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Tuesday, 14 September 2010


ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL was called the "real-life Spinal Tap" when it was released a couple of years ago. That's a little unfair because this fly-on-the-wall documentary shows us, not a bunch of bumbling metallers with daft pretensions, but real people who had a taste of fame and recognition and have spent the last 20-odd years trying to taste it again.

The film focuses on Steve "Lips" Kudlow (the vocalist) and Robb Reiner (the drummer), who're the very definition of blood brothers. They grew up in Canada together and, after Lips walked past Robb's house and heard him drumming like a maniac to hard rock, became friends with him and started a band: ANVIL. Seeing these two bounce off each other, with Robb's laidback attitude and Lip's polite, but deeply frustrated, veneer, forms the heart of the film and provides countless (and deeply) emotional moments.

ANVIL played a huge rock festival in Japan in 1984, and were lauded by their peers (the film features musicians from Metallica (Lars Ulrich), Anthrax (Scott Ian) and Guns n Roses (Slash) giving their opinion on the band) yet they never took off in the way their contemporariness, like Bon Jovi, did. Why is that? It certainly wasn't because they were crap - in fact, hearing the music from then played now they sound weirdly current, like a new band who play straight-forward balls-out heavy metal, with no pretensions or gimmicks. Was it just bad luck? Seems that way. Filmmaker Sacha Gervasi is a childhood friend of the band, and, apparently sensing the frustration of his friends and wanting to do something about it, shows us a few months (?) in the life of Anvil, their respective families, and the steps they take to 'put things right'.

ANVIL isn't exactly an up-lifting film, though it's also not downbeat. Melancholic would probably be the best description. The band tour Europe, sometimes playing to a hundred or so people, sometimes to two or three. If this wasn't bad enough they don't even get paid a penny. Yet through it all Lips (a genuinely sweet family man) keeps bouncing back, because he knows everyone depends on him to "make it happen". Seeing him take humiliation piled upon humiliation is practically heart-breaking. But when he contacts an old producer friend about recording with him again, things start to look up...

There are a few obvious questions I wanted answering, especially given that Lips and Robb know how the industry is...for instance, Lips talks about how the Anvil demo (that's depressing - a band with as much history as them forced to hand a demo CD into record label offices) will end up sat on a desk with a hundred other demos, and the label boss would look at theirs and go "they're 50 years old" and another one and go "these guys sound like them but they're in their 20's", and the choice is an easy one for him. Surely, a band like Anvil with so much history (or "currency" as one label chap calls it) would do better to make a point about how the demo is recorded by the guy who's produced Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, etc? Write it in big letters on the envelope. And why not take a cheeky chance and send the demo to the bands they like/grew up with, asking if they could get a support slot on whatever tour? Maybe they did do these things but all (!) the film shows you is them trying very, very hard to self-promote and distribute their demo/latest album by visiting record label offices and speaking to radio shows.

ANVIL is a potentially bleak look at four grown men struggling with the desire to do what they're best at but consistently failing to get a proper foothold. Thankfully, recent history suggest they're now starting to get somewhere (and the all-important validation they crave) as they've been playing some proper big rock festivals. You can keep tabs on them yourself by checking out their website: http://www.anvilmetal.com/

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