The untold story of heavy metal rockers Anvil

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 6:54pm

‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ traces the struggles of the Canadian heavy metal band to make a living at what they love long after their brief period of glory.

A great music documentary grabs and holds your attention even when you aren’t really a follower of the group, and that’s certainly the case with Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which opens Friday at The Belcourt Theatre.

It’s a warts and all tale of triumph, failure and perseverance, covering a Canadian heavy metal band that’s beloved by musicians but has seldom enjoyed widespread exposure among the general audience.

Rather than just focusing strictly on their sound, Gervasi’s film documents the long struggle of lead vocalist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner to keep their group together and maintain a living long after their brief period of glory ended.

Anvil began playing as a group in 1978, and three years later had a deal with Attic Records, which eventually issued the band’s first disc. But it took another six years before they signed with another label, Metal Blade, which issued three discs.

Throughout the ‘90s and on into the 21st century, Anvil has recorded for multiple labels, with Kudlow and Reiner refusing to disband the group even when it seemed there was no audience. Gervasi interviews several of the band's admirers, among them Slash, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Twisted Sister’s J.J. French.

Their views are contrasted by family members and friends who profess both admiration and wonder at Kudlow’s tenacity, even when it costs him dearly. His wife in particular doesn’t hide the fact that it’s been a hard lifestyle, even as she’s never wavered in her devotion and never thought about leaving him.

Likewise, Reiner has overlooked occasional tantrums and clashes, along with long periods of meager to no income, never willing to abandon the dream because both he and Kudlow truly love playing music and performing before people, whether the audience be 20,000 or 200.

Another person who gets ample camera time is their faithful manager, Tiziana Arrigoni.

Gervasi doesn’t hesitate to show the sacrifices both men and their families have made to keep Anvil going. Kudlow and Reiner have done various day jobs over the years, and neither has any illusions about anything at this point. Sometimes their humor seems more gallows than funny, but the duo never becomes bitter, withdrawn or cynical.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil offers graphic, sometimes brutally frank commentary and revealing behind-the-scenes shots and sequences. Perhaps the best thing about the film’s release and subsequent popularity at this year’s Sundance Film Festival has been its impact on the band.

Kudlow, Reiner and current bassist and harmony vocalist Glenn “G5” Five (who’s been part of the team since 1995) are now working on a new CD, Juggernaut of Justice. Kudlow and Reiner recently released a new book, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, with a foreword by Slash, and they were featured guests this past March on VH1 Classics’ That Metal Show.

Besides the opportunity to see a superior documentary, Saturday night fans can see both the film and Anvil in concert. Things get underway at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for Belcourt members.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Tiziana Arrigoni, Kevin Goocher, Glenn Gyorffy, William Howell, Lemmy
Time: 90 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Our view: A terrific documentary that doesn’t glorify or whitewash the struggles of the Canadian heavy metal band Anvil.