BraveWords Interview: ANNIHILATOR – Never Say Never

By Carl Begai

Like the vast majority of bands celebrating 25th and 30th Anniversaries, Canadian thrash legends Annihilator’s earliest albums are considered go-to classics, never to be repeated or surpassed by the band. No argument there, as the timeless magic of Alice In Hell (’89) and Never, Neverland (’90) is equal to that of records like Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, Bonded By Blood and The Ultra-Violence, to name a few. Annihilator has had a checkered career over the course of 17 albums, which ultimately comes down to frontman / founder Jeff Waters and how he has chosen to pilot his metal machine, and with whom. There have been hits and misses over the years, too many line-up changes to count, some brilliant collaborations, and tours that probably should have been left on paper, but 2020 finds Annihilator the strongest they’ve been since 2001’s Carnival Diablos era. New album Ballistic, Sadistic sees The Jeff Waters & Friends outfit channelling those first two Annihilator records in a big way, and while they remain untouchable it’s a solid return to the aggression diehard fans have been demanding for almost three decades. We can credit Waters’ move from Canada to the UK for forcing the issue, pulling out all the stops and causing him to unleash some unexpected unbridled fury.

“I never thought I would leave Canada for any reason,” says Waters. “The only reason to leave Canada is for cancer treatments that aren’t expensive and getting married (laughs). I met a woman a couple years ago, she had a couple younger kids, so it was clear that you either shake hands and move on or go for it, and because I travel a lot I figured I could make a move like that. I don’t want to sound like a crybaby, but in order to go all in I had to sell everything to make the move; house, car, the studio I’d built and fought to keep afloat for years. It was a major life change. And I had to surrender my passport to UK immigration, which meant having to postpone the (For The Demented) tour for a year. All these things happened, and then I made it worse by thinking ‘I can handle this…’ but dealing with all those things in a short period of time and trying to make a record in a new home studio… I was setting myself up for a heart attack.”

“I had to sell a half to two thirds of my studio gear because, yes, it might have worked on UK power and there are converters to change the power over, but you risk signal problems. Then I had to get new gear, there was a learning curve that I had to educate myself about quickly while holding to my recording deadline. These were ultimately good problems to have and I thought they would be easy to handle, but it was completely the opposite. I fucking crashed for about a year (laughs).”

Being forced to postpone the 2018 European tour gave Waters the opportunity to build and nurture a new personal life, as well as rebuild Watersound Studios. All of this had a profound effect on how Ballistic, Sadistic turned out, although Waters didn’t see it at first.

“Somebody said to me a while ago that this record ‘seems to have some inspiration to it.’ I thought that was kind of weird and I wondered what he was trying to say. It sounds simple and stupid, but he tried to explain to me that the music sounds like there was a reason why I wanted to make this album as opposed to doing it as part of the (album / tour / album / tour) cycle. And he was right. There were certain Annihilator eras or years in the past where the album had to be done by a certain time because I had bills to pay. And when you have a label and distributors, there are deadlines that we have to follow. I think the inspiration for Ballistic, Sadistic came from moving over to the UK, figuring I could deal with everything… and there was one additional thing that was happening to the family from outside. Let’s say there was someone from the past and in the present causing fear and stress to my wife and her kids, which eventually moved the target to me. I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about, but some people are good at making people worry. I helped clean up the mess being fired into the family unit, all while I was trying to build the studio, have a new marriage, be a stepdad.”

Which became the seed that spawned some of the most aggressive music to come out of Waters in years.

“You know why? It’s a form of therapy for me. I was happy to get rid of the problem and the threat to my family, but music is a healthy way to get my aggressions out. I don’t just go into the studio, do my parts and leave everything to the engineer and the producer. I’m involved in the making from start to finish, so there was always something to do for seven months, from writing to recording to photos to video shoots. Everybody has their stories of shitty things happening in their lives. I’m just able to write about it, and it came out of this new album. This is an honest form of music. I’ve had my hits and misses with songwriting like everyone does, but sometimes you get lucky.”

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