ANVIL: IRRELEVANT AGAIN
If you’re a fledgling metal band trying to break into the big time, allowing a movie to be made about your struggles is probably a bad idea.
Remember Acrassicauda? The heavily persecuted Iraqi band pulled on the heart strings of the entire metal world in 2007, and the folks at Vice felt so moved by the band’s plight that they decided to make a documentary about them, Heavy Metal in Baghdad. With Vice’s help, the band finally arrived in the U.S. in 2009, began playing shows, touring, and eventually released a record. It was a great story, a triumph for heavy metal and personal freedoms that surely warmed the hearts of even the most jaded grinches (us included). But where are they now? Once the PR buzz and good will of the film wore off, Acrassicauda were left to make it on their own in an extremely competitive metal marketplace, back to square one (although admittedly way better off in their lives). We haven’t heard very much about them since.
Of course you all know about Anvil, a band whose Real Life Spinal Tap-like film was so touching that its tentacles reached far beyond the metal world and catapulted the band into the international spotlight. But… where are they now?
After the film’s release the band was suddenly invited to participate in metal festivals the world over, and they even experienced a huge wave of interest around their new album This is Thirteen (re-released by VH1 Classic in 2009). Only two years later they released Juggernaut of Justice to the resounding thud of no one caring. The problem? All that public interest was just for the movie and the band’s story — no one ever actually started caring about the music again. And now Anvil too are back to square one. Bassist Glenn Five recently left the band after 16 years and is now publicly declaring the band’s undeniable plight:
[This is Thirteen], because of the movie, received a lot of attention and was picked up and distributed by big-time record companies like Sony in Japan and VH1 in the United States. That feeling of renewed creativity continued on with the Juggernaut album, but unfortunately the interest of the record companies didn’t, and in my opinion the album hasn’t been given the chance to shine like it deserves and Anvil have found themselves once again in a position of irrelevance. The music just isn’t making a difference in today’s marketplace. The movie was sort of a Band Aid over the inevitable, and in my opinion, Anvil is now on its way back to the same position as it was back in 2005 before the filming of the movie began.
During the Anvil film’s initial hype cycle a well-respected metal industry veteran remarked to me, “You know what? There’s a reason Anvil never made it the first time around; they just weren’t really ever that good.” And while I wasn’t old enough to have been aware of Anvil’s first go at fame in the ’80s, my sense of things is that he’s right; there’s nothing about Anvil’s music, new or old, that was better than or strikingly unique from what their peers were doing. That Anvil were left behind while other bands went on to superstardom was not accidental, not a great injustice. Similarly, now that Acrassicauda live in the U.S. where they can practice their metal without worry of being arrested, they’re just one band trying to make it in a sea of hundreds of very good one that are also vying for attention.
In the sense that Acrassicauda and Anvil did get to experience international celebrity and attention for their music on some level after the releases of Heavy Metal in Baghdad and Anvil! The Story of Anvil, I suppose those things in and of themselves were great experiences that were totally worth it. But my point is this: films about a band’s “story” aren’t going to provide any kind of sustainable boost for that band’s career. They might even leave them worse off (Venue to Booking Agent: “Oh yeah, what ever happened to those guys after the movie?”). At least both got to experience the limelight for a little while, though, which is more than most of us will ever achieve.