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Thanks to a certain documentary that came out in 2008, Anvil has been riding a wave of critical and commercial success that had long evaded them throughout their three decades of activity. But not content with just touring with AC/DC and Saxon, the band has also released their first studio album since This Is Thirteen was issued in 2007. Juggernaut of Justice brings about several new elements to the band's overall dynamics and greatly improves those that were already there. Not only is it a powerful sign of a continuing renaissance, but it was also recorded in the studio of Foo Fighters mainman Dave Grohl and handled by Alice Cooper/Tony Iommi producer Bob Marlette.
While I have only listened to a small handful of previous songs prior to getting this album, I can safely say that it isn't too far removed from the band's typical Judas Priest meets Motorhead sound. However, this album does seems to stand out thanks to a particularly polished production job that manages to give the songs a great deal of strength.
Also strengthened on this album are the performances issued by the musicians involved. Drummer Robb Reiner puts on a series of powerful poundings that put most extreme metal drummers to shame, making one wonder how he came to be so underrated. In addition, bassist Glenn Five seems to stand out more than he had previously and even performs the lead vocals on the Mercyful Fate-esque "This Ride."
But the member that seems to show the most improvement on this album is actually guitarist/vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow himself. While he has never showed any weakness in his guitar playing, his sometimes strained vocals have always been an acquired taste. However, he seems to show more confidence as a singer this time around and manages to sound like a completely new guy while still retaining some gruffness.
As expected by a band that was influential in the formation of the thrash and power metal genres, most of the songs on here seem to go between intense speed metal numbers and upbeat rockers. Of these tracks, the title song is an excellent opening anthem while the fast-paced "On Fire" may be the album's best track with its intense tempos and slight influence from Deep Purple's "Burn." Also worth noting is the amusingly titled "F*cken Eh," which throws in some nice gang vocals during the chorus to go along with the tongue-in-cheek Canadian pride.
The album is also noteworthy for the inclusion of "New Orleans Voodoo" and "Paranormal," two tracks that bring about slower tempos and more occult-oriented lyrics. While the lyrics on these tracks (along with the others on this album) are on the corny side, the former track is a doomy highlight with some crunchy riffs while the latter seems to show more of the band's complex end.
But the strangest and most noteworthy track is "Swing Thing," a closing instrumental that flirts with jazz structures and even brings about a nicely integrated horn section. While some may find the piece to be an odd experiment likely put on as filler, I actually hope they do more with this sound in the future. After all, Riot did prove back in the early '90s that horns can have a place in heavy metal.
Overall, one could say that this album is an incredibly pleasant surprise that proves the band's worth beyond the perseverance that was displayed in their breakthrough film. There are plenty of moments that are sure to remind listeners of more successful bands such as Judas Priest and Accept, but the songwriting definitely makes up for any derivative feelings. And with the polished touches and relative accessibility, this album may not be a bad first purchase for the uninitiated Anvil fan. Of course, you'd also do a great deal of good by looking into Metal On Metal, Forged In Fire, or any of their other awesomely alliterated titles. There's plenty out there to choose from.
"Juggernaut of Justice"
"When Hell Breaks Loose"
"New Orleans Voodoo"
Not a lot of bands hang out for 30 years while success eludes them, so it’s a bittersweet triumph that Anvil have been ablaze lately, due largely to their 2008 documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. The film may not have brought the band to the attention of a vast audience with no appreciation for traditional metal, but it brought them to the attention to other bands, a few of whom have been taking them out on tour and attempting to give the band the shot they always deserved. Whether or not this works out is largely irrelevant, because the Canadians have in general produced quality records and have no intention of stopping until the day they drop dead of road burn.
Even if This is Thirteen hadn’t been accompanied by the film, it was still a solid effort from a band who have no need to re-integrate their roots: they never abandoned them. The worst that could be said for Kudrow and Reiner is that they’re guilty of a few cheesy, pedestrian lyrics and predictable riffs that seem mere mutations of those that have tread the same grounds before, from Anvil themselves or a myriad of other heavy metal outfits (Judas Priest, Accept, and so forth). But just as with its predecessor, the Canadians prove that great production and the fires of perseverance can transform what the metal audience might take for granted into pure, passionate gold.
Juggernaut of Justice, the band’s 14th album, is loaded with such qualities, the band writing at nearly the same level as their classic 80s stretch (Hard ‘n Heavy through Pound for Pound, I enjoyed them all). Enormous, brazen guitar tones and swaggering licks are legion throughout this beast, from the fist pumping title track opener to the raging “When Hell Breaks Loose”, mutes thundering at a mid to fast pace while melodies soar across the landscape. A very Running Wild feel to this one, and you’ll hear no complaints from me, but there are better still! You might not feel that a song called “Fucken Eh!” could amount to much, but it’s superb, Glenn Gyorffy’s thick lines strutting below an escalating chorus. If that song wasn’t enough to bring the roof down, “Turn It Up” and the crusher “Conspiracy” will surely make short work of any shingle or support beams, and the bonus cut “The Station” is likewise rich and memorable.
Like any Anvil offering, there are a few tracks whose obvious lyrics are seasoned with a bit of excess Velveeta, and one such here would be “New Orleans Voo Doo”, another of the band’s ‘superstition’ anthems much like the title track for the previous effort. The doom-like, predictable “Paranormal” follows in the same path. Granted, the former has a nice lurch to it not unlike their staples “Metal on Metal” and “Concrete Jungle”, but it’s not among the stronger material here. But when the rest of the writing is this good, and there isn’t a single Anvil album in history without such a silly side, its easy to overlook.
No surprise that the album sounds so damned good, with Kudrow showing almost no age to his workmanlike canting aside from a dearth of old school screams. Reiner is solid as brick, and it’s good to see the band carry forth as a three piece, the same concrete trio that have stuck it out since 1996, half-way through Anvil’s history. They might not have scored another collaboration with the legendary Chris Tsangarides this time, but another veteran, Bob Marlette, is able to draw forth a great deal of power and clarity to keep them on top. Myself, I might always be stuck in the 80s. I’m not hearing anthems at the same level of a “Metal for Metal”, “Mothra”, “Blood on the Ice”, or “Forged in Fire”, but for a band this deep in, one can only marvel that they retain such bold and unabashed vitality, such loyal identity.