Canadian entertainers have always had a foothold in America’s social lexicon, and as much Americans try to ignore it and simply absorb our brothers and sisters of the Great White North into our own patchwork cloth and claim them as our own, the artists themselves often remain true to their home country. So, while American thrash came and went and came again, there persisted Jeff Waters’ Annihilator, the highest-selling Canadian metal act of all time, fiercely active all over the world since inception in 1984. The release of “Suicide Society” marks the band’s (which is essentially just an epithet for Waters himself,) fifteenth studio record, and this one sees the central ideaman on every instrument except the percussion.
Contrary to their contemporaries, Annihilator has always done two things markedly different than their peers. The first is that while all the great American thrash bands were content to either take on issues of nuclear war and social plague, Annihilator has always been more on the street-level view of societal analysis. Second, Annihilator has endured a thousand lineup changes and a hundred different paradigm shifts in public taste but through fifteen studio records remains firmly rooted in the genre they started in. To pick up “Suicide Society” in 2015 isn’t really worlds apart from listening to 1994’s standout “King of the Kill.” Waters remains completely committed to being a professional musician in his chosen genre, and there’s a lot of worse things than that.
Also, Annihilator has always had the best guitar tone of any thrash band going. Waters has mastered a sound that is both deep and sharp, an inherent thick hum that still makes each note stand out of its own volition. For over thirty years this tone has persisted and has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of Annihilator as a whole. A good guitar tone cannot go underrated – Eddie Van Halen is as much synonymous with ‘the brown sound’ as he with his actual artistry and Boston sold an awful lot of their first record in part because of the clarion allure of Tom Scholz’s sound. So to it is with Waters and Annihilator.
“My Revenge” is the second song on the album, but the first that really stands up and impresses. This is thrash as it was always meant to be: fast with a buzzsaw churn, but still intelligent and highly accessible. The song gallops along without reservation, blazing along with staccato riffs and bitten-off lyrics. A cynic would suggest that part of the song’s strength is that the primary riff is nearly a copy of Metallica’s “Damage, Inc,” but since they’re both good songs, is there a problem here? We already live in a world where “Four Horsemen” and Megadeth’s “Mechanix” are admitted copies, so give this a pass.
Another staple of Annihilator has always been Waters’ versatility within his own genre, finding the wiggle room to do different things within the same basic framework. As such, we have the big bass shamble of “Snap” quickly turned around by the frenetic verses and dramatic chorus of the excellent “Creepin’ Again.” So immediately the listener is presented with a veritable buffet of selections, and allowed to choose whatever style suits his or her personal taste best.
That’s pretty much the theme of “Suicide Society” all the way through, highlighted in the second half by the jumpy and pounding “Break, Enter,” reportedly a song written by Waters chasing down some people who broke into his home (hence the street-level view.) Okay, does this record sound so different from the other fourteen Annihilator records? Probably not, but as we’ve discussed before, that’s not necessarily bad if you’re the best or only person doing what you’re doing, and in terms of traditional thrash in the original sense, Annihilator might just be the last man standing.
So that’s it, then. “Suicide Society” might not be revolutionary, but it is damn fun to listen to, and, this is important, doesn’t feel stuck in the past like so many other veteran metal bands do. Waters acquits himself with aplomb, and the album is better for it. Fans will love it, and if you haven’t picked up one of their albums in a while, re-acquaint yourself using this one. It’s a good ride.