Anvil, Back to Basics

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 06.15.11 in Reviews

Sometimes the Odinesque gods of metal do grant unexpected reprieve and succor from the endlessly frustrating headbang that splatters blood'n' guts upon the wailing wall of an oft-hellish music business.

No frills, just rat-a-tat riffs, killer catchphrases, and the inspiring determination of lifelong underdogs

Witness Anvil — and many have, since Anvil: The Story of Anvil has cinematically taken their tale of dogged determination and belief in the rock and roll dream to a second-act stardom both improbable and well-deserved. I caught the film on a plane flight from London to Tokyo, living out my own fantasy camp, and was surprised to learn that it wasn't a mockumentary — the real Spinal Tap — but an empathic look at those who refuse to give up despite hardship and humiliation and no-pay-for-play and the ever-elusive holy grail of turning it up loud and proud.

Back To Basics


The movie centers on the blood brotherhood of guitarist/singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, and the joy they get in ascending the stage, no matter what the psychic cost. After more than 30 years, the bottom line is hardly promising: menial day jobs, record company indifference, a sense of missed opportunity and wondering whether, as Iggy once famously said, "The fucking you get is worth the fucking you take." But Lips refuses to throw in the towel, and his sense of righteous destiny carries the band through hard-luck Euro tours and the making of their 13th album, ending in triumph when they return to a metalfest in Japan and reprise their moment in the sun a quarter century before. This brought a tear to me eye, matey, and reminded me, as always, why you pick up that guitar or drumstick. Because you have to.

Back To Basics— Anvil love those alliterations — is the album the group made before The Movie, their 12th, and though it didn't rescue them from obscurity, it's not very different from This Is Thirteen, or even their popular 1982 release, Metal To Metal. No frills, just rat-a-tat riffs and catch-phrases — "Keep It Up" and "You Get What You Pay For" and perhaps the all-too-true "Cruel World" — that owe as much to Motorhead and Deep Purple as they do to metal genres like thrash and speed. This is allegiance to form and function — Anvil will not be known for innovation — but Lips wields his Flying V with fleet authority and Robb whacks each drum with the urgency that each fill could be his last. Add the crowd roaring along and amps pumped and triumph within reach, and you have an underdoggerel fable that feels so good, like a power chord played at stun volume.