Annihilator @Newcastle Riverside, October 12 2019

“This is like a rehearsal to us,” joked Jeff Waters after delivering an opening salvo of Betrayed and King Of The KIll. Annihilator have been ensconced in Watersound Studios UK these last weeks, sharpening up for a major European tour – and this was launch night. The first chance they’ve had in more than a year to rock a packed house of baying metalheads. The first opportunity to air material from their forthcoming 17th opus, Ballistic, Sadistic.

However, if this was just the quartet in warm-up mode, the denizens of Barcelona, Tel-Aviv and Moscow will be in for the ride of their lives when Annihilator roll into their neighbourhoods later this year. The band’s current members have worked together for three years now and their on-stage interplay in instinctive. They may hail from different corners of the globe, but after performances like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they all live in a squat together, practising 24/7 in a basement plastered with thrash posters. The word ‘tight’ doesn’t do Waters, guitarist Aaron Homma, bassist Rich Hinks and young drummer Fabio Alessandrini justice. The only hiccup? A heart stopping moment when Hinks, kindly reaching out to hand guitar picks to the front row, tumbled from the stage. It could have ended the 43-date stint just a handful of songs in. But after a few minutes of worried looks and anxious glances, he was back on his feet, head banging in tandem with Homma.

Relief, then, for Waters, who was playing his first set as an adopted North Easterner, after marrying a “a Durham girl” in 2018. Taking place just 30 minutes up the road from his new home, this was a show for family, friends and the region’s close-knit metal community, who, the Canadian acknowledged, have made him feel very welcome. Praise went to locals including Raven’s John Gallagher (one of his early musical heroes) and Kat Shevil Graham, Durham-based vocalist with Winds of Genocide, who have both lent their vocal talents to Ballistic, Sadistic.

The first taste of that album had arrived last week, with the release of the surging I Am Warfare. But while that didn’t feature last night, new songs Psycho Ward and the Armed To The Teeth, both snarling, thrashing fireballs, were greeted like old friends by a near capacity crowd, already adrenalized after an impressive showing by Archer Nation.

Even bigger cheers, though, were awarded to Waters’ tribute to Alice In Hell-era vocalist Randy Rampage, who sadly passed away last year. Indeed, Annihilator’s founder is adept at paying homage to his band’s past – and taking older fans back to their misspent, hi-tops wearing youth – while plucking the finest material from his extensive 21st century catalogue. He gets the balance right. Twisted Lobotomy sparred with a mighty take on Set The World On Fire, No Way Out battled it out with a jaw dropping Phantasmagoria… and there was room for rarely aired gems such as 2010’s The Trend and that Bay Area banger from ’96’s Refresh The Demon, Ultra Paranoia.

Alison Hell (unsurprisingly) brought an incendiary set to a close – and there’s no arguing with the song’s legendary status – but Annihilator aren’t nostalgia merchants, as the depth of the 2010s material aired at Riverside proved. And if anyone felt short changed by the absence of Human Insecticide or Stonewall, they didn’t show it.

Last night was a true celebration of the band’s decades-spanning career and a tantalising glimpse into Annihilator’s next chapter, with Waters announcing a January release for Ballistic, Sadistic and something special to mark Never Neverland’s 30th anniversary. For North Easterners, let’s hope that includes a ‘home town’ show.

Liked this review? Like Annihilator? Check out our interview series with Jeff Waters: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

Images By Mick Burgess