The United States has primarily been known as the home of thrash metal, but Canada has delivered its own worthy contributions as well, with Ottawa’s Annihilator being the genre’s undisputed leader. Founded by vocalist and guitarist Jeff Waters in 1984, the band has become the biggest selling Canadian metal artist in the country’s history. Throughout the last three-plus decades, Waters has remained the group’s steadfast guiding force, serving as a one man band, producer, and songwriter. The group issued its seminal classic Alice in Hell in 1989, and in the intervening years has unleashed 14 more Annihilator studio albums.
With the release of the band’s newest album, For the Demented, Waters has returned to the Annihilator’s roots to create a record that pulls from the vintage sound of the group’s early demos and first few releases. Water’s discussed the direction of the new record in a recent interview with Metalholic.
On this album I said, I’m going to go back to trying to sound more like what fans of our liked about the first eight years of our career basically,” Waters shares. “You’re always going to hear my influences in my music but as I got older I didn’t put much of a filter on there to filter out the clear influences of the artists and guitar players that I love. Even though the albums were all different and there were different singers on them, and different heavy metal styles, just the idea of getting back to sort of what other people would say sounds like Waters or Annihilator rather than, ‘Hey that sounds a little Megadethy or a little Slayerish, if that makes any sense.”
Waters usually does all of the songwriting and plays just about everything but drums on each album. With For the Demented, Waters has gone back to a band dynamic bringing in guitarist Aaron Homma, drummer Fabio Allessandrini, and bassist Rich Hinks. The latter has performed live with the band for a few years and he co-wrote and even co-produced much of the new record with Waters.
Just to start off, I’m a really good air drummer, so you know,” Waters laughs. “Essentially Annihilator has been a solo project. We did our first album, Alice in Hell, and the album kind of exploded back then, and our singer left for the last week of tour we had planned with Testament. He left without warning to any of us. That was the moment I realized, as much as I want a band, this is going to be a solo project because I didn’t want one person, especially a singer, to be able to stop the dream or career. I brought my bass player Rich in from the U.K., and at the beginning stages it was, ‘Is this something that sounds more Waters-ish or is this something that sounds a bit too much like something else that I like?’ It started out yes or no; and then it became he’d grab a guitar or grab a bass and we ended up writing the entire record together.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Annihilator’s most controversial and experimental album, Remains. Waters is quick to admit, the album should have been released as a solo effort. The album was created during a dark time in his life, but it was also when he decided to rededicate himself to Annihilator.
It was a pivotal moment it my life. After I’d done Remains, I was disillusioned. I wasn’t into this anymore. The scene was not supporting the stuff that I loved back in the 90s. What changed that was Slayer played a show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. There were maybe 2000 people there at the most, when they’d played to 15-20,000 a few years earlier, and I sat there and ate nachos at the side of the venue. Imagine a full on metal fan like me ordering nachos to watch Slayer. Something’s wrong there. I’m watching them and I’m bummed out about life, and I saw Kerry King and crew get on that stage and play with just the same amount of fury as if it was 1986 and there was 20,000 people in front of them. I realized then that I needed to get off my ass that night and get my [act] together, and stop sulking about the business and get out there and do what I love to do.”
You can listen to the full interview with Jeff Waters below as he talks in-depth about For the Demented, the history of Annihilator, and the band’s upcoming tour with Testament and Death Angel.