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No, this isn't really Grave Digger, nor is it really all that offensive either. In fact, listening to this has motivated me to make an earnest attempt at hunting down Hawaii's Bottles and Four Coconuts, which should essentially be a cross-section between this and early Grave Digger releases like The Reaper.
Stronger Than Ever at the very least accomplishes most of what it sets out to do. It is very catchy keyboard heavy rock with occasional ventures into more spirited riffing passages. Lulis doesn't live up to his potential here, if only because the guitar tone is so overdriven and sloppy. The main reason this failed as a commercial product is undoubtedly Boltendahl's vocals. He still delivers the gruff barking we have grown used to with him, only his accent is way too thick to effectively drive home vocal-driven ballads. You can barely understand what he is saying half of the time. The keyboards contribute an appealing, archaic '80s appeal to a lot of these tracks. In fact, the riffs and leads can barely hold the entire thing together without them. Some keyboard sections like during "Listen to the Music" wouldn't sound out of place on the intro of '80s sitcoms like Full House; so corny.
The high proclivity of ballads keeps the atmosphere ripe, but some of the attempts at heavier bangers lose the plot rather quickly. "Moonriders" opens in a thrashy vein but quickly devolves into atonal note bends that are all but earbleed inducing. I honestly had difficulty getting through some of these weaker cuts enough times to generate a fair appraisal of them. The choruses aren't as catchy as one would think, disappointing more often than they enthrall. "Stand Up and Rock" builds itself up to be a real fist-pounder, but the chorus wobbles about like a wet noodle. Lulis' solos are always decent, which contributes at least a single high point to every track, no matter how meandering they are otherwise. I don't know what is going on with "Shadows of the Past", the production sounds notably different, and it is in a much thrashier and compact vein than anything else here. Perhaps a leftover track from War Games or an earlier demo? It's location at the end of the procession certainly points to such.
As I stated above, the guitars sound unnaturally overdriven, this obfuscates some of the quicker riffing passages and devolves the whole ordeal into inaudible distorted slush. Brank's bass is entirely buried, I believe he is audible for exactly one single three-second passage on "Stand Up and Rock". As per Stronger Than Ever's commercial sensibilities, the vocals are reverb-heavy and upfront. Boltendahl delivers the cleaner tones quite well, making it a shame that his accent guts a lot of the desired appeal of his performance. The ballads are almost universally passable, but most of the quicker chorus-driven numbers like "Wanna Get Close" are admittedly pretty lame.
Stronger Than Ever's material certainly fails to live up to the horrific nature of the cover art, which can make it something of a disappointment for those expecting a laugh-fest out of it. Boltendahl and co. are pretty solid song-smiths, so much so that even when they try to cash it in and sell out big time, they can't help but do so with a modicum of class and musical credibility. Not even close to amazing, but harmless all the same.
After three heavy metal releases, the German legend "Grave Digger" decided to cut off the first word of their name and recorded a record with a more commercial attempt to gain success in North America and make more money. While the band wrote the music for the album, their record label hired two American songwriters for the lyrics to help the band improve intellectually. In the end, the concept didn't work and the band failed to hit the charts. The fans saw the record as treason and so the band had pretty much lost everything. Internal problems were the third cause that finally led the band to split up and they only reunited six years later under their initial name to play heavy metal music without any compromises. Until today the band and the fans feel ashamed for "Stronger Than Ever" which is the only record that was never officially re-released and that is eventually quite hard to find. The band members cited the recording of this album as their biggest mistake but that they had learned a lot from that time.
An objective view on this infamous record reveals that the album isn't all that commercial, artificial and soft as many people might believe. In fact, there are many fast paced tracks on the record that could have fit on the previous War Games record like the sweating head banger "Lay it on" or the unexpected thrash metal hammer "Shadows of the past" that surprises with a psychedelic middle part while the rest of the song is the heaviest material the band had ever written to that point.
On the other side, most of the more rock orientated tracks still sound quite edgy and heavy because of the singer's rough and aggressive vocals like in the opener "Stand up and rock". Even though the guitars are less present in the track and the keyboards quite dominant in the simply and catchy chorus, the song still breathes the vibe and style of Grave Digger and is not a radical change of style.
The more commercial tracks like the title song "Stronger Than Ever" eventually sound a lot like commercial rock music of that time that is still greater than any artificial modern pop music. The said title track reminds me a lot of the works of David Bowie, Robert Palmer or Billy Idol of that time. I would go as far and say that those tracks showed a new and diversified musical side of the band and sounded rather interesting and appealing but I must admit that I like the mentioned musicians and the popular rock music of the seventies and eighties. On the other side, there are still melodic rock guitar solos in the tracks that are clearly influenced by the band's roots. Those songs are not entirely mass compatible and should not have offended the fans that much. I would also like to mention the experiment "Moonriders" that varies from epic metal passages over psychedelic pop passages to slight country influences and is a mixture of styles that I have never heard before. It's probably the most interesting track on the entire record.
In the end, the only embarrassing thing about this release is its horrible cover artwork. The music itself is diversified and varies from danceable soft rock over hard rock and heavy metal to psychedelic thrash metal music. The band is catchier and sounds fresher than ever before and this could have been a start for a glorious era. I don't know what the label and the promoters did wrong in the end but they missed a big chance to make this record successful. It's not about the music because there is a lot of potential in here for many different genres and their fans. I was pleasantly surprised to discover an unexpected gem in here with only a couple of weak tracks, a rather weak production and a stupid cover why the rest is nearly excellent. If you have the chance to get the original vinyl version or the booklet pressing, don't hesitate and purchase this unknown and underrated gem if you like any kind of rock music and melodic heavy metal.