Alison Hell has apparently been thrust into the fashionable zombie age, judging by the gory chick clawing and gnawing on a heart in 3-D fashion for ANNIHILATOR's fourteenth album, "Feast". At least Jeff Waters and company make the most of the moment, delivering a largely fast, well-entertaining ride.
Moving on past the ooh and ahh hologram cover spiffing up the ECO-book version to "Feast", this album is by-and-large a serious ass-kicker. Stacked with heaps of thrash, killer shredding, smelted solos and superb drumming, "Feast" throws a few monkey wrenches into the scheme using the same exploratory spirit of "All For You" without dramatically altering the crunchy-yet-crisp feel of this record.
Kudos to Jeff Waters for keeping the criminally-overlooked Dave Padden on board all this time, especially now that his singer has of late been picking up rhythm guitar duties on the road. "Feast" was laid out with Waters fielding guitars and bass (Alberto Campuzano handles the latter outside of the studio), but it still feels more of a collaborative effort with Padden's trusty dynamics and fluid pounding from drummer Mike Harshaw.
Harshaw is terrific all over this album, as sharp as anyone Waters has corralled into the ANNIHILATOR compound. Harshaw has proven himself worthy of stepping onto Mike Mangini's pedals, laying down steady mosh and thrash pulses throughout "Demon Code" and "No Way Out". He's especially huge with his snub-nosed snare rolls on the shifty genre-collision of "No Surrender".
"Feast" gets rowdy in a hurry with the thrashy "Deadlock" and "No Way Out", while "Smear Campaign" alternates between mid-tempo power lines and stepped-up thrusts. "No Surrender" then presents one of the album's curveballs, mingling some funky licks all over the verses ala LIVING COLOUR before walloping the song with massive metallic rivets on the choruses and bridges. Lifting "No Surrender" through a mosh-driven middle section and an out-of-nowhere gloom arc filled with the sounds of a presumed zombie attack, then a scorching solo from Waters, the left-of-center tinkering throughout "No Surrender" is flat-out weird. Yet it's also a welcome sojourn back to the thrash-prog motifs of ANNIHILATOR's early years. Waters also loads "One Falls, Two Rise" at the end of the album with one of the busiest rounds of progression he's ever attempted.
"Wrapped" struts out with dukes up on a mostly straightforward rawk jive that gets the benefit of some wicked top riffs and a fret-scratched solo. Then the murky anti-ballad "Perfect Angel Eyes" interrupts the headstrong chaos of "Feast", keeping a strong slow pulse with a nifty bass loft and a subliminal static hiss lurking overtop the acoustic spiral of the song. After this point, "Feast" gets back on the gas with only a few noodlings scattered throughout "Demon Code" and the uppity "Fight the World" (which has a nifty slow fakeout intro before rumbling into speed mode) before the decorative signature swaps come all over "One Falls, Two Rise". Padden's soaring vocals on "One Falls, Two Rise" hit new timbres on the opening verses than we normally hear out of him and they're wonderful, even more so once the song blasts into a thrash arc and Padden dips into his trademark blend of clean-growl. The song takes a hundred directions from that point and Padden adjusts himself flawlessly as if by instinct.
The ECO-book version of "Feast" comes with the bonus disc "Re-Kill", fifteen re-recordings from the back catalog, half culminated from ANNIHILATOR's celebrated couplet "Alison Hell" and "Never Neverland" and the rest spread throughout the non-Padden years. While the entire notion of heritage acts releasing bonus discs with redos has become passé, "Re-Kill" is harmless if perhaps a little insulting to Coburn Pharr and Randy Rampage. As much as it's a joy listening to Dave Padden through ANNIHILATOR's last handful of studio albums, it's more than enough for us to hear him take down "Alison Hell", "Fun Palace" and "Word Salad" onstage. The man's created his own legacy, modest though it may be, just like his benefactor, Jeff Waters.
That aside, "Feast" is still a hell of an enjoyable trip and Jeff Waters' enduring faith in Padden has paid off. From "Metal" to "Annihilator" and now "Feast", Padden has forced Waters to raise his game, even if Padden sowed the seeds on "All for You" and "Schizo Deluxe", two ANNIHILATOR albums that deserve more respect. "Feast" is a culmination of both of those albums while hearkening back to the early days in spots. All delivered with excellent production and a tasteful sense of style. The repeat and tweaked guitar intros to many of the cuts on the album reveals a return to songwriting fortitude in Waters' always-changing mindset. No need to gush about Waters' fret prowess on "Feast". That comes as an automatic selling point. With much congratulations due, "Feast" is an album destined to keep a-rolling more than a few times simultaneously in your player.