Whether you know it or not, Jon Mikl Thor is a living legend. His bizarre 40 year journey through the entertainment wood chipper has taken him to the disparate worlds of bodybuilding, live quasi-porn theater, proto-heavy metal and Grade-Z horror films. Through it all and come what may, the amiable Canadian Juggernaut just keeps smiling and flexing away, forever awaiting his big break. As painstakingly detailed in the amazing documentary I Am Thor, that break has yet to come. But endless setbacks, obstacles and unrealistic expectations are no match for the erstwhile God of Thunder. And so 2015 sees him release Metal Avenger, his seventeenth album of rock/metal/silliness with a sound forever stuck somewhere between 70s Kiss and early 80s Manowar. Will this be the platter that finally puts the man, the myth, the demigod over the top into the Valhalla of popular success? Not a chance in Hades, but it’s amazing to behold nonetheless.
If you heard any of Thor‘s…body of work, you know the music is really just an excuse for the man to get onstage and put on wild, wacky and Gwar-esque shows. There are feats of strength, simulated sex with scantily clad women, rampant muscle flexery and more props than a 24 hour Carrot Top Telethon for Moss Peeping Disorder. With the songs safely tucked away in the afterthought compartment, approaching with the right frame of mind is crucial. In fact, the band’s only “hit” came on 1985s Only the Strong, and the Herculean cheesiness of “Thunder on the Tundra” is as enjoyable today as it was then.
While there’s no counterpart to that lost gem here, many of the songs are better than you might expect. The title track is a brainless old school metal anthem that remains genuinely fun despite a host of cliches, and it’s much more amusing than what Gloryhammer is doing. “Out of Control” feels like 70s Cirith Ungol mixed with Kiss‘s cock rock and the chorus was made to be blasted from speakers in 1973 Dodge Dart. “King of Thunder and Lightning” is like Diet Ironhammer and goofy as all hell, and “Master of Revenge” is an odd but rocking mash-up of early Saxon and modern Clutch. Elsewhere, “Taste of Victory” sounds like Pentagram and Thor even sounds a bit like Bobby Liebling at times, which is awesome (and likely very unintentional), and closer “Laws of the Universe” is an awkward yet oddly touching reflection on the man’s endless struggle to attain fame and respect.
Lest you think this is a flawless victory for the Titan of Boom, there are the inevitable Loki-sabotaged tunes. “Destruct” sounds like Jim Morrison’s degenerate cousin stealing third-rate George Thorogood material, and “Stars Upon Stars” is a wildly ill-conceived ballad that tries to copy the male-female vocal interplay from Meatloaf classics like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with hilariously bad results that have to be heard, including lines “and you know, Thor, I’m so proud now that you took a chance on me.” “T.H.O.R.” follows the Manowar and Body Count habit of writing songs about themselves and includes a dreaded “spell-it-out” chorus like Faith No More‘s “Be Aggressive” but 100 times sillier. But even these numbers are enjoyable in a cheesy, cult-kitsch way and only those expecting something as serious as Anathema will be left out in the cold, cold tundra.
Thor sounds surprisingly youthful, exuberant and vital throughout, and though his attempts at actual singing aren’t exactly top shelf, he makes the most of what he’s got vocally. Since his act has always been about personal charisma and stage presence, his limitations are a small matter. Guitarist/backup vocalist Ani Kyd is listed as a “musician, actor and life coach” which makes her the perfect band-mate for the well-traveled Thor. Ani and Mike O’s riffs effectively straddle the line between 70s, 80s and 90s hard rock and metal and their appearance here proves they share the same tongue-in-cheek sensibility and commitment to struggle as their Godly employer.
Since no Thor album was ever 100% solid from start to finish, the idea of releasing a 56 minute, 15 song platter is sheer lunacy. If they trimmed this to the best eight or nine tunes, it would be much improved, but I do not deign to question the wisdom of the Immortals. And there’s simply no critiquing the sound, which is crackingly rich and warm, like the 70s rock album this was meant to be.
Metal Avenger is a slow motion train and oil tanker collision, but it’s also impossibly endearing and exceptionally fun. For straight entertainment value this is an easy win, assuming you have a healthy sense of humor. Hey, Thor is a guy in his freaking 60s who still dresses up in armor, skulls and spikes to play proto-metal for your amusement. If that doesn’t earn your money, it should at least earn your respect. He’s definitely got mine (and some of my money too). All hail Thor, the Metal Avenger. Long may he reign and rock.