Album Review – Grave Digger / Fields of Blood (2020)

One of the most influential and pioneering bands of the German scene celebrates 40 years of their undisputed Heavy Metal on a journey back to the vastness of the Scottish Highlands.

Standing tall as one of the most influential and pioneering bands of the German Heavy Metal scene since their inception in the early 80’s, Gladbeck’s own Power Metal institution Grave Digger is celebrating their 40th anniversary in great fashion with the release of their 20th studio album, entitled Fields of Blood, the logic consequence of a legendary trilogy which started in 1996 with the breathtaking Tunes of War and an auditory battle of unique traditional metal, continuing their epic Highlands story. One thing I must say is that although most fans of the band had a very good time with their latest albums Return of the Reaper, Healed by Metal and The Living Dead, it’s when the band comprised of the iconic frontman Chris Boltendahl and his henchmen Axel Ritt on the guitars, Jens Becker on bass and Marcus Kniep on drums takes us into the vastness of Scotland on a journey through explosive sound landscapes that they truly thrive. Featuring a classy, old school artwork by Russian artist Alexander Tartsus, Fields of Blood even had some of its parts recorded in the Scottish Highlands, giving an extra touch of epicness to their no-frills, traditional brand of metal with unwavering pure steel, which nevertheless offers surprises, celebrating such a special anniversary of one of the most successful German Heavy Metal acts in the most glorious style.

Featuring very special guests Les Tambours du Bronx, the intro The Clansman’s Journey showcases a stunning combination of their tribal beats with the strident sound of the bagpipes, resulting in one of the most inspiring intros I’ve ever heard in my life, therefore warming up our senses for a feast of classic, warlike Grave Digger tunes starting with All for the Kingdom, where Marcus dictates the rhythm with his fierce beats while Axel and Jens slash their strings majestically, all of course spearheaded by Chris and his trademark raspy vocals. Then we’re treated to Lions of the Sea, the battle of the Scots against the Vikings translated into fist-raising Power Metal made in Germany, a song that should sound amazing when played live especially due to its catchy, rebellious chorus, not to mention the crisp riffage by Alex, who also kicks some serious ass in the inspiring tune Freedom, an ode to William Wallace’s famous speech where the whole bands speeds things up providing us all we need to head into the battlefield, with Chris delivering a superb vocal performance supported by the song’s spot-on backing vocals.

And Les Tambours du Bronx are back to add an extra kick to the already piercing sound of the bagpipes in The Heart of Scotland, where Chris declaims the song’s words with tons of feeling (“Raise your voices – raise your fists / For the king – the pride of our nation / Praise him and kneel – a will strong as steel / He carries the heart of Scotland / Praise him and kneel – a will strong as steel / He carries the heart of Scotland”) while the music remains slow, steady and dark from start to finish. After such imposing composition, the band brings forward Thousand Tears, a gentle and melancholic ballad that only Grave Digger can offer us featuring the unrelenting Finnish she-wolf Noora Louhimo, and as Chris and Noora have a sensational vocal duet I personally hope she can join the band on stage for a few concerts in the near future. In Union of the Crown they get back to their traditional (and I would even say their most traditional) sonority, with Chris singing with a lot of rage and power while Markus continues to pound his drums mercilessly, accompanied by the rumbling bass by Jens, whereas it’s impossible to stand still to the beer-drinking battle hymn entitled My Final Fight, where Chris screams and shouts the song’s lyrics flawlessly (“The battle began in the morning light / Five thousand gathered for the fight / Tired, exhausted we stood side by side / Welcomed the English with brave and pride”). Put differently, it’s time to prance around the fire, raise your swords and praise our beloved Heavy Metal together with those Teutonic metallers.

Grave Digger Fields of Blood Wooden Box

Then more of their trademark metal music comes in Gathering of the Clans, a song about the unity of the Highland clans and their will to fight for their freedom until the very end, with Alex sounding infernal with his razor-edged riffs and solos while the atmosphere is spiced up by the rebellious bagpipes by guests Hans Grothusen, Paul Grothe and Florian Bohm. After that, be prepared to bang your heads like dauntless highlanders in the rockin’ extravaganza titled Barbarian, where Alex’s riffs are beautifully complemented by the thunderous kitchen by Jens and Marcus, sounding as if the whole song was taken from one of their epic albums from the 90’s, followed by the title-track Fields of Blood, where a sensational bagpipe-infused intro evolves into ten minutes of pure Grave Digger with Chris, Alex, Jens and Marcus being on fire with their respective sonic weapons, guiding the music smoothly and with an endless amount of epicness and fire until the very end. By the way, the song’s closing moments are not only climatic, but also somber, captivating and as metallic as they can be, putting a pensive ending to the battle before the symphonic and cinematic outro Requiem for the Fallen embraces us all and provides us moments of peace in the aftermath, allowing us to grieve for the countless fallen bodies of all brave Scotsmen who died fighting for their freedom.

