Sara Vilkomerson’s Third Stringer: They Wanna Rock

Does Canadian heavy metal seem like an oxymoronic proposition? Perhaps. And yet there’s real-life Canuck thrashers Anvil, an early ’80s group that seemed poised at one point to join the ranks of Metallica and Slayer, but inexplicably fizzled along the way.

In Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a most entertaining documentary from Sacha Gervasi, we first meet the original group via 1984 footage of when they played onstage with other big-hairs like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake. It’s more than a bit startling, then, to cut to now-middle-aged lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner at their current blue-collar and thankless jobs in Toronto. (Though they have never stopped playing gigs—sparsely, if enthusiastically, attended ones).

It’s never quite clear what happened to Anvil to make them fade away, but there are plenty of demigods, including Metallica, Slayer, G’N’R, and Twisted Sister, who cite their influence. And when the group (with a new lineup as of 1995) got a chance to go on a (horribly mismanaged) European tour, they hit the road.

It’s impossible to write about (or see) this movie without thinking about Spinal Tap. But Anvil is the real deal, and as spazzy and ridiculous as their antics were (Lips used to use a dildo to strum the guitar, and we’re so downloading the song “Toe Jam”), these guys are incredibly sweet and endearing people, and it’s clear why their long-suffering families support them. And don’t worry, non-headbangers: Mr. Gervasi wisely edits his film so that even soft rock fans will enjoy this story of grown men still chasing the basement, bass-heavy dream of their youth.