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Sunday, October 18, 2009

CD Review: Anvil - Past & Present: Live in Concert

Anvil - Past & Present: Live in Concert reissue
2009 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Without a doubt, the unexpected success story of 2009 is Anvil. What Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner have managed to accomplish this year courtesy of a well-done and affectionate bio film of themselves is possibly going to be replicated down the pike. Of course, the reason Anvil! The Story of Anvil has become such a smash hit in the metal and rock underground is due to its sheer honestly. Plus, when you get down to it, everyone appreciates a story about working class underdogs finding their comeuppance or in this case, re-emergence.

Finally seeing their latest album This is Thirteen (a rather recommendable slab) emerge upon the market, God bless Metal Mind Productions, who have been on a resounding tear in ushering past heavy metal releases from around the world. No indie label out there has been so attentive in reissuing some of the coolest product the genre has seen in previous years.

An interesting selection for Metal Mind to re-introduce Anvil's Past & Present: Live in Concert from 1989, however, they did quite well thusly. Though this live album was released in 1989 after Anvil had flirted with a commercial breakout on '87's Strength of Steel, most would attest the band was on a downward spiral after this album, coupled by the likewise tempered Pound for Pound.

Considering only 3 of the 11 songs of the setlist presented on Past & Present: Live in Concert are represented by Steel and Pound (the best of them being the gnashing "Blood On the Ice"), you can tell even Anvil at this point were fully aware of their questionable future. Lineup changes being part of their whacked-up schism in the late eighties, Anvil went straight for the meat of their back catalog Metal On Metal and Forged in Fire with this live show, which is why you'll want to scarf it up.

Though opting away from their debut Hard 'n Heavy, Past & Present: Live in Concert is a highly entertaining live album which capitalizes on Anvil at their thrashiest and looniest. Though never the most precise band who ever stamped down the beaten trails of heavy metal, it should be always said these guys were leaders of the pack of their time and place.

"Jackhammer," "Motormount," "666," "Mothra" are all staple Anvil classics if you were around to enjoy them back in the eighties. "March of the Crabs" is the band's celebrated Iron Maiden saluting instrumental which gets the boost of a pretty decent drum solo from Robb Reiner in the middle here.

By the time Lips cranks out the opening chugs and shreds of Anvil's calling card cut, "Metal On Metal," you can begin to understand why we all cared back then, much less openly embrace them a second time today. Reiner really has a field day with his tom rolls and hi-hat slides on "Metal On Metal" it really feels more of an event than it probably was in 1989. All Lips has to do is woof out "Keep on rocking!" and you're stupidly hooked. Today "Metal On Metal" comes off utterly goofy and nostalgic when heavy metal was still more simplistic than complex.

Then again, Anvil know how to show off a few mathematic chops by the time "Winged Asssasins" and "Mothra" roll into motion. NWOBHM to the core, Anvil mastered the power metal punch with "Winged Assassins" and even "Mothra," which closes this album off with plenty of gusto, including a tastefully abbreviated guitar solo by Lips following his playful and prolonged shred duel against Dave Allison.

"Toe Jam" from Pound for Pound gets kicked off with a funny toast to The Beverly Hillbillies, which makes you forget the sluggish "Concrete Jungle" from Strength of Steel opening this otherwise motivated concert. Perhaps Anvil was sick of playing their hit "Mad Dog" at this point, but certainly "Straight Between the Eyes" has a more deserving place of honor in this set than "Concrete Jungle."

For longtime fans, Past & Present: Live in Concert is a wonderful howdy back through the time tube, while newcomers arriving to Anvil courtesy of their terrific film or strictly by word-of-mouth will do perfectly well to begin here. Each will get a slavering of Anvil's metallic blades sharpened by a well-captured audile whetstone featuring a band with more to offer in '89 than most people realized.

Rating: ***1/2

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