|4.1 (1 votes):|
Knight Jumps Queen, If You Know What I Mean…
Jeff Waters doesn’t need too much of an introduction to those who feel home within the realm of thrash metal, but there’s a few things I want and need to say about this man; not only is he probably one of the most technically proficient guitar players out there, he’s also in possession of the single most distinctive and instantly-recognizable guitar playing style in all of metal (both rhythm and lead!), at least for this reviewer and fan here. Jeff Waters’ palm-muted dynamics and precision are unmatched to this day, completely disregarding age factors, possible fatigue or any kind of wear and tear you could expect in such a long career. But this man is not only that, he’s also known for dabbling in stylistic inconsistencies, having a certain affection for following what’s currently popular in the metal mainstream and jumping bandwagons despite his claims of not doing so (anyone remember 2010s “The Trend”? The song’s message is quite hypocritical if you look at the band’s career as a whole). In addition to this, Jeff is more and more frequently reusing, rehashing and recycling his own ideas, especially on the last few records; many guitar riffs, chord progressions and song structures hark back to earlier albums and do not just appear as slightly reminiscent versions of these older creations, but almost note-for-note rip-offs lifted from the glory days.
Ballistic, Sadistic is no different in that matter. In fact, this record does these things even more blatantly. In at least half of the tracks present, the listener is frequently encountering riffs and lead melodies extremely similar to some appearing on the first few albums and Schizo Deluxe (which is no surprise, since Jeff states that the 2005 record is one of his all-time favourite creations). Key components of “Knight Jumps Queen” plus “The Pastor of Disaster” from Set the World on Fire and Refresh the Demon, “Stonewall” off Never, Neverland, as well as “Plasma Zombies” from Schizo… are almost ridiculously woven into their respective modern counterparts “Lip Service”, “Psycho Ward” and “I Am Warfare”. These are just some examples, as I’m pretty sure that I’ve also heard a bit of “Sounds Good to Me” and “Epic of War” popping up in other tracks. In reality, it’s pretty close to becoming self-parody and if I were to let these recycling habits objectively flow into my rating of Ballistic, Sadistic, I’d slam this record with a mere 50 points or something around that score, but fact is – I genuinely love many of these parts, because Jeff’s knack for pristine melodies and razor-sharp, rhythmic palm-muted thrashing and groove remains unparalleled and the main reason for why I have enjoyed Annihilator so much in the past. Since I’m just not that enthusiastic about spinning Never, Neverland for the 1000th time these days, even an altered version of these classics feels kickstartingly enjoyable – despite the obvious lack of originality and this unadorned staleness omnipresent in the creative department.
The overall tempo on this album is the fastest since at least the self-titled release from 2010, with the amount of mid-pace and pure groove metal reduced to almost zero. Jeff’s vocals – for the first time since he’s taken over vocal duties from Dave Padden – are really working well throughout the whole running time. His attack is gruffer and grittier than ever, sounding almost as good as 25 years ago; it seems he has developed more of a unique tonal character as he probably consciously decided to lay aside the James Hetfield-isms a little more. I could have done without the obvious use of autotune on the chorus of “Psycho Ward” though and the lyrical content spread over the record is not exactly sprawling poetry, but – to be fair – that’s not what you are here for when the Annihilator-mood kicks in.
The modern and fat guitar tone is very much suitable for the thrashiness and the prominent themes of aggression, revenge and evil, towering above a nicely audible, expressive bass which is frequently granted some space for soloing moments. Jeff’s vocals are also quite upfront in the mix, constantly battling the guitars for the top-spot; due to the overall high quality of his delivery, this decision is not one to argue much about. The only real problem I have in terms of production is the toned-down, mechanical weak-sauce trigger-tone of the drums, which keeps holding back the faster, more aggressive parts of the album due to the lack of force and natural grit contained in the rhythm department – especially both kick- and snare-drum suffer from this a lot.
I also really have a hard time understanding Jeff’s choices concerning the running order of the tracks here – “Armed to the Teeth” and “No Attitude” are the worst songs on Ballistic, Sadistic and well – they are track #1 and #2! If you are new to this band, you’ll have the most pedestrian, by-the-numbers thrasher as the opener and one of the worst modern Annihilator choruses put onto tape on the second track and since the attention span of the average YouTube listener nowadays is ridiculously short, Jeff & the boys will probably lose quite an audience within the first few minutes – and the generic start does not do the record justice. Though I must confess – considering the chart positions and general sales of Ballistic, Sadistic it could just be me: in the first few weeks after its release, this seems to be one of the most successful Annihilator releases so far.
It’s hard to find an accurate conclusion here though; Ballistic, Sadistic is just very hard to judge by conventional standards. It’s definitely a lot of fun to hear Jeff (re-)using his Bag of Tricks (pun intended for fans, haha) and play with some of his earliest and most exciting ideas again, but at the same time it’s so painfully obvious that his creative well has been all but dried up in 2020. Maybe it would be a good idea to share some writing duties with Aaron Homma next time, but perhaps Jeff’s earlier band experiences and his (often involuntary) practice of adopting more-or-less hired guns instead of regular band members will not allow this to happen. Add 10 points to my score if you are dwelling in nothing but the glorious past without giving a shit about originality or taking risks in your music; deduct 10 to 20 points – depending on how important the musician’s creativity and his intent on pushing boundaries is on your preferred musical adventures.
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