Anvil Strykez by Anvil StrykezRelease date: March 10, 2017
Label: Wolf Force Corporation
A strong image can be both a plus and minus point; on one hand, it creates an immediate impact, on the other, with that impact comes immediate judgement, and it can also define the band/artist as a one-trick pony at best, a novelty act at worst. Anvil Strykez, hailing from Finland is a retro-futuristic synthwave solo project, which indulges in just about every cliché possible with that definition; 80s suits, aviator shades, a slightly lame back story (“a mysterious entity circling the earth’s orbit on a secret space station…”) – a one-trick pony indeed, but you know what? It’s a great trick.
There are many reference points here; other synthwave acts like Nightsatan and Perturbator, the Brad Fiedel soundtrack to The Terminator and the early soundtracks of John Carpenter, Zombi, Knight Rider even. But really, Anvil Strykez sounds like nothing so much as the soundtrack to the many action sequences from sadly forgotten 80s cartoons like Pole Position and Silverhawks.
Nostalgia, then? That is, undeniably, an element of Anvil Strykez’s kitsch appeal, even for people who don’t remember the 80s – its 80s-ness is by far its most obvious feature/selling point. But it’s also true that the grim futures of the pre-Internet age; both the gleaming, pristine, neon-lit high-tech cityscapes and the dirty street life underbelly; Tron, Akira and Blade Runner, Hardware, the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson and yes, even those old 80s cartoons – capture a dystopia that is both more romantic and infinitely less dull and oppressive than the one we are currently living in. And it is that future that Anvil Strykez consciously, and very successfully captures.
From the opening scene-setter (almost literally) of ‘Neon Streets’ with its computerised vocal and perfectly balanced orchestra of synths (bass, percussion, melody as well as sweeping atmospheric washes and even riffs and solos from what sounds like that rare beast, the synth-guitar) it’s a heady, deeply familiar mix, a seamless universe in itself, almost like being sucked into that Tron computer. If you hate this, you’ll hate it all. Despite the occasional distant echo of Black Ceremony-era Depeche Mode and the artists listed above, Anvil Strykez’s real influences don’t seem to be musical as such; ‘Exterminators’ may come on kind of like a melodic Front 242, but the dialogue sampled from the superbly cheesy 1984 post-apocalyptic movie Warriors of the Wasteland (“Hate… And Exterminate!”) shows where the album’s heart really lies. But music and cinema are very different things; whereas Warriors of the Wasteland and its ilk (especially recommended; 2019 and of course, Escape From New York) are good, campy, violent fun, the music connects on a more visceral level and, despite the undeniably silly aspects of Anvil Strykez, the combination of menace and yearning is a potent one, vividly capturing the lost, ghost-world of the future as seen through the past.
The songs, appropriately enough, unfold like a series of familiar movie scenes; the deliberately paced ‘Cobra’, combines pounding electronic basslines and almost stereotypical ‘eastern’ melodic elements, conjuring Ballardesque sinister meetings in the pristine boardrooms of faceless corporations. ‘Metropolis’ is the central track – a proper song no less – encapsulating the dangerous allure of the future city. The song reveals Anvil Strykez’s mysterious frontman to have, when not vocodered beyond recognition, a perfectly serviceable voice, his surprisingly impassioned delivery reinforcing the strangely dislocating sensation of hearing The Cure’s ‘100 Years’ recast as a synth rock version of Spacemen 3’s ‘Big City’, complete with Miami Vice drums and squealing guitar solo. If it hasn’t become clear yet, the titles are great, and better still, the songs live up to them; the robotic Knight Rider rock of ‘High Speed Cyborgs’, the prowling cityscapes of ‘Night Blades’ and, closing the album, the heavy groove of ‘Voyager and the Birth of Time’ with its apocalyptic narrative very effectively delivered in a matter-of-fact female ‘ship’s computer’ voice against a perfectly realised interface of synth and guitar.
It’s probably worth pointing out that this review was written by someone for whom it has the inbuilt appeal of familiarity. The question of whether Anvil Strykez would have the same impact if it didn’t so perfectly capture an aspect of the listener’s childhood is impossible for me to answer. But regardless, it does what it does exceptionally well and, unlike so many of the 80s B-movies it pays homage to, it more than lives up to its brilliant, ludicrous cover.