Sunday Old School: Annihilator
Many of the world's top guitar shredders fit into two types of personalities. There are the overindulgent ones with inflated egos and there are the ones with quiet self-confidence that are in it because of their love for metal music. Jeff Waters of Canadian band Annihilator fits into the latter category. He lets others put him in their charts for top guitar players in metal while he quietly goes about pursuing the field that he loves - creating music with his band and others.
Jeff loves what he does, for he's been in it for over 28 years since Annihilator put out its first demo "Welcome to Your Death" in 1984. That, and the subsequent couple of demos released, were among the top traded demo tapes in the mid eighties - giving even Metallica and Megadeth a run for their money. In the early incarnation of Annihilator, Jeff had John Bates on vocals and went through quite a few musicians in the rhythm section, even replacing Bates with Randy Rampage from D.O.A. The problem was that the band members liked partying and going to clubs, leading to the turnover.
Jeff, on the other hand, had his eyes on the bigger picture. He was (and still is) the pundit, the introvert and a musician who focused primarily on his guitar playing. That is why this line-up and later ones led to dissolution. Despite this, the third demo written by Waters and drummer-at-the-time Paul Malek in 1987 was the one that got the attention of Roadrunner Records. They were now signed for that killer debut, "Alice In Hell," which came out in 1989.
Annihilator's debut turned the metal world on its ear with its complex powerful riffs and evil undertones, climbing the indie charts rapidly. By now, Jeff relocated from Ottawa to Vancouver and was busy recording more material for the sophomore release "Never Neverland," many of whose songs had appeared on earlier demos. This album featured Coburn Pharr (ex-Omen) on vocals, who replaced Randy Rampage. He had left to retain seniority at a good job he had.
"Never Neverland" killed on the charts, surpassing the debut and even landing at the number 48 spot on the British charts. It featured the offbeat tune "Kraf Dinner" (intentionally misspelled) about starving artists eating macaroni and cheese and the killer tune "Stonewall," about non-eco friendly corporations. But, the revolving door of musicians and vocalists plagued Annihilator once more after successful tours with Judas Priest and Pantera. The third release, "Set the World on Fire," was well received in Europe and Asia, but not in the U.S.A. The year was 1993 and Annihilator got bumped to Sony records and eventually dropped alltogether.
But, Jeff Waters is a survivor. He dealt with all the band upheaval and awol musicians by doing almost every part himself. He also came to the realization that 1993 was a very unkind year to heavy metal in North America. It was like, in his own words, a switch was flicked off in the traditional and power metal community. It went out of style here in the U.S., and the only bands getting attention were those that sounded like Pantera, Sepultura or Nirvana. So, after a minor club tour with Lillian Axe, he did what he had to do. Being a single father to a young son, he wanted to provide for him and do what he loved. So, he moved to Europe and for the most part hasn't looked back. He is able to make a living as a musician there.
Annihilator was basically Jeff Waters at this point. He was now across the Atlantic and doing most of the instruments himself. Between 1994-97 he released a quick succession of albums, "King of the Kill," "Refresh the Dream" and "Remains." Jeff had a few musicians help him, but he did all the lead vocals on this trio of albums. On "Remains" he used a drum machine and didn't tour to support that album. Waters didn't like having to do the vocals on these albums, for he doesn't like singing and had to pick it up out of sheer necessity at the age of 26. He did bring back Randy Rampage while touring during this period.
Jeff started a long tradition of DIY throughout this epoch. For an Annihilator record, he'd do the guitar/bass to a drum track, throw a singer on next and then at the end bring in an actual drummer. Jeff was quoted as saying that if something was wrong with the song afterwards, he'd realize it must be the drummer through the process of omission. You can see why so many high ranking musicians deem him to be a prodigy and musical genius, since he is a multi-instrumentalist and very methodical in what he does. He just shrugs it off, though.
Waters took a couple of years off and re-emerged with the original line-up from "Alice In Hell," except for Wayne Darley who was replaced by Russ Bergquist. They released the seventh Annihilator record, "Criteria for a Black Widow," in 1999. This line-up soon dissolved again despite its success, leading to the ever-present revolving door of musicians in the band. Jeff went back to his DIY approach of half band/half solo formula. The next two albums, "Carnival Diablos" and "Waking the Fury" were done this way.
That was Annihilator's status entering the new millenium. Waters began to think only he was serious about the band as a project, so sessionists became the word. He hired a string of bassists and drummers on these albums and decided to hire a young vocalist/rhythm guitarist by the name of Dave Padden. Dave didn't have the experience and was rough in the beginning, but he knew his music. He didn't have the resume Jeff had, but after putting out the tenth Annihilator album "All For You," he surprised him. Why? Because he stayed.
