Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. -- John Milton, Paradise Lost
I'd rather be a king below than a servant above. -- Anvil, '666'
... Which is all well and good, but what about serving in hell? Anvil! The Story of Anvil is not just better than you'd think that a documentary about a 30-year-old Canadian metal band led by two lifelong friends in their 50's would be. It's better than most music documentaries. It's better than most documentaries, period. I am about as metal as your aunt, and I was spellbound by Anvil! The Story of Anvil -- laughing, yes, but also inspired to think and feel, literally moved to the edge of tears by the complicated-simple, stupid-smart, goofy-serious story that it tells thanks to Sascha Gervasi's inspired and impressive direction. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a documentary about a metal band, sure. And The Catcher in the Rye's about baseball.
Robb Reiner (drums) and Steve "Lips" Kudlow (guitar, vocals) met at 14 near Toronto; they formed a band. Anvil played heavy metal -- loud, fast -- and were both ahead of their time and behind the curve. They paved the way for bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica (Scott Ian of Anthrax, Lars Ulrich of Metallica and Lemmy from Motorhead appear briefly to either endorse Anvil's music or character), but they watched as the bands they inspired went on to sell millions of records as Ulrich points out, "I don't know if it was an isolationist thing, because of the Canadian element. ..." Singing about being " ... from the land of the ice and snow ..." worked out remarkably well for Led Zeppelin; actually being from a land of ice and snow may have hurt Anvil's chances.
Whatever it was, it held them back. Anvil! The Story of Anvil begins with footage from a Japanese 1984 supertour, with a packed stadium being rocked by The Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake ... and Anvil. Jump to the present, and Anvil are playing a sports bar in the Toronto suburbs for Lips's 50th birthday. It has been a long way from rocking the globe to playing in a sports bar with an acoustic tile drop ceiling. And, as Gervasi's film makes abundantly clear, there have been more than a few bumps on the way down. Anvil haven't stopped -- still playing, still writing, still trying. And the questions hover in the air: What keeps Anvil going? If their long-awaited time of glory didn't happen then, what makes the band think it's going to happen now? What's crueler -- dashed hopes or undashed ones?