If you have what it takes to join Grave Digger in their quest for freedom in the Highlands, you can enjoy Fields of Blood in it entirety on YouTube and on Spotify, watch Chris and his loyal bandmates talking about each and every track from the album on a special series on YouTube by clicking HERE, HERE and HERE, and of course purchase your desired version of this grandiose album of metal music by clicking HERE, such as the insanely awesome Wooden Box strictly limited to 300 units including the digipak CD version of the album, a bonus live DVD titled “Live in Japan”, a special Highland flask and a black 7″ single. Also, don’t forget to follow Grave Digger on Facebook and on Instagram, staying up to date with everything that surrounds the band such as their new releases, live concerts and other nice-to-know details. I’m absolutely thrilled this unstoppable Teutonic army decided to return to the Highlands once again in celebration of their 40th anniversary, filling our hearts and souls with their inspiring tunes of war and freedom, and I can’t wait to see what Chris Boltendahl & Co. will offer us in their future albums if they decide to stay in Scotland for a little longer, hopefully bringing to our avid ears more of their undisputed Heavy Metal for many years (and decades) to come.

Best moments of the album: All for the Kingdom, Freedom, My Final Fight and Barbarian.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2020 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. The Clansman’s Journey 1:27
2. All for the Kingdom 4:10
3. Lions of the Sea 3:58
4. Freedom 4:53
5. The Heart of Scotland 5:19
6. Thousand Tears 4:57
7. Union of the Crown 3:58
8. My Final Fight 4:09
9. Gathering of the Clans 3:57
10. Barbarian 3:43
11. Fields of Blood 10:10
12. Requiem for the Fallen 3:00

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – vocals
Axel Ritt – guitars
Jens Becker – bass
Marcus Kniep – drums

Guest musicians
Noora Louhimo – female vocals on “Thousand Tears”
John Jaycee Cujpers, Olaf Senkbeil, Andreas von Lippinski & Hacky Hackmann – backing vocals
Les Tambours du Bronx – percussion on “The Clansman’s Journey” and “The Heart of Scotland”
H.P. Katzenburg – keyboards on “Thousand Tears”
Hans Grothusen, Paul Grothe & Florian Bohm – bagpipes, uilleann pipes

Album Review – Grave Digger / Healed by Metal (2017)

The iconic Chris Boltendahl and his battalion of metal have the right cure to heal any type of apathy, fatigue or mental stress in our lives, and you know what that is.

Rating4

healed-by-metalIf you’re one of those people suffering from the horrible disease called “boredom”, which makes your life miserable even if there isn’t a good reason for that, it means your heart and soul are dangerously injured and need to be healed as soon as possible by something special, something that will inject a good amount of adrenaline into your body and make you feel electrified. In other words, you need to be Healed by Metal, which by the way is the name if the eighteenth studio album by German Power Metal warriors Grave Digger. It might not be a classic like Tunes of War or Heart of Darkness (as you might have noticed, I always mention these two albums in my reviews of the band), but it’s a very cohesive and fun album that once again proves Grave Digger are far from calling it a day.

With the cover art designed once again by Gyula Havancsák, from Hjules Illustration and Design, Healed by Metal is a feast of traditional Grave Digger, blending the sounding of their early days with more contemporary material and especially with their warlike mode, which is in my humble opinion where the band truly thrives. Also, despite being the first album to feature new keyboardist Marcus Kniep as The Reaper since H.P. Katzenburg’s departure in 2014 after the average Return of the Reaper, that doesn’t impact the music negatively as keyboards are not the main ingredient in Healed by Metal. Quite the contrary, they are actually not very audible throughout the whole album, leaving more space for the band’s piercing guitars and the unmatched growls by the iconic Chris Boltendahl to shine.

grave-digger-2017Grave Digger kick off the album with the old school title-track Healed by Metal, with its lyrics and chorus being as cheesy as they can be (“The blind will see / And the deaf will hear / The dumb will speak / And the lame will walk / We are the law / We are still mesmerized / Leave the fear behind / We save the human kind / We all break out in rage / We’re ready for the stage / We live like a rebel / We’re all sent by the devil / We are… / Healed by metal / We rock / Healed by metal”). While Chris fires his trademark gnarls, the rest of the band keeps the music potent and metallic, with highlights to the mighty bass guitar by Jens Becker. The next tune, When Night Falls, reminds me of the sonority from their classic albums Tunes of War and Excalibur (if you’re a fan of old school German Power Metal, you’ll have a blast listening to this chant), with drummer Stefan Arnold being as precise as usual; whereas Lawbreaker sounds like a tribute to Judas Priest and their all-time classic “Breaking the Law”, displaying even the sound of a roaring Harley-Davidson in the beginning. The keen riffs and solos by the high-skilled Axel Ritt and the song’s rebellious chorus make it a must-listen for fans of our good old Heavy Metal, not to mention its pure metallic lyrics (“Hundred pounds of metal / Steaming through the shattered night / Roaring wheels cry out for battle / Magic stars our guardian light”).

