A few weeks ago I saw ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’, the fantastic documentary about Canadian thrash-metal pioneers Anvil, as part of the brilliant Jameson Dublin Film Festival. On the festival programme it stated that the band would be in attendance, along with the film’s director Sacha Gervasi. Upon entering the cinema however, I saw placed incongruously beneath the massive grey cinema – screen, a drum kit, bass, guitar, mic and some Marshall amps that go all the way up to 11. Not only were they here but Anvil were going to play live straight after the film! How exciting! Forget 3-D – tonight we were going to witness Anvil step from the screen and materialise before our eyes like some rock ‘n’ roll version of The Purple Rose Of Cairo.
The film itself follows Robb Reiner (drums) and his best friend and bandmate Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow (vocals, guitar) as they try yet again to resurrect their metal career. In the early eighties they enjoyed some success, playing on the same festival bills as The Scorpions and Whitesnake while their debut album ‘Metal On Metal’ heralded the dawn of thrash metal. In the film Lemmy, Slash, Lars Ulrich and Anthrax’s Scott Ian admit that Anvil were a huge influence but while they took the ‘Metal on Metal’ blueprint and ran with it to achieve long-term success, it appeared Anvil’s brief fifteen minutes of fame came to an abrupt halt and they promptly disappeared. Fast forward to the present and they now have families, live in sensible suburban semi-detached houses and hold down day-jobs they hate yet still hope of hitting the big time again. They track down an old producer and begin work on a new album. They do a tour of Europe organised by a crazy Swiss-Italian woman but no one turns up. They miss their connecting trains. Robb and Lips fight and make up and fight again. It’s at this point you start thinking if it is a mockumentary a la ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. The correlations with that classic film are numerous: references to Stonehenge, the vaguely comical album titles ‘Forged In Fire’, ‘Backwaxed’, ‘Winged Assasins’, the interview in a delicatessen. Most spookily though is that, give or take one B, Robb shares his name with Spinal Tap’s director Rob Reiner! But it’s all real and brilliantly documented by director Sacha Gervasi, who was huge fan of the band as teenager and this film is somewhat of a labour of love for him. It’s heart -achingly sad but also joyously uplifting, affectionate, inspiring and side-splittingly funny.
As the final credits rolled, the band appeared below the screen and launched into ‘Metal on Metal’ and some tracks from new album ‘This is Thirteen’. Lips ran up and down the cinema aisles, fingers frantically whittling up and down his fretboard. Robb banging away on his drums as if still a teenager back at his parents’ basement. It was a surreal experience but a highly memorable one. After the performance, Lips spoke to everyone and Robb quietly signed autographs. I asked Lips how does he still have that unquenchable spirit and positive attitude after all these years (he and Robb are now in their early fifties). The reason he is on this planet is to play guitar in a heavy metal band, he said. He looks at his brother who has a safe job as an accountant, plenty of money in the bank, a safe pension but who’s utterly miserable. There’s no existential angst with Lips however, no regrets, no what-ifs. He knows why he’s here and he loves being alive. How many people can say that? Fundamentally, it’s a film about never giving up. Go see it.
‘Anvil! The Story Of Anvil’ is currently showing at the IFI and Cineworld, Dublin. Anvil play The Academy, Dublin on June 14th. See you down the front.