anvil the story of anvilVH1 Films

“Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”

At 14, two Toronto schoolmates – Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Rob Reiner – made a pact to rock together forever. They meant it. Their band, Anvil, hailed as the “demi-gods of Canadian metal, ” influenced a musical generation that includes Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, despite never hitting the big time. Following a calamitous European tour, Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, set off to record their 13th album in one last attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams.

Any respectable METAL-head of any age should have at least heard of Anvil once. They are, really, the lovable underdogs of METAL, influencing many of the big names in the genre – including Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, as well as the editor for Metal Hammer Magazine – but always seemed to be stuck in relative obscurity, despite gaining some notoriety when they released Metal On Metal in 1982. Personally, I became aware of Anvil when a clip of their song “666” was featured on the “dangers of rock n’ roll” documentary Hells Bells I watched in 1991. It’s fascinating how much great metal I was introduced to because of that film. Probably not the intention…but I digress.

After a brief flash from the past – the 1984 Super Rock Festival in Japan – we find the two founding members of Anvil now in their 50s, working menial jobs to make ends meet, while still struggling on with the band. We get a very unflinching look at their lives, the (for lack of a better word) crap they have to deal with as a band, and their long-suffering yet supportive family members. This film does get to the very grit and rawness of being in a band, especially one that the world had seemingly forgotten. The disastrous European tour is especially flinch-educing, and to see the guys try to keep a positive outlook on things makes it all the more tragic. You can’t help but root for the guys, really…they are truly doing things their way instead of being corporate shills. METAL, baby.

But, for the most part, the one thing that kept swimming around my head as I was watching this, was “Spinal Tap”. Completely unintentional, I realize, but to watch this and not begin to see the real-life parallels Lips and Robb were going through was just uncanny.

But first, I must point this out: The place where I rented this DVD from had it in the Comedy section. Yes, that’s right – by accident, I came across this while looking for another movie they didn’t have in stock (that being Airheads, by the way). I thought, was this a joke? Did the prevalently hipster / scenester staff of the place put it there, in a fit of ironic irony? I mean, yes, the cover itself seems over-the-top comedy (look at it and tell me it doesn’t). But, this is a documentary. Surely they knew that, right? Well, glancing at the category tag on the back, it seems that, yes, this DVD was, in fact, listed in their system as a “comedy”. Words cannot describe my disgust at this.

But watching this, there were many times I had to remind myself, this is actually happening to these guys. Playing to a whopping 174 people in an arena that seated 10,000. A tour promoter that barely could speak English. Missing a train that was filled up with attendees of a festival they played at. Getting lost on the way to a show. At one point, they’re actually playing the wedding reception for their guitarist to a bunch of less-than-amused friends and family members. To top it off, there’s also a visit to Stonehenge. Stonehenge, people. Don’t tell me the irony isn’t lost on you, there.

It amazes me how these guys have stuck through all of this for the over 20 years since Metal On Metal was released. One thing comes through here, though; the passion for making music is still burning bright, and they do it their way, going so far as self-financing their thirteenth album. And as a post script, since Anvil! The Story Of Anvil was released in 2008, they’ve gained a resurgence of sorts, going on tour with AC/DC (it’s reported that Angus Young booked them for the tour after watching the movie personally) and Saxon, and appearing on various national television shows (including VH1’s That Metal Show and The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brian).

As far as the movie itself goes, I would call it essential watching, especially for those of us pop culture junkies and METAL fiends. It’s unflinching. It’s raw. It’s real and completely METAL.