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At the gallows' pole. - 70%

Diamhea, February 15th, 2014

It took one meandering disappointment (The Last Supper) and one near-disaster (Liberty or Death) for modern Grave Digger to realize that they had one foot in the grave, and this time The Reaper was not welcoming them like normal. Ballads of a Hangman is dealt an inconclusive hand from the start, being released into one of the most chaotic of periods for the Teutonic institution. In what was likely a last ditch effort and trump card, the band bulked up to two guitarists for the first time since the Hawaii/Digger debacle, adding Hermann to the long-tenured Schmidt's crushing patterns. The coup pulled on Schmidt echoes the direction Overkill could have taken prior to the recording of Horrorscope. While Gustafson decided not to stick around the New Jersey mainstay he himself helped create, Schmidt commendably held his ground for one last swing of the scythe.

The reintroduction of the occult atmosphere normally associated with mainstays like The Grave Digger and Heart of Darkness is the biggest single improvement present here. Boltendahl experiments with a menagerie of atypical vocal approaches, like the duet during "Lonely the Innocence Dies" and the fist-pumping cover of Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak". Hermann adds an instantly-recognizable style on the six-strings that very nearly upstages Schmidt at times. While we have the reappearance of the sorely-missed odes to riffing excess in "Sorrow of the Dead" and "Into the War", they find themselves immediately challenged for the top spot by animated barnburners like the title track and "Grave of the Addicted". Nothing here can hope to challenge modern classics like "Valhalla" and "Dragon", but most of Ballads of a Hangman's tracks wouldn't sound out of place on Excalibur or The Last Supper.

The band finds the proverbial noose tightening during some of the more faceless romps like the middling "Funeral for a Fallen Angel", but they always manage to wriggle their way free just before the gallows drop. It can be extremely frustrating, because I know Grave Digger has a lot more to offer, they have shot down the naysayers for nearly thirty-five years for The Reaper's sake. While Ballads of a Hangman is compositionally rather by-the-numbers, the crushing anachronistic guitar tone that the group is often lauded for is here in spades, leaving the bad memories of Liberty or Death's limp-wristed distortion smoldering by the roadside somewhere. Becker's tone returns with a vengeance, featuring a natural, flat timbre that thumps along like the hooves of an approaching cavalry.

This is at least as good as The Last Supper, featuring a similar progression and amalgamation of fast/slow tracks. Ballads of a Hangman sounds massive enough, and induces new shredder Hermann to The Reaper's motley crew in incendiary fashion. The band is still lacking the Blind Guardian-esque choruses that helped raise albums like Rheingold to undisputed greatness, but the proceedings are most definitely looking up.

Mostly fillers but a few killers - 62%

kluseba, October 24th, 2010

After two very epic and diversified albums, the band added a guitar player and decided to do a straighter and fresher album. That was at least what they said, but I think that they got that one wrong because the last albums were innovating and different, but this one goes back to the boredom and copies their old records. We have all heard most of the songs on this album in a similar way and better version on "The reaper" for example, so I don't see the reason why they are doing this all over again. They said that it felt right to do this, but after this record, both guitar players parted ways with the band and the new formation did a more creative record afterwards. Maybe they realized that they were wrong and did an absolutely ordinary album.

This album has a lack of imagination and creativity. Choruses like "Hell - hell -hell of disillusion" or "In - into - into the war " are the best and most horrible examples. The band uses English vocabulary skills that a twelve-year-old German pupil would already have acquired. The songs are mostly straight and played in a classical heavy metal manner, the band goes back to the roots and sound somehow old fashioned. Everything I liked about the last two records isn't included on this one.

There are still a few great songs. As always, the band delivers a great opener to the album after the introduction "The gallows pole", the epic title track has some really brilliant chorals and a very addicting chorus that works especially great during the live shows. "Pray" is rather a hard rock song, but a quite good one, very catchy and well chosen as a first single. The duet with Veronica Freeman from "Benedictum" for the pseudo-epic song "Lonely the innocence dies" is a quite boring fail and I expected much more. I also think that Chris Boltendahl has too much presence in this duet and that Veronica Freeman has a very special voice that some people might adore and some might dislike and so it is not easy to really appreciate this song. The main idea is good, but the final result isn't.

The rest of the songs are ordinary old school Grave Digger head bangers. One or two of them should be on every album, but in here, they are dominant and I have the impression that the band had only two or three good ideas and did some standard stuff and fillers to complete the album. If you are a closed minded old school freak or looking for a simple album with childish choruses that you can still scream after a bottle of Jack, you may like this album, for all the other ones, I really can't recommend this record.

One of Their Best Albums to Date - 94%

MuffinMan, January 19th, 2010

When I knew Grave Digger was releasing another album I was pretty excited about it. I fell in love with the band after listening to some tracks of 'Liberty or Death' and was very pleased when I bought the after mentioned album. Epic lyrics, interesting riffs and even though I love that album I can accept it is one weak effort by the band. Would they follow the same steps as its predecesor? The answer is quite short: No.

