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Strength of Steel is about the point at which I realized Anvil were not likely to progress much further. I don't say that like it was the end of the line for the Canadians, we all know otherwise, but the fact remains, that, directly in the middle of the 80s, when metal bands were exploding all around them, they spent four years to come up with an album that sounds more or less like a direct continuation of Forged in Fire speaks volumes as to their potential when records like Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, Peace Sells... and The Dark were reaping whirlwinds of attention, and the genre as a whole had burst into the mainstream alongside the more fickle, empty headed glam and hard rock that served as its gateway drug.
Primarily, thrash had arrived in full force and stolen some of the limelight away from the bands that were sticking more to that heavy/speed or more traditional sound, and I think Anvil was absolutely a band to suffer from this shift in paradigms, along with countrymen Exciter. But where that band was still playing in a very fast, breakneck speed for their niche, Anvil stayed focused in on the slower brand of heavy metal that made their songs like "Metal on Metal" and "Forged in Fire" cult hits. Strength of Steel is quite a slow to mid paced record overall, and this time that fact does not always work out in their favor. In particular, the opener "Strength of Steel", while it exhibits some decent melodic singing from Steve Kudlow, and a few of the other cuts like "9-2-5" just don't pull their weight. The former is more like an intro to the record, but the constant repetition of the title seems a little uninspired and obvious, while the latter is just too repetitive, though once again, I like how Lips is stretching his pipes.
Then again, there are a few pieces here which use such measured momentum fully to their advantage. "Concrete Jungle" is a heavily atmospheric song, even more so than "Forged in Fire", and the use of the guitars as ambiance was quite impressive and unique for the period, when most bands were focused on hard hitting riff after riff. This track is also symbolic of the highly urban, middle class lyrical observations that dominate this disc, and I'm sure it's now slang use of the good old 'n' world turns heads even to this day, though the context in which it's used does make sense for the song and was doubtfully meant to offend. I also quite enjoy "I Dreamed It Was the End of the World", which has a great deal of swagger to it, and features my favorite guitar licks and chorus here, but doesn't exactly pick up into faster territory.
Of the rest, I found a sort of mix of those I enjoyed, still enjoy and then others which I couldn't care about or remember if you trained me to with some electric shock treatment. The closer "Paper General" is pretty good, with brazen melodies similar to what Running Wild were writing in the latter half of the 80s, and "Cut Loose" and "Straight Between the Eyes" are reasonably entertaining, though the lyrics are mediocre at best and I don't like the vocals on the latter (the harmony reminds me of tripe like Bret Michaels), which involved Dave Allison. The instrumental "Flight of the Bumble Beast" has some decent leads and guitar progressions, but I almost wish they'd lengthened it and added some vocals. On the other hand, "Mad Dog" is a track I particularly revile, one of those generically plotted blues/hard rock hound dog pieces which sounds like it was added more as a joke than anything. I'm also not fond of "Wild Eyes", which feels a little like "Forged in Fire" in the verse, with those lurching guitars and counter chords; though in truth it's a cover of Canadian rockers The Stampeders and the vocals aren't much alike.
I will say that Robb's drumming here continued to improve, with a lot of double bass and dynamic tension that honestly manages so steal the thunder away from the guitars and bass. Lips has also really settled into his range, and this was perhaps his most concrete, if not the most memorable performance to its day. Dave Allison doesn't do lead vocals here at all, but perhaps that was for the best. Production wise, it's slick and clean like Forged in Fire but there is still some depth to the guitar, and certainly the drumming. Considering that it arrived after an uneventful quartet of years (unless you count Backwaxed), and that it was the band's debut for Metal Blade, I had hoped for much more, but while it actually managed to chart on Billboard here in the states, it felt like a clear halt to the momentum they showed in the early 80s. There are good songs here (still), and it's a 'good album', but not the blockbuster they needed.
Here is where Anvil starts their downward spiral into obscurity. By 1987 the band was caught up in the success they found with the pairing of "Metal On Metal" and "Forged In Fire" and by the time they returned with their fourth release, they simply had waited too long. By 1987, well you already know what had come out in the past 4 years....just about every metal classic known to man in what the iron fisted followers regard to as the golden-era of their beloved music. Just about the foundation for the majority of the genres we all hold close to our hearts had been laid and was already being taken to new heights with.
