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Many people were probably introduced to the Canadian mainstays Anvil and their blue collar heavy metal struggle through the Anvil: The Story of Anvil documentary in 2009, but it's quite interesting to note that aesthetically, things have not changed much in their camp since their full-length debut over 30 years ago. Hard 'n' Heavy does emerge from that hazy, hard rocking blues underworld that better known peers and predecessors like Judas Priest, Accept and Saxon all traipsed about on their respective debuts, but their mix of serious, sexual and silly lyrics is one that they'd maintain until what is now going on forever. There are only a few tracks here that I'd deem truly 'great', but as a whole the debut has that remarkable ability to feel fresh even today, when the genre as a whole has evolved to the point that some of its more extreme artisans have become the auditory equivalents to things like fifty car pileups and industrial grade blenders.
There's a particular youthfulness here that not only ties to the lyrical content, but also the reality that Steve Kudlow was only in his mid 20s when it released through Attic. Hard to believe that 'Lips' was ever a strapping young man, but here it was, and the inexperience does often show in the writing. Not that there is anything petulant or entirely immature here, but a few of the guitar riffs are so basic that even by the early 80s they felt familiar. On the other hand, Hard 'n' Heavy certainly sounds seasoned enough in the studio, with a great balance of crisp guitar tones circa both Kudlow and Dave Allison, and Robb Reiner's strong, workmanlike drumming which feels like it's coming from the room opposite you. The central focus is on Lips' vocals, which were and remain among the more unique in the heavy metal spectrum. His tone is both boisterous and fragile, manly and about to shake apart, but he deserves credit for his ability to pitch between brief shrieks, enormous chants (as in the bridge of "School Love") and the steady mid range that he generally associates with the verse lyrics.
Not all of the tracks here have ever had the same level of impact on me, but at least it opens with a bang in "School Love", one of the more badass with a big if predictable verse rhythm and some of the band's better early licks. Especially that proto-thrash sequence in the bridge at around 1:30 which seemed a few years ahead of its time. My other favorites are "Bedroom Game" and "Ooh Baby" which both seem like pure, driving Priest worship with a dash of Deep Purple; and "Hot Child" which is loaded with these great, rocking guitar grooves that instantly hook themselves to your ears before the first verse canters into its march-like, percussive structure. This one also has a great, atmospheric chorus which carries off into the rafters. I'd like to also give some credit for Anvil's cover of the Stones' "Paint it Black". It initially fooled me into thinking it might be a cover of "Barracuda" thanks to the opening triplets, but I actually quite like how Kudlow's vocal just soars in the chorus segments, making for some mighty entertainment.
One of the problems I have with the album is that a few of the tunes feature Allison on lead vox rather than Lips. He's not got a bad presence, per se, but he immediately changes the landscape so I feel like I'm listening to something KISS or Poison would have released in the mid to late 80s. Sort of a controlled, rocking abandon that just doesn't measure up to the better tracks. A lot of these early bands suffered from a bit of an identity crisis as they were just starting to hit their strides, and for Anvil, this was that moment. "I Want You Both (With Me)" is the bigger culprit of the two Allison is fronting, but "Oh Jane" is not a whole lot better despite the stronger guitars. That said, neither is really enough to mar the album's overall quality to the point that it fails to entertain. You'll notice a difference, but neither is inferior to the heavily 70s rock inspired "At the Apartment" or the she-demon/Australian rock tribute "AC/DC", the latter of which has the most generic riff here.
Hard 'n' Heavy is a great album if you're into long summer drives to the beach or if you suffer crippling nostalgia for the late 70s and early 80s when the Trans Am was the material pinnacle achievement of masculinity. It's got songs about chicks, school, chicks, and...more than one chick at a time, so we're not dealing with the same level of variety that you'll find on later efforts like Metal on Metal or the excellent Pound for Pound. Spiritually it seems like some unsung spiritual precursor to the feel good vibes of Priest's Turbo or a whole lotta shitty 80s glam rock, but there is certainly enough of that later, harder hitting Anvil not to pass this by in your quest for classic sounds. One of those 'static' works which never seems to age, despite itself, aside from the pedestrian, but not out of place lyrics.
