Against all odds, Anvil are still the same Anvil from their beginnings, but that doesn’t seem to be translating into thrilling heavy music in the end.
Someone definitely needs to write a dissertation or a graduate thesis on how Canadian Heavy/Speed Metal power trio Anvil has managed to survive for such a long time (the band was formed back in 1978) without releasing anything truly remarkable in their career except for their 1982 classic album Metal On Metal. Well, I guess we all know that the main reason for the band to still be alive was the 2008 highly acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil (if you haven’t watched it yet, please do it as soon as possible), but in terms of the quality of their music, let’s say nothing has really changed or evolved through the years.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on those Canadian metallers, but the music found in their sixteenth studio album, “cryptically” entitled Anvil Is Anvil, doesn’t really allow me to say anything newsworthy about them after so many years on the road. The only difference from all of their previous albums (and I dare you to name two or three of those, excluding Metal On Metal) is that this is their first release to feature bassist Chris Robertson. Apart from that, everything that the iconic lead singer and guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb “Robbo” Reiner have to offer us is an uninspired and wearisome cover version of themselves during the entire album.
Why Anvil decided to “think outside the box” and go with a pirate song called Daggers and Rum to open the album is beyond my comprehension, but that’s fine, at least they tried something different. What we have here is extremely basic and relatively fun Heavy Metal that should work well when played live, but somebody please ask Lips not to pretend to be a pirate again in his life. Up, Down, Sideways is much better in terms of speed and sound quality, with Chris Robertson doing a decent job on bass while Robb keeps delivering his classic beats. However, in Gun Control, an 80’s metal tune with some Sludge Metal elements added to it, its irritating and banal lyrics (“Do you defend your family? / Or go and rob a bank? / Do you defend your country? / For that who do we thank? / Do we need some? / Gun control / Gun control”) make me think only diehard fans of the band are capable of enjoying this song.
Die for a Lie is a song with a religious connotation (against radical Islamism) that doesn’t actually make too much sense, not to mention its completely bland instrumental, with only some decent guitar solos saving it from being a total disaster; while Runaway Train puts the band back on track with its very direct and effective approach and great performances by Lips and Robb. This is in my opinion what Anvil should be doing nowadays, kind of a mix of their classic sounding with Motörhead’s high-speed Rock N’ Roll. On the other hand, they should stay away from the ridiculousness of Zombie Apocalypse, with its cliché lyrics (“Death and destruction becoming a routine / Only just a thought in reality obscene / Virus and bacteria, the biochemical host / Extinction of humanity, nothing but a ghost”) and a Hard Rock/Stoner Metal vibe that doesn’t work really well.
And this roller-coaster of quality doesn’t seem to have an end, as once again they are the Anvil we enjoy and not an amateur garage band, delivering the fast and metallic It’s Your Move. It might not be brilliant, but at least it has a lot more electricity than most songs in the album. The same can be said about Ambushed, another good song that keeps the energy flowing at a decent level due to its nice chorus and what’s probably the best vocals delivered by Lips in the entire album. I also liked the drumming and the vibe in Fire on the Highway, despite the vocal lines sounding a bit disconnected from the music. Yet again, there’s absolutely nothing new presented in this tune, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s bad or tasteless.
Run Like Hell, a lot more complex and electric than all other songs, showcases a perfect synchronicity between Lips and Robb, nicely complemented by Chris’ bass lines and, therefore, resulting in the best song of Anvil Is Anvil by far. Its kick-ass riffs and nonstop beats sound like an ode to their own legacy, with even Lips’ guitar solos sounding much better than usual. Regrettably, Forgive Don’t Forget was the worst possible way they could have chosen to close the album. Nothing in this tune works, from its mediocre rhythm to its even worse lyrics and backing vocals. I’m pretty sure I will forget this song exists really soon. And if you get the digipak version of the album you can consider yourself relatively lucky, because both bonus tracks Never Going to Stop and You Don’t Know What It’s Like are above average songs that should have been part of the regular version instead of all those weak tracks.
In summary, unless you’re completely mental for this Canadian band, don’t invest too much of your time on Anvil Is Anvil. I suggest you stick to their 1982 classic album and also to their 2008 documentary, because these are what the legacy of Anvil is all about. I still respect them for always keep trying no matter what, for always being the same Anvil from their beginnings and going against all odds, but that doesn’t seem to be translating into thrilling heavy music in the end. They’re still having fun being Anvil and that looks like everything they need to keep moving forward, so who am I to tell them their music today is not as exciting as they think? We should simply let those guys keep on rocking until their very last breath, because Anvil will always be Anvil, there’s no way to change that.
Best moments of the album: Runaway Train and Run Like Hell.
Worst moments of the album: Gun Control, Die for a Lie and Forgive Don’t Forget.
Released in 2016 Steamhammer/SPV
1. Daggers and Rum 5:26
2. Up, Down, Sideways 3:19
3. Gun Control 4:22
4. Die for a Lie 3:17
5. Runaway Train 3:40
6. Zombie Apocalypse 4:22
7. It’s Your Move 3:30
8. Ambushed 3:22
9. Fire on the Highway 4:35
10. Run Like Hell 3:07
11. Forgive Don’t Forget 2:40
Digipak bonus tracks
12. Never Going to Stop 4:09
13. You Don’t Know What It’s Like 3:31
Steve “Lips” Kudlow – lead vocals, lead & rhythm guitars
Chris Robertson – bass guitar
Robb “Robbo” Reiner – drums