Annihilator: Alice In Hell 35:th Anniversary streamin concert – A Professional DIY Celebration

Jul 08, 2024

Review courtesy of Mikko Nissinen
Metal Mayhem ROC Correspondent

On Saturday, June 29:th Canadian thrash metal veteran Annihilator celebrated the 35:th Anniversary of their legendary, gold-selling debut album, by playing a live stream show in a local rock club in Darlington, close to Durham, England, where Waters and the band's "headquarters", Watersound Studios reside nowadays.

No surprise is, that Annihilator has been almost constantly under some sort of line up changes all of it's existence. Annihilator in 2024 consists of guitar virtuoso Aaron Homma, Italian drummer Fabio Alessandrini, british bass player, Rich Grey (a k' a Hinks) and the founding member, brain child of the band and guitar genious, Jeff Waters. This time around, Annihilator finally introduced their somewhat new vocalist, Stu Block (Into Eternity, Iced Earth) in live circumstances by honoring the late great Randy Rampage (D.O.A.), who sang on the original "Alice In Hell" -album (1989). Previously Block had co-operated with Waters by singing on Annihilator "Metal II" -album and working on his three spin,off-project, American Kaos -albums, of which the first one, "Armageddon Boogie", saw the light of day in April.

The band was introduced before the show. Jeff told that as performing the "Alice In Hell" -album in all of it's entity is such a challenge to the band itself. In a documentary clip Jeff explained before the show, that by the original plan Annihilator was having a break and only supposed to play one special live event during this summer. It was supposed to take place at Top Fest in city of Żilina, Slovakia.

Annihilator was supposed to celebrete the 35:th Anniversary of "Alice In Hell" by playing the entire album through at the festival. The extra thrill over the live show was, when it was informed, that the line up of Annihilator includes the original drummer, Ray Hartmann. However, things didn't turn out the way those were meant to. In April band made a statement that Hartmann has withdrawn from the project and will not do the show. So Fabio stepped back in the line up. Then, out of the blue, the entire live event of Annihilator was cancelled two months before the show because of contract issues with the festival organisation and the band.

In this kind of tricky situation, firstly Jeff needed to find out the way how to fund all the expenses the "Alice In Hell" Anniversary event pre-production had already costs to the band, and secondly, how to turn the sacrifice and disappointment into successful musical production in the end. As we know, during the covid times, the stream gigs had become an useful way to deliver music from performers to their audience without entering the same physical space. By using mostly the equipment of Watersound Studios' all this was possible to accomplish by Jeff and Annihilator and the crew. – So there was the motive, the will and the way for "Alice In Hell" 35:th Anniversary concert to be performed and broadcast from North-East England.

Jeff wanted streaming to reach Annihilator fans all over the world, so it was done. The ticket price of 20€ was reasonable, and the show included the live performance of the entire album and one and a half hours of documentary interviews, unheard stories, interviews and interesting details around the challenging album sessions that took place mostly in 1987 and 1988. In the concert, band was set on stage with a brand new, blood stained backdrop design and Alice climbing down the stairs with the evil doll in her hand, just like in the otiginal album cover. The stage set-up design was super cool looking, and band was excited to make honor to their classic album.

The heavenly beautiful acoustic intro "Crystal Ann" came out as a playback track as part of an intro tape attached to one of Jeff's interviews just before the show. Personally I would have liked to hear a real live acoustic performance of the song, but you just can't get everything you want all the time, can you? Then Rich started the bass intro that leads to their biggest, anthem-like thrash metal hit, "Alison Hell". The song was played with sophisticated, cultivated skills by the band. Stu Block's voice fits perfectly in with the songs, but as the band has been known as perfectly tight, the opening track seemed to be a bit rusty, what comes to Jeff's playing.

Jokingly, Jeff had said just moments before the concert that finally people get to see the real band rehearsal of Annihilator trying to play some of their most difficult songs. There he was absolutely right, but maybe in a less flattering way he was hoping for. As the band rushed into "W.T.Y.D." all this became real. Before the 3:rd verse of the song. Block got a sudden blackout and forgot the lyrics, the guys take a look at each other for a second, and Annihilator quit playing the song in the very middle of it. Then the band starts the song over again from the same spot it had been cut off. Guys hit it again with passion, but from 10 seconds on, the same crap happens. The atomic, explosive song gets cuts off like by a knife. The situation was confusing and absurd but at the same time also very distinctive, unpolished and humane. At this point the stream show had really turned into like a real rehearsals, but as "W.T.Y.D." has been known as one the most played live songs by the band, one cannot deny a feeling of the mighty Annihilator being a bit insecure and unprepared in a public live performance situation.

By the following songs in the set, they shaped up and got on with properly. Utterly tight, "Wicked Mystic", power metal classic "Burns Like a Buzzsaw Blade", complex and progressive "Word Salad" lift the band up on their own level as performers. One of the most interesting pieces of the concerts were fast and groovy "Schizos (Are Never Alone) Parts I & II". Versatile composition as "Ligeia" and a speed metal masterpiece "Human Insecticide" ended the live set gratefully with pride.
In the end it was great to witness Annihilator finally killing it. It was also great to find out that guys were not taking it all too seriously.

Individually, Homma, Grey, Waters and Alessandrini finally got to show their skills as a group of world class heavy metal musicians. As an encore, Annihilator performed a few "best-of" songs that included "hits" chosen by the fans. From their second album, the performances of the single, a solid rocker, "Stonewall", one of the earliest compositions by Waters – "Phantasmagoria" of the second album, "Never, Neverland" and a pop-metallish "Set the World On Fire" from the third Annihilator-record of the same name, were ok but not terrific. Personally, I would have preferred "Road To Ruin" or perhaps "King of The Kill" out of the fourth Annihilator-album as encores instead.

Above all, the streaming-studio-live-celebration of Annihilator's masterpiece and back-then-record company Roadrunner's first Gold Album was authentic, raw, passionate and lovable. Even though the video direction seemed to be of somewhat low budget work, the feeling of the performance was captured well. Approximarely, there were five cameras in all used to film the entire show from different angles on the stage. Mostly it also seemed like the cameras were automatically driven, and didn't quite catch with the communication between the band members.

Basically, production-wise, the thing was of high profile DIY-quality, as was the album itself produced back in the day. On the another hand, at the same time, the concert proved that Annihilator needs to get quickly back on the road to get their stage performance routine back and to get their edge of metal polished and sharpened what comes to their performance. Good but not great.

Review courtesy of Mikko Nissinen
Metal Mayhem ROC Correspondent





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