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If anything, the image and the promotion is the real reason these guys never got big. I include image (even though promotion is the key) because, face it, these are pretty ordinary looking guys, and image does sell. These guys wanted to be huge, but instead got nothing for a couple of decades. Things are looking up for them now after the release of Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, so that’s nice. Personally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about image, but if these guys wanted to be huge, that’d be one thing they needed to work on.
But fuck that, why do that (read: why commercialize the band and make way more money) when the music is already kickass? That was back then and This Is Thirteen is a recent album that still carries on the power and aggression that isn’t so fruitfully accomplished with many acts. For me, this was my first venture into the band, as the production is top-notch and the songwriting is stable, making for an album full of consistent tracks. These songs are chorus and riff driven, and for thirteen songs that may get a little tiring for some people. For me, I’d say to start the album from the beginning and go play a game while you rock out; listening to songs individually on and off doesn’t detract from the experience, though.
For those looking into harmonious, charismatic power / heavy metal, this might not be a cakewalk for you. For heavy metal, the lyrics are pretty bleak and sometimes political, the approach is very desiccated in terms of glossiness, and there’s a ton of rage that doesn’t take itself lightly. This Is Thirteen is an angry album by angry men, with Lips having some possessed vocals that are way rougher than the earlier days. As old as he is, his voice can get a little sloppy and out of tune, but he has a ton of energy and can sing well on those terms; his coarse voice fits with the boorish attitude and musty tone. The riffs reverberate as a dusty throwback of an unprocessed guitar tone, making the album altogether an arid affair (not an insult, but a statement of the atmosphere).
The straightforward nature of the songs work wonders in a live environment, but as I mentioned, thirteen songs of this formula can get tiring. Thankfully a lot of them are short so they don’t drag on, and some variety in regard to the vocals and riffs make the appeal last. The quality of the production by Chris Tsangarides means the mixing is exceptionally well-done, allowing all the instruments to take part. This helps the bass stay alive with some deep grumbles, to deafening rumbles, to slick grooves, and much more. Anvil isn’t a bass focused band, but taking the time to let the bass be heard adds another element and appeal to the music. Solos are usually standard stuff that isn’t mind-blowing, but Lips does a good job tying them to the songs with enough harmonies to make it enjoyable; check out “Feed The Greed,” “American Refugee,” and especially the apocalyptic title track for the best licks from Lips.
Easily my favorite element of the band is Robb Reiner, who drums like a firebase full of howitzers ready to blow shit up. Every bit of this drum kit I love thanks to the production and Reiner is just the guy to fire away behind it. The snares have no hollow bullshit to them, the drum bass has just the right amount of thickness, and the cymbals eclipse your senses with every clash without drowning out the music. On the title track, the bludgeoning doom tempo is where he lets loose all his power right away, but he never once lets up on the entire album. He’ll go from crushing and consistent to hasty and relentless in an instant, with every song showcasing another way to beat the hell out of you.
For newcomers, this is a decent place to start, I say. It’s accessible like the rest of Anvil’s discography, but there are certain things I don’t like about the early material that this one doesn’t have. The band took a huge gamble with this album financially, but in the end it looks to have paid off. While Anvil was there for heavy metal early on, it’s these later stages where they’re now beginning to get appreciation again. With music like this, it’s there’s no denying that they are able to back up what they preach.