Don’t forget to grab your sword and shield before listening to this masterpiece.
It looks like the end of the 90’s was a special period for concept Heavy Metal albums: we had the perfect Cruelty and the Beast, which I talked about a couple of months ago here, and another masterpiece from the German Power Metal band Grave Digger, the album Tunes of War. I guess I don’t need to say how awesome an album entirely dedicated to Scotland and its struggle for independence from England can be, right? It was also the first album in the band’s trilogy of concept albums inspired in the medieval times which was continued by Knights of the Cross (1998) and Excalibur (1999).
I had the pleasure to talk to all members of the band during a special acoustic performance at a Heavy Metal pub in São Paulo (Brazil) back in 1996, one day before their full gig for the Tunes of War tour. They explained me how the album was created, all the ideas they had, their trip to Scotland to better understand the country’s history and so on, and that’s probably the reason why Tunes of War is so good and precise: it follows the true facts that happened between the 11th and the 18th centuries with the Scottish clans, and all the horror, blood and death in their path for freedom.
Tunes of War starts with THE BEST intro of all time, The Brave, a mighty Heavy Metal version of “Scotland the Brave” (or “Alba an Aigh”, in Gaelic), considered by many the unofficial Scottish national anthem. There’s no way a regular person won’t feel inspired and ready for war while listening to it. What the band did with this song was amazing, and a perfect intro to one of their best songs of all time, Scotland United. It’s an instant classic with a chorus tailored for any army in the world (“United, united we stand / United, forever and ever!”). The next song, The Dark of the Sun, also has a strong melody with its lyrics exalting the Scottish warriors, while William Wallace (Braveheart) has one of the most furious riffs I’ve ever listened to in my life, and as you can see its dedicated to the life of the great William Wallace, one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence who was spectacularly portrayed by Mel Gibson in the Oscar-winning masterpiece Braveheart (which I saw for the 1000th time this week).
In The Bruce (The Lion King), the band shows a very obscure side, almost as if they were a Doom Metal band, getting back to their traditional Power Metal with The Battle of Flodden. Then comes a very beautiful but sad ballad, called The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots), where we see Chris Boltendahl’s voice in a completely different way. By the way, this song has such dark and melancholic lyrics that it might suddenly make you cry especially if you can feel all the pain in it. The Truth, Cry for Freedom (James the VI) and Killing Time are considerably short songs, but very effective in the whole storyline, and all amazing for any of the band’s live performances.
The last few songs are kind of paradoxical: while Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) is just perfect with its amazing riffs, lyrics, and one of the greatest chorus in the history of Heavy Metal (“The clans are marching ‘gainst the law / Bagpipers play the tunes of war / Death or glory I will find / Rebellion on my mind!”), Culloden Muir sounds quite boring if compared to all other songs. There’s still an outro called The Fall of the Brave, which in my opinion perfectly represents the end of a battle with all the corpses and blood on the war field, and if you have the special edition you’ll be able to enjoy three of Grave Digger’s old classics, all excellent for a beer and some mosh pits: Heavy Metal Breakdown, Witchhunter and Headbanging Man.
Grave Digger has always had wonderful front covers (take a look at this one from Heart of Darkness, for example), and in Tunes of War it’s no different. Regarding the lyrics, as I said, they are all profound and tell the whole story in the best way possible. Of course, nothing would be possible without Grave Digger’s awesome musicians, especially their leader and founding member Chris Boltendahl, owner of a unique voice in the world of Heavy Metal.
To sum up, a brilliant concept album from one of the greatest Power Metal bands in the world, and by far their best album of all time. Only Iron Maiden’s The Clansman is more brilliant than the songs from Tunes of War, but it’s just one song anyway. Moreover, this winter in Canada has been one of the worst of all time, with frigid temperatures and extremely stressful morning and evening commutes due to all the snow, ice storms and freezing rain, so why not getting ready for this “ice cold battle” on the streets enjoying this great album in your car? I definitely will.
Best moments of the album: Scotland United, William Wallace (Braveheart) and Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching).
Worst moments of the album: Culloden Muir is the only song that is not totally awesome in the whole album.
Released in 1996 GUN Records
1. The Brave (Intro) 2:23
2. Scotland United 4:35
3. The Dark of the Sun 4:33
4. William Wallace (Braveheart) 5:01
5. The Bruce (The Lion King) 6:58
6. The Battle of Flodden 4:06
7. The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots) 5:00
8. The Truth 3:50
9. Cry for Freedom (James the VI) 3:17
10. Killing Time 2:53
11. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) 4:05
12. Culloden Muir 4:08
13. The Fall of the Brave (Outro) 1:56
Special digipack bonus tracks
14. Heavy Metal Breakdown
16. Headbanging Man
Chris Boltendahl – Vocals
Uwe Lulis – Guitars
Tomi Göttlich – Bass
Stefan Arnold – Drums