(2009) "You must either conquer and rule or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer." wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. "I'd rather be a king below than a servant above, I'd rather be free and hate than a prisoner of love," sang Anvil, the Canadian heavy-metal band formed 30 years ago by lead guitarist and vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and his pal (since they were 14) and drummer Robb Reiner.
Following their early recordings, such as Metal on Metal (1982), the band had a tremendous influence on Metallica, Anthrax (Scott Ian: "If we can't be better than that, then we should just go home"), Guns 'n Roses (Slash: "They should have made it a lot bigger"; other acts "ripped them off and sort of left them for dead"), Motorhead, among others. Clips of them performing in their 20s show bare-chested, long-haired Lips using a dildo on his electric guitar. But while others made millions and sold millions of records, Anvil got hammered by poor management and lousy record companies.
Now in their early 50s, Lips, married to Ginny with son Avery, is a driver for Children's Choice Catering in Scarborough, Ontario; Robb, married to Jane, attends psychoactive therapy sessions and paints in the style of Edward Hopper. "Anvil gives me my happiness," says Lips but not a means of support, "being in the face of your fans" - such as long and loyal followers Cut Loose and Mad Dog.
Both are sons of Jewish immigrant parents; their wives work to support the family. Family members, admirers, and members of the group, past and present, appear on camera for director Sacha Gervasi's documentary, following them and new manager Tiziana Arrioni on their dreadful tour of Europe ("Nothing but a nightmare") from Finland to Greece for five weeks (largely unpaid and unnoticed by record companies), culminating in a performance before 174 people at the Monsters of Transylvania, Romania, Festival in an arena with seating for 10,000.
Still hoping to fulfill the dream of becoming a rock'n'roll star from the promise of the band's earliest albums, Lips sends Chris "CT" Tsangarides, who produced their best recordings along with other major-label hair bands, demo tapes; CT invites them to London. The only obstacle to making their thirteenth album, which they decide to title This Is Thirteen, is a lack of funds.
Lips's well-to-do older sister Rhonda comes through for him. Back to England, the boys begin recording - CT turns up the volume on an amp to "11," in tribute to Spinal Tap - the songs until Robb quits after hearing once too often an "over-amplified" outburst of anger out of Lips. With CT acting as mediator, the two men who are like brothers apologize and make up.
In the studio of KNAC with host William Howell in LA their new album ("Everything is riding on it") receives its world premier in "the lottery of rock'n'roll." More demos get distributed; they talk to a representative of EMI Canada, but nobody makes an offer. "I hate the industry," says Robb scornfully.
They spend more money for a thousand CDs and begin selling the music directly to their fans. Then out of the blue, a Japanese promoter calls them for a gig in Tokyo at Loud Park 06. Will anyone show up this time?
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