REVIEW: Annihilator – Archer Nation: Live at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton

A former car factory, KK’s Steel Mill sits at the heart of industrial Wolverhampton and is owned, as the name suggests, by former Judas Priest guitarist and general all-round local legend KK Downing. This latest West Midlands rock venue opened its doors last year and, apart from the impressively sized stage area and the massive wall banner showing the artwork to Priest’s 1986 album Turbo, looks to have changed very little from when it was built back in 1903.

One thing that has changed substantially since the early twentieth century, however, is the traffic, and due to roadworks, congestion, and all sorts of other annoying maintenance based inconveniences, I end up missing the first support, local act Elyrean. Scattered words from around the venue seem to be of the positive nature though, so it seems things got off to a good start.

Californian three-piece Archer Nation are up next, shredding their way through forty minutes of melodic thrash and US Power Metal. Enthusiastic and amiable frontman Dylan Rose works his fingers, his vocal cords, and the crowd simultaneously, Dokken-esque riffs and piercing solos bolstered by drummer Keyhan Moini and bassist David De Silva. The trio makes a very decent impression and succeed in entertaining a crowd who are really only here for the headliners.

Of all the dramatic entrance music that metal bands have used over the years, Jerry Goldsmith‘s score to 1976 horror classic The Omen must surely be one of the most popular. Canadian headliners Annihilator are happy to continue that trend and when the satanic movie theme stops and the lights come up, the band kick into ‘Betrayed’ the title track from their eponymous 2010 release. A somewhat subdued opening leaves some of the crowd scratching their heads, but it looks like the band are just teasing and tear straight into a pummelling version of ‘King of the Kill’.

‘No Way Out’ and ‘One to Kill’ follow before the crowd gets moving again with a savage ‘Set the World On Fire’. ‘Ultraparanoia’ keeps the momentum up before frontman Jeff Waters gives his voice a rest (he is 53 to be fair) with ‘The Trend’, semi-instrumental ‘Schizos (Are Never Alone) Parts I & II’ and an energetic drum solo from sticksman Fabio Alessandrini.

Guitarist Aaron Homma and bass player Rich Hinks are a blur of hyperactivity as things jump up another notch with a rip-roaring ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ and an appropriately brain-melting ‘Twisted Lobotomy’ before treating us to punky new song ‘Psycho Ward’ from their upcoming album Ballistic, Sadistic (Silver Lining Music). ‘Tricks and Traps’ and a blinding ‘Phantasmagoria’ end the main set, but with the band having only played one cut from their classic debut, the crowd are already getting impatient before the band even leave the stage for a short breather before the encore.

It’s well worth the wait though, and as expected, the final four songs are all lifted from 1989’s Alice in Hell (Roadrunner). ‘Burns Like a Buzzsaw Blade’ and ‘W.T.Y.D. (Welcome to Your Death)’ get the predominantly thirty to forty-something crowd jumping before slowing down with ‘Crystal Ann’ (complete with a fuck-up by Waters) and the irresistible ‘Alison Hell’. High pitched shrieks fill the air as everyone joins in with the chorus and the whole evening ends on a satisfyingly silly note.

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY GARY ALCOCK