I might be going crazy, but the main riff in the amazing Free Forever sounds a lot like the one from “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”, also by Judas Priest. Needless to say, it’s the perfect soundtrack for hitting the road, with the crisp and heavy sounds of guitar and bass increasing the song’s impact even more. Call for War brings more classic Grave Digger to your ears, with Chris firing his always pleasant raspy vocals in this great fighting composition, in special due to its uproarious chorus. Put differently, it could have easily been part of one of their previous concept albums about historical battles. Then in Ten Commandments of Metal, a metal hymn reminding us to always stay true to heavy music, we’re treated to a catchy, cheesy and extremely fun chorus (“What do you think who we are / Disciples of satan or something bizarre / For what do you think we fight this battle / We follow the ten commandments of metal”), with the instrumental pieces being classic mid-tempo Power Metal showcasing cutting guitars and steady double bass.

healed-by-metal-canvas-edition

Healed by Metal Canvas Edition

In The Hangman’s Eye, we have more high-octane heavy music courtesy of Chris and his battalion of metal, exhibiting a solid instrumental with a powerful and traditional chorus. This is probably the moment when fans will forget it’s “just” Power Metal and will surely ignite a fun circle pit; while Kill Ritual, albeit not as thrilling as the rest of the album, is still a good composition with highlights to its fun lyrics the always sharp riffs by Axel. And Grave Digger fire another one of their classic songs about religion and holy wars, this time titled Hallelujah, where Axel and Jens aim at lacerating our souls with their strings. Not only this is a great mix of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, but I bet you’ll be singing its chorus without even noticing (not to mention the awesome final solos by Axel). And lastly we have Laughing with the Dead, a creepy, slow-paced somber tune that ends up working well despite its weird chorus. It should be interesting to sing it together with the band during their live performances, in special if you’re drunk, don’t you agree?

In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter how sick you are of our society, you can always be healed by the power of our good old Heavy Metal, and Grave Digger definitely know how to turn the bitter taste of any medication into a high level of entertainment. And if you’re a diehard fan of the band and want to get an extra dosage of their distinct metal music, I suggest you go for the Healed by Metal Canvas Edition, where you’ll also be able to enjoy a couple of very decent bonus tracks, especially the rockin’ tune Bucket List. As aforementioned, Grave Digger are still many years away from coming to an end, always delivering high-end straightforward metal music that will cure any sign of apathy, fatigue or mental stress in our lives, and that’s what we can always expect from Chris and his henchmen.

Best moments of the album: Healed by Metal, Lawbreaker, Free Forever and Ten Commandments of Metal.

Worst moments of the album: Kill Ritual.

Released in 2017 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Healed by Metal 3:45
2. When Night Falls 3:56
3. Lawbreaker 3:07
4. Free Forever 3:23
5. Call for War 3:21
6. Ten Commandments of Metal 3:27
7. The Hangman’s Eye 3:07
8. Kill Ritual 3:43
9. Hallelujah 3:30
10. Laughing with the Dead 5:17

Limited Edition bonus tracks
11. Kingdom of the Night 4:07
12. Bucket List 3:02

Japanese Edition bonus track
13. Brave, Young And Innocent 4:20

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – vocals
Axel Ritt – guitars
Jens Becker – bass
Stefan Arnold – drums
Marcus Kniep – keyboards

Guest musicians
Hacky Hackman, Frank Konrad & Andreas von Lipinski – backing vocals

Album Review – Grave Digger / Return of the Reaper (2014)

One of the most traditional and respected Power Metal titans from Germany return with another good album, although not as memorable or inspired as it could have been.

