Satan's Carnival: Staying True to Thrash...

by Thrash-head

From the mid-'80s to the early '90s, while the hair bands were running up the charts, it was thrash metal that ruled the underground; contrasting strongly with anything considered mainstream. Along with Exodus, Heathen, and Forbidden on the west coast; Overkill, Anthrax, and Nuclear Assault on the east coast; and Coroner, Kreator, and Destruction in Europe, there arose Annihilator out of... Canada?!?

Although certainly never a hotbed of metal activity, (as opposed to say... America? Scandinavia? Germany?), one has to admit that when our northern neighbors spew out a metal band it is exceptionally good, although I'm probably the only person on the planet that thinks Voivod sucks. (To insert my own comment here... EXCITER RULES!--Dr.Mality)

Annihilator was not the heaviest of the thrash scene, but with one of metal's most talented visionaries on guitar/vocals. A strong argument can be made saying they were the most intricate, technical, and musically talented. I, myself, have been a fan since I actually bought the "Hard n' Heavy" video on thrash metal, then spotted a copy of "Never, Neverland" at Johnny Gremlin's old store. Since then, I have acquired almost all of the efforts put forth by Jeff Waters and Co.

Now, Waters has regrouped yet again with returning bandmates Ray Hartman (drums, since this interview though it is reported he has left the group on amicable terms), Russell Bernquist (bass), and David Scott Davis (guitar). What is really cool though, is the new lead singer, who is none other than Joe Comeau, who you might remember as guitarist for Overkill at one point, but who some even remember as lead vocalist for Liege Lord, a band that certainly never recieved the credit it so richly deserved. Together, these five serve up a healthy thrash helping with "Carnival Diablos", the latest from these technical moshpit mainstays.

I sat in my bedroom (office... hehe) with the extremely talkative-yet-down-to-earth Jeff Waters, the man who formed Annihilator over a decade ago, and we chatted about the new album, what inspires him,and many other topics from "Never Never Land".

Wormwood Chronicles: First the obvious question, how is Joe working out?

Jeff Waters: Really good. I've basically just seen him up here for the month he was here writing and recording, which was a real quick job on this record. That's it, I've talked to him and e-mailed him and stuff like that but we're just getting together for the first time since the end of June to start rehearsing. I haven't seen him since I guess... June 28th (of 2000) or something.

WC: What was the full story behind Randy"s departure?

Waters: Uh, fairly simple. We got him back in '98 or '99, somewhere around there, to do a record called "Criteria for a Black Widow." Some people in the band and some outside the band were just saying "Maybe, y'know, the guy still's got the serious drinking problem and maybe you should not rely (on him) and go without (him). But I for some reason thought, "y'know, times have passed and maybe I think we can work together and things'll be a little bit better than they were a long time ago."

We got the record done, he did a good job, the record sounded good, and it was a good record for us. (We were) on tour and just the crazy, severe day-and-night boozing just got insane; nothing really had changed. And then there became a couple o' dangerous incidents at the end of the tour and we had to let him go. It's unfortunate, he's a nice guy, it's just (that) he's got a serious problem there. So unfortunately, that was the end of that, but we always move on here.

WC: I've heard the new album and it sounds really killer, I really like it, as always is the case. It almost sounds more refreshed than the last few efforts, the songwriting is just... it's just better.

Waters: Yeah I think a lot of it has to do with, I guess... in '97, '98 I went through some really bad personal problems with divorce and custody, battle in court and stuff. Just before that, during that period of time, I was also putting out records and CDs, and they just didn't have as much life as the new one does. I think this new one has a heck of a lot more life as my life has gotten back together again. As well that the singer really is responsible for half of this life as well as it's the first time I've had a singer that has (such) a variety of styles to sorta clone the music.

The music itself on this record has so many different '80s metal styles, and Joe just... instead of staying with one style all the whole CD through, he said "let's just try changing to suit each song." That¹s what happened. So it¹s quite drastic and the changes and styles are very noticeable on the CD because both the singer and the music are doing all the changes.

WC: What's the story with "Shallow Grave?"

Waters: Basically a tribute song to pretty well mine and Joe's favorite bands, one of our Top 3 favorite bands. It was more like one of those tunes where I had already written the music for that song quite a while ago and I let Joe hear it and said, "hey check this out. Sounds pretty AC/DC-ish doesn't it?" (laughs) He said "Yeah here, give it to me; let me write somethin' to it." And I'm like, ³we can't use it, ya know. It's AC/DC style". And we both got together, he sang kinda Bon Scott style on it... meets the guy from Accept (Udo Dirkschneider for those who aren¹'t true headbangers. Thrash-head), and then we said, "man, this is a cool song. Yeah let's do it." (laughs) It's like a tribute, know what I mean?

WC: Yeah 'cause I was listening to it, and I just kept noticing that it just sounds too much like something off "Highway to Hell".

Waters: Oh for sure, and it's funny because there's just not a lot of bands doing that kinda sound anymore, y'know. And for us it was more like a tribute, and this whole album is more like an '80s metal tribute. There's lots of influences on this record that are just obvious. A lot of times with a different singer, those influences wouldn't be so obvious but with Joe singing, and when he hears this sorta Priest-ish style riff of mine, which normally would go unnoticed as a Priest influence, and he would put this sorta Priest-style vocal over it and then you got an OBVIOUS Priest influence.

