Friday, March 11, 2016

Anvil - Anvil is Anvil (2016)

If Anvil! The Story of Anvil and its two neighboring studio efforts This is Thirteen and Juggernaut of Justice marked a resurgence or Renaissance for the beloved Canadian thugs, possessing their strongest material in many years, and affording them all manner of touring opportunities and a perpetual underdog spotlight...Hope is Hell sort of dashed that streak against the rocks, a mundane and forgettable effort redolent of many of such works they released tirelessly through the 90s as they leaped around labels and tried to stay afloat in a decade or so in which real heavy metal sunk into the background of other prevalent sub-genres and trends. Working up to Anvil Is Anvil,  their 16th album, I did not hold out much hope, hellish or otherwise, that this would be anything more than lazy redundancy, as the cover image and banal title would themselves seem to suggest...but thankfully, this is a measure more entertaining and catchy than its predecessor, with most of their strengths and all their flaws on exhibition.

Big, dumb, choppy heavy metal. Anvil has long relied on the joy and innocence they bring to their riff set more than any sense of nuance or technicality, which arguably fled the band's trajectory well back into the 80s after Pound for Pound (my favorite of their records). And here they are, chugging along like an 18-wheeler on the Trans-Canada Highway while the driver dreams of big haired 80s blondes, lumberjack attire, bleacher brawls at hockey rinks, ganja, brewskies and maple fucking syrup. Coincidentally, those are exactly the same stereotypes, I imagine as I'm listening through the sometimes thundering, sometimes lurching compositions which have been meted out evenly over most of their albums since Metal on Metal. Here you've got clear cases of both, charging along with "Up, Down, Sideways" or one of this disc's "Metal on Metals", "Gun Control". Riff construction is constant, concrete heavy blues worship which occasionally sputters into the Judas Priest or Accept lanes, while Robb's drums are as loud, appropriate and invigorating as ever. New bassist Chris Robertson grooves along accordingly, a solid bar band-style contributor which is nothing less than what Anvil requires, and Mattes Pfeiffer's production on this thing is bright, bludgeoning and beyond functional, especially on those mid-paced rhythms.

Then, of course, you've got Lips' belting out those obvious, everyman lyrics which are often pretty dumb, but again appropriate for an old metal band that has no desire whatsoever become anything else, and that's not exactly a weakness. His voice still has all the character it's carried for the past 30 years...wavering eerily at its higher range, but most comfortable with a hard bite that carries over well into an anthemic chorus line. This has always been the Canadians' #1 distinction, and I'm happy that it's been a constant, even if about half the choruses on this record are unmemorable and bland. Plus the album opens with a pirate song. Lead guitars wail along with abandon, just as alive as the rhythm section during those parts ("Die for a Lie", etc), and they never feel overly prepared to leech away attention from the rest of the components surrounding them. In the end, a longstanding Anvil fan is likely to have as good a time here as he's had with any of their other 21st century output. Expectations have never been set very high, the band lacks any ability to transition into any other plane of craftsmanship, so it's going to come down to whether the songs stick or miss, and with this thing cranked in the vehicle, I'd say that the former occurs more often than the latter, even if these are just endless reiterations of prototype tunes that they've been rehashing for decades. Loud, proud, pumped full of Cialis, this is textbook Anvil. Lips is pushing 60 now, and his music sounds like it tears asphalt at about that same speed, but with an armor plated grill that can plow poseurs right off into the breakdown ditch.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

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