This Is Thirteen
In 1981 Anvil released their first record Hard ‘N’ Heavy independently. Since 1981, much has changed in the musical landscape; at least, this is what we’d like to think. However, the truth be told, not much has really changed. Music trends, like the delicate labyrinth of petals in a carnation, always seem to circle around and fold in on themselves. Yesterday’s embarrassing “cock rock” is today’s ultra indie-chic sensation. Anvil, like AC/DC, hasn’t progressed much through thirteen releases, but unlike AC/DC, Anvil hasn’t enjoyed the spoils of hammering out record after record of formulaic songs. I won’t say Anvil is stagnant, because there’s something more beautiful here than a group of guys who found a formula and stuck with it. If anything, Thirteen, the latest release from Canada’s Anvil, is a sonic memoir of their dedication to craft. However, before I write about the strengths of Thirteen, I want to discuss why writing this review is problematic.
I, like many musicians, went to see the movie Anvil!: The Story of Anvil. In fact, I had heard so many praises about the film, my friends and I drove over an hour to see it as it wasn’t showing in our city. The reviews did not mislead us. The movie is, at the very least, compelling. It’s heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. Herein lies the biggest problem in this review: I can’t shake the movie from my mind. I am attaching the band’s history to the CD and I am unable to give an unbiased opinion of the music alone. Yet, as is my charge, I will attempt to do that.
Anvil, not a band to stray from its passion, delivers fourteen loud powermetal tracks that will not disappoint the most critical fan. Huge drums, foregrounded guitars, frequent amplified guitar solos, vague epic lyrics, and, yes, cowbell are all present on the record. It is, for the most part, very standard powermetal. Borrowing from their heroes and their contemporaries, Anvil provides a solid, testosterone-driven record. For example, “Ready to Fight,” perhaps the most autobiographical song on the record, is a double bass-driven ode to overcoming great odds. Here, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, invokes a very convincing Lemmy, to growl out the frustrations that the group has faced over the past two decades. However, even in the heyday of powermetal, the lyrics to the title track, “Thirteen,” are unjustifiably bad. It’s a bag of mixed metaphors and played out “evil” tropes that don’t match the working class character of the band.
The production is good but nothing special. By this, I mean that everything is gated, compressed, and limited, and digital reverb is applied to the tracks for depth. For powermetal, this is not really a bad thing. In fact, the average metalhead will most likely find the mix appealing, as it’s loud and upfront. For those of us who appreciate the natural dynamics of music, it serves to grate the nerves after a few songs. Having seen the movie, I was surprised at how big the record sounds because the live tracks seemed quite flat in the film.
What I most admire about this record is that, despite its cliché powermetal moments, it always manages to provide hope. Unlike the young dystopia-addicted metalheads of today, who were only a few years ago learning to play Dashboard Confessional songs on their first guitars, Anvil’s lyrics stay true to the days of early metal. The songs point out problems, but they always offer solutions, even if the solutions are vague anthems. They always give hope. Just like early Metallica, Megadeth, or Iron Maiden, Anvil believes that through this struggle, we will prevail because we are indeed ready to fight. It may have taken a movie to save Anvil from financial and emotional ruin, but the world is better for it because now people see the sacrifice it takes to follow a dream.