Released: 2014, Napalm Records
Grave Diggers career can be summed up into two main phases. The 80’s (4 albums) and the rest. In 1993, after a six-year hiatus, Grave Digger had retooled itself and re-launched with a couple of new members, a cool new mascot, ‘The Reaper’. The Reaper has appeared on the cover of every Grave Digger album since. He is as iconic a mascot as Iron Maiden’s ‘Eddie’. Since then the band have released 13 albums and the line-up has been relatively stable with Chris (vocals), Hans (keyboards), Jens (bass) and Stefan (drums) together for the better part of 20 years. So now, over two decades since the release of THE REAPER, things have come almost full circle and we have THE RETURN OF THE REAPER. Oddly enough, this is the first time in 10 years (4 albums on Napalm Records) that the band has not issued a teaser EP.
Very little has changed since the last Grave Digger album in 2012, the same line-up, the same label, they recorded in the same studio and have yet another amazing cover featuring ‘The Reaper’. The stunning artwork is by Gyula Havancsák, one of my favourite Metal artists. His worked has graced the covers of Annihilator, Stratovarius, Destruction, Elvenking, Tyr, Jorn and many more. The cover art for RETURN OF THE REAPER is still way out in first place for my ‘album cover of the year’. I read one review of this album that said it is their best in years. I'm not sure I agree, all Grave Digger albums are fantastic dating back 20 years with very little variation at all, that is why they are so consistent and successful.
The album starts with a cool intro piece with the iconic 'funeral march' song and then some screams and the guitars kick in and everything gets ramped up before coming to a jarring halt with a studio trick , but then seconds later it is off to the races with the lead-off song proper, 'Hell funeral' a 3 minute rager. The lyrics are classic Grave Digger with timeless themes of Death, Satan, War, Hell and other fun things. Two of the songs in my mind, lyrically speaking, are paired up as driving songs, 'Road Rage Killer' and Tattooed Rider' both fun and heavy cuts. All the essential components of a classic Grave Digger album are firmly in place, pounding double kick drums, blazing solos, huge gang-backing vocals and Boltendahl's indestructibly, raw vocals leading the charge. There is is a 'slow' song called 'Season Of The Witch', an atmospheric grinder well sequenced in the middle of the 12 cut album. It features a huge chorus that will play well in the live arena. Speaking of slow songs, there is one other. The album ends with an epic, giant power ballad, 'Nothing to Believe' lead by Boltendahl's rough vocals and an acoustic piano line with an inspirational chorus and sound, that swells comes chorus time. The band have made a bit of a tradition of ending their albums with a slower/epic song, this is the sixth album in a row that a slow song has concluded the album. It's a worth successor of it's predecessors. Maybe they should release a ballad album! I doubt they ever would but maybe I'll make my own version, an iTunes playlist of the 'Best Of The Grave Digger Ballads'.
Grave Digger are one of the most prolific Metal bands and one of my favourite bands, as I have over 20 Grave Digger releases in my collection it's no surprise that this album instantly makes the cut and is easily a contender for one of my Top albums of the year. RETURN OF THE REAPER is a bit of a misnomer because Grave Digger has been so powerfully strong, it is not really a return of any sort, it is another stellar album in a long line of stellar albums.
However, we do recognize the the title and the reference to the 1993 album so this month as a treat Erich is revisiting the Grave Digger album THE REAPER. Be sure to check out that review as well.