“The music lasts forever, and maybe the debt does too”
Initially told that Anvil! The Story of Anvil was like a true life This is Spinal Tap!, it didn’t take long to discover the comparison misleading. Anvil is not a bunch of hacks that no one likes; they aren’t a joke of the metal industry. In fact, as told by many of their peers who have gone on to fame and fortune—Lars Ulrich, Slash, Lemmy, and Scott Ian—they were the real deal. It is unknown to everyone why the band never found the success so many thought they had earned and deserved, but for whatever reason they found themselves relegated to an obscure existence in their hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Still plugging along thirty years after their big break on stage with Whitesnake and Bon Jovi, the boys have found that their sound is no longer in style. Working on the thirteenth album of a prolific career, Anvil searches for acceptance in the industry that shunned them, playing for a handful of diehard fans across Europe, still reaching for the dream they set out to achieve.
The only real connection to Rob Reiner’s seminal faux documentary is the fact that real life producer Chris Tsangarides’s sound system dials go to eleven. Otherwise, this is a story of two brothers-in-arms, in their fifties, trying to get their due. These are real people who have touched others around the world, whether fans or bands. At one point, a member of Twisted Sister comes up to them and relays a story of when Anvil played them off the stage. But it is one thing to be respected by your peers, having no notoriety or money to show for it, and a complete other to book sold out shows across the country. If not for a shoddy indie label that ‘punted the ball’ as lead guitarist and vocalist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow says, the band might be spoken in the same breath as 80s ‘greats’ Scorpions, Slayer, and Metallica. The song ‘Metal on Metal’ is talked up by legends of the metal scene, yet no one in North America, save the cult following in Toronto, knows whom these Canadians are. And being in the twenty-first century doesn’t help their cause for revitalization—it’s not a comeback because they’ve never stopped working—as metal no longer has the clout it once did. Seeing the rabid fans in Sweden and other European nations show that the music is alive and well somewhere, but, without good management, taping that source is hard to come by.
So, we see the men behind the imagery. Lips is a daytime driver for a children’s food service company and drummer Robb Reiner, (not to be confused with the Spinal Tap! director … I guess there is another connection), works in demolition of some sort to put food on the table and support their families. Both homes try their hardest to be supportive, talking candidly with the camera about troubles and pains in attempting to let the men live their dreams each night, escaping into the joy they always hoped for. Whenever a tour prospect comes up, the boys do seem to take the plunge without question, so that either means their wives are behind them or director Sacha Gervasi edited out the arguments. Either way, both Lips and Robb have been together since the age of fourteen, working their butts off to have the little recognition they do today. Being well connected with the fraternity of metal bands, however, has done nothing for their relationships with concert venues or big label executives. The guys say it best during the course of an ill-fated sojourn across Europe, until Anvil the band becomes a commodity they will have to deal with missed trains, unpaid appearances, and complete disaster.
Living a rockstar life is nothing to envy, and if this documentary does anything, it shows that to be true. Besides bonding the two original members for life, the music has done little for their lives except provide an escape from the monotony of earning a paycheck. Neither is getting any younger and the chance for celebrity is falling back further into the distance as each day passes. The film shows the absolute love they have for each other, but thirty years of heartbreak has taken its toll. Lips is an emotional being and oftentimes flies off the handle, generally landing his shrapnel at the feet of Robb. Both are so invested in the band and its success that the tough times become exacerbated by the memories of past failures and the stress they feel. I believe the film itself may bring them back into some semblance of fame—they did get a North American tour out of it, even playing Buffalo’s own Town Ballroom in January—but the boys well never get the vaunted status they’ve wanted, nor deserved.
And that is the cautionary portion of this rock n’ roll tale—it rarely ever works. More about being in the right place at the right time, success is a fickle thing wherein both the quality of work and unrelenting work ethic has little bearing on the lottery it truly is. But watching both Lips and Robb transcend above the lives of missed opportunities and failures is inspiring. Anvil may not have the fortune to show for thirteen albums and decades of dedication, but they have lived without regret, going for it when all others laughed. Reiner had the support of his family to pursue the arts, but Lips did not, growing up in a Jewish household that looked to success in education and business. They had each other, though, and stood by during the rough times. When all is said and done, they have been creating art for years, have excelled at something and seen the fans that love and appreciate them, and have traveled the world many times over. Many people would aspire to have the experiences of this duo that would rather live in poverty knowing they did all they could than in riches having sold out their dreams and souls. That’s something anyone could get behind.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil 8/10 | ★ ★ ★