Released: 2009, Napalm Records
Regular as clockwork, you can always count on Grave Digger to deliver a new album every two years on the dot. The German heavy/power metal outfit have been around for forever it seems, giving us riffs, riffs and more riffs, meaty chunks fleshing out a good skeleton of a storyline or theme.
Considering I really dig RHEINGOLD and the Middle Ages trilogy (TUNES OF WAR, KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS and EXCALIBUR), I was slightly disappointed with the relative straightforwardness of THE LAST SUPPER and the watered-down LIBERTY OR DEATH. I really liked the bombast of the four middle albums which had a central theme binding all the songs together, which is where I felt Grave Digger really excelled. I mean, don’t you just love the thought of Chris Boltendahl sitting in his study, pencil in his fingers, trying to figure out a catchy rhyme to ‘Morgane le Fay’ and giving up in despair???
As far as I can tell, there is no central theme to BALLADS OF A HANGMAN, and immediately I sigh internally. But on to the songs, it sounds like good ol’ dependable Grave Digger: the fast speed/power metal riffs and pinch harmonics, backed up by the rock solid rhythm section. Headbangable? You betcha.
Chris has a unique voice in the realm of power metal singers; certainly he’s in contention for the title of power metal singer with the smallest vocal range, but his gruff growl lends conviction to the chunky riffs. The lovely Veronica Freeman from Benedictum makes a guest appearance on ‘Lonely The Innocence Dies’, and it’s a real pleasure to listen to these two voices, so full of personality and force, duel and harmonise.
All told, this is almost vintage Grave Digger. Sure, they’ve cut down the orchestral arrangements in favour of a more in-your-face approach, but the twin guitar attack is very noticeable*, which I think is a massive improvement. If you’re already a Grave Digger fan like myself, pick up BALLADS OF A HANGMAN without delay. It's not mindblowing or original, but it's quality German heavy metal.
*As I check the Grave Digger website, I learn that new guitarist Thilo Herrmann has just left the band, leaving Manni Schmidt to man the fort – a real pity since the lack of a second guitarist really hurts Grave Digger live, in my opinion. It would have been fun to watch them with two guitarists.