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As much as I've enjoyed Anvil in the past, and as much as I always want to sympathize with their plight after seeing their documentary, I don't think it should surprise anyone why they had to endure such a sagging relevance for so long a time. The Canadians just weren't writing the flagship, crowd pleasing cuts that they were once known for, and throughout the 90s they failed to produce a single album that I could compare favorably to a Metal on Metal, Forged in Fire or Pound for Pound. 1992's Worth the Weight was a real lull, with an almost emotionless emphasis on technicality (drums and guitar) over quality. An interesting shift in priority, but thankfully for its follow up they'd return to a more entertaining aesthetic.
Plugged in Permanent does not mend all the fences, and it's not a major improvement in terms of enduring anthems or strong composition, but it's at least far more lively and vibrant than its predecessor. Sebastian Marino had flown south to join Overkill, so they brought on a newer 'permanent' replacement in Ivan Hurd. Worth the Weight was also the swan song for long term four-stringer Ian Dickson, so they acquired Glenn Five, who has since proven an icon for the band, not only for his shaved head and braid flinging around at live sets, but also his more ample use of his instrument, plunking along adventurously below the bludgeoning dual current of the guitars with far more of a natural, quirky curiosity than his forebear in the position.
In a sense, Plugged in Permanent was the birth of the 'second classic lineup' for Anvil, one that many who experienced them on the various small tours and festival dates they performed in the later 90s on into the 21st century would recognize, before their recent resurgence. There's still quite a lot of musical intensity here, though instead of the intricacy of the guitar-chitecture it's delivered here more through sheer speed. Unlike a lot of their 80s output, you don't hear much slow material. "Guilty" is a dull bone cruncher bringing up the rear, and "Destined for Doom" lives up to its namesake, but otherwise the songs here are played fast and frenzied, which keeps Plugged in Permanent far more exciting than it is interesting. Cuts like "Racial Hostility", "Face Pull", "Truth or Consequence" and "Five Knuckle Shuffle" hurry along with something to prove, but none of these really deliver the money shot riffs or chorus you'd hope for. Okay, "Five Knuckle Shuffle" might deliver a 'money shot', but of a different sort...
A few of these tracks were minor hits for the band, or at least made it into the circulation of their live set: "Doctor Kevorkian", which they filmed a video for, and "Smokin' Green". The former is not all that great of a song despite its choppy attitude, but the latter, despite being a pedestrian marijuana hymn lyrically, is actually one of the strongest of their 90s tunes. Killer leads abound, and it's effectually the apex of the vibrant waves of energy that thread through the 46 minutes of material. I feel like, next to this, most of the others are lacking that something 'extra', but I'd still take them selection over almost anything on Worth the Weight.
The lyrics here are not a strong point, with a lot of nap inductive PC ranting in "Destined for Doom" and "Racial Hostility", but I admit that I really like how Lips uses a lower, more gravelly vocal tone throughout a lot of tunes like "Face Pull", "I'm Trying to Sleep", as if he's channeling a bit of his pal Lemmy Kilminster. If only the songs had been a little more memorable overall, I might cite this as a true return to form, but despite the appreciable enthusiasm of the writing, it has never left much of an impact crater on my mind. A step back in the right direction, sure, but I think Anvil needed a leap.
How can an album with some very fine guitar work and relatively catchy melodies be so boring? Well, the main reason that most of this album is boring and repetitive are the drums and bass. The drummer uses the same beats over and over again on the majority of the songs and the bassist offers almost the same repetitious tuned down rhythm throughout most of the songs. The constant snare drum beat on certain songs gets so boring at times that the entire song suffers. Although most of the album has instrumental solos galore, the repetitious drumming throughout this album is a vast negative drawback.
The guitars and guitar solos definitely atone for the overall lackluster feeling produced by the drums and bass. As on track three, “Smokin' Green,” where the drums are mostly repetitious the guitar solos which appear at 2:55 save the song from being a complete disappointment. They are very nicely performed and somewhat save the song, as a matter of fact the guitars save the entire album from being a giant pile of repetitiousness.
In general, this album is a pretty fast kind of Heavy Metal, mostly due to the guitars and, on occasions, fast and non-repetitive drumming. The slower song on the album is track four, “Destined for Doom,” which is much slower than the other tracks. The song does get boring since the guitars are almost non-existent throughout most of the song, except at 2:50 for about 40 seconds where a relatively slower and lower pitched guitar solo begins. Other than that, the drumming is repetitive and you can’t wait until the song comes to an end.
The next song, “Killer Hill,” is a complete opposite of the previous torturous song, as it is the second fastest and second most exciting song on the album, offering a nice dose of guitar solos, catchy lyrics and a chorus filled with energetic vocals. This song is akin to track six, “Face Pull,” which is a bit short but offers a similar type of energetic approach and excellent vocals.
Guitar solos and energetic melodies do not make the song good, although they can occasionally enhance the song, as can be heard on track seven, “I’m Trying To Sleep.” The lyrics aren’t too exciting and the vocals do not coincide too well with the music, but the guitars improve the song’s playability.
As I have mentioned before, “Killer Hill,” is the second fastest and second most exciting song on the album. The best song has to be track eight, “Five Knuckle Shuffle,” as it is fast, non-repetitive, has funny lyrics, killer guitar solos, and, guess what, good drumming. This is perhaps the only song on the album that has relatively good drumming. The vocals and chorus coincide perfectly with the melody. The lyrics are hilarious, as they are about masturbation and hand jobs. Most of the album suffers from moderately boring lyrics, but this song is a definite improvement upon most of the album. This is a fast and energetic song and is a perfect example of what the entire album should have contained.
This album is a textbook example of an album you have to listen to several times to fully appreciate. It definitely grew on me, as the initial score was supposed to be about a 67%. Nevertheless, this album is for big fans of Anvil, and is certainly not the greatest place to begin listening to the band. For an introduction to the band’s music get Forged in Fire instead.