Survival of the thrash
The fate of heavy metal has been a vicious cycle within North America, and this is especially true when it comes to Canada. Usually, big name metal bands have a massive following in Europe and Asia, but never seem to break through the Canadian wall, even when birthed on native soil.
Although Canada has a trend of leaving metal bands to decay and eventually expire, there are survivors. One of them is thrash metal band Annihilator, the highest selling heavy metal group in Canadian history, with three millions albums sold worldwide.
Annihilator originated in 1984, but the band found the most Canadian success during the years of 1989 to 1993.
“Canada sort of had to recognize us back then,” says Annihilator founder Jeff Waters from his balcony in Ottawa while trying to dodge mosquitoes.
“When a big record company in the States says, ‘Hey, we have this Canadian metal band and we’re pushing them,’ the Canadian companies have to follow or die.”
After 1993, grunge took the music industry by a relentless storm and like many metal bands, Annihilator was “driven out” of Canada and the United States.
“There was a real mad rush to get rid of old school stuff unless you were playing really aggressive stuff like Pantera, Sepultura, Biohazard, or Nu Metal,” Waters says.
He understood the trend and accepted that maybe it was time to cut his hair, hang up the guitar, and get a “real job.”
As luck would have it, Annihilator started to explode in Europe and Japan six months later, shortly before the release of the 1994 album King of the Kill. Annihilator was far from dead.
“We basically rode this upsurge and released five albums until this metal plateau in 1997,” Waters says.
Annihilator is currently touring Canada for this first time in 24 years in support of its 15th studio album Suicide Society (2015), which was nominated for a Juno award this year. The band is queued to headline Germany’s Wacken Open Air, one of the biggest metal festivals in the world.
“I’m 51 in this conservative city of Ottawa, but I play metal and we’re headlining the Wacken. It’s quite ridiculous,” Waters says.
Fans of Annihilator know that Waters is the only sole founder and continuing member. He writes all the vocals and music, excluding drums, on every album while hiring musicians to tour with him. It’s been that way since Annihilator toured its debut album Alice in Hell, when its lead singer quit during the middle of the tour.
“I found that I needed to hire my own musicians not to derail my own life and career,” Waters says.
He is already gearing up for Annihilator’s 16th album that is still unnamed. He says the album will be released in October and features him “going back to his roots.”
“Metal is very raw,” Waters says. “I used to really chop it up and make it formula driven, but on this new one I threw all that stuff out the window and did whatever I wanted, like on the first couple albums.”
Sat., June 17 (8 pm)
Annihilator w/ Mutank, Mason, and guests
Starlite Room, $30