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Strength of Steel might have churned Anvil to a halt as far as the band's linear progression in the 80s, but that doesn't mean that their later efforts were entirely void of individual distinctions. Take its 1988 successor, Pound for Pound for example, which draws upon all the ire and wrath that the Canadians previously hinted towards, and then dials it all up to 11. This is easily my favorite of their catalog to its day. To this day. A darker, volatile and dynamic effort which does not ignore the proto-thrash leanings the band exhibited through the early 80s output, and riff for riff their strongest in terms of branding itself to the memory. What bluesy hard rock influence remains here is delegated to a pair of brooding, doom laden crushers, and even the frivolous and silly sex songs are delivered with speed, passion and menace.
It helps that Pound for Pound also features my favorite Anvil track, and perhaps the greatest tribute to the sport of hockey in all of metal music. "Blood on the Ice" is a monster of hammering speed/thrash rhythms, eerie tapping melodies and dire, violent lyrics which celebrate the game's more entertaining, gladiatorial components. You'll note that Lips' vocals are honed in on a lower, grimier range which is the case for almost every song on the album, and I rather like the tactic as it helped gradate the band towards the more hostile climate of aggression that was popular in this period, without abandoning the manly, muscular heavy metal roots akin to Manowar. But the composition itself was just brutal for this band, every guitar lick incredibly well incorporated into this structure of blades, sticks and fisticuffs. I hail from the admittedly hockey saturated New England populace, and just 30-60 seconds of this track is all it takes me to wax nostalgically for the bleacher-based vertical mosh pits (complete with crowd surfing) that the restless jocks at my high school used to conduct much to the dismay of the rest of the town...
But then, just about every song on this album with the exception of the useless 14 second outro snippet "Cramps" is worthwhile. There are slower, thundering heavy/doom pieces like "Senile King" and "Corporate Preacher" that are bursting with screaming leads, arching rock grooves and some of Kudlow's tightest, glorious howling yet. Frenzied, memorable speed metal surges with Lips' tense screaming like "Brain Burn" and it's simply but gluey chorus, or "Machine Gun" which is one of the heaviest beatings this lot has ever meted out. It wouldn't be an Anvil record without a few smut anthems, and the orgiastic square dance of "Toe Jam" and condom praising "Safe Sex" fill that soggy purse here; yet both are fast, driving, and loaded with a fuck ton of riffs and lovable, noodling excess that make them seem almost too serious for their lyrics.
Another personal favorite here, second only to "Blood on the Ice" would be "Fire in the Night" a slower paced cut which I'd gladly place on the level of past transgressions like "Metal on Metal" and "Forged in Fire", though this is busier and far more pissed off, Lips often sounding like the great Savatage frontman Jon Oliva at his most furious. "Where Does All the Money Go?" might be my least favorite of the full-length cuts on this disc, with a lot of the 70s rocking swagger that populated their earlier work, but it's not at all bad and the guitars are a bit more complex than something like KISS (if not as catchy). And even here, Robb Reiner is bludgeoning along with enough force that he could likely cave in a human skull with a snare roll. No wonder the guy was probably sought out by a number of higher profile acts at the time, a real human steamroller who gives a lot more than any perceived, percussion indulgence might take away.
The leads should also get a mention: they're wild, dirty and not enormously catchy, but they add this sporadic layer to the pummeling rhythmic substrate which comes across like a molten steel bukkake jerking session. This was Dave Allison's last studio album with the band, and he makes it count as he and Kudlow exchange their shrill, shrieking fretted diatribes. I've heard some gripes about the production of Pound for Pound, and to be truthful I can hear how it might not be so smooth as Strength of Steel or Forged in Fire, yet I admire the tension it creates, the pools of shadow hiding beneath the darker note progressions and the faltering, stormy heights of the higher pitched screams where they appear. This is one hell of an album. Bad ass defined. Period. If 1988 hadn't been so overly choked with higher visibility records the likes of ...And Justice for All, Operation Mindcrime, So Far, So Good So What and Seventh Son for a Seventh Son, or an undercurrent of both US and European brilliance in the thrash genre, an effort like Pound for Pound might have gotten the attention it rightly deserved. But it's never too late, and if there's a single Anvil experience I could recommend over any other (excluding the documentary), this would be the one.
