I am surprised, and quite pleased, that Anvil! The Story Of Anvil has managed to capture the hearts and minds of music fans across the globe. Called the real-life Spinal Tap, the Canadian heavy metal act that has been perennially manned by frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner has been banging heads for 32 years but never made a large mainstream impact. Until now. Sacha Gervasi’s bittersweet, heartwarming documentary has created such waves that this past summer Anvil were invited to open three stadium shows for rock legends AC/DC — two in the U.S. and one in Canada before 72,000 people. That’s big. As one Canadian music exec tells the boys in the film, there’s money in their history.
In the film, rock stars like Lars Ulrich, Scott Ian, Lemmy and Slash give props to Anvil while also wondering why they never made it. (Yet I don’t recall any of them touring with or covering the band at all.) They state or imply that the Canadian rockers should have gotten their due since they were part of the influential thrash movement of the early to mid-Eighties. Ian is puzzled as to why they never got big, Ulrich praises Reiner’s drumming, while Slash ponders how seemingly few bands have lasted for 30 years, citing the Rolling Stones, The Who and Anvil.
Let’s get real: Slash is giving them props for their longevity, but seriously, I can name a lot of bands that have been around that long. AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, KISS, Black Sabbath, Saxon and Manowar, to name a few. And the truth is that Anvil have always stayed true to their thrashy roots and often raunchy lyrics and never pushed themselves too far outside of their established style and comfort zone. But that’s fine. AC/DC have been doing their thing for over 35 years and people still love it. Further, listen to a rambunctious, early Anvil number like “666,” and it’s technically more sophisticated than most thrash of its day. That made it a great choice for Rock Band 2, for which it was re-recorded.
If there’s one group that deserves to mine riches (musical and otherwise) after busting their asses for so long, it’s Anvil. And their latest release, the Chris Tsangerides-produced This Is Thirteen, serves up solid songs like “American Refugee,” “Feed The Greed” and “Bombs Away” that show they have some serious issues on their minds, while tunes like “Flying Blind” and “Should’ A Would’ A Could’ A” clearly express the angst and anxiety that Lips and Reiner have undoubtedly felt throughout all of their struggles to finally make it. It’s a sincere and genuine album in the way that the film is genuine and sincere (and brave).
There is a cruel irony behind the “there’s money in your history” line. While Anvil deserve respect for their contributions to early thrash, for slagging it out so long and for having diehard fans stick with them through thick and thin, the real truth of the matter is that it was a long-time fan that made it in the film industry, and who really understood and empathized with them, who gave them their big break. If their former roadie Sacha Gervasi — who wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film The Terminal and is working on a movie about the late Hervé Villechaize, who portrayed Tattoo on TV’s Fantasy Island — had not possessed the resources and time to devote to this project, it never would have been made or turned out as it did. And in the end the wonderful success of Anvil! The Story Of Anvil reaffirms the harsh reality of the entertainment business: If you don’t know someone important or have a way in, you can have all the talent in the world but never make it.
Thankfully for Anvil, they had Gervasi. From here on out, the rest falls on their shoulders.