If Heavy Metal had actually died out, our boys in question in the fascinating documentary “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (directed by Sacha Gervasi) would find themselves in an even more surreal state of flux. Fortunately there exists a steady fan base for the music and the ranks of the devoted are continually replenished with the blood of the young. The hard rockers in the cinematic spotlight here, the aforementioned “Anvil,” were at the crest of the head-banging movement in its formative years; they had a catchy anthem “Metal On Metal,” and for a while it seemed like all-systems-go. But the winds of fate had other ideas for them and their brief notoriety petered out before it could hit the shores of success all the while other Heavy Metal acts flew fast and furious over them and grabbed the body thrashing glory, leaving our boys from Canada unwittingly in the dust.
Two original members remain and they are the fascinating core of this film: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, the lead guitarist and vocalist and drummer Robb Reiner. They’ve been blood brothers from the get-go, having met in their early teens and have been rocking together since the late Seventies. Kudlow is a very enthusiastic fellow but at times it seems like he’s a one man army pushing the band forward – and he just can’t do it all himself as he still craves the fame and glory that has eluded them for so long. Instead of 24/7 rock star status, it’s salt-of-the-earth jobs now and a far cry from their glory days. Kudlow laments as he works delivery for a catering company: “For all this horrible shit that I’ve gotta go through I’ve got Anvil that gives me happiness…it gives me the joy and the pleasure that you need to get through life.” Amen to that.
Both are likeable gentlemen who are life partners in work and any hard-edged disputes lead to tearful reconciliations: they’re in it for the long haul. I felt a real sense of growing sentimentality and admiration for these guys. They really are into their craft and create a contagious sense of camaraderie that any one with a beating heart could ally with.
In the early Eighties Heavy Metal erupted onto the rock scene and it dominated that decade until it fell into the shadows of popularity as the likes of Nirvana, Sound Garden, Pearl Jam and others of early Nineties Grunge music overtook the scene. And for a while it seemed like Metal was all but dead. But truth be told, it never did meet its maker and it now resides comfortably as an enduring genre with a dedicated legion of followers. And those fans haven’t forgotten Anvil, they just have to be reminded that they still exist.
Anvil has all the talent and determination in the world but the proper support system just doesn’t seem to be in place. Attempts at renewed rockin’ life are made with such enterprises as a European tour which has plenty of good intentions but ends up with too many mis-firings. The multi-country five week gig financially yields nothing. Lips even attacks a club manager in Prague when he doesn’t get the payment that he expects and the full brunt of his anger and frustration with the whole scene bursts into full fruition.
Consider the potential disaster someone like Ozzy Osbourne would have to face without his wife/manager Sharon dutifully at his side. A musical career, not unlike the management of any other successful organization, needs proper leadership, vision and marketing in place. Without that necessary overseeing, it’s a boat without sails in a tumultuous sea of anything goes. I’m not saying someone like Sharon Osbourne could make Anvil superstars (that’s up to the dice of fate) but someone possessing her wherewithal could most likely ensure a consistent living and a better status from their obvious drive and talent – and that’s all they ever wanted, a fair shake at things.
Finally, a respected veteran music producer who’s worked with them in the long ago past comes back onto the scene and gets them over to England to produce their thirteenth album entitled fittingly enough: “This Is Thirteen.” Yet they end up with those boxes of CDs in their van and not in the record store. They decide to sell directly to the public and it would behoove you to order one on their website.
Not only is Kudlow still a musician at the height of his prowess, he’s also an unabashed fan boy of other hard rock musicians and bands. He loves the world of Heavy Metal music and the people in it. At a Swedish rock fest he hangs around a tent hoping to run into Ted Nugent but then is quickly distracted by another hero of his, Tommy Aldridge (from Osbourne‘s band), and runs over to revel him with his enthusiasm. And there is a contagious joy in “Lips” fevered interests, he‘s got a big heart and really rides the vibe of his obsessions, undoubtedly drawing us in as well.
Top hard rockers pay their respects and reverence to Anvil: Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, feels bad that they didn’t make it further then they have and Slash, from Guns and Roses, concludes of their marginal destiny: “Sometimes life deals you a tough deck.“
The film ends with a performance in Japan, a place which they haven’t been to for about a quarter century. They are extremely happy about the overseas gig but upon arriving they find out that they’re the first act on at 11:35 in the morning and are noticeably concerned that no one will show up. That’s a heck of a long way to travel to face sincere disappoint just after breakfast. We’ll leave that up to the viewers to find out for themselves as to how many people actually show up.
I really, really respect Anvil’s talent, drive and attitude and it really breaks my heart that a better support system wasn’t in place to fully recognize what they had to give. If anybody deserves success, these guys do – their heart is definitely in the right place.
Anvil have been in the game since the game existed and now these guys have hit their fifties at the time of the documentary and they realize, like anyone else, that time waits for no one. They still possess the spirit of warriors and pray that they’ll still get their due. This film only can serve to bring their quest for deserved acknowledgement closer to possibility. Regardless of how the story continues to play out, I admire these guys immensely and continue to wish them only the best.