For a band that’s been at it as long as Anvil and has gone through as many lean years and career disappoints as they have, the Canadian band can’t be faulted for doing what they do to the best of their collective ability. Finding their initial sound by ramping up their love of NWOBHM—that’s “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”—and ratcheting up the speed and intensity with which groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden performed, Anvil largely became the architects of what would become the wildly popular and commercially successful thrash metal scene of the mid-‘80s.

Problem is, by then the groups who’d found their sound within the grooves of those early Anvil records had superseded their influence and, in the process, rendered Anvil largely obsolete to all but an ardent cult following. Thanks to a well-received documentary that brought their name back from mere metal footnote, the group has gone on to release nearly a quarter of their discography post-Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Over half a decade since the film’s release, Anvil remains an active unit, putting out an album roughly every other year.

Continuing their affinity for three-word titles often held together by a preposition, their 16th album bears the less-than-imaginative—though no less descriptive and meta title—Anvil Is Anvil. Their iconic forging tool is once again featured prominently on the cover, however where previous albums have seen the outdated anvil surrounded by flames and all types of metal paraphernalia, Anvil Is Anvil bears a fairly maudlin portrait of the tool gazing pensively—excuse the anthropomorphizing—at itself in a mirror in what appears to be a back alley, the title tagged as graffito on the wall.

With such a drastic visual change, one would expect the very sound of Anvil to have altered in much the same manner. “Daggers and Rum” opens with a “Reign in Blood”-esque thunderstorm before quickly backtracking into a sort of mutant pirate/sea shanty metal. It’s very nearly as strange as it sounds, bordering on Sailing the Seas of Cheese silliness, complete with “yo-hos” and threats of plank-walking. The “Scurvy scum/ Daggers and rum” chorus doesn’t really help matters, but this lack of self-seriousness has largely been the reason for Anvil’s longevity as a band. Others suffering from full-on Spinal Tap syndrome would’ve long ago chucked it in. But Steve “Lips” Kudlow and his grade school friend Robb Reiner remain as passionate as ever in their approach to metal.

Charging like an out-of-control locomotive, “Up, Down, Sideways” finds Kudlow doing his best Lemmy during the song’s opening moments (see “It’s Your Move” for a surprisingly spot-on impression), his phrasing, cadence and very nearly melody recalling “Ace of Spades.” This sort of allusion-heavy approach to metal is by no means a sign of a group having long since run out of ideas. As always, they just seem happy—a very non-metal emotion, to be sure—to still be doing this after all these years. Paying homage to their successors and predecessors respectively on the opening tracks shows that there’s no hard feelings for their lack of commercial success at a time when metal was at its peak.

But not everything here is a thematically light and/or sexualized as the usual Anvil release. On “Gun Control,” they give a surprisingly in-the-moment take on the controversial subject, posing the rhetorical question, “Do we need some gun control?” while taking to task those who wind up “celebrities” in the wake of mass shootings—ironically individuals usually associated with metal and all its satanic underpinnings. It’s a decidedly un-metal song from a lyrical standpoint and often comes across a little ham-fisted, but the points raised are no less prescient.

Similarly, “Die for a Lie” casts a very metal, overtly atheistic eye on those who are willing to die for the words in a book, i.e. the religious zealots both Christian and Muslim currently turning much of the world to shit. As with “Gun Control,” Anvil’s approach is a bit laughable, albeit well-intentioned. “Archeology will one day show/ The more we learn the more we know/ Where we come from and where we be/
What is our purpose and what does it mean?”
Kudlow snarls at the song’s climax. Admittedly, metal has never really been known for its deeply philosophical musings and social commentary.

By album’s end, the cover image proves oddly appropriate for this more lyrically reflective release from a group known more for its overtly sexual lyrical absurdities. Is this the start of a more serious, socially conscious Anvil? If “Zombie Apocalypse” is any indication, no, they’ll still remain as crass and lighthearted as ever. What ostensibly begins as a commentary on nuclear nonproliferation suddenly becomes an anthemic alternate soundtrack to “The Walking Dead” and the current cultural appeal of zombies.

While Anvil Is Anvil may find the group blitzing their way through more socially conscious topics and political posturing, it’s still nonetheless an Anvil album tonally and musically. How you feel about this, and this sort of retro-metal/grey-haired thrash in general, will determine your overall enjoyment. Everyone else can simply appreciate the fact that guys from Anvil still seem to be enjoying themselves after years spent toiling away in anonymity and living many of the more absurdist plot points from This Is Spinal Tap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Holy Hell! Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP Turns 20

Like their fellow members of the class of 2001, Yeah Yeah Yeahs would ultimately prove not…