Rock band Anvil on a roll as docu hits theaters

Fri Apr 3, 2009 10:49pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Billboard) - "I don't believe miracles happen halfway," Steve "Lips" Kudlow says. "It took a lifetime for this to actually come to fruition, but this time I went up to bat and knocked it right out of the park."

Anvil, the influential yet decidedly underground thrash metal trio Kudlow started more than 30 years ago with childhood friend Robb Reiner, is finally having that breakthrough moment most bands only get to dream about.

In the past three months, the group has hosted VH1 Classic's "That Metal Show," prepared to play headlining slots at the Glastonbury and Download (formerly Donnington) Festivals in the United Kingdom and is gearing up for the U.S. theatrical release in April of the documentary "Anvil: The Story of Anvil."

But it was a long way to the top for these rock 'n' rollers. Their debut album, 1982's "Metal on Metal," brought the group some renown and influenced a generation of million-selling bands like Metallica and Anthrax, while Anvil remained an obscure sideshow of the heavy metal culture. By 2006, the band had released a dozen albums on numerous labels with negligible sales and played dozens of grungy club tours while achieving none of the fame, fortune or trappings of rock 'n' roll stardom.

In fact, on his 50th birthday, Kudlow was working the sunrise shift at an industrial kitchen while desperately trying to keep the band together and raise enough money to record Anvil's 13th album, "This Is Thirteen."

LONG-LOST FRIENDS

The break he had long been waiting for arrived in the form of a call from an old fan and friend, Sacha Gervasi, who was a roadie for the band when he was 16. He went on to found the band Bush with Gavin Rossdale and wrote screenplays in Hollywood.

Gervasi's love for the band hadn't faded in the intervening years despite his having lost touch with Kudlow and Reiner. After tracking the group down in Toronto and learning that Anvil was still recording and playing shows, Gervasi recognized in his old heroes a universal tale of perseverance, dedication, passion and the uncompromising spirit of metal. He proposed not just a documentary, but a partnership.

"I financed the film, but we did it in such a way that in terms of the creative contributions, it's all favored nations between me and the band," Gervasi says.

"The whole beauty of this story is that it was a fan that came and did this with his own money," Kudlow says. "It's a miracle that we met Sacha 20 years ago only to have him come back and repay his childhood friends."

The Spinal Tap/Anvil comparisons are inevitable -- especially with alliterative album titles, a drummer named Robb Reiner and an amp that really does go to 11 -- but it's the film's emotional core that has struck a chord with audiences. The movie was well received when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. It went on to win prizes at a number of film fests and earned praise from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.

After several screenings paired with live Anvil gigs caused pandemonium in London, where the film was released in February, "Anvil" has become the highest-grossing music documentary in U.K. history.

VH1, which is distributing the film theatrically and on DVD in the United States, is sponsoring the Anvil Experience seven-city tour before the movie's theatrical release. At each stop, a film screening will be followed by an Anvil live set.

As for the music, three major labels are bidding for the soundtrack, while the band's self-released "This Is Thirteen" is flying out of the merchandise booth at every screening and gig. Due to the overwhelming demand, Anvil is also planning to record a new album soon.

"This is a one-of-a-kind situation where by the end of the movie people have emotionally invested in us, and then they can be a part of the epilogue," Kudlow says. "Their reaction has an effect on the way our lives continue on -- by buying the CD they've changed our lives."

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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