Anvil! The Story of Anvil is, as the name implies a documentary about Canadian thrash band Anvil. In the 1980s, Anvil played shows with lots of great hair and metal bands, but for some reason they never really got the fame that they probably deserved. Of course, that hasn’t stopped core members (the rest of the line-up has changed several times) Robb Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow from trying their best to follow their dreams. Now in their 50s, Reiner and Kudlow spend most of their time working day jobs (Reiner works construction and Kudlow is a delivery driver), but still play and record as Anvil whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The film opens with footage of Anvil in their prime, playing to a sold out crowd. This is followed by several brief interview clips with musicians influenced by Anvil, including Scott Ian of Anthrax, Slayer’s Tom Araya, Lars Ulrich, and even metal god Lemmy Kilmister. All agree that Anvil was one of the original thrash bands, and that their lack of success had nothing to do with lack of talent. After establishing Anvil’s credentials, the film shows the band going about their normal, everyday lives in several scenes that are strangely reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.
From there, the movie moves firmly into Spinal Tap territory as the band signs up with a less-than-competent promoter for a European Tour. Following the tour, the guys return to Canada and send a demo out to producer Chris Tsangarides, who produced their first album and apparently has a great reputation from his work with bands like Sabbath and Judas Priest. Tsangarides likes the demo, but in order to cut the album the band will need to come up with quite a bit of money. Once they’ve rounded up the cash and started recording, we move back into Tap territory with the guys fighting, breaking up, and getting back together (there’s even an amp that goes to 11 at one point). Once the record is cut, the guys fail to sell it to a label, but do get invited to a metal show in Japan, where they play to a sold-out crowd of Anvil fans (at an early-morning show, no less).
If I hadn’t known that Anvil was a real band going in, I might have thought that the movie was a watered-down rip-off of Spinal Tap. Some of the situations the guys get in are just as ludicrous as those of Nigel and company, if not moreso. Maybe that’s why every rock band in the world loves the other Rob Reiner’s mockumentary.
While there is definitely an element of schadenfreude to the film, it’s less mean-spirited than something like Dancin’ Outlaw or Mule Skinner Blues. The director does a good job of making light of the band’s bum luck without making fun of Anvil itself. The metal heavyweights at the beginning of the film talk about Anvil’s influence without a hint of irony, many of Anvil’s misfortunes occur through no fault of their own, and in general you feel that the Kudlow and Reiner got a raw deal. Even though the music world has moved on around them and in all likelihood the best they can hope for is a moderately successful club tour, you’ve got to admire their determination in continuing to fight for the success they deserve.
Funny but sympathetic story of a great band who never quite made it.