My introduction proper to Anvil came at the pubescent age of 14 when I chose Pound for Pound as one of my 12 introductory cassettes from the Columbia House Record Club. I’d heard a song here, a song there, but Pound for Pound was the first platter I heard from nuts to noggin. My initial feeling? Underwhelmed. While one of their thrashiest that I’ve since come to appreciate, keep in mind that 1988 was pretty much the fucking dog’s bollocks for metal. Bear with me as I list just a handful of the albums that came out, most of which I still spin regularly:
Carcass – Reek of Putrefaction
Coroner – Punishment for Decadence
Cryptic Slaughter – Stream of Consciousness
D.R.I. – 4 of a Kind
Death – Leprosy
Hades – If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
King Diamond – Them
Manowar – Kings of Metal
Metallica – And Justice for All
Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
Razor – Violent Restitution
Slayer – South of Heaven
Toxik – World Circus
Vio-lence – Eternal Nightmare
Voivod – Dimesion Hatross
Holy flurking schnit. No wonder it pretty much slipped down between the cracks around the crapper. Sadly, this has been the case with Anvil for much of their career, as laid out in the documentary Anvil – The Story of Anvil. “Why?” one might ask. Is it because they’re “Cannucks” as fellow unsung countrymen Razor claimed in their song, “American Luck?”
No. Let me be frank (since being Al hasn’t gotten me far in life). As the title says, Anvil is Anvil. You get ’em or you don’t, and most don’t. Anvil‘s early albums influenced a myriad of Ron Jeremy-sized bands including Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer. While they took some of what Anvil did and ran with it to new territories, Anvil themselves never really evolved much, which explains why even in the wake of the massive success of the documentary, their own saw only a fleeting boost. If someone wasn’t a fan of Metal on Metal in ’82, they certainly wouldn’t be swayed by Worth the Weight in ’92, or Still Going Strong in 2002. Likewise, their sixteenth album won’t do much to win over any new devotees. Opener “Daggers and Rum” is a raucous metallic pirate shanty and really got my hopes up as it is a new sound for the band that still retains all things Anvilly. They’re at their best when at their quirkiest, with odd stops and rhythms. “Die For A Lie” is a prime example. The verses bounce like Dolly Parton at a track meet, with odd stops for solo vocal lines led back in by Robo’s frantic fills. The chorus of “Run Like Hell” has a riff that holds out over a long fill that ends a few beats later than you’d expect. It is these anomalies in arrangement that make what is very straightforward music at the core almost sophisticated. Odd choices only Anvil would make that lead to a sound and style all their own.
It’s on the more straightforward tracks where the weakness in the songwriting becomes apparent. “Up, Down, Sideways” is a bore despite new bassist Chris Robertson’s tasteful runs. Lips’s tendency to sing right on the beat and along with the melody of the riff is rampant in the chorus of the follow up, “Gun Control.” Both get stuck in your head like a hollow point, but is it because they are well written or that the main riff of the latter is repeated no less than 50 times (yes, I counted) in four minutes and twenty seconds, or the phrase “Gun Control” is repeated with the same exact tone and inflection 27 times? The use of repetition as an ear worm is as unchecked as a 70s porno bush on “It’s Your Move,” with the title repeated 22 times in a mere 3:27. At just shy of 50 minutes, 20 or so of the more generic material could have been easily trimmed from Anvil is Anvil for a more engaging listen.
There are some guarantees on Anvil albums. The cover will have an anvil on it. You will be able to sing along to many of the songs after hearing them only once. You’ll either be able to predict exactly where they go next or get hit like Glass Joe with a body blow at the strange turns they take. I don’t love this album, but if I may bastardize a quote Jerry Maguire without having to entirely shelve my ManCard, “I love Anvil. I love them for the band they want to be, and I love them for the band they almost are.” I will always go to see them live. I paid for a signed copy of Anvil is Anvil via Pledgemusic even though I received the digital promo free of charge. I am a card-carrying member of the Metal Pounders Union and have a framed autographed photo of them above the very desk I am plunking this on right how. Why? Because the world needs underdogs and Anvil are metal’s perennial Little Engine That Could. As they’ve proven on stage in front of thousands at festivals and oft times dozens in clubs, they play with everything they’ve got despite the level of success and for them, and me, that’s enough.