Quite an appropriate title, this. The biggest trick is getting you to part with more money than it's actually worth. It's one of those "previously unreleased and rarities" type collections, and while some of this stuff might have been rare and unreleased, there was a good reason for it- it wasn't very good.
Back in 1990, Annihilator could have become one of the biggest names in metal. The band had released the killer debut `Alice In Hell' and the reasonably solid follow up `Never, Neverland'. However, by 1994 when `Bag Of Tricks' was thrown together, the band and its reputation were in tatters. Jeff Water's revolving door policy meant the band could not cement a stable line up, and third album `Set The World On Fire' crashed and burned through a combination of poor songs, weak production and a changed musical climate. `Bag Of Tricks' could possibly have been Annihilator's swansong. We know now that it wasn't, and as an epitaph of the band's career, `Bag Of Tricks' would have been about as fitting as wearing a clown costume to a funeral.
Most of this is worthless filler. Witness "The Fun Palace (Extended Mix)". It is "extended" by 30 seconds. I'm sure Jeff Waters can hear the added parts, but I sure as hell can't, and it's not like it's a particularly strong song in the first place. Then there's the remastered version of "Alison Hell". So it's "thicker and punchier". It's still the same fucking song! There are also production demos of "Phantasmagoria", "Knight Jumps Queen", "Bats In The Belfry", and "Evil Appetite", (which later became "Don't Bother Me"), which are all apparently special because they have different vocalists to the album versions.
A little more worthwhile are the production demos of a few songs which never made it to a full album. "Back To The Crypt", "Gallery" and "Fantastic Things" were all omitted from the first three albums, and quite rightly so. There are a few familiar riffs, but the songs were poorly conceived or badly constructed.
There is some good stuff on the album though. Four live tracks are included. "Human Insecticide (Live)" was originally released on the `Thrash The Wall' compilation, and shows Waters could actually reproduce live the insane riffing of that song. Manic renditions of "W.T.Y.D." and "Word Salad" demonstrate why Annihilator were rated so highly as a live band, while the cover of AC/DC's "Live Wire" is quite faithful and shows the song due respect.
Annihilator's 1986 demo `Phantasmagoria' was sought after in underground tape trading circles, and the tracks "Gallery", "Alison Hell" and "Phantasmagoria" are great. For a demo recorded in a basement (and obviously cleaned up in the studio a little), the sound quality is very clear, especially Jeff Waters' rhythm guitar. The vocals are a surprise, as Waters performed them himself. Instead of the clean, melodic sound of the singers generally employed by the band, Waters' voice is harsher, comparable to Slayer's Tom Araya. The embryonic "Alison Hell" and "Phantasmagoria" are instantly recognisable, but "Gallery" is a surprise. It was never released on an album, but much of the song is familiar, as Waters stripped the best riffs from the substandard song and used them elsewhere. Then inexplicably (or as Monte Conner says in the liner notes "because of time restraints"), the final track from the demo "Ligeia" was left off this album.
There are some gems on this incomplete and patchy compilation, but would have been far better put together in a different format without the filler. It does have extensive liner notes, explaining the motivation and significance of the tracks included. More live tracks, the complete pre- "Alice In Hell" demos and fewer "alternative" versions of album tracks would have made this album far more appealing.