Anvil didn’t really come onto my radar until the documentary The Story of Anvil came out in 2008. I remember seeing their name in the record bins back when I used to hang out in record stores but I never really checked them out. For those of you unfamiliar with their story, Anvil is a Canadian metal band that has been making records for over 30 years. They didn’t enjoy the success of many of their contemporaries, many of whom Anvil shared the bill with throughout the ’80s, and many of whom sing their praises. That list of fans includes Lemmy, Slash, Metallica, Anthrax, yeah… pretty much the heaviest of heavy metal heavyweights.
After a bunch of friends recommended that I see the movie, I went and bought a copy. Since then, I’ve forced a lot of my musician friends to watch it — it warrants multiple viewings and there’s a lot of life lessons to be learned from the film, especially if you’re a kid and aspire to start a band of your own. Theirs is a story of survival and integrity. The singer “Lips” Kudow is one of the most instantly likeable characters in the movie and the subsequent (and long deserved) success and attention that the film drew to the band is one of the greatest rock & roll redemption stories in history.
The new record Hope in Hell could have been released at any time between 1978 and the present day. It’s a very simple, and time-tested formula: in-your-face riffs, screaming leads, great lyrics — pure, uncompromised metal. In a nutshell, Anvil have more integrity than your favorite five bands combined as well as my utmost respect. The record kicks off with the title track, a shockingly optimistic and positive message in direct contrast with the evil, crushing riff that carries the tune. The same thing can be said for the whole record, actually: Anvil’s message is one of overcoming adversity and staying true to yourself.
This is not to say that the record isn’t without its Spinal Tap moments, lyrically, but I think it’s fair to say that the young men that this music targets aren’t gonna deduct points for lyrics like “Bad-ass rock & roll/ Having fun is our goal!” I don’t think there’s any separating the men from the music, and I believe that Anvil are sincere. Besides, I’d rather hear someone go on about “bad-ass rock & roll” than hear them whine or complain. I kinda dig the fact that all you have to do is read the song titles to know what to expect lyrically — like “Shut the Fuck Up,” which is a pretty good example and sounds like early Black Flag. “Flying” is about getting on an airplane and jetting around the world and how we take for granted how amazing that actually is when you think about it. “Through with You” is about being deceived by a friend.
Hope in Hell is pure rock & roll from start to finish, the unmistakable sound of a band that has spent a lot of time on the road. There’s nothing really tricky about the production, it’s very straight-up and sounds great, not too many overdubs, and all of this leads me to believe that the place Anvil really shines is onstage. I’m going to check them out next time they come through Philadelphia.