Thirty years is a long time to be doing anything, let alone playing in a heavy metal band. And yet that is precisely what Chris Boltendahl has done with GRAVE DIGGER. It’s been 16 albums and several line-up changes, but with a stable unit in place since around 1997 or so the band has soldiered on tirelessly. Me, I’m more of a fan of the second half of their career, which is not to say that their older stuff isn’t quality; it certainly is. But when I listen to an album like Rheingold I just feel like they got it right on so many levels. So here we are now with album number 17, Return of the Reaper due out July 15 in the US via Napalm Records. How did the boys do? Let’s have a look.
First things first, they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything. If you’ve ever heard GRAVE DIGGER before then you have a good idea of what to expect. I was pretty excited to see more speed metal elements combined with a NWOBHM and power metal sound this time around. Then again, I’m a newer fan who has been steadily soaking up the back catalog like a sponge. Opening track “Hell Funeral” is definitely more on the power side while “Wargod” is all pulverizing fury with some serious JUDAS PRIEST Painkiller-era riffs going on. And speaking of the Almighty PRIEST, check out the beginning of “Tattooed Rider” At first listen I thought they were covering one of my favorites from ’86, which would have been fine, but it quickly morphs into something all their own, which is a tune that makes you wanna hop in the nearest muscle car (whether it’s yours or not) and gun it!
“Resurrection Day” manages to hit on three different time changes/styles with Boltendahl sounding quite a bit more like Lemmy than usual. It is without a doubt one of the album’s heaviest and best. A dark tone and change of pace comes in the form of “Season of the Witch” another one that crosses over into the power metal realm with some sinister gravelly vocals adding to the ambience. The best way to describe “Road Rage Killer” is a sonic slap in the goddamn face! This is another one that’ll have you shifting into fifth gear and flooring it. Songs like this make it hard to believe that Axel Ritt is the only one on guitars for this recording. By the way, it’s hard to listen to “Grave Desecrator” and NOT think of modern day ACCEPT which is a complete and total compliment. Matter of fact, I’d LOVE to see an ACCEPT/GRAVE DIGGER tour sometime in the future. A man can hope…
Of course “Satan’s Host” was my OTHER big favorite, not just for the name, but for its four-on-the-floor unabashed NWOBHM speed and crazy lyrics! “Obey my prayer, SUCK MY DICK!!” was all it took to win me over (maturity level at an all-time high right now!) but factor in the balls of the song and you have a true winner. And the combination of razor-sharp riffs, gang vocals, and cowbell (YIS, cowbell!) vault “Dia De Los Muertos” near the top as well. “Death Smiles At All of Us” is a track riddled with energy and serious punch featuring some killer solos and runs from Ritt as well as one of Boltendahl’s better vocal performances. However, I’m not sure why the band chose to end things with the ballad “Nothing to Believe”. Personally I could have done without it. But all told, GRAVE DIGGER have released a fucking great record that fans old and new will have no problems getting into and cranking up to 11!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Satan’s Host”, “Resurrection Day”, “Wargod”, “Dia De Los Muertos”, “Tattooed Rider”