Thursday, 27 February 2020

Anvil - Legal at Last (2020)



Country: Canada
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2020
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I have a lot of respect for Anvil, because they frankly epitomise the metal spirit of never giving up on what they believe. They were formed as far back as 1978 and this is their eighteenth studio album, with two members of this power trio being founder members, Steve "Lips" Kudlow on guitars and vocals and Robb "Robbo" Reiner on drums. Chris Robertson, who I presume is not also called Robbo, is the new fish on bass, having been with Anvil since 2014.

The flipside to all that admirable drive is that sticking so closely to the sound they wanted in 1978 means that those eighteen albums aren't far away from being completely interchangeable, just with riffs and hooks of varying quality. The good news here is that the riffs and hooks are generally solid and often pretty damn good. If you're an Anvil fan already, this is another reliable album from them.

If you're not, let me introduce you. While the album is clearly a thank you to the Canadian government for legalising marijuana, it promptly turns into a collection of protest songs until the band apparently fail to conjure up any more problems to protest and then get even more generic than usual. The title track kicks things off in style but a success north of the border is promptly contrasted with a failure south of it, its title Nabbed in Nebraska being self-explanatory.

From the failed drug war in the US we shift to Chemtrails, a catchy anthem for the paranoid conspiracy minded lunatic fringe. Then it's Gasoline, which rages against the fossil fuel industry. Talking to the Wall complains about all this raging having no effect. Glass House is about surveillance society and a lack of modern privacy. Plastic in Paradise is about, well, plastic. I lost track at that point. It's very possible that Bottom Line, Food for the Vulture and Said and Done rage against something too but I'd lost interest.

I should add here that I have no idea what the IQs of the respective members of the band happen to be, but they really play up that old stereotype of the dumb metalhead. Anvil recorded an album called Anvil is Anvil. There must be some level of self-aware irony going on here. Anyway, they manage to fit the word "decriminalisation" into the lyrics of Nabbed in Nebraska. How many so-called intelligent bands have fit seven syllable words into their lyrics? It doesn't help that Kudlow apparently can't pronounce "imbecile" though.

The plus points here are obvious from moment one. Legal at Last is a stormer of a song, a real heavy metal anthem. Chemtrails has another fantastic riff and there are more to come. Gasoline's is slower but still solid. I'm Alive has a glorious riff. There are no poncey ballads anywhere to be found here, so it's easy to lose ourselves in the quality riffage and a driving rhythm section. Food for the Vulture chugs magnificently. Bonus track No Time wraps things up in blistering fashion, like the band want to leave us with the knowledge that they can conjure up riffs like these without any apparent effort. It's just natural for them.

The minus points start with those lyrics. I can sympathise with many of the social concerns raised, but there are no arguments being made here, merely interchangeable lyrics railing against *insert problem here*. After half a dozen of these generic protest songs, I realised that the depth is akin to a game on Whose Line is It Anyway? "Hey folks, it's the protest song round. I want you to sing a protest song in..." *spins wheel* "...heavy metal style about..." *spins wheel*. These are the songs you'd get, assuming there were solid musicians on hand to back up the comedian writing his song on the fly.

Talking of vocals, Kudlow is a great guitarist but he's a generic vocalist so, when he starts to lose us with his buzzword loaded lyrics, we're going to just drift away from his voice entirely. It's not bad per se, more like the local singer on stage in your local club after you walk in early. What keeps Anvil above that local band are the riffs and hooks, pure and simple. I'm going with a 6/10 here because those are consistently strong here, even across a dozen tracks. If you want more than that, drop a point off because you're not going to find it on an Anvil album.

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