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'ANVIL': ALMOST FAMOUS, REALLY


(Photos By Brent J. Craig -- Metal On Metal Productions)

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

Now this is Spinal Tap.

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" is a riveting new documentary about a couple of old Canadian headbangers who are still chasing the heavy-metal dream, and -- lo -- it plays like a reality-based version of Rob Reiner's epochal 1984 heavy-metal mockumentary, "This Is Spinal Tap."

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There's a disastrously attended European tour cooked up by an inept manager and a semi-triumphant comeback concert in Japan, with a visit to Stonehenge added to the itinerary as a way to demonstrate that Anvil knows its "Spinal Tap" and, also, knows from self-parody.

There's also a reference to cranking it up to 11. Oh, and the drummer's name is Robb Reiner. Seriously. (Alas, the drummer's chair does not explode.)

But "Anvil!" is no joke, even if it's full of hilarious moments -- only some of which are unintentional. Rather, it's a poignant portrait of Reiner and singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow, the Anvil co-founders whose perseverance is at once inspirational and incomprehensible given their travails, including one particularly horrendous show at an empty Romanian arena.

"Things went drastically wrong," Kudlow says of the ill-fated tour of Eastern Europe. "But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on!"

Rock-and-roll!

"The Story of Anvil" is a love letter -- or, better yet, a devil's-horn salute -- to the band from filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, an old Anvil fan who became a sort of roadie-mascot for the group back when it was a semi-big deal.

Fret not if you haven't heard of them, though. That's sort of the point of the film, which accurately explains that, for a fleeting moment a quarter-century ago, Anvil was on the verge of becoming one of the leaders of the global heavy-metal brigade.

Its 1982 album, "Metal on Metal," was a trend-setter -- so heavy, so thrashy that it became a template for the speed-metal stars that followed in Anvil's wake: Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth and Metallica, whose drummer, Lars Ulrich, says in the documentary: "These guys were literally going to turn the music world upside-down." Anthrax's Scott Ian backs him up on this point, as do others offering testimonials.

Anvil's outrageous live shows were semi-legendary, too, what with the exceedingly charismatic and crude Kudlow slithering around stage in Spandex pants and leather bondage straps, whipping his poofy leonine mane around while playing his Flying-V guitar with, um, a sex toy. "It was just complete insanity," recalls Slash, the Guns 'N Roses guitarist.

There were major tours and festivals, including a 1984 stadium show in Japan with Bon Jovi, the Scorpions and Whitesnake -- all of whom became million-selling stars, save for Anvil, as the doc notes at the very start.


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