It takes me about a minute to realise that Anvil’s first track Bitch in the Box isn’t about matricide or anything so eeeeeevil and metal. How things have changed. When I first picked up an Anvil record, Forged in Fire, from a second hand record shop back in 1980-something it was all about metal, making metal (literally, making metal: in furnaces), war, wizards, hanging out with girls, and even, yes, having sex with them – at least the kind of sex that springs from the mind of someone who had only just discovered it the previous day (Butter Bust Jerky, anyone?). I can’t shake the feeling that things, lyrically at least, have not changed for the better when I realise that the ‘bitch’ is the female voice inside the band’s car satellite navigation system – whose directions are presumably every bit as reliable as a 1980s record label A&R man’s promises of riches and wealth. You’ve got to feel for Anvil haven’t you?
What I do feel about Anvil is a strange mixture of bizarre bewilderment, irritation and giddy excitement. It’s Anvil, it’s a bit silly, and we’re here to have a bit of a laugh because actually there’s just something clawing at you from within the crashing, almost-thrash, almost-Priest music. And luckily the lyrical mundanity resists floundering into other everyday gripes – “My Bus For Work Arrives in Six Minutes But I Can Only Find One Shoe”? And maybe “My New Food Blender’s On The Blink And I Only Picked It Up From Argos This Morning”? No, things move on pretty quickly and pretty soon we’re firmly back on familiar territory with rowdy, sub-Manowar-Judas-Priest-metal-is-my-life-and-we’re-going-to-give-it-to-ya rockin’ mixed with er, well, that’s pretty much it unless you count the off-the-wall Nanook Of The North, like a heavy metal excursion into the pages of National Geographic magazine, or Ego, a blunt critique of politicians that’s as close as Anvil get to political commentary.
Plenty of bass, riffs that you or I could come up with during five minutes at the boozer and, er, actually some pretty good percussion that all makes for something that, in the hands of Anvil, is absolutely and without a doubt above average. Either way, we all surely feel like we have a stake in Anvil, even if you’ve never heard of them before. Just as Judas Priest or Cannibal Corpse epitomise various aspects of the heavy metal scene, so too does Anvil. The heavily worn denim to Priest’s studs ‘n’ leather and Immortal’s spikes. The downtrodden journeymen who you can always rely on to put in a good day’s graft and give you more than good value for the little you are prepared to pay them. The perennial heavy metal underdog. I’ve heard Anvil compared to Priest. Anyone who has dipped in and out of their catalogue over the years or seen *that* film will perhaps understand, they are more like a shaggy Accept, a Motorhead rusted beyond repair or a dirtier, messier and self-effacing Manowar without the low carb diet – carrying the banner through mud, grime, small town venues and thanking you very much indeed for turning up and enjoying every minute of it. Lyrics about sat navs aside. Lips sounds like Lemmy after the bottle of JD and a packet of Lockets – ungravelly voice, infectiously wobbly and all over the place, but so full of heavy metal character just like bands used to be.
And for those whose bewilderment has never allowed them to get past first base with Anvil, it’s probably worth pointing out that the tunes are not, in fact, what it’s all about. Tracks like the chugging, fist pumping Black Smoke and Rock That Shit maybe so full of energy that they transport you back to 1984 while others are getting on for AC/DC levels of toe tapping. Smash Your Face and Let It Go would mystically draw anyone who bothers to turn up to a live gig into the band’s weird voodoo metal magic. And, for all the joking and jerking around, Anvil often sound dangerously like they know what they’re doing. Considerably smaller than a stadium filling band, and bigger than a band that arrives in your local of a Saturday evening. Somewhere in the middle. Pounding The Pavement is not their best album but is a damn sight better than Strength of Steel (other than the title track) – even though you could argue that things haven’t not moved on one iota other than the band’s age and wrinkles for the past 20 years and may have even gone backwards. Album number 17 and still plugging away – four or five per decade since 1981. The bottom line is, I couldn’t tell you if this is the best or worst of the last dozen but it sounds pretty good fun to me and I think Anvil is something you just need to have in your heavy metal life in some shape or form. You may ask what is the point? And I would find it hard to tell you. Other than to say that they obviously just have to do it. Enjoy it for what it is or look the other way.
(6.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)