But not Anvil. They were like a deer that stared too long into the headlights of an on-coming vehicle and didn't move fast enough. When you think about it, it's pretty sad in a miserable, cruel fate-like way it happened. But when you listen to "Strength Of Steel", the music doesn't hold up as much as their previous albums. The production sounds very flat. A far cry from their previous attempts which could be held next to the best at what Judas Priest did. The songs are less-inspired. The lyrics even go back to a simplistic 'rocking out against the world' cry instead of a story-like tale told fantasy world, we get some lines which I am surprised the band didn't catch flak for. "Concrete Jungle" although it features that dreaded double-standard "N" word, doesn't really come off as racist but simply more like street talk when the next line features "honkey"(My favorite Anglo-Saxon Caucasian slur). But then this is Anvil of all bands and we should know not to take it too seriously seeing how they didn‘t take this album serious enough.
The songs...man....if you stripped away the proto-thrash edge "Metal On Metal" and "Forged In Fire" had, you would hear a sound more suitable to fit between "Hard 'n Heavy" and "Metal On Metal". That's another thing about "Strength of Steel" is that it didn't follow the same winning formula as either "Metal On Metal" or "Forged In Fire". "Strength of Steel" is almost a completely throwback to a more simplistic form of NWOBHM/Hard Rock sound. There some good tracks on here but they only go so far to keep me from thinking if I am listening to Motley Crue trying to cover Metallica's "Kill'em All". The instrumental "Flight of The Bumble Beast" is an amazing piece that shows Anvil really pushing their sound as far as playing technique with the intro riff sounding like an old 80's horror movie. Speaking of which the killer "Straight Between The Eyes" is a song that was featured on the 80's classic "Sleepaway Camp part II: Unhappy Campers" which has a more up-beat punky edge to it. "I Dreamt It Was The End Of The World" has some really great subconcious lyrics but unfortunate it sounds lazy really. "Paper General" starts off the exact same as "Free As The Wind", but it's slightly faster. Satanwolf perfectly describes the abomination that is "Mad Dog" in it's it's-so-cheesy-it's-horrible-in-a-terrible-way. DON"T watch the music video. What "The Pack is Back" and Stay Hard" is to Raven, "Mad Dog" is to Anvil as a lame fucking attempt at trying to gain commercial success. Not that they didn't try with their other albums, but they did it was grace while this one sounds like fucking Georgia Satellites trying to cover Motley Crue! Other songs such as the title track "Wild Eyes", "Kiss of Death", and "9-2-5" are ok, but I'm left wondering where the riffs are going to come in at.
If Anvil weren't so whiny about how they got left behind, I would be a little bit more considerate and thoughtful, even though they have put out some great albums that are great to listen to, but with "Strength of Steel" it's just an album that shows you exactly WHY they got left behind and their attempts at trying to play catch-up would ultimately backfire in their face and not to mention the rest of their bad luck. I wouldn't pay so much attention to this release as far as the rest of their albums. For Anvil's 1987 album, this is their weakest link of metal which almost snaps in half from their goofing about.
Anvil’s 1987 album, “Strength of Steel,” should’ve broken the band wide open to a larger audience. The band had already proven themselves with a hard-rocking debut and two follow-up albums that practically invented speed metal, the transitional genre between 70’s metal and 80’s thrash. Blame bad management, an indifferent mainstream audience, their northern isolation or simply bad timing, but someone dropped the ball with this album. Too bad, for the album is catchy and accessible without losing any of the heavy metal power the band is known for.
“Strength of Steel” is a good mix of fist-pounding metal tunes and rocking numbers, although overall the speed factor is toned down a bit from its classic predecessor, “Forged in Fire.” This may have been a problem. Anvil was always a bit rock, a bit metal and therefore not always easy to categorize. Mainstream listeners have small minds and are easily confused by music not easily classified, as if they need to be told what they are listening to. Personally, I like rock, I like metal and I’ve never had problems with bands that mix things up a bit. To me that’s Anvil’s appeal: unbridled lust, complete lame-brained goofiness and, most importantly, face-shredding, monolithic metal power.
The album begins with the powerful “Strength of Steel,” a slow, pulsing song with a rhythm perfect for fist-waving and headbanging. It reminds me of some of Manowar’s slower-paced numbers. A dark, mysterious verse leads into the crunching power chords of the chorus. A great track and perfect metal anthem, it’s followed by “Concrete Jungle.” Excellent guitar riffs and firepower leads begin this tale of urban despair. This could’ve been a hit, but then there’s the dreaded “N-“word, so it never had a chance. Remember how much hell Axl Rose caught for “One in a Million?” The song is not racist in any way, just a comment about life on the streets. A super song, I also recommend the live version on “Live: Past and Present.”