“…your mouth is bigger than a two car garage…”
Accidentally thrown on first is side two. “Where Does All the Money Go?” whirls almost promisingly, but within twenty seconds I’m already a fondue pot of frustration, distress, and oh I don’t know, relief I guess, ‘cause within that meager time span I become pretty convinced I don’t have to look pleadingly to the future for another good Anvil disc. I mean, it’s only been a little more than a year since Strength of Steel curled my toes with disenchantment. While the production sounds pretty hefty with Reiner machine-like in a tribal, almost anthemic (who, Anvil?) beat, the main verse only putters through the campfire, yet is immune to the flames. The song has little chance as it wanders into my crosshairs. The inner sleeve shows the four of them serious n’ scowling, much like myself a couple hundred miles away. Lips is now bearded (and admittedly looking cool), staring back heatedly like I just spit on his cat or something, but to me the only bullseye here is on the cover. No more expectations. No more anticipation. It’s over. I’m free (sob).
Ow! What the fuhhh...
…a sharp pain shrieks at the edge of my mouth. A sliver of metal and blood weighs coppery on my tongue, and slowly yet suddenly I’m being pulled forward through the calm waters of this fairly tepid tune. Somehow its hook-shaped chorus has snagged my bottom lip and is reeling me in like an expert bassman. Grumbling double bass ripples the water. Verses overlap one another like the waves themselves, cresting foamy with backlit vocals. The rhythm seems to twist like a fish in the air. Eyes widen to a fishbelly-white as the distance shortens between this spinning wax of a fisherman and myself, my struggling slowing more and more until infectious n’ brawny “Brain Burn” heaves me into the net. I look around feverishly for the frying pan, and it's got “Machine Gun” riveted into its iron.
With a gleam in my once resentful eye I announce that much of this nine-tracker clangs noisily like the Anvil of old, the part-time aggressors, part-time goofballs who carved the underground metal map into my personal, Motley Crue-bound world. With four minds and sixteen limbs vibrating simultaneously around the same overhauled engine, Pound for Pound called Strength of Steel a granny car even louder. My buddies are back, for real this time, and it feels damn good.
While pound fer pound this really can’t be called the band’s finest or mightiest release, and aside from a couple of weak high-heeled tracks they’ve conceived over the years, Anvil’s songwriting has always been pretty strong, yet it’s safe to say the weaponry created on its dented hide here is possibly more thoughtful, sharp, and even more cunning than that of their other spinners. There’s wisdom here, webs of wonder spun and dried, adhering great sleepers like “Senile King”, “Corporate Preacher”, and even obscure, album ending “Fire in the Night” to perhaps higher arcs of deduction, musically-speaking of course, ‘cause the lyrical preponderance of sexual square dance “Toe Jam”, responsibly sleazy “Safe Sex”, hockey hailer “Blood on the Ice”, and more boneheaded parallel to Billy Joel’s ‘Big Shot’, “Brain Burn”, are excusable only because they haul ass almost like it’s ’83 again, plus when has anyone ever looked to Anvil for fatherly advice? Despite this shockless revelation, squished even more to the front of the bus (because the back is way cooler) are the high school loser songs. The mindset is still there, only now the legwarmers and charm bracelets are abandoned to history class. Hey, I don’t mind if they rant and rave about twisting sheets in the bedroom, behind the gym, or in the dumpster, but give us something musically vitalized to bang our weary heads on while they do.
Alright, enough with the lyrics; as always it’s the rhythmic storm that kept us coming back to the troth. Having entered speed metal bliss as early as ’82, Anvil bent speed barriers even more shamelessly on ‘closest to thrash you can possibly get’ Forged in Fire, and while none of these noels (well, maybe one) can ravage train tracks like “Motormount” or “Butter Bust Jerky” (still the stupidest title going), these curb-jumpers are more rhythmically bantered, a bit more fleshed out, and still a little loosely-harnessed for that bit o’ craze as organic alpha male Robb Reiner is forever cement-handed yet nimble in his whirlwind drum maze. As always, gnarly Lips strafes this side of unpredictable, unknown if he’s going to roast a verse or skin it clean until it’s already packed away under his guitar strap. The two ‘sons’ are still here, Dickson and Allison, confirming the unchanged connection that was simmering with revolt only a year ago.
Sure, we’re all standing in line to feel velocity whip our skulls like the standard Canadian bicycle chain, but as if in cahoots with Strength of Steel’s troubled “Kiss of Death”, victory lies more with a penance against swiftness, most desirably “Senile King”, who’s rotund, high-hilled cadence flexes the chorus’s muscle somewhere near measuring tape-snapping proportion. It’s their years in the biz showing age without the liver spots, brows creasing out of reflection rather than birthdays, and it’s quasi-epics like these that are mercifully pushing ‘squeeze my (beach)balls’ knuckleheaders onto the ‘tard cart where they belong. Everybody now: it’s about time.
Strolling through the neighborhood we see Pound for Pound on a few acres of fertile property, farther from the mean streets below than Metal on Metal, but downwind from bludgeoningly-upscale Forged in Fire. Definitely not a bad place to be.
More than just the continuance of album title alliteration, and hey, no friggin’ anthem!