Dave Padden was a quick study, learning all of Annihilator's music rapidly. Jeff began to realize that he had all three qualities that a guitarist must possess - songwriting, rhythm and soloing. Dave is also the polar opposite personality of Jeff with his social tendencies as opposed to Jeff's introspection. Waters has to force Dave to write in the studio, but despite that he brings out the more social side of Jeff. Also during this time, Annihilator was on AFM Records. When putting out the next record, "Schizo Deluxe" - one that Jeff is particularly proud of, the promotion was next to nil. The head of the label had been killed in a car accident, plus the label was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Annihilator were two albums into a three-album deal, and Jeff had the foresight to fulfill the contract by releasing the DVD "Live at the Masters of Rock" in 2005. (This recording only featured a couple of Dave Padden songs, since the band wanted to get alot of the old songs out of the way). Jeff's timing was impeccable in divesting himself of AFM Records, as the label actually went bankrupt one week later. He knows he was lucky to get out and retain his song rights. It's a shame this morass resulted in the album getting overlooked, for Jeff particularly likes the guitar sound and experimental nature of this album. It should be noted that the sound of Annihilator changed with "All For You," into a more mainstream sound, but Jeff likes trying new things and changing things up.
After tours with Iced Earth, Trivium and Destruction in 2007, Jeff and Dave got busy on the twelfth Annihilator album, "Metal," on SPV Records. He called it "Metal" maybe in a subconscious way of saying 'this is truly metal.' When Waters thinks of metal, he thinks of bands such as his all-time idols Judas Priest. In keeping with his longtime penchant of bringing in sessionists, Jeff decided to up the ante and bring in a virtual who's who of metal to guest on the album. He generally sticks to collaborating with friends or people he has toured with - which actually could be almost anyone. Jeff wanted this album to live up to its title "Metal" and feature all sides of the metal community in an aptly titled tribute.
"Metal" had guest appearances by Trivium, Nevermore, Anvil, Arch Enemy, The Haunted, Nevermore, Children of Bodom, In Flames, Lamb of God and several more. Even Dave Mustaine wanted to be part of the process, but his tour schedule precluded that. Interesting, considering there have been rumors that Dave has made no secret of wanting Jeff to come aboard his band. All of these artists have appeared quoted in the media as saying what a talented influence Jeff Waters has been on them. Many of the songs were written by these contributing artists, such as "Couple Suicide." This is an accessible metal song featuring Danko Jones, but Angela Gossow still keeps her screaming style in the track. The sad thing is, Jeff got the cold shoulder from an Ottawa newspaper when he tried sending them this CD for review. It doesn't make him upset that he's been waving the flag for Canadian metal all these years, though.
2010 marked the thirteenth release for Annihilator - a self-titled album. This release stands out for a number of other reasons. First, it was on Earache Records. Jeff decided to bring in no big names and stick to himself, Dave and sessionists. The collaboration of Jeff and Dave has now lasted four albums with no end in sight, making Waters view Annihilator and half-Jeff and half-Dave. Dave is his partner now. Also, it is the first Annihilator album to not feature their trademark logo. The name "Annihilator" is scratched into the demon girl's forehead - an apparition Jeff saw in a dream. Is it Alice? He says it could be. It was also a return to the more aggressive style of music of its past, which I welcomed wholeheartedly. I know Jeff likes to try different things to ward off burnout, but when he does more accesible metal he shortchanges his considerable ability.
Jeff was born on the 13th of the month and this was the 13th release from the band, so the numerology was special to him. Plus, when a band releases a self-titled album, it has a form of subconscious meaning to them - almost saying 'this is truly us.' It was also the first Annihilator album to feature a cover tune (not counting "Hell Bent for Leather" from a b-side and the AC/DC songs they do live). Jeff chose "Romeo Delight" from Van Halen, since that band and that tune were one of the heaviest things Jeff heard growing up in the early eighties.
Dave was naturally apprehensive at the prospect of covering this band, saying "How do I do Roth?," to which Jeff answered "Don't worry, I have to play Van Halen." That's putting things into perspective. For the track, Jeff used pedals and faced the guitar into one speaker. They had thought of doing their own version of it, but in the end decided to clone it. The result was the best Van Halen covers I have ever heard, sounding so much like the original it was eerie. Not even Van Halen can put out music that sounds that good these days, as evidenced by that new one "Tattoo." And, I must say that this type of singing suits Dave better than his scream/shout style.
Annihilator's plans for 2012 include working on the fourteenth album. Jeff comes back to the western hemisphere here and there. He does own Watersound Studios in Ottawa, where he is a much sought after sound engineer. The rumor mill has stated that he has written many 'hit' songs for country and pop artists under an assumed name. I wouldn't doubt it, as Jeff has stated that he hasn't had to work a regular job since his teens. He has also guested on other artists' albums, most recently lending his guitar chops to Ukranian band Hell:On's latest song "My Doll" and to French band Outcast's song "Autonomy in Progress."
The closest Jeff has come to playing in the U.S.A. since 1993 has been a couple of dates in Canada - in Quebec City and Montreal at the Heavy MTL Fest in 2011. Plus, Annihilator has played off the coast of America in international waters on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. Jeff also does guitar clinics and has two Flying V's coming out this year, so we'll probably see him stateside. He did a guitar clinic in Montreal in 2009 as well.
Jeff's son is grown up now, so his touring isn't restricted to Europe where he could get lots of gigs lined up with a minimum of travelling. Everything is in line to pave the way for Annihilator's American return. There is now a broader respect for classic heavy metal and much more open-mindedness in the vast scene heavy metal has become here. But whatever the case, Jeff Waters will still put out music prolifically - for that's what he does.
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