How many Anvil fans we got out there? The correct answer is: not enough. Anvil has been around forever, yet for whatever reason, they’ve never received the success and accolades that they really deserved.
I first heard the band back in 1988 when they released their fifth album, “Pound for Pound” and I heard the song “Safe Sex” on the Metal Shop weekly radio show. They seemed a little too tongue-in-cheek for me at the time; at that point in my teenage years I was taking metal way too seriously. Regardless, I always enjoyed the band to some extent, and definitely respected them as an elder of the metal scene.
I eventually lost touch with what the band was up to, and it wasn’t until watching this documentary a few years ago that I realized how rough a time the guys had been having. But I get ahead of myself.
“Anvil: The Story of Anvil” is a documentary about Anvil and where band was circa 2008. Sacha Gervasi, who was actually a fan and sometimes roadie for the band back in the early 80s, directed the film.
The film opens with footage from the 1984 Super Rock Festival in Japan, and notes that all the bands on the bill went on to sell millions of albums…except one. The Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi were the successful bands, leaving Anvil as the one that would not sell millions of albums.
Interviews with Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian, Slash, Lemmy and Tom Araya show that Anvil received a great amount of respect from other successful musicians, but no one can quite pin down why the band wasn’t more successful. To paraphrase Lars Ulrich, something didn’t translate to the next level.
The heart of Anvil has always been singer/guitar player Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner. In the film we first see the guys as they are working their day jobs. Lips appears to be working for a catering company delivering lunches to schools, while Robb is shown tearing up concrete with a jackhammer.
This is where the depression begins to permeate the atmosphere of the movie. A lot of people probably go through life thinking that bands that release a bunch of albums and tour the world must all be rich rock stars. This film pulls back the curtain and reveals the sad truth about the state of the music industry these days: most bands still have to work day jobs; particularly metal bands.
The storyline of the film follows the lads as they are preparing to work on material for their thirteenth album, called “This is Thirteen.” The band hooks up with producer Chris Tsangarides, who produced their most well known album, 1982s “Metal on Metal.”
After a bit of fighting between Lips and Robb, the songs come out sounding great, and so the next step is to shop the songs to a record label. We see them trying to convince someone at a label, but ultimately, there is no label interest. So the band decides to release the album themselves.
Finally, after all the bad luck, bad managers, and getting screwed over by venue owners, something good finally happens to Anvil. A music promoter over in Japan hears the new album and wants to bring the band over to Tokyo to participate in a massive show. The band is excited, and conveniently for the director, we end up back where the film started twenty years earlier.
When the band arrives in Japan for the show they find out that they are the first band to play, and they go on at the worst possible time: 11:35 AM. If you’ve ever been to a festival style show, you probably know that bands that go on this early generally play to a very small crowd while people are still arriving. This is not a revelation that is lost on the band. Anxiety and depression begin to set in once again as the band prepares to go on stage.
The payoff, for the band and the viewer, arrives when the band goes on in front of a packed crowd of screaming Japanese fans. The relief and joy on the guy’s faces as they start playing is impossible to hide. At this point, dear readers, I rolled a tear of joy, because I’m a sucker for a happy ending.
Now, I’m sure Anvil are still far from being rich rock stars, but from what I’ve been seeing in the years since the film’s release, I think the success of the film has gone a long way towards revitalizing the band’s career. They’ve released two more albums since then and I hear about them touring pretty regularly, so I’m so very glad that things seem to looking up for Anvil.
Check out the film, “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” and make sure to pick up some of their albums. I think their last few albums are as good as anything they’ve ever produced.