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"...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.