REVIEW: ANVIL – “Legal At Last”
The story of Canadian metal legends Anvil is one of peaks and valleys. An emotional roller-coaster ride spanning multiple generations and decades worth of Heavy Metal, which some would argue they started. When conversation brews around the inception of the genre, Anvil are often mentioned in the same way we discuss which came first, the chicken or the egg? However, one thing remains certain, from Metallica to Motorhead, Anthrax to Guns n’ Roses, and every other ‘great,’ Anvil are invariably cited as one of their earliest influences. And yet people within the metal community often ask, ‘Do they still release music? This despite their soaring resurgence on the back of their revealing documentary ‘The Story of Anvil’. At the risk of offending the revered ‘if you know, you know’, the answer is yes, they most certainly do. And veterans of Steve ‘Lips’ Kudrow (guitar, vocals), Robb Reiner (drums) and Chris Robertson (bass) are all set to drop their first offering of the decade, ’Legal At Last’.
The record’s artwork serves as an accurate precedent for the songs it banners on. An angelic figure using a crystalline anvil functioning as a home-made bong sets the scene faithfully. Anvil have never been overly concerned with writing explicitly vulnerable or soul bearing lyrics. Instead they have typically opted for the more cliched subject matter affiliated with Metal including, but not limited to, angst and rebelling toward anything remotely political in nature, or churning out the next “You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll” (Twisted Sister) or “Heavy Metal Never Dies” (Iron Savior). The albums title track “Legal At Last” demonstrates this with the same transparency as the heavenly crystal anvil bong. Patently passionate about the legal status of marijuana, “Legal At Last” is an ode to exactly this. Yet it does little to evoke any real resonance. Nevertheless, musically Lips, Reiner and Robertson are on top of their form with this riff-heavy, explosive opening track.
Anvil have a million miles of memories and stories to tell. Yet the manner in which they communicate them, at least lyrically, can treat them as little more than goofy jokes at times. One such story being ‘Nabbed In Nebraska’. With a riff reminiscent of the band’s classic “Metal On Metal”, this supposedly haphazard coincidence is easily overlooked by the hilarious lyrical retelling of an instance where the band were nabbed by law enforcement in Nebraska for possession of, you guessed it, the Devil’s lettuce. Indeed, a series of similar, forgivable trade-offs are cemented across the record. If tracks such as “Said and Done” and “Gasoline”, with their doom like a template, offer little in the way of musical originality, lyrically they are still memorable and engaging. Just as “No Time” and “Food For Vultures” do little to stimulate the imagination lyrically, musically they are destined to become hard and fast fan favorites live.
Anvil have sailed and survived turbulent waters for over forty years, churning out quintessential heavy metal in its purest form. Now the question becomes; after forty years, is pumping out more of the same really enough anymore? For some, it will seem like Anvil are sticking to the same old formula that has served them well. For others, they’re preserving a style and identity uniquely their own, all the while waving the heavy metal flag high and with unshakable pride. And, in fairness, the Anvil name coupled with archetypal tunes will always be more than enough. But if Anvil still strive for stadium status, ‘Legal At Last’ suggests this formula has taken them as far as it ever will. If you are among the previously converted, ‘Legal At Last’ preaches to the choir in model Anvil fashion. For those who never shared an affinity for the band, it is unlikely to change your mind.