Nobody is going to pick up an Anvil album expecting something unusual and innovative. They play pure and simple heavy metal and they play it loud in the traditional fashion. The guitars are front and centre, building songs out of buzzsaw riffs and barrelling beats. The usual question is whether they're on form this time out. Some of their albums are blistering, but some are just meh. I took a listen to their previous album, Legal at Last, and found myself a little closer to the latter than the former. I wasn't convinced by the opener here either, Take a Lesson, but it perks up from there to stand higher than its predecessor.
I think much of it is that, once we get past the plodding opener, this album is bouncier than usual. Ghost Shadow and Another Gun Fight are both bouncy and catchy, without losing any of the heavy sound we expect or the more urgent tempo that's welcome after Take a Lesson, especially on the former. After them, Fire Rain, with its gorgeous guitar sound, ratchets the energy up yet another notch before a short but excellent instrumental called Teabag, which is immensely playful.
Now, this is an instrumental in the same way that Tequila is an instrumental, namely that the only word delivered is the title, but it does the job and highlights in no uncertain fashion that Anvil are still eager to rock and, for that matter, rock hard. If this energy translates onto the stage, and I'm in no doubt that it will, the next tour ought to be a lot of fun. I should add here that there's also a second instrumental here, called Gomez, that's even more fun and does exactly the same job, all the way down to the same riffs because it's basically the same piece of music, merely with a highly prominent brass section. That makes it even more fun.
In between the two instrumentals are the usual mix of strong rockers and more filler material but the ratio is pretty much in favour of the former this time out. Once it all got moving, I was always going to give this a point more than the last one. And I firmly believe that this album is at its best when it's really moving, on songs like Fire Rain, Someone to Hate and Bad Side of Town. Lyrically, it doesn't do anything you don't expect, but it's easy to get caught up by the sheer motion of it all. I found myself singing along with Bad Side of Town and Wizard's Wand on a first time through.
Talking of Wizard's Wand, it remains perky and bouncy even with a slower riff that's straight out of the old Black Sabbath playbook, chugging along with ominous intent. Shockwave is even more a nod to Sabbath, with Steve Kudlow taking on that simple but utterly memorable Tony Iommi style with panache. Then he'll shift to a lighter, more elegant sound on songs like Lockdown or a lively and urgent one on Fire Rain and the appropriately titled Explosive Energy, on which he reminds of a UFO-era Michael Schenker.
I have trouble not liking Anvil. They're like an enthusiastic puppy that always shows up and makes us all fuss it because it's so effortlessly endearing. Translating that into heavy metal, they're the sort of reliable band who sit in the middle of a show, after the local wannabe talent but before an established headliner. They're the perfect band for midway through a long festival day, because a happy attendee will have a blast and a jaded listener will still engage. They're utterly reliable and this is a solid nineteenth album for them.