Local metal legends Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner are still at it.
No Canadian heavy metal band has had a more dramatic reversal and re-reversal of fortune than Anvil.
Formed in 1978, Anvil’s early years were incredibly promising. The band performed at major festivals (it was one of the headliners at 1984’s Super Rock Festival in Japan, with the likes of Scorpions and Whitesnake), signed with Aerosmith manager David Krebs, and pursued a major record contract. Every one of the “big four” thrash metal bands—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax—credit Anvil as influences. Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead even offered founding member Steve “Lips” Kudlow a spot in the band (he would have replaced “Fast” Eddie Clarke), but Lips declined. As time passed, managers stopped returning phone calls and that fabled record contract failed to materialize. The band slipped into obscurity.
Lips and Robb Reiner, Anvil’s drummer and other founding member, continued to release albums, perform small local shows in sports bars, and work unsatisfying jobs. Then, in 2008, Sacha Gervasi’s acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil launched the band back into the public consciousness. Suddenly, Lips and Robb were opening for AC/DC and performing to sold-out North American and European crowds with the likes of Alice Cooper and Saxon. Their 2011 record Juggernaut for Justice was nominated for a Juno award in the inaugural Metal/Hard Album of The Year category (the pair allegedly snubbed winners-to-be KEN Mode in true rock-star fashion). And now, Anvil is back with its 15th studio album, the aptly titled Hope In Hell.
With Anvil, the narrative is everything; the music itself never quite manages to hold up. With newcomer Sal Italiano on bass, the band sounds exactly as it always has, which means this album will seem brilliant to diehard fans and will make everyone else wince. The songwriting is basic and hokey, the hooks as big and clumsy as they come, and the execution is so sloppy that it seems like caricature. Lips’s attempts as lasciviousness in his vocal performance come across as more cartoonish than ever. There are a handful of moments, like during “The Fight Is Never Won,” that stir the neck muscles and encourage the head to nod, but these few bright spots can’t make up for the general blandness of the record.
Anvil occupies a unique and contradictory position in the world of Canadian heavy metal: as pioneers of the genre and as a massively influential band, it remains an important part of Canadian musical history. However, the band’s execution, especially 15 records into its career, is flawed and riddled with hubris. While Anvil may not have a hope in hell of creating anything innovative—or even very good—ever again, it nonetheless occupies an important place in the Canadian heavy metal canon.
You can listen to Hope in Hell here.