expert opinion

Metalheads Weigh In: Is Anvil the Real Deal?

When we interviewed Anvil! The Story of Anvil director Sacha Gervasi back in April, he told us the documentary’s “happy ending … is what’s happening after the film.” And it’s true — since the movie’s release, the little metal band that could has played on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, been profiled on Nightline, and even toured with AC/DC. But one goal will go unfulfilled: Despite being the first screener sent out to Academy voters, last week Anvil! was left off the list of contenders for Best Documentary.

So we thought we’d subject the band to a different, possibly more relevant kind of judgment — that of its metalhead peers. We admit that we’ve wondered if Anvil truly is as great and influential as the doc portrays them to be — or were they perhaps the lucky recipients of a nostalgic cinematic reimagining?

Malcolm Dome, author, The A–Z Of AC/DC (with Jerry Ewing); D.J., TotalRock
“Anvil’s sense of power, energy and attitude was almost as important as Venom, Maiden, and Motorhead. What went wrong? What always goes wrong — lack of marketing, label and managerial support. It’s one of the oldest stories in music. They slipped away while others made their ascent.”

Scott Ian, Anthrax
[Ian comments in the movie, but expands a bit here.] “I thought they were the sickest, thrashiest, and heaviest band on the block. Their drummer, Robb Reiner, was hands down the best drummer playing in metal at the time, and we worshipped him. They were definitely influential in the speed (tempo, not the shit you put up your nose!!) department. I think they are a huge influence on the American thrash scene that started around 1982. Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth: We were all listening to Anvil. I can only speculate that by 1985 the musical landscape had changed so much with the rise of the aforementioned American thrash scene, Anvil just got passed by. The sound had changed, and Anvil just didn’t fit, I guess. Then again, what do I know?”

Mike Gitter, VP of A&R and Marketing at Century Media; formerly of Roadrunner Records, where he signed Killswitch Engage, Opeth, Cradle of Filth, and Megadeth
“Anvil was a totally legit band. They still are today. They weren’t the worst band, and they certainly weren’t the best! And yes, “Metal On Metal” will always be their signature song. And truthfully, the Metal on Metal and Forged In Fire albums are really good, no-frills metal records. I remember reading about them in magazines like Metal Forces and Kick Ass, and going and checking out the band when they came to my then-hometown of Boston. Lips was the kind of metal front man you’d want your metal front men to be — no holds barred. Over the top. C’mon, the guy broke out a dildo to assault the guitar!”

Jeanne Fury, writer, Decibel
“You could tell right away from the opening scene, when Anvil are playing that huge metal fest in Japan in the early eighties, that they were, as Lars [Ulrich] said, “the real deal.” Between their technical skills and Lip’s charisma as a front-man, how could audiences not flip their shit for Anvil? Lips ran around onstage in bondage gear, waving dildos and running a vibrator up the neck of his guitar, for chrissake. You have to remember, back then, none of that stuff was considered cheesy or campy — it was legitimately kinky and badass. Lips was stark-raving mad! He acted like he fell out of the ass of some institutionalized dominatrix. That was fucking metal!”

Sam Roudman, writer, Filter and the New York Press
“Anvil is a finely tuned instrument of anachronism. In metal, anyway, this isn’t such a horrible thing. No one is going to punish these dudes for faithful adherence to (some of the cooler parts of) a formula over a quarter-century old. But that isn’t to say it’s this music alone that has put them on tour with AC/DC. I mean, how fucking marketable are these guys? They’re the distillation of a youth-born rock hope prevailing against the many indignities of a totally un-rockin’ adulthood. It doesn’t really matter if they’re producing anything relevant or interesting now, because if I’m a gainfully employed middle-aged former metalhead, you bet your ass I’m taking some of that discretionary income and buying back some of the ashes from my dead rock dream.”

Shane Mehling, writer, Decibel
“Anvil were pretty much just a Canadian version of NWOBHM, which created thrash, i.e. Metallica and Slayer. Bands like Diamond Head were obviously a much bigger influence, but Anvil was writing music that Metallica wanted to write. The new album, This Is Thirteen, is pretty good, but I’m just not much of an old-school metal fan. They’re still resting comfortably in that paradigm, and I’m not interested. But honestly, if I’m going to compare Thirteen to the last four Metallica albums, they’re fucking awesome.”

Adem Tepedelen, writer, Decibel
“While I don’t really want to rain on the lovefest surrounding Anvil at the moment, and I admire their tenacity, I do find some of the revisionist history surrounding their influence a little amusing. I was just getting seriously into metal at about the same time when Anvil started putting out records. I definitely read about the band in fanzines and magazines like Kerrang!, so they were getting some press and acclaim at the time. The reality of it was that they were, in my opinion, getting attention more for the “outrageous” live show — Lips sometimes played his guitar with a vibrator (!) and was basically a maniac onstage — than the quality of their music. I bought (and probably still own) some of those early records, which I may have listened to a couple of times and then just filed away and never really thought about again.”

Vince Neilstein,
“I wasn’t around for Anvil’s first wave of popularity, but my sense of the situation — both from talking to people who were there and from watching the way the media has latched onto this and other bands — is that Anvil weren’t really that great to begin with. Their music, at best, was not quite as good as the music of their contemporaries who went on to achieve much greater stardom. There’s a reason they were left behind. I feel bad for the guys and their story is touching, but it needs to be said: Without the amusing story line of the movie, Anvil most certainly would not have achieved the success they’re currently experiencing.”

Tom Beaujor, former editor of Revolver, current editor of Guitar Aficionado
“I was a little bit too young for Anvil the first time. But I can tell you that in ten years doing Revolver, nobody had name-checked them, or any of their albums, when talking about bands they love, or records that got them started. We never had the word Anvil in the magazine. Not because we were against them, but because it just didn’t come up. A lot of us are pretty bemused by the whole thing. The movie itself, everybody likes it. In terms of Anvil, most metal people are like, ‘yeah, Anvil, whatever.’”

Self-described metal scenester/anonymous hater (who was “there in the beginning”!)
“I’ll be honest — I’m kind of offended by this whole Anvil thing. I was actually around when Anvil first came to America from Canada, for a very notable show — I think it was ‘The Headbangers Ball,’ pre-MTV, held at the Paramount Theatre in Staten Island. The bill was the heaviest at the time: Accept, Anvil, Manowar. That gig was like day one: That was the birth of Jesus Christ as far as thrash metal goes in North America.

“And why I’m offended is because Anvil were great, they were amazing to watch, they were fun, it was horn-throwing, head-banging, fist-banging mania. It was amazing. Lips had his thing, he would play with a vibrator, and no one dared to do anything like that. It was like Elvis Presley swishing his hips on the Ed Sullivan show. Look, it was crazy.

“So there they were, and Anvil did their thing. But, I have seen a lot come and go… and Anvil was one of those bands who went away. They didn’t work as hard as the crème de la crème of metal, bands like Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Metallica, Anthrax. They didn’t tour their asses off and continue releasing a new album each year like other ‘working’ bands. They were this entitled Canadian metal group. They though they were too good. Then all of a sudden, twenty years later, to see them glorified in film baffles me because they didn’ fucking work for anything. I’m just like — really? Anvil? I kind of feel like they abandoned the metal community. And how dare they come back and pretend.”

Metalheads Weigh In: Is Anvil the Real Deal?