Jeff Waters may be a mega fan of Eddie Van Halen, but his career indicates he is, to certain effects, the Prince of metal. Other than from the bottom of a finished bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon downed by yours truly in the midst of this review, where does that ridiculous claim come from, you may ask? Well, Waters is not only an unparalleled master of the frets, as the late Prince was, but both musicians have made it a point, for one reason or another, to surround themselves with a vast array of players. In ANNIHILATOR's case, that's a near 40 combined studio and touring personnel. Both Prince and Jeff Waters are proficient engineers, capable of pulling off entire albums on their own wares—albeit, when you operate under a moniker versus a persona, it befits having an actual roster to supplement it.
It's been years, but the metal world once poked fun at Jeff Waters for being a lone wolf specialist covertly dropping album after album as a proverbial band, fronting a road entourage to make it all look legit. Well, the often-electrifying Dave Padden-era showed Waters was more than amenable to sharing the wealth in what can be looked upon as a rebirth spot in ANNIHILATOR. From 2004's "All for You" through to 2013's "Feast", along with 2005's "Schizo Deluxe", which features some of the most spectacular material in the entity's modern era, ANNIHILATOR became a second-time proven force.
I bring this up because of Dave Padden's 2014 parting, and on 2015's terrific "Suicide Society", Jeff Waters soldiered on, reassuming lead vocal duties as well as bass and guitar. The thing is, ANNIHILATOR appears to have once again become another united front. On ANNIHILATOR's new three-unit package, "Triple Threat", Waters leads a troupe of international young bloods, and some old friends, through a fun acoustic ride.
ANNIHILATOR currently consists of Waters along with second guitarist Aaron Homma, bassist Rich Hinks (both joining the band in 2015), and its newest addition, Italian drummer Fabio Alessandrini. It's this ensemble, with a mohawked Jeff Waters wailing, woofing and shredding at the 2016 Bang Your Head Festival, that is presented on "Triple Threat", a two-CD, one DVD/Blu Ray parcel that's more than a mere live document.
While the latest inception of ANNIHILATOR is largely tight at the Bang Your Head!!! festival, "Triple Threat"'s charming main event comes in the way of a five-man acoustic splash, "Un-Plugged: The Watersound Studios Sessions". Some might figure the old Jeff Waters would've recorded the "Watersound" tracks in this set as a one-man-jam, which is intriguing enough, given the sheer caliber of the guy. Yet, Waters, along with Homma and Hinks, plus longtime friends Marc LeFrance (vocals and percussion) and Pat Robillard (session guitar) present ANNIHILATOR in a completely different light than you're accustomed to.
It's no secret Jeff Waters is as much a sucker for a softie as a thrasher. The Padden years alone bequeathed love struck ballads such as "The One", "Holding On" and "Perfect Angel Eyes". Coming up with a playlist of old ANNIHILATOR tracks ripe for stripping down isn't as easy as dropping safe bets like "Crystal Ann" and "Holding On", both of which do appear on "Un-Plugged: The Watersound Studios Sessions". This highly cool collaborative, which sees Marc LeFrance taking charge over most of the lead vocals, is about tweaking "Bad Child" from "King of the Kill" into a freewheeling sprawl. It's about having fun with "Phoenix Rising" and the snide "Snake in the Grass" from the rock-driven album "Set the World on Fire". Each profanity from "Snake in the Grass" is seethed between Waters, LeFrance and Pat Robillard like a long-running joke.
It's a gas seeing ANNIHILATOR tear down "Innocent Eyes" from "Refresh the Demon" and disassemble "Stonewall" from "Never, Neverland" to a feel-good coil with bare resemblance in melody, if not tempo, to the original. As with most acoustic albums, the appeal is hearing the core instrumentation pared down for further examination. Yet here, Waters doesn't merely let his guitar gala frolic; he shares the reimagining with his company and together, this quasi-ANNIHILATOR re-interprets the tunes instead of playing the same sections, only down-tempo.
The Bang Your Head!!! festival tracks hit across the board with a couple of newer ANNIHILATOR tunes, "No Way Out" and "Creepin' Again", giving way to classics like "Never, Neverland", "W.T.Y.D. (Welcome to Your Death) ", "Set the World on Fire", ""Phantasmagoria", "Refresh the Demon", "King of the Kill", "Second to None" and of course, the trusty "Alison Hell".
While "Triple Threat" is packed with CD versions of the Watersound and Bang Your Head!!! presentations, included on the DVD is a mini-documentary following Waters and the band around last year. It bears testimonials from such dignitaries as former ANNIHILATOR drummer Mike Mangini, Chris Jericho and MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson, plus Schmier and Mike Sifringer from DESTRUCTION. Fans chime in with their Skyped hypes and Jeff Waters conducts a little Q&A with his throng. All this makes "Triple Threat" a unique and pretty bitchin' set that sends the right message about where ANNIHILATOR is these days.