Annihilator rocked the world in the late eighties when they released "Alice in Hell", a trashy riff-attack masterminded by Jeff Waters. The sequel was just about as good. Then followed "Set the World on Fire", which in fact did much the douse the Annihilator flame. Then followed a couple of albums that were capably done by Jeff Waters more or less on his own. There were a couple of industrial influences, too. Several compilations and a live album, all harking back to the first two albums, did little to allay fears that Annihilator was in fact never going to return to their glory of old.

Then, late last year, the grapevine started buzzing with possibilities of a reunion of the classic "Alice in Hell" line-up, including Randy Rampage. Indeed, this line-up was also scheduled to do a real studio album, which was recently released, entitled "Criteria for a Black Widow".

Apart from Randy and Jeff, "Criteria for a Black Widow" features original drummer Ray Hartmann. Second guitarist in Annihilator for a long time, Dave Davis, is there too. The picture on the back of the CD features a fifth member who I suspect is the bassist, but his name isn't explicitly mentioned anywhere (I think it's Russell Bergquist). Not quite the whole classic line-up, but the core is there: Randy's, um, typical voice, Ray's trash drumming, and Jeff of course. Also, we find back John Bates at the co-lyrical helm (Bates co-wrote some of the lyrics on the band's debut, including the title track).

Some of the reviews I've read were raving lavishly. I tend to be wary when that happens, and with a reason. Fact is that "Criteria for a Black Widow" is a fine album - many would probably have it to be the best album since "Never Neverland" - but fails to approach the fresh and frantic quality of either "Alice" or "Neverland". The title track is quite a letdown (repetitive musically, and Jeff at a lyrical all-time low), and the closer (an acoustic instrumental called "Mending", followed by a small gap and then a minute or so of superfluous demo outtakes) also misses something. There are, however, several tracks where the band comes awfully close to their old glory. "Back to the Palace", for example, as well as "Punctured" and "Nothing Left" are a bunch of corker tracks! There's also a familiar-sounding frenetic instrumental entitled "Schizos (Are Never Alone) Part III", completing the obvious link to the band's debut. It seems to me, however, that the band have listened back to "Alice in Hell" a bit too often. "Back to the Palace" starts off very similar to an old track (but perhaps that's intended), and several other tracks have a very distinctive, Annihilator-y sound. "Loving the Sinner" sounds quite a bit like sections of "Fiasco" on "King of the Kill". Then again, it's this typical Annihilator-y sound that makes the album appealing. At least, "Criteria of a Black Widow" sounds like something you don't mind hearing again - good, old Annihilator



Written June 1999


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