parallel both K.K. Downing and David Shankle. Put it all together with a really powerful and slightly gravely vocal delivery out of maestro Jon Comeau and you’ve got an instant winner.
Given a radically aggressive first impression like this, you’d expect an extremely fuzzy Power/Thrash album from start to finish, but given the general ebb and flow of things during 2002, this is not how things turn out. “Cold Blooded” is the only song on here that really Thrashes out with a vengeance in both the riff department and in the vocal assault, and mostly sounds like an industrially produced ANTHRAX song with a harsher sounding singer and about twice as many guitar acrobatics. “My Precious Lunatic Asylum” has some isolated Thrash elements in the riffing here and there, some of which sound a little similar to “The Years Of Decay”, but mostly it sounds closer to a “Painkiller” style song with the rapid paced, detached vocals that are geared towards the Thrash style.
The bulk of what’s left on here is definitely influenced greatly by the late 90s, early 2000s German Speed Metal scene, most of which was heavily JUDAS PRIEST influenced. “Torn” and “Ritual” are both right out of that classic mid tempo, signature heavy and minimalist riffing play book that ACCEPT pioneered and IRON SAVIOR has carried on to this very day. To keep the flow of things going, the latter gallops a bit and both songs has a constant stream of double bass work. “The Blackest Day” is a little bit similar but gets a little deeper into mechanical sounding territory with the vocal tracking, while “Prime Time Killing” gets real heavy on the guitar effects and almost sounds like a full hybrid of industrial sounding Groove and Speed Metal. “Fire Power” leaves the technological matrix a little and brings some melodic flavoring to the mix, definitely sounds like something that could have been on PRIMAL FEAR’s “Nuclear Fire” if it had a more conventional guitar sound.
The two songs on here that actually stand out the most are the ones leave the stylistic trappings of the current trend in Speed Metal circa 2002 and go back a little further. In my opinion, the best song on here is the catchy as hell traditional sounding Speed Metal number “Striker”. Parts of this are a dead ringer for PRIEST’s “Ram It Down”, while at other parts I swear Waters was listening to ACCEPT’s “T.V. Wars” when he wrote this. A little more than half way through the song they drop everything and go into this little drum solo which sort of disrupts the flow a little, but doesn’t destroy the continuity of this song. The other song “Nothing To Me” brings back the AC/DC emulation that appeared on the last album, but actually marries it to the ANNIHILATOR style and puts in this epic sounding intro that sounds like something off of “Never, Neverland”. The single version of this song omits the intro, but honestly, it’s much better with it in there so don’t bother with the 2nd bonus track if your version has it because it’s nothing more than an outtake from “Highway To Hell” with a really fuzzy guitar sound.
When I first heard this album it didn’t agree heavily with my ears due to the very unusual production, but this is basically the second best ANNIHILATOR album after the debut. It’s definitely the most consistent and coherent album that this band has ever put out and it’s the best thing that Comeau has done since his brief thought legendary stint with LIEGE LORD. If you like IRON SAVIOR, PRIMAL FEAR or PARAGON then this will likely be up your alley. It is a good idea to give this album a couple of listens in order to properly sink in, as most Speed Metal albums don’t have a production quite like this, but believe me it is worth the effort.
(Online November 7, 2008)