Anvil finds Hope in Hell

Canadian headbangers still thrash like it's 1983

For singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, Anvil's second act isn't all that different from its first. Since 1978, the duo at the heart of the longtime Canadian heavy metal band has slogged it out through disappointments and career setbacks that would have sidelined less determined musicians, as poignantly chronicled in the 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. That film's universal acclaim has improved the band's fortunes, eliminating the need for day jobs. But Anvil hasn't graduated to the arena-filling status of early contemporaries like Metallica, nor has it strayed from the straightforward hard-rock formula that inspired the likes of Anthrax and Slayer. Before coming to Atlanta, Kudlow took a few minutes to talk about the film's impact, the band's latest album, Hope in Hell, and the dangers of smoking pot with strangers.

Last year's Hope in Hell has been described as a return to Anvil's early '80s speed-metal sound, more raw than, say, 2009's polished This is Thirteen. Is that intentional?

No. Actually, whatever we do is sort of in the moment. We don't really plan it, and it's not good to do that. Working with producer Bob Marlette, who helmed Hope in Hell and 2011's Juggernaut of Justice was an eye-opener for me as a songwriter. I got a much better sense of what I should be doing as far as song construction and arrangement. That's what's changed, if anything's changed. I work to make it ... more concise, so that people understand what the song is, the lyrics don't become ambiguous, and the hook lines all work. That's what it's all about. Bob said the biggest problem he found in our records since early times was that he got lost in the songs and didn't know what the chorus was. The choruses weren't identifiable. It's all a matter of arrangement, so when you listen to a song musically, even without singing, you can tell where the chorus is. Initially, when we wrote songs back in the early days, we did just that. The choruses were very identifiable. That's why people know those songs.

How has life changed since the documentary? How are the crowds at shows now, five years after its stateside release and almost 10 years since you filmed it?

It still seems to be sustaining. The film is just coming out in China. More and more people are still seeing it on Netflix. It's still all over. Its impact is, we exist. We're on the map.

For years you were cited as an inspiration by bands that came after you, even as you were struggling. Between that and the success of the film, do you feel validated now?

Yeah. I mean, I would think so. Bands that were younger than me being inspired by us is extremely fulfilling. Probably the most fulfilling thing of all is making a difference. It's not the stuff that you can really quantify, like money.

You and Robb Reiner have been playing together since you were teenagers. Does that make it harder or easier to be in a band together all this time?

It's actually really easy. I mean, I don't know any different. How would I know? I've been playing with him my whole life. I don't know what it would be like to play with someone else, and I choose not to.

Does touring get harder for you guys now that you've been into it for more than 30 years? Do you do anything differently than when you were in your 20s?

No, I think I've always kind of been the same. It's really no different. If I've learned anything over the years, it's make sure you don't smoke pot with strangers. That's how you get sick or get a cold. The road is not a good place to have a cold. No, as long as you get days off during the week. It's like somebody who gets a lot of exercise; when you exercise every day, you take a day or two off. You need recuperation, your body needs time to heal. So you do three or four gigs and then a day off. That's the way you do it.

Does your touring schedule take a toll on your families?

They're older and they have their own lives. That's what makes it easier. I made sure to marry somebody that's extraordinarily independent, otherwise that would never work.

How much longer do you see the band going?

Until I can't. Until I'm collapsing on stage like Lemmy Kilmister, of Motörhead. Music is a healing process, it is a life force in itself. People have been asking the Rolling Stones that for three decades. When is enough enough? When they take you away on a gurney.