“9-2-5” kicks in with a mean guitar riff and Lips’ anguished cries, as he moans despairingly about the plight of the wage slave. “I Dreamed it was the End of the World” is the heaviest song on the album, a driving, doomed-out bit of Sabbath-inspired wickedness. This story of Lips’ apocalyptic nightmare simply destroys. Listen to the riff and lyrics during the chorus, “The children of God had burned.” It’s a monster of a metal track that they should be playing today.
Next is the fast-paced instrumental “Flight of the Bumble Beast.” Great title, excellent drumming from Robb Reiner and a bit of Ritchie Blackmore influence in the guitar riffs and melodic but still very metal solo work. Following that is “Cut Loose,” an ode to the band’s fat, sunglasses hawking friend. This one’s a headbanger as well, a song about the live concert experience. In a perfect world everyone would be banging to this song. It’s a very fast heavy rock anthem, perfect for an arena full of crazed metal maniacs. So get yourself some of those Keanu Reeves specs and “Cut Loose!”
We now come to the somewhat controversial “Mad Dog,” named after the band’s Charles Manson lookalike friends who swills beer through his nostril. I remember seeing the video for this song on MTV, like one time. Then it seemed the band dropped off the face of the earth. The video is quite humorous and the song is a solid rock number with lots of sexual double entendres but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Humor is a tricky thing in metal and must be handled with care. Remember what happened with Twisted Sister when people got tired of their silliness? They crashed and burned, never mind that at their best they were heavy as Hell. Personally, I think this was the time that Anvil should’ve struck hard. Thrash metal had already exploded so perhaps a heavy foot forward would’ve been best. It was probably the record company’s ill-informed decision to release “Mad Dog” as a video. I think “End of the World,” “Cut Loose,” or “Concrete Jungle” all would’ve made more of an impact. I’m not putting down the song at all; it is classic Anvil and a lot of fun, just misunderstood at the time.
Dave Allison sings “Straight Between the Eyes” and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of his vocals. It’s not a bad song but certainly not the best on the album. A decent rocker but I miss Lips’ distinctive voice. “Wild Eyes” seems to be a cover from a band called Stampeders, whom I’ve never heard of. Musically it’s ok I guess but it doesn’t do much for me, although the band do inject some speed and power into the guitar solo section. Still, I would’ve preferred an original. “Kiss of Death” has a heavy riff and Lips’ singing is reminiscent of Rob Halford’s operatic vocal style. A bit subdued during the verses, the solo section heavies up with Lips supplying a good solo and tasteful lead melodies throughout. The album concludes with “Paper General.” A melodic, moody introduction gives way to a fast-paced, punchy rhythm and a galloping guitar riff in this commentary on war and its accompanying violence. An excellent song which recalls their classic “Winged Assassins” track, it features Robb Reiner’s mighty metal footwork. Reiner’s playing never ceases to amaze me, incredibly heavy yet always tasteful. He’s a very intelligent drummer who always makes good choices as to what he’s playing and he deserves more recognition for his talent.
It’s really sad that such a good album was allowed to slip through the cracks. It’s not flawless; I mean, the production is a bit thinner than I’d like, an obvious attempt by the producer to appease the mainstream. But with the exception of a couple of songs, every track is classic Anvil. The music is undeniably metal but with enough commercial appeal that the album could’ve reached a wider audience beyond the hardcore Anvilheads. Anvil is a band that was always ahead of their time yet born too late and perhaps the four-year gap between albums found “Strength” misplaced in a market where glam metal was increasingly the flavor that the record labels were trying to force listeners to buy. Despite their somewhat glam band photo (check out the big grins and bigger hair) Anvil, in my opinion, were never meant to be “rock stars.” They are a metal band, always too heavy for mainstream consumption, and not everybody is going to “get it.” Anvil should remain in the underground, with us dark children of metal who can appreciate the massive shitloads of talent that his group of musicians has (Having said that, it’s amazing how their “Anvil!” movie has taken metal to the mainstream in a time when the music world is fucking dull, to say the least.). Seriously, sometimes when Lips plays lead guitar solos I am reminded of Randy Rhoads. Yeah, he’s that good! But due to poor managerial strategies Anvil missed the mark in 1987. That certainly doesn’t reflect on the music contained on “Strength of Steel,” so pick it up if you can find it. It may be a long and difficult search and may cost you a pretty penny but finally you will know true metal. You will look down from atop the molten mountain of fire and laugh at the mortal drones, for you now possess the strength of steel. Hail Anvil, the demigods of Canadian metal, long may they rock!
