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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!