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

Album Review – Grave Digger / Tunes of War (1996)

Don’t forget to grab your sword and shield before listening to this masterpiece.

Rating2

Tunes_of_warIt 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).

Grave_Digger-Tunes_Of_WarIn 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

Track listing
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
15. Witchhunter
16. Headbanging Man

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – Vocals
Uwe Lulis – Guitars
Tomi Göttlich – Bass
Stefan Arnold – Drums