Tumbling out of the Canadian tundra, Anvil were an early adjunct band to the NWOBHM, emerging in much the same manner as their Brit pals, just on a different continent. But whereas the UK was mostly impressed with the influence of Sabbath and Priest, these Canuck dudes surely worshipped at the altar of Ted Nugent, at least on this formative debut. The theme of this record is sex. Just sex, with only a Rolling Stones cover to break up the subject matter. If that sounds immature to you, then perhaps you should lay the entire Anvil discography to the side, cuz while they’d venture into other ideas later, they would rarely be ones you’ll need to crack open an encyclopedia to research.
Energy is the key component here, Anvil playing short and tightly wound tunes that are modest in their wattage but memorable in a guilty pleasure sort of manner. Witness “School Love,” with it’s sharp riffs and hyperactive drum performance (from Robb Reiner, a killer player) as well as the Motorhead-like thrust of “Bedroom Game.” “I Want You Both (With Me)” is similarly charged up, while “Ooh Baby” has a dire title, but a great, infectious nature. “Paint It Black” gets a nice treatment, the band pacing the track like Iron Maiden, as opposed to the Stones. For metal starved fans back in ’81, this well done debut was manna from hell, and gave hope that North America might wake up to the promise of the NWOBHM after all. And Anvil, despite being pioneers, would slowly take a back seat in that process. But for now and for the next few years they are decidedly still in the game.
“…this lp contains 40 minutes of sheer power. Keep it wet and play it loud…”
Sheer power = Hard ‘n’ Heavy…?…well, when it was being recorded and mixed during the latter part of 1980, it may have seemed so by some, but the fact of it is the Canadians' debut is hardly a steep ascent to massive heaviness. Granted, there are the rare moments when the band’s untapped power actually manages to pull past some material written by mainstreamers Ozzy, Motley Crue, Kix, and Dokken as well as barely acknowledged to unknown rivals like Saxon, Angel Witch, Raven, and Loudness, but when comparing it to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Motorhead, it’s just not too feasible an opinion. Venom’s debut is like an angry Triceratops storming a village compared to this.
Having already been ignited by the following year’s Metal on Metal album, I expected (hoped for) something akin to its mostly stormy sound. Unfortunately, you’ll find more “Stop Me”-like material than anything else, but as I said earlier, there are thankful moments of clarity not at all found in the song titles. For instance, “School Love” and its up-tempo momentum create one riff in particular found tailgating the chorus that can rupture most children in a crosswalk. Another livelier than average tune is “I Want You Both (With Me)”, and while aggression isn’t its middle name, it’s an acceptable build-up to the deluge of “Bedroom Game”, a song with the strength and momentum matching that of “Mothra” but with a much more conventional topical motif. The last tracks on the lp, “Hot Child” and “Bondage”, can be mentioned favorably, fairly vibrant and peppy for the course. Before W.A.S.P. decided to dip the brush, Anvil were already throwing pigments around with their halfway decent rendition of this originally Spanish-hued Rolling Stones cover in "Paint It Black". Then there are the dreaded: the shuddersome “AC/DC” (thankfully not an ode to the band), powerless “At the Apartment”, drafty “Ooh Baby”, and limp-wristed “Oh Jane”.
Sure, Metal on Metal has its share of skippable tracks, but the ones here are more worse for wear while the spiffier songs on their sophomore release are that much more inventive and persuasive i.e. “Jackhammer”, “March of the Crabs”, “Heatsink”, and “666”.
Hard ‘n’ Heavy definitely isn’t the Anvil disk I grab to showcase the band, but for the time it’s pretty much on target with what was going on in heavy music. ‘83’s Forged in Fire would further illustrate the band's growing penchant for heavier, more abrasive formulae.