Anvil is a band known only to a select few die-hard fans, which is real shame, considering they are one of the best and most influential heavy metal bands of the early 1980s. I shit you not. These guys were hot property in 1981-85. Their first three full-length records, Hard n Heavy, Metal on Metal and Forged in Fire, are considered classics in the genre, and Metal on Metal is truly a landmark recording. Here you have the seeds of what would soon become speed metal, thrash and power metal. Add to that an electrifying live performance, lead by charismatic frontman Lips and drummer Robbo, a duo of childhood friends, and you had a winning formula… don’t you?
After releasing their third record, Forged in Fire, these boys were poised for metal glory. They were touring the world with the hottest acts at the time, and they had won the respect and accolades of bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Motorhead, as well as having influenced countless other groups who would go on to find fame and fortune. But as Anvil was ready to reach that next level, it all went to complete shit.
Why? Was it bad management, bad production direction, lack of booking or lack of a good and honest team to help them move forward? Who knows, but in 1985, just when it was time for Anvil to release what needed to be their finest record to launch them to stardom, all they managed was a best of compilation. Finally, in 1987, a full four years following their previous studio work, their fourth record, Strength of Steel, was unleashed. This one had to be a classic if Anvil were to take their place in metal history.
It didn’t happen. This record is a turd. It has a few redeeming moments, but it’s still a turd. A big steaming, stinky piece of shit. I remember how disappointed I was back then. I tried to convince myself it was good, but to no avail. I even put myself through the pain of listening to it several times on consecutive days but it only made me hate it more. I threw it aside as garbage. I sure as fuck didn’t shell out any money for their follow-up records. And I forgot about Anvil, like everybody else.
Twenty-two years later and I find myself listening to it again, to see if maybe I was harsh and maybe it’s aged well… Nope. It’s still a turd. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. There are a few decent moments. I enjoy the hook of Concrete Jungle, and Flight Of The Bumble Beast fails embarrassingly in its attempt to be a new March of the Crabs, but at least it has more energy than the rest of the record. Kiss of Death is a cool track, as is Paper General. But the sound, the drowsy performances… Oh fuckit. It’s pretty lousy.
The title track, which is the first track on the record, is a perfect example of the problems with Strength of Steel. Do you remember the slow tempo of Forged in Fire, pounding like a ten-ton hammer, with Lips’ visceral vocals and guitar lines that cut your balls off and threw them to the rats? Awesome. Well, Strength of Steel seems to try to recreate that vibe, but fails miserably. Oh shit, so miserably. What a fucking disappointment.
One major downer is the sound mix, which is one of the worst, lamest and most pansy-ass engineering jobs in metal history, no kidding kids. Stale enough to ruin any chance of finding good stuff here. The guitar sound… well… do you remember a band called Europe? There you go. Ouch.
Another fuck-up, the production takes the band into a new direction, into the sound of 80s fairy hair metal, combined with overdone arrangements and mediocre studio performances from the band. How the fuck did they manage to make Robbo Reiner sound so lame, like he was very very sleepy. Jesus Hector Christ this is a fucking disaster.
And songwriting. The songs are so fucking slow, just endless, plodding nonsense. No strength at all. The band that used to put out so much energy was now putting us to sleep. It takes more than a few clichéd screams and well-placed dissonant chords to attain greatness. They needed to let us hear something with bite and balls, but they gave us a warm cow pie in the face instead.
So the mighty Anvil fell into the abyss of heavy metal obscurity, while many of their peers prospered from having stolen all of their early ideas. Let’s hope the recent documentary will help them build a new fan base, which they richly deserve. These guys are true metal forever.
"...and a love that's real for the strength of steel, a metallic meal..."
After being thrown down Attic's steps, Lips and company floated around for four long years after frenzy Forged in Fire tore seat cushions apart particle by particle, a creature that would blissfully cement the Canuck foursome into the metal annals as one of '83's prime sound barrier busters. Naturally 1984 should've been their peak, their high horse, their monster that burst from the basement, but instead they found themselves swimming in Lake Ontario waters, shivering, askew, homeless. '85's Backwaxed, a half-assed 'best of' conglomeration and oddball song collection that the band didn't even know was being released until they found it on a rack with the rest of us, didn't really quell the fear. Well, the title track is cool, but anyway, it wasn't what we were looking for.
