REVIEW: GRAVE DIGGER – “Healed By Metal”
I grew up listening to Grave Digger. For a brief period of time in the 1990’s, all I did was listening to the German gods of metal, everyday. I wanted to sing like Chris Boltendahl, to shred like Uwe Lulis, to hang out with Stefan Arnold. Hell, I wanted to be a grave digger. The 1990’s were dark days for the true heavy metal genre – with the inception of grunge, and some metal genres changing a lot of their sound to fit mainstream media – and not every band stood their ground and refused to part ways with the spirit of the heydays, but the ones that did were absolutely killer in that decade. True heavy metal gems like ‘The Reaper’, ‘Heart of Darkness’, ‘Tunes of War’, ‘Knights of the Cross’ and ‘Excalibur’ were crafted and enriched the genre, giving it a much needed boost at the time. All of those albums have a special place in my heart, and all of them are considered and respected by all metalheads to this day.
Fanboy-ism aside, Grave Digger has always managed to stay on their feet and are definitely one of those bands that continue to kick ass 30-something years after their inception, which is more than enough reason for praise. This time, less than three years after the good ‘Return of the Reaper’, Chris (vocals), Stefan (drums), Jens Becker (bass), Marcus Kniep (keyboards) and Axel ‘Ironfinger’ Ritt (guitars) are back from the dead once again to pay homage to the heavy metal genre itself. ‘Healed by Metal’ and its suggestive name will be released via Napalm Records on January 13th, 2017, and will show a more direct and rock ‘n’ roll side of the band, something which we have seen in some manner with their previous effort, but this time in all the album’s atmosphere. Well, it couldn’t be any different with this title, could it?
Grave Digger draws the cards right from the start with “Healed by Metal”, a mid-to-slow pace hymn to the genre itself, with a lot of groove and attitude. There is, though, a problem with it that actually strikes most tunes of this nature, which is the lyrics; while fun and headbanging-friendly, the song doesn’t offer much in that department, leaving the experience with an outdated and overly-simplistic take on a vastly explored theme like metal. This particular conundrum affects the similarly constructed “Ten Commandments of Metal”, song 6 of the album, leaving one thinking about what was the drive to the songwriting process of Chris and company: an actual homage and love-letter to the genre we all love or just lack of originality and creativity? Don’t get me wrong, though, as aside from this bump in the lyrical content, both tunes are quite decent.
But why would I focus on just this minor setback? There are vicious and killer tunes in here as well, like the powerful “When Night Falls” where Axel Ritt tears everything to pieces with breathtaking riffs and, in my opinion, more liberty than ever to do his thing, the bombastic and fun as hell “Call for War”, reminiscent of the early days of the band with direct riffs and an awesome chorus and the absolutely destroyer “The Hangman’s Eye”, which mixes the old and current days of GraveDigger in a stellar performance by all the band members, especially Jens and Stefan in the kitchen; that last one, my favorite of the album. One step behind of those are the also good “Kill Ritual” with its groovy and sharp riffs and ferocious vocal lines (the song delivers on its promise and brings you to a macabre and evil world of witchcraft) and “Hallelujah”, a very fun and catchy tune, although overly simplistic in its bridge and chorus. There are three particular mediocre songs in the effort, in my opinion: “Lawbreaker”, an outdated tune with almost nothing to offer, as it falls deep under a generic “we are bad-ass” attitude (the song even starts with a motorcycle sound effect, cute), the also clichéd heavy metal track – which in fact has a scary resemblance to Saxon’s “Solid Ball of Rock”, and if I didn’t knew better I would say that Grave Digger completely ripped off the main riff and lead guitars and even that “pow pow” effect (I’ll look the other way and say that it’s just a coincidence, but I’m watching you, Chris) – with mediocre lyrics and a safe construction, and the weird “Laughing With the Dead”, song that carries a remarkable similarity to Grave Digger’s own “Season of the Witch”. The production and mixing are quite decent with an old-school atmosphere and the artwork is, as always, killer.
‘Healed by Metal’ is stacked with a true metal attitude and shows the direct and heavier side of Grave Digger, not seen in an effort by the Germans in its entirety since ‘The Grave Digger’ back in 2001. Some step-backs here and there could have hurt the experience, but gladly the overall performance, decent production and the fun factor more than compensate for those. If not for the aforementioned lyrical bumps – which really bothered me, as you can see – in some of the songs and a little more of playing it safe than I deem necessary for a consolidated band, the album would have fared better in my eyes and received a better rating. Not to worry, though, because the German gods of metal delivered once again a worthy entry which will please fans and newcomers alike. Even at half their creative power, Grave Digger can still kick some butts.