Someone call the retirement home, Anvil has escaped again! The Canadian old-timers went from long-forgotten underdogs to loveable mascots thanks to the movie, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which chronicled the once-promising band trudging through obscurity, doggedly recording album after album every two or three years without regard for critical reception or popularity. Not to say Anvil has no semi-classic records to their names, but those were over a dozen albums ago. By now they’ve recorded more than AC/DC, in a shorter time span, yet their sound also shows as much growth as their Australian counterparts. Is the new pro-weed romp another carbon copy or have the fumes brought some inspiration to the geezers?
Surprise, it’s no surprise at all! Legal at Last1 is Anvil doing Anvil in the style of Anvil. For those who have managed to avoid the band for 40 years, that means two parts heavy metal, one part speed metal. Their style does, in fact, remind of AC/DC, between the simple, hooky riffs and the vinegar vocals, but Anvil does have more energy and a more raw sound. Nothing about this has been innovative since the ’80s, but that’s not necessarily a problem. With this much experience writing riffs, at least some of them will stick. These mostly take place around the midsection of the album, which avoids the worst of the juvenile lyrics or the unexpected highfalutin’ attempts at adding depth which falls flat. “I’m Alive” through to “Bottom Line” are standard Anvil fare, with upbeat riffs, catchy hooks and total lack of subtlety or imagination.
But Anvil really is a one-trick pony. Most of their tracks sound the same and have for 4 decades. When they try anything else, it inevitably ends in failure. The opening salvo celebrating the legalization of weed is impossibly juvenile, even by Anvil standards, and “Nabbed in Nebraska” doesn’t even have a good riff to compensate. “Gasoline” tries to shake things up with a classic doom tempo, but Steve “Lips” doesn’t have a voice suited to Candlemassisms. It’s not really suited for anything except thrashy shouting, frankly, as evidenced by his attempts to sing, particularly on the dreadful closer “Said and Done,” with its inane riff and lethargic tempo.
Of course, I’ve been reviewing Anvil’s career course as much as the new album, so new listeners shouldn’t pay much heed, right? Well, here’s a secret: this was my first Anvil album as well. Even as a newcomer to the band, it just reeks of coasting, with most of the tracks pretty similar in tone and structure. It’s a box of crayons that are all different shades of beige. So I went on a cursory sampling of their back catalog and found nothing that would have been out of place on any of their albums since the 90s. The production value seems to have increased a little in recent years, but it’s still pretty industry standard, and any gains in quality are offset by the tragedy that is “Said and Done.”
So in short, Legal at Last is just another Anvil album. 18 releases in, these guys never change, and in fact, take pride in the fact that they never change. If they were consistently great, that would be one thing, but Anvil at its best doesn’t cross beyond ‘harmless,’ and at worst are downright cringeworthy. Though it’s rarely outright bad, it’s never outright good, which seems to suit Lips and the boys just fine. They love doing what they do just the same, and that’s an admirable quality. It just makes me wonder why we should care about the result when it’s as lackluster as this.