Rating5

coverAs a tribute to the newly crowned World Cup champions Germany, who won the final match yesterday against Argentina, a team that truly put their hearts and souls into the match and deserve our most pure respect for almost beating an unbeatable machine such as the Teutonic squad, here’s the review for the new album by one of the most influential German bands of all time. I remember back in the 90’s when German Power Metal icons Grave Digger redefined their style to a more epic and powerful musicality, releasing some high-end classic albums such as Heart of Darkness (1995), Excalibur (1999), and especially the masterpiece Tunes of War (1996), increasing their legion of fans significantly, reaching a main-eventer status and headlining important tours and festivals worldwide. That was exactly when I became a huge fan of their unique Power Metal, and until today I feel really excited whenever Chris Boltendahl and his clan announce that a new Grave Digger album is about to rock the world.

Unfortunately, this time I’m a little sad to say that their new album, Return of the Reaper, is not as good as I was expecting. Despite having some very traditional and powerful moments with those characteristic elements we learned to love in the music by Grave Digger, most songs of the album sound way too generic and uninspired. They seem to be suffering from the same “sickness” as Arch Enemy with their latest release: the album is far from being a disaster, but we all know they’re capable of delivering something a lot more creative and thrilling than that. Where are those Heavy Metal anthems such as “The Grave Dancer”, “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)” or “Excalibur”?

However, there’s no need to panic: Return of the Reaper might not be a memorable album, but it is quite enjoyable and sufficient enough to keep Grave Digger relevant in the world of heavy music. The intro Return Of The Reaper, which is a heavy version of Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March enhanced by some desperate screams, followed by the most traditional Grave Digger musicality you can find in this album (and by far the best song of all), the violent Hell Funeral, are together an excellent way to kick things off with lots of  Power Metal riffs, a catchy chorus and Chris Boltendahl’s voice sounding as awesome as usual even after so many years on the road. War God is another fast tune most fans will enjoy, with Stefan Arnold always precise on drums, but the chorus could have been a little more powerful and less repetitive (which by the way is a constant during the rest of the album); while Tattooed Rider has a name that simply asked for a more Hard Rock sonority, and albeit being a good song it’s kind of generic, especially in regards to the lyrics.

Grave-DiggerThen we have two of the worst tracks of the album: Resurrection Day, despite some good riffs and drumming, has horrible lyrics that don’t mean anything and a really bad chorus; while Season Of The Witch sounds like a rip-off of “The Last Supper” (especially the riff), getting really tiring after a while. At least the following track, the boisterous Road Rage Killer, speed things up with its really awesome heavy riffs, sounding similar to some of their old classics and, consequently, becoming one of the top moments of the album.

The following tracks will probably create mixed feelings among all fans of the band, alternating really good moments with lots of cheesiness and lack of creativity. Although Grave Desecrator offers us a good mix of Hard Rock and Power Metal, its horrible lyrics hamper it from becoming an excellent song; on the other hand, Satan’s Host is another good song with a very traditional approach and direct lyrics, and I’m pretty sure it will be one of the chosen songs by the band to be played live due to its intensity. Dia De Los Muertos slows things down a little with its simple but effective 80’s Hard Rock, even with its “creative” Spanish name that doesn’t add anything to the song (“Day Of The Dead” would have been a much better choice); while Death Smiles At All Of Us has an interesting keyboard intro that turns into a nice Power Metal tune, complemented by the best guitar solo of the whole album. And finally, for a band with so many outstanding ballads such as “Dolphin’s Cry”, “The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of Scots)” and “Emerald Eyes”, closing the album we have the boring Nothing To Believe, which sounds truly uninspired and too generic compared to what Grave Digger are capable of doing.

At least the album art, once again created by Gyula Havancsák of Hjules Illustration and Design, who has been responsible for all of the band’s artworks since The Last Supper (2005), lives up to Grave Digger’s name, even if it’s not as majestic as The Last Supper or Heart of Darkness. In conclusion, if you’re a long-time fan of Grave Digger you can go ahead and buy their new album, you’re probably going to enjoy it. But if you are not fond of their most recent releases, Return of the Reaper will just be another reason for you to keep complaining about what the band is currently doing and keep going back to their old classics for some truly inspired Power Metal music.

Best moments of the album: Hell Funeral, Road Rage Killer and Satan’s Host.

Worst moments of the album: Resurrection Day, Season Of The Witch and Nothing To Believe.

Released in 2014 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Return Of The Reaper (Intro) 1:16
2. Hell Funeral 3:02
3. War God 3:47
4. Tattooed Rider 4:04
5. Resurrection Day 2:59
6. Season Of The Witch 5:05
7. Road Rage Killer 3:19
8. Grave Desecrator 4:23
9. Satan’s Host 2:56
10. Dia De Los Muertos 4:16
11. Death Smiles At All Of Us 3:52
12. Nothing To Believe 4:34

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – vocals
Axel Ritt – guitars
Jens Becker – bass
Stefan Arnold – drums
H.P. Katzenburg – keyboards