Come '87, Anvil looked into the face of a useless demise, so shameful for such a useful band. Then Metal Blade pulls up in a rescue boat, it's smiles all around as towels are handed out, and soon there's reason to rejoice. Anvil on a real metal label i.e. they're gonna sear. Throw on Strength of Steel like it's a 45lb plate and examine the strong-arm cover thinking 'I'll be that big someday'. Dad gives you a look as you scour the phonebook for a blacksmith and ask him if he has a welder you can use. Okay, what'd we get with the band's last two raging slabs? Yup, a first-song anthem to bless the album's new sound of the day, and it's no surprise the title cut thrums with slowly wrought, methodically molded rhythms and lyrics speaking haughtily of the 'metallic meal' ahead. Go 'head, wring your hands, it's what you've been grinning about since you got 'em on this thing. Well, "Concrete Jungle" isn't the hotfooted mangler you were sure was sparking around the corner. In fact, it's on the fence of lame, and except for the pre-chorus it's choppy, pretty muted, and soft-shoed. "9-2-5" isn't much craftier. "I Dreamed it was the End of the World"...pretty please, something "Butter Bust Jerky"-ish maybe? But a near silent 'oh no' is the only thing your revelation creaks out. I mean, if a motormount hasn't been in danger of being twisted by this point.... Your brother walks in. "What's the matter with you?". Dejectedly, you flip the cover into his view. It's handy 'cause you've been staring at the four former masters on the back with castrated hope in your eyes. "Guess you're not exactly impressed." But the thought of the moment is 'what the hell are you smiling about, Lips?'.
Apparently the years they spend wandering the scrub brush outside the forge split these Anvilites into two camps with Lips and Ian Dickson wanting their legacy to grow hammering at full-throttle while Dave Allison and Rob Reiner look to march down a more hand-crafted, accessible, and even commercial avenue; hence the rub of Strength of Steel. As a result, some of what we have is what would've been real heat seekers in another life, like "Cut Loose", the midway romp in "Wild Eyes", and strong jaunts within "Paper General". On the other hand, those that really could've had their ears pinned back commercially aren't anywhere near the woeful dreck that was entirely possible. Mistitled n' tired "Mad Dog", "Straight Between the Eyes", "9-2-5" (cute), and (may as well throw in) "Concrete Jungle"...well, it's not like queer-swilling butt noise wasn't hardwired into their genetics or anything (hear: "Make it up to You", "Stop Me", and the buckets of putty on the debut), but the core of these tunes is generally above that kind of hateful description. For the crap that could've exploded like diarrhea in the shorts, the first option shouldn't be a complaint.
Then there are pleasers like "Flight of the Bumble Beast", a showy picture of fluent chaos unhampered by lyrics, based on the flutter of the original classic and a song that would've been great anywhere. Actually, toss "Paper General" into that 'good all around' reference as well, and there's nothing wrong with cruising "Cut Loose", either. "Kiss of Death" is one of Anvil's more cerebral tracks, a black sheep in their stable of horses, wilting in and out of foreboding with a softness of crepe paper, then bludgeoning back to life with power chords swung by an epic spirit borne of a Candlemass-type doom. A damn unusual and cool track.
Okay, if Metal on Metal is the meeting point between Hard n' Heavy and Forged in Fire, then this is MOM's more well rounded, better-trimmed neighbor living across the street, and unlike that great disc, meathead sleaze boppers aren't colliding bumper-less with metal-pure gyrocopters. Even though Strength of Steel is often deemed a distracted, wayward non-event by the masses, it's really not that way off. It holds no puzzle to examine from various angles around the coffee table. The record's more even-flow sound, while guilty of its new lightheartedness, shows a band at a crossroads paved by internal strife that thankfully hadn't been strong enough to destroy the near-magical membership, and acceptance of this knowledge makes SOS's breath a little warmer around the blue collar. The lyrics still aren't even of middle pedestal significance, but that I'm sorry to admit is an Anvil trademark since before the lipstick print dried on the debut.
So as SOS sank in around '87/'88, the assumed loss of the group's more murderous instinct was tangible, humid dismay, and it hung injured from slimy shackles from the ceiling. But this band meant (means) a lot to me, and over the years is why the record kept finding itself free of its jacket and forced to redefine itself until it eventually coalesced, finally becoming essential to the discography. I didn't have to work nearly as hard for next year's alert n' proud Pound for Pound.