Every Friday I turn the blog over to Dan Marsicano for his Retro Recommendation, giving you a chance to learn about underrated and overlooked gems from metal's past.It's a sad fate that has befallen Canadian thrash band Annihilator, a group that never got their just due in the U.S. Founder/guitarist Jeff Waters has lasted close to three decades, going through lineups like they were manufactured in a warehouse. They never had that big break to make the U.S. really care about them, though success found them overseas. There was a point around 1990 or so, where their stock was rising due to Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland. So how did Annihilator follow up two great thrash records?
Well, they certainly went against the grain with Set The World On Fire. Released in 1993 at the height of metal's downfall, Annihilator's third album sees the band with a new singer, more ballads, and a mindset of, "What isn't broke should be fixed ASAP." This is blatant fiddling at the mainstream's ears, and there's a noticeable dip in quality as a result. Unlike their last two albums, there is filler to chug through to get to the good material.
This filler includes "Phoenix Rising," a ballad from the vaults of '80s hair metal that should have stayed locked away. It's hard not to shake your head in shame at a chorus like, "Then you'll rise right before my eyes/On wings that fill the sky/Like a phoenix rising." Then there's the cheesy rally cry for love with "Sounds Good To Me." It's songs like these two that probably left questions if the album was an inside joke between the members that went over the listener's head.
The thrash hasn't been totally abandoned, and the opening title track dupes one into believing that things won't be so bad. Waters still knew how to write a meaty thrash riff in 1993, and the double bass drums from Mike Mangini going along note for note is appreciated. "Knight Jumps Queen" is a headbanger, as well as "No Zone" and "Don't Bother Me." It's material like this that gives hope to Set The World On Fire, and makes it superior to Annihilator's late 90s output.
To get to these songs requires getting through Aaron Randall's vocals, and that's a challenge in itself. He continued the trend of a new vocalist per studio album, and he's the weakest of the three that were used at that point. He has this whiny pitch that doesn't sound intimating in the faster songs, or smooth in the ballads. As was par for the course, Randall wouldn't last long as the vocalist, being out of the band in less than a year following the release of Set The World On Fire.
Annihilator's career would take a strange turn after Set The World On Fire. Waters would take the reins, as he stayed the only constant during a period of uneven experimentation that broke away from anything related to thrash. He would get his head on straight in the latter part of the '00s with Metal and the self-titled album. Set The World On Fire hinted at this creative turmoil, though it had enough of the old sound to be relevant. For an admirable reach for mainstream success, Set The World On Fire gets the nod for this week's Retro Recommendation.