Since 1978, Anvil has become one of heavy metal's most influential yet commercially unsuccessful acts. In 2006, after a fledging European tour Anvil sets out to record their thirteenth album and continue to follow their dreams.
A documentary crew followed Metallica for the better part of 2001-2003, a time of tension and release for the rock band, as they recorded their album St. Anger, fought bitterly, and sought the counsel of their on-call shrink.
At 14, best friends Robb Reiner and Lips made a pact to rock together forever. Their band, Anvil, hailed as the "demi-gods of Canadian metal, " influenced a musical generation that includes Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, despite never hitting the big time. Following a calamitous European tour, Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, set off to record their 13th album in one last attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams. Written by
Anvil: The Story of Anvil has got those absurd moments ala Spinal Tap, to be sure. Indeed at one point when the camera follows the band walking down a hallway about to go on stage I put a hand over my eyes thinking they were about to get lost. But it's also got the heart and some similarity to The Wrestler. This is a film that has a bittersweet tattoo on its hands, mostly bitter, a bit of sweet, and a whole lot of optimism with the chaser of stress and the very upfront possibility of failure. There's such a connection to these people that what was uproarious in Spinal Tap carries a whole other dimension. Anvil is the hardest working metal band that hasn't caught a break in years, but they play and play their heart and soul out for all it's worth even when nobody (or five people in a 10,000 seat arena) shows up. They've got big balls, maybe the biggest of them all, but can they get that record break even in their Canadian homeland?
At the same time that the lead singer Lips carries that determination and optimism, now in his 50's and playing in Anvil for over 30 years, there are some moments where he just breaks down. We see real hardcore screaming matches between himself and his friend Robb Reiner (not that Reiner, oddly enough director of 'Tap'), and it's not like what one saw in 2004's Some Kind of Monster where we saw a group of *millionaires* whining in argument over recording an album and going into group therapy. This is about real stakes, of friendship and what it means to stick together in something that may be a failure for the most part. It's so real and raw in presentation that you are on the edge of your seat wondering "can this be the end?"
The film follows Anvil, half with original members and half with new ones, as they first go on tour in Europe (while on vacation from their *actual* pay jobs, which include for Lips driving grocery supplies- again, a supermarket job ala Randy The Ram Robinson and breaking concrete for Reiner), and after the initial high of going on tour in Metal havens like Sweden find that their manager is misguided and without proper English and they barely get paid for gigs they actually play. Then when they get back it sets in that they don't really play anywhere and are deteriorating away - until the initiative comes to Legs that an album must be made, and their only real big-time major produced record, produced by the guy behind many of Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy's records, tries to get them to do it.
But there's money problems. There's internal strife. There's getting the record actually distributed. There's getting gigs. In scenes that are both weirdly, awkwardly funny and as sad as a burning orphan we see Lips on camera talking about how much this new record will be great even if it doesn't sell much at all, or how they've stuck together through thick and thin. If you never met the man you might think the band is a joke, but the brilliance of the filmmaker behind it- big-time Anvil fan Sascha Gervasi- is to get us as close to these people, with real families that have mixed feelings about their husband's or son's or brother's career choices (or lack thereof) as honestly as possible. There's even a couple of moments where mortality and longevity are given immediacy and depth, so much so I could only think of last year's Young @ Heart at topping it.
Aside from it being gripping documentary work and a fine, dark and often slyly funny look at the triumph of the spirit of these guys (we even get as the finale, as with Tap, a big quasi-comeback concert in Japan, only here with the potential to bring some in the audience to tears), it's a sensational metal movie. These guys are legends to other guys like Slash and Lemmy and Lars Ulrich for a reason - they are that greatest-metal-band-you-never-heard of, loaded with energy and craziness (one of Lips trademarks was using a dildo to play his guitar on stage) and the verve that at the least gets attention. If you're at all a metal fan or admirer and don't know them before seeing it, as was the case with myself, you'll want to track down their albums and see what they got to offer.
They got the right stuff, and the movie is a testament to their gifts at being a fantastic "old-school" metal band and being the sort of tenacious human beings that get people rooting for them every step of the way. As the line goes from the Wrestler: the only place I get hurt is "out there" (points to outside world).
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