on 22 June 2014
If you are a fan of any kind of Rock or Heavy Metal, then I suspect this is required viewing. At first, it seems that the film is simply going to be another human interest story involving two childhood buddies who, through grit and determination, vow to make it in the world of Heavy Metal, only to be cruelly cut down by their own delusion and lack of talent. We are shown footage from the '80s in which the band had some degree of success but as their musical contemporaries (Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Metallica) go on to global mega-stardom, poor old Anvil are left behind wondering where it all went wrong. It looks like this is going to be a bit painful.
Some of the opening scenes seem to confirm this as vocalist and guitarist Steve 'Lips' Kudrow, cheerfully explains the complexities of his food delivery service: 'It might be pizza on Monday, then Shepherd's pie on Tuesday, then next week, it'll be Shepherd's pie on Monday and pizza on Tuesday.' His enthusiasm for his band is evident and he relishes Anvil's prospects. Drummer Rob Reiner, however, appears to be at his wits' end, working in construction and openly despising it, he cannot quite match his bandmate's seemingly undaunted self-belief that Anvil will, any time now, achieve their long deserved position at the top of the metal mountain. We feel that this is going to be a gruesome Spinal Tap-esque character assassination of epic proportions. This is somewhat underlined by the band actually visiting Stonehenge later on.
But, director Sacha Gervasi balances the humiliation with genuine warmth and sucks you in to the point where you simply cannot help rooting for these two likeable under-achievers. After 30 years of obscurity, they're still going for it and we are treated to a sincere and touching tale of dedicated under-dogs committed to their cause who just cannot break through. This is glaringly emphasised by genuine tributes by mega-stars such as Slash, Lemmy of Motorhead and Lars Ulrich of Metallica who diplomatically attempt to explain why Anvil have failed so magnificently to make the Metal grade. Their goodwill contrasts with cringingly awful moments where, at a Rock festival in Sweden, Lips chases after various musicians he used to know, only to be met with confused expressions and the inevitable, 'nice to see you again ... er, mate,' responses, to Lips confidently telling Sony Canada's A&R man, 'Metal on Metal is a classic album, it just never got the attention it deserved.' One suspects that the A&R man is struggling to resist telling him that classic albums become classic albums simply because they got precisely the attention they deserved: Sergeant Peppers, Led Zeppelin IV, Dark Side of the Moon, Quadrophenia ... Metal on Metal. They embark on a doom-laden European tour laced with epic failures of judgement involving forgetting to book trains to the next gig, being unable to find venues and not being paid by dodgy tour promoters. Along the way, they whip up their egregiously forgettable songs in dingy basement clubs frequented only by dangerously alienated members of society.
But then, the guys get a break, renowned producer Chris Tsangarides (Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper) agrees to produce their thirteenth album 'This is Thirteen,' and off the band goes to England to record it. They have to distribute it themselves though as Tsangarides' compassion (and experience) doesn't quite stretch to shouldering the frankly unrecoupable overheads, and unsurprisingly, the album descends into the yawning abyss of utter lack of interest. But it's not all gloom and doom as Lips fields a call from a Japanese promoter to do a gig in Japan - at the decidedly un-rock and roll hour of 9.45 am. Still, it's a capacity crowd and Lips' joy is, well, a joy to behold as he wades into his flying V guitar to reel off yet another God-awful '80s metal riff.
The documentary is very well made and effortlessly segues live performances with interviews with wives and family who are supportive, but realistically underwhelmed at the rockers' prospects. As a result of the film's success, Anvil has enjoyed something of, well, not a come-back exactly as you have to have had some sort of success to begin with, but a renewal of interest at least. Sadly it seems, Anvil seem doomed to return to their true place in the pantheon of rock - well outside of it. The problem, as the film so adequately shows, is that they really weren't that good to begin with, which is something the two friends never seem to consider.
On a personal level, my true sympathies lie with Reiner who is a truly accomplished drummer. One cannot help thinking that if he'd chosen to nail his colours to anything other than the Anvil mast, he may very well be kicking back in his infinity pool overlooking the Hollywood hills at this very moment. Alas, he stuck it out with his buddy and you have to love him for it as he attempts to install some semblance of common sense into his bandmate who continually blames everyone other than himself for Anvil's total lack of musical credibility. Kudrow blames lack of proper management, poor production, non-existent distribution, and pretty much everything else apart from the fairly obvious conclusion that nobody really wants to listen to ancient rockers pounding out dire, infantile thrash metal when they could be listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This is a well-balanced piece of work that manages to just stop short of outright ridicule owing to the sincerity and dedication of its protagonists and leaves you hoping that these guys can achieve some sort of satisfactory success to repay them for the decades of effort they've put in. Unfortunately, recent album sales for their 15th album, 'Hope in Hell,' suggests that they should have stuck with the original phrase as an indication of their future prospects.