Anvil – A documentary charting the Canadian metal band, originally popular at the time of ‘The Big Three’ (Metallica/Slayer/Anthrax) and yet, now comparatively forgotten by history, in their attempts to tour and record an album. Even though a glimpse into the workings, sub-genres, history and people of ‘metal’ is always fascinating… it is the reckless idealism and ambitions of art, placed before a lifestyle of stability and comfort, twinned the profound strength and love of friendship that comes through as the film’s focus. It is this that makes it hilarious, entertaining and surprisingly at times deeply moving film.
Having been through the predictable adolescent ‘metal phase,’ it remains an area of fond nostalgia for me. However, I feel to dismiss it (that passionate excitement, those friendships, deafening gigs, adrenaline, and learning to play the guitar) would be to condescend in precisely the way I so vehemently despised people doing – and still feel wary of. As an interesting analogy and frequent artistic bridge Metal can be compared, and often is, with horror films.
Both suffer the accusation of accommodating for a dumb Neanderthal male desire and providing a legitimate forum for the expression of testosterone, anxiety and isolation. However, treated with a more nuanced respect, both have also contributed invigorating and challenging works of art. To homogenously attribute all metal to a frenzied adolescent phase is akin to claiming all horror films to be as problematic and juvenile as the ‘slasher’ tradition can be, or as regressively shock-seeking as ‘The Human Centipede.’
It is a comment that damagingly tars a varied and often intelligent spectrum with one, bludgeoning and damning brush of hasty ignorance. Granted, on seeing the delightful ‘Skeletonwitch,’ ‘Man Must Die’ and ‘Hate Eternal’ live, chuckling inwardly at their extravagantly evil names, I do remember seeing what looked like a 7ft cave troll, wearing a ‘My Dying Bride’ T-shirt and nodding his large (potentially lobotomised) head, grunting into a pint…and thinking – maybe I would be more suited to the softer strains of indie (a pair of ironic glasses, a colourful shirt and the ability to maybe try expressing myself in ways that weren’t entirely confined to torment, anguish and pain…being my current triumvirate of faith). The point being, the damaging clichés exist in both Metal music and horror films.
The alpha male signals his enjoyment
we have all had the misfortune of witnessing that sexually frustrated manboy, strutting around a circle pit, tight wife-beater vest, clutching a beer, shaking the greasy lampshade of his defiantly long hair and gurning like a bulldog with indigestion….and yes, unfortunately that guy is often the one with the microphone…in the band. Similarly, we have all seen documentaries of the feverish hordes of horror-fans, dressed as corpses, at beloved conventions - and thought, that bloke with the mullet, questionable facial hair and Evil Dead t-shirt, stretched over a premature beer belly – he might not be the most mentally sound representative of the human race available, in fact, on closer inspection…yes, he looks like an extra from Deliverance, with a dash of The Hills Have Eyes. We have all had the misfortune of watching a horror film we hoped would rise above its gore to something interesting, or to revel in its gore with competence, only to find ourselves faced with blatant misogyny, splattered sadism, apparent camera-based ineptitude, and a disturbing display of uninspired misanthropy. They are all out there – but not every horror fan is the overweight fruit of incest, not every metal fan is protein shake away from overdose, not every horror film is a mindless altar of violence and not every metal band is sanctuary for angry virgins. For me, Anvil brought back the enormous wave of affection that can exists within musical communities, and more pertinently between people who play music. There is a chance to laugh at the ridiculous nature of metal; it’s goofy elements and the joyous immaturity – but also, the very real and sincere vulnerability of people who invest everything into their art – and how that affects those around them and those who love them.
I feel there is room for a kind of inverse Spinal Tap (as Anvil does have its fair share of tragic Spinal tap moments), in which a metal band (and there are plenty of them out there) of cerebral, chin stroking gentleman begin to despair. They become disenchanted by the baying expectation for unthinking riffs and pedestrian Satanism, that the giddy arrogance of their heydays indulged – culminating in their first album: Aborted Moon Cleft and the Sacrificial Thorn Fuck, Vol. I As they strive to innovate and conjure the rigors of their ‘difficult second album,’ in which they consider Satanism from historical and philosophical perspectives, they hire a chorus of monks, one lute and a Bolivian Mountain Goat (for the recreation of sacrifice ambience). Gradually itching fissures of musical difference and aesthetic doubt creep into the studio. The artistic crisis is then approached with responsible sensitivity by the documentary filmmaker who interviews each of the band members, asking them to expand upon their various esoteric interests (ranging from Herbal Tea, Blake’s Prophetic Books and how to furnish a vivarium for a salamander, to the history of early soviet Russia, Taxidermy and the maintenance of lawnmower components). One scene involves the bassist sipping a Camomile tea and intermittently weeping in front of Kieslowki’s Dekalog. 8/10