Regardless of where you fall on the continuum of heavy metal fandom, it's pretty hard not to love the dudes from Anvil. Guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner first wormed their way into the hearts of moviegoers as the subjects of the 2008 documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Directed by the band's onetime roadie-turned-screenwriter Sacha Gervasi, it traced the history of these two lifelong friends from their triumphant emergence onto the European rock festival scene in the late 1970s to their modern-day lives working joe jobs in frigid Scarborough. While its admirers in Metallica, Anthrax and Guns N' Roses rose to fame and fortune, Anvil languished in obscurity. But its commitment to metal was unwavering.
The film was critically adored and took home the best documentary award at the Independent Spirit Awards, largely due to Kudlow and Reiner's immense likeability. Now, the pair (along with bassist Glenn Five) have quit their day jobs, tour regularly and released a slick new album, Juggernaut of Justice. But as good as Anvil is, movie notoriety does not necessarily connote long-term career stability, and one has to wonder how the band has sustained the surge of interest spurred by the documentary.
"The music industry has really put us through a lot," says Kudlow on the eve of Anvil's first-ever Canadian tour, over the phone from Toronto. "But we've always had the ability to work through it, and now it's easier for us to do that. Things are being done right. I mean, we've played major festivals in Europe through our whole career---but this is the first time we're playing Halifax? How is that possible? It was never our choice--- something just wasn't being done well. But now it is."
It helps that the new album is a considerable achievement--- Kudlow goes as far to say that it's "the biggest album of our career." Recorded by Bob Marlette (Black Sabbath, Atreyu) Juggernaut of Justice came into being after another moment of good fortune brought about by Anvil. In early 2010, Dave Grohl introduced the band at the Independent Spirit Awards, where they were playing a set in conjunction with a screening. Later on, he approached Lips.
"He said he was a huge fan and insisted we come to his studio to record," he says. "He said the movie made him cry. Not only that, but he gave me one of his Gibson 335 guitars. I was floored."
Reiner has described Juggernaut of Justice's sound as "metal-jazz." The album sounds much better than that term implies. Among more traditionally raging tracks like "When All Hell Breaks Loose" and "Fukeneh," there are also songs like "Swing Thing," a walloping instrumental that mixes Buddy Rich-style drum solos with horns and Lips' soaring riffs. "We knew we'd have to kick things up a notch with this album," Kudlow says. "We had no choice, really. What are we going to do---sit on our laurels? You have to go beyond where you think you can go. The place we're at now demands it."
It's important to remember that Anvil's fans---both longtime die-hards and new admirers---aren't capricious. With the buoyancy of this support and its work ethic, Anvil will continue to exist, regardless of what happens next in the Sturm und Drang of its career.
"At the end of the day we do this because we love doing it," says Kudlow. "And you do it for the fans---the ones who love what you do."
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