WC: Personally, I like the whole album in it's entirety. The standout track though is definitely the title track, "Carnival Diablos". I don't wanna say it's mainstream because it's NOT... but, if there's any commercial aspect to anything on the record it's definitely on that song.

Waters: It's sort of... well, I'd say "Shallow Grave" is more of like that "summer-rock" song, y'know, "California-style" or something. That "Carnival Diablos", that one reminds me of... well, there's no other Annihilator songs that are in that style, and I think that¹s because it's one of the first time's I¹ve seemed to be influenced by some old Michael Schenker. He's pretty obviously in the soloing, and the sound I was going for in the guitar solos and also the verses in that song also got that '80s "Schenker Assault-Attack" vibe to it. And then in the middle there's a noticeable Annihilator-meets-Rush (Canadian Overload... AAAaaaa!!! Thrash-head) sorta style to it. Those are two bands that were definetely not in heavier vein of metal. Leaning more towards a melodic style to it. That's actually one of my favorite tunes on the record. Joe wrote all the lyrics to that song and I came up with the title and wrote the music.

WC: Are there any plans to maybe push that song onto college or metal radio?

Waters: You'd have to ask the record company about that, because that song already got picked up by European radio really quickly and is already favored over there. I asked for the reaction from Metal-Is/Sanctuary, "What's the reaction what are the radio stations playing?" They said "well, that's where we have a problem. There's three or four songs they're already playing." (laughs) "Carnival Diablos" is one of them, but I said, "well, aren't you supposed to push one as a single. Isn't that the way things are done?" And they said, "well, yeah usually, but if they're playing three or four songs, what the hell?" (laughs) So, we'll run with it and see what happens.

WC: In the past your music tended to have a lot more speed involved and in some ways was a bit... uh, whacked-out in the sense that it was heavily-syncopated, it was extremely intricate, almost like if Slayer were a bit laid-back. Your music now though, is much more straight-forward, and not as forceful. It's heavy and thrashy, but just way more laidback.

Waters: (It was) Way more technical, I guess. It goes through different phases. I mean, our first CD was just a flat-out, high-speed rhythm guitar attack, sorta thrash with traces of a lot of stuff. That was hard to hear 'cause it was going so fast. Our 2nd record was a bit different, a bit more melody, and then the third one was completely different; (it was) was completely melodic. Slowed way down and a more melodic, groovin' style. Same with the fourth record, that was sort of an Œ80s metal style, British Wave of Heavy Metal-influenced sorta CD. Then we got "Refresh the Demon", our '96 record, which was back to more speed stuff. "Remains" went back to some crazy drum-machine style experimenting on my part which was WAY off the beaten path for us. And then to "Criteria for a Black Widow" where we were back to the fast and technical stuff, and now we're right back to the '80s metal again. We're heavy metal rather than thrash metal. Some really heavy stuff like "Battered", but more of a variety on this record.

WC: How is your label situation? I know it was kind of uncertain for a while there.

Waters: We finished the record and then mixed it and everything and finished by August 1st of last summer and we assumed that we could get this all rapped up and get the record out by October 1st. We've basically been doing all these interviews and business and doing press trips and that sorta stuff, and sitting around waiting since August 1st which is half a year, to get this record out. We were signed with Roadrunner Records overseas and on CMC in the states, and CMC got bought out by Sanctuary/Metal-Is, which is fairly great.

Overseas we were waiting and waiting and waiting to negotiate deals with other companies and we finally got a great deal with a company called SPV International, which was the one thing we were waiting for all this time. Roadrunner was a great label for us over there, but they were more interested in the Annihilator of 1989 (another reason to move to fuckin' Europe! Thrash-head) whereas SPV is more interested in the future of the band. Same with Sanctuary/Metal-Is. It's good to finally have people around here who believe in it.

WC: Are there any touring plans for the states?

Waters: Yeah, though not official yet. We're off to Europe in February or March, touring as usual. This time, we're trying our hardest to get a tour in April so we can come by the states. (This tour either never happened or it was so scattered and badly-promoted that we never heard about it. Thrash-head) for the first time in 8 years. If not in April, We'll definitely be here.

WC: What do you see the future holding for Annihilator?

Waters: I try not to look too far down the road because everything changes and different things happen. I find that when I try to say, "yeah, this'll be good, things will happen, "it never does (laughs), but when I least expect it, something good happens. So, we got the tour in Europe coming up, we're getting great reviews in the states, and in Canada... Oh lord, in Canada it sold out in the first day!

The guy from the record company called me up and said, "uh-oh, sorry!!" He's all apologizing because they completely understocked the stores. They had no idea it was sell, ok. And, the press in the states has been fantastic so far, I've done literally a hundred and some interviews just in the states, and I haven't done that in ten years. So hey, I got great reason to be optimistic, and now they¹re telling me they're trying to get us touring in the states, so that would make my whole year.

WC: I thank you for the seriously cool interview, and I wish you the best in all you undertake. Oh, and congratulations on your new son! We read a press release over the internet about it.

Waters: Yeah, that¹s a very non-heavy metal press release (laugh)... but hey, it works!

To contact the writer of this article, wend your email to: