Many who watched the documentary may not have heard of Anvil before, not realizing that the initial foundation for the band started in the mid ‘70s. Originally known as Lips, they put out the self-released Hard ‘n’ Heavy before changing their name and signing with Attic Records. Anvil hasn’t really changed their sound much in three decades, but Hard ‘n’ Heavy was the first time we heard their take on heavy metal.
What’s their take exactly? Trashy, straightforward, and bursting with sexual innuendos. Anvil has their mind in the gutter, and only the Rolling Stones cover “Paint It Black” deviates from that. A young act covering an iconic song could spell trouble, but Anvil’s vision of putting an Iron Maiden-esque gallop onto the main melody is wise. Though it can’t match up to the original, it’s an inventive take that puts Anvil in a good light.
Vocalist/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner are the only members on this album that are still around today. Kudlow’s lead guitar work may not be the most technical, but it’s hard denying the power of his two-minute solo on “Bedroom Game” matched up with his melodic vocals. Kudlow seems on the verge of tearing his voice to pieces, especially when the notes gets into falsetto range.
There are some first album kinks, like the unimaginative lyrics and having guitarist Dave Allison do lead vocals on the weak, glam-ish “I Want You Both (With Me)” and plodding “Oh Jane.” Things fall into place with all-out rockers like the anthemic “School Love” (one of the only songs the band still plays live to this day), and the sleazy “Hot Child.” The less complicated the song, the sharper the band is.
These guys are not intellectual saviors or poetic geniuses, and their songwriting is the same way. The looser-feeling songs are the highlights. They try varying the tempos on “AC/DC” (not named after the band) and “At the Apartment,” and it’s just not as effective. The solos are exciting, which saves the deflating moments, but Anvil raise the pulse quicker with three-minute cuts like “Ooh Baby.”
The history of Anvil following Hard ‘n’ Heavy was a rough one. After two more albums released by 1983, a four-year break derailed their momentum. Signing to Metal Blade for the release of Strength of Steel did little for their notoriety. To their credit, they kept the releases coming during the ‘90s and ‘00s. Hardly anybody was listening to them, but at least they never packed it in and called it a day.
Anvil has always gotten a mixed reception in the metal community, and Hard ‘n’ Heavy is no different. The band knew early on what they wanted out of their music; the sonic equivalent of a boozy, one-night stand. There’s nothing wrong with that, if the mood strikes. For giving Anvil a good starting place that put their best qualities on display, Hard ‘n’ Heavy gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.