Annihilator‘s history is chequered with disappearing / reappearing frontmen over the bands 17 albums and Jeff himself has now handled lead vocals on 6 of ’em.
So, we’ve cast our eye over a legacy that has contributed to many all-time thrash classics and ranked the 6 vocalists who have fronted the Canadian thrashers over the years (Jeff Waters included).
Disagree with our ranking? Pop your choices in the comments below….
6. Joe Comeau
Lead Vocals on Carnival Diablos (2001) & Waking The Fury (2002)
Joe Comeau is an accomplished vocalist, his time as frontman with Liege Lord and as guitarist/backing vocalist with Overkill stands as testament to that, but his stint as frontman for Annihilator was not only short-lived, it was also ill-fitting.
On Carnival Diablos, something about Joe’s classic heavy metal style steered the band away from their technical thrash roots and in to solid but unspectacular hard tock territory.
This unnecessary diversion was corrected on the following years Waking The Fury – particularly on the ripping “Ultra-Motion” – an album that thrashed harder than most in 2002 but after only 3 years in the Annihilator fold, Joe upped sticks and eventually rejoined power-thrashers Liege Lord.
5. Aaron Randall
Lead Vocals on Set The World On Fire (1993)
Aaron Randall’s very brief spell with Annihilator provided mixed results; the title-track is a melodic thrash masterclass and “No Zone” also hit hard but the majority of Set The World On Fire was a little too limp-wristed for a band that had previously released two albums of technically stunning and aggressive thrash metal in the shape of Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland (more on them later).
Aaron Randall certainly sings with conviction but far too many ballads stifle an album that should have catapulted Annihilator into the big leagues. As it turned out, 3 albums with 3 different vocalists marred Annihilator‘s progress and while no blame can be layed at Randell’s door, his turn as frontman feels remarkably low-key.
4. Jeff Waters
Lead Vocals on King Of The Kill (1994), Refresh The Demon (1996), Remains (1997), Suicide Society (2015), For The Demented (2017) & Ballistic, Sadistic (2020)
Jeff Waters’ James Hetfield-isms are more than capable of carrying an album, with his aggressive bark – delivered with great clarity – proving confident but rather one-dimensional compared to the range of some of Annihilator‘s more accomplished frontmen.
From time to time, Jeff would take over lead vocal duties even though a full-time frontman was in the ranks, often reaping rich rewards. His vocals on Metal‘s stomping “Operation Annihilation” seamlessly adding weight to the staccato riffing and full metal onslaught but this was a one-off on an album carried by frontman Dave Padden and a who’s who of guest musicians and vocalists (Danko Jones, Arch Enemy‘s Angela Gossow, Anvil‘s ‘Lips’, Nevermore‘s Jeff Loomis among others)
Now firmly ensconced centre stage, Jeff’s feral shouts, growls and manly roar have carried the last 3 Annihilator albums and it would appear that this is a trend that is to continue into the foreseeable future!
3. Dave Padden
Lead Vocals on All For You (2004), Schizo Deluxe (2005), Metal (2007), Annihilator (2010) & Feast (2013)
The man who claimed the title of longest serving Annihilator frontman may be long gone but he left behind a 5 album legacy with numerous highlights.
Building in confidence as the years went by, Padden’s arrival in 2004 was relatively unremarkable and his hardcore shouts added relatively little to All For One‘s by the numbers thrash but by the time 2007’s Metal album rolled round, he had evolved into a formidable frontman. Incorporating a consistently aggressive yet melodic tone, Padden found the groove in Jeff Waters intricate riffing and two gelled remarkably well for a run of albums that solidified Annihilator’s position as thrash legends.
Check out the melodic thrash/speed metal nirvana of “Chasing The High”, the classic thrash stylings of “The Trend” and the fluid delivery of “Deadlock” (at times reminiscent of Slayer‘s Tom Araya) for examples of Padden’s regimental style.
2. Coburn Pharr
Lead Vocals on Never, Neverland (1990)
Now we get to the classics…..Never, Neverland is an undisputed goliath of thrash and while Jeff Waters can primarily be thanked for composing blistering thrash that has barely aged a day, it’s the delivery of Coburn Pharr on lead vocals that elevates this album to legendary status.
Aggressive yet adept at finding cunning melody within complex rhythms and ever-evolving tempos, Pharr helped to refine Annihilator‘s sound and set them up as technical thrash’s leading lights. Take your pick from “The Fun Palace”, “Road To Ruin”, “Sixes and Sevens”, “Phantasmagoria” and “I Am In Command” as prime examples that a Coburn Pharr fronted Annihilator should have been massive.
Beloved by fans, Coburn briefly reunited with Annihilator during the 70000 Tons Of Metal Cruise in January 2015 and proved as popular as ever. It’s tempting to imagine what could have been if Coburn Pharr had hung around all these years; could Annihilator have found mainstream success? We’ll never know.
So why is Coburn Pharr not number one? A certain frontman with one of the finest names in metal takes the top spot…..
1. Randy Rampage
Lead Vocals on Alice In Hell (1989) & Criteria Of A Black Widow (1999)
Nowhere near as gifted a vocalist as Coburn Pharr, the unforgettably monikered Randy Rampage nevertheless takes the top spot due to singing on one of the greatest technical thrash metal albums known to man (Alice In Hell) and unleashing one of the dirtiest, unrefined and downright unpredictable vocal performances in thrash metal history!
Randy Rampage may not have been a cultured singer but he was one hell of an unforgettable frontman and when he returned in 1999 to add his cataclysmic roar to Criteria Of A Black Widow – a welcome return to pure thrash in an era when the genre was largely forgotten – it felt as if Annihilator were whole again.
Check out “Human Insecticide” and “Bloodbath”, from Alice In Hell and Criteria Of A Black Widow respectively, for proof that an on fire Jeff Waters and an on fire Randy Rampage were a formidable partnership forged in the bowels of hell!