Blame our timekeeping – and possibly our love for an unseasonably sunny October evening – because when the working day is done, there isn’t much in life finer than driving that highway east of Edinburgh with the sun setting blood red and Lamb Of God on the stereo. So, long story short, we’re a bit late hitting Glasgow and by the time we’ve located the ABC’s smaller second room we have already missed opening act, Harlot. Damn you Scotland for being so alluring!
Second band on the bill, Archer, hail from sunny Santa Cruz, California and they purvey a rootsy thrash feel mixed with a blues-rock bent; something their frontman, Dylan Rose, utilises to crank out a bunch of great guitar solos, some almost Paul Kosoff-influenced in their string-bending exuberance. He kind of looks like a young Zak Wylde with his long blonde hair and low slung Les Paul. He’s got a good set of pipes too and there are some nicely sung high notes in among the thrashy yelling. As the set unfolds Archer win a few new fans, not least with their excellent cover of Megadeth’s “Tornado of Souls”. While their combo of old school thrash and Sabbath-grooves sound fresh enough, there is an absence of truly memorable tunes. They’re good, but whether they’re good enough to make a living in this game, remains to be seen.
When Annihilator (7) last played Glasgow in 2010 it was just down the street at The Garage, touring off the back of their self-titled thirteenth album. At the time, fans turned out in droves and the room went, shall we say, motherfucking nuclear! Tonight the room is smaller and, sorry to say, the crowd a little thinner. Uncertainty hangs in the air, surely a result of the recent departure of long-time co-helmsman – and certified gold set of lungs – Dave Padden. His leaving Annihilator saddened many but shocked few. How will the first tour in a long time without Dave work out? Will Jeff be able to carry the band on his own? What’ll be the calibre of the latest in his ever revolving door of backing musicians?
After remarkably little mucking about, the lights go down and we find out. “King of the Kill” is first up and right away, you’re left wondering what you were worried about. This is Jeff Waters we’re talking about, the guy is a consummate pro and a personality devoid of bullshit or pretence. When you watch him perform you don’t just feel like his band is playing to a room full of people, you feel like he’s playing to you and he makes every single person in the room feel included.
Given recent line-up changes and the modus operandi for his current album, the set for the night obviously favours songs he is used to singing and playing at the same time. That means certain concessions to their ‘hits’ have to be made. We touch not only on “Snap”, “Creepin’ Again” and the titular track from Suicide Society but also delve into some mid-era material from the last time Jeff was left standing centre-stage, holding the mic. Yep, “Refresh the Demon”, “Second To None” and amazingly “Tricks and Traps” from the unloved Remains album (arguably Annihilator’s low point) all receive an airing.
Jeff is on good enough form, complimenting the Glaswegian audience on their positivity and chucking out his usual range of irreverent/ironic facials during particularly tricky bits of guitar playing. New boys Aaron Homma and the hastily recruited Rich Hinks do a solid job with some demanding material, though there are moments where it does all feel a little bit like budget-Annihilator.
In what seems like just a few short minutes we arrive at that obligatory point in the night where Jeff gives us “Alison Hell”. Yes, it’s one of the greatest thrash tunes ever written but – to be honest – we’re about as bored of it as its creator is. Unfortunately that great hoary old classic turns out to be our farewell as Jeff, with admirable dignity, informs us that while they had hoped to play four more songs they have to finish to make way for some kind of club night starting up next door. So, the pressure of seventeen year olds wanting to dance to shite records end up pushing fucking Jeff Waters out the back door into the cold, cold night? In some cultures, people die for less than that!
Honesty time. This gig simply wasn’t up there with the Annihilator of the past, with the venues inferior PA and slightly muddy sound certainly not helping matters. The biggest issue though is that however brilliant a musician Jeff is, he simply can’t sing like Dave Padden. The high notes in the classic material were AWOL and there were moments when pitch went out the window.
Regardless of circumstance, Annihilator are always a treat to watch. Jeff Waters is, after all, arguably the greatest guitar technician thrash metal ever crapped out, not to mention a sterling song writer and a great ambassador for heavy metal. When Annihilator play, you get a level of accuracy that most bands will simply never reach and last night was no exception. However, by their standards it felt a little loose in places, a little like even Jeff was fighting to keep all the balls up in the air. Next time we meet, we hope he’ll have someone else installed in the vocalist’s position. He is a statesman of this genre and as such, he deserves to stand back and survey his kingdom while someone else hits those ridiculous high notes!