Long way to the top

The belated glory of Anvil
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  July 22, 2009

PERFECT TIMING "Both those albums [Metal on Metal and Forged in Fire] were great and ahead of their time," says Steve "Lips" Kudlow, "but being too early is pretty much the same as being too late."

Rock of ages: Dark horses of the '83 metal frenzy. By Daniel Brockman.
If you've never been in a band, and you went to see the recent documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, you might not have known whether to laugh or cry. The saga of childhood friends Robb Reiner and Steve "Lips" Kudlow and their Toronto band Anvil's frustrated 30-plus-year quest to rule the land with their particular brand of aggro party-metal might not resonate as painfully if your closest exposure to the dark side of a life in rock is the Poison episode of Behind the Music. The Anvil story is one about the callousness of fate and the sting of failure, each seeming that much worse in light of their early success.

By 1983, the year that heavy metal was poised to take over the mainstream, Anvil had a manager full of promises, two relatively successful albums, and a string of international tours under their belt that had seen them share stages with Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motörhead, and a slew of other metal titans. But when I catch up with Lips by phone on a quiet summer evening at his home in Toronto, he doesn't sound too upset about his band's fall from metal's heights. After all, the documentary's success has brought Anvil more mainstream attention than they've ever enjoyed. And they've been asked by Angus Young himself to open for AC/DC on several dates of their summer US tour — and that includes this Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.

"This is the guy who wrote 'It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want To Rock 'n' Roll)' asking us to play," says Lips. "It's quite fitting, like they're proving their own point. I mean, I don't know what to say, I'm freaking out!"

Metal cognoscenti have long guarded the secret of the band's first two records, Metal on Metal (1982) and Forged in Fire (1983). Both are stone classics of the form, beating Slayer and Metallica to the speed races with a technical assault that still manages to include the epic stomp of '70s hard rock and the sleaze of what would soon come to be called hair metal. Reiner was a powerhouse drummer years before metal skinsmen were expected to have a fetish for precision, and Lips' wildman antics and chugtastic riffolas kept the band grinning through the warhorse "Heat Sink," "Tease Me, Please Me" (a title later lifted by Scorpions) and the epic shredder "666."

"Those albums were great," Lips acknowledges, "and ahead of their time — but being too early is pretty much the same as being too late. They only sold around 30,000 copies each. In the US, that's virtually nothing! The albums were import-only in America, so our chance of doing well without a domestic deal was slim to none. Then we had this big-time manager involved promising all these big deals, and basically he tried to leverage our deal by daring our label to drop us. Which they did. So we didn't have an album out between 1983 and 1987."

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