'Ballads of the Hangman' is a great breath of fresh air, being more original, and not suffering of boring moments of any kind. The introduction of a second guitar player was really appealing since they haven't done this before in their entire career. I kept wondering how they would sound like now that Manni was going to share part of his guitar work? Man, was I impressed.! That is what Grave Digger needed, and I wish they would've stayed that way now. All the twin guitar harmonies in the album are top-notch, catchy as hell and quite enjoyable to the ear.

The album opens with the intro 'The Gallow's Pole', starting soft and calm until 'The Ballad of a hangman' kicks in and all hell breaks loose! Fast, heavy and kicking ass riffing are all over the place while Chris does an outstanding vocal effort with his rough and deep voice. Melodic, yet aggressive is a great way to start this record. 'Hell of Disillusion' may be as well one of the fillers of the album. With such an epic chorus in the title-track, this one is pretty dull, soulless and really repetitive. You know they can do better than that! But then, when you may feel all is lost, 'Sorrow of the Dead' comes in with powerful riffing that doesn't stop and goes on and on taking it even further in 'Grave of the Addicted'. Remember what I told you about twin guitar harmonies? This is the perfect example of that. Excellent guitar melodies, great and dark vocals and an awesome solo almost at the end of the song. Great job on this one, and it is actually one of my favourite songs in the whole album.

Grave Digger's works always have a ballad somewhere along the album, and 'Ballads of a Hangman' is no exception to this rule. 'Lonely The Innocence Dies' features a duo between Chris and Veronica Freedman, Benedictum's vocalist. It is an interesting change of pace to have another singer in a Grave Digger's song. How does it work out? At first I disliked Veronica's voice, it seemed like a femenine version of Chris, but with time it grew in me and I can fully enjoy this ballad. Chris' deep and gloomy voice makes an incredible atmosphere between the lyrics, the music, and Veronica's responses to what he sings. An amazing duo with a lot of feeling during the whole piece, it is a good change of pace to what many Grave Digger listeners are accustumed to.

'Into the War' is a filler for me. Just like 'Hell of Disillusion'. Generic sound, with boring fist pounding chorus. I repeat myself: They can do WAY better than this. However, 'The Shadow Of Your Soul' and 'Funeral For a Fallen Angel' corrects this in magnificent ways. This is what I'm talking about. That is what creativity is all about, harsh and gloomy atmospheres as well as dark and aggresive. 'Stormrider' follows being a fist pounding song and boy, it sticks in your head making you listen to it again, and again, and again.

Finally, 'Pray'. Some may say this is the weakest song in the whole album, yet I do not agree. It is a balladish song with a soaring chorus and incredible lyrics. It may not be your cup of tea, but the melody behind it and Chris' vocals in this song creates a nice feeling of melancholy. Full of feelings, his voice is soaring all over the place... Reaching the end of the album as well as the hanging. There is no better way to finish this masterpiece than this. It isn't fist pounding into the air, or headbangable in any way, yet it is great.

Overall this is an album many fans have been waiting for. No mid-paced songs, except for the ballads, and just some catchy, aggresive and heavy power metal that Grave Digger knows how to deliver and this is the proof of it. Whatever awaits us next, I hope it will be in the vein of this album. This has been one of the band's best effort to date and if you are a Grave Digger fan, you should check this out as soon as possible.

A legacy far from over - 90%

autothrall, November 5th, 2009

Proving yet again that they are one of the 'class acts' of European power metal, Grave Digger deliver another of their successful, historical concept albums in Ballads of a Hangman, a tour de force of catchy song-writing and gritty Boltendahl. It is easily the equal of any of the last few Grave Digger albums, in fact surpassing everything since The Grave Digger (which rocked). It turns out "Pray" (the first single which I reviewed earlier) isn't even one of the best songs.

The album opens with the grim chant "The Gallows Pole" which blossoms into the powerful title track, with its unforgettable vocal melody. "Hell of Disillusion" is pure classic Grave Digger, with a rocking German post-Priest power riff and some tasteful solo licks. "Sorrow of the Dead" reminded me of "Spirits of the Dead" in title, and it's another scorcher. "Grave of the Addicted" is a bold anthem with some kick ass riffing. "Lonely the Innocence Dies" opens with a sad string of melodies, you can really feel the doom of approaching that hangman on his scaffold to this. The rest of the album also rocks, with "The Shadow of Your Soul" being one of my favorites on the album.

The mix is once again fantastic, this band has been completely professional in that department for many years now. The songs here range from just great to perfect, it's pure heavy metal and the vocals of Kris have never sounded better. It's also very well paced, with enough rockers and a few slower pieces to break it up. Grave Digger is once again 'delivering the goods' like so many German power metal bands do, and this is a legacy far from over despite the graying age of the band members.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

A pile of skulls for the minstrel reaper. - 93%

hells_unicorn, April 9th, 2009

When you’ve been at the business of constructing raw and vicious speed metal of a German persuasion the way Grave Digger has for the more than 25 years, you tend to get a sense for what works and how to refine it into something that carries the same punch despite the changing trends in metal today. The old clichés of 80s style of excess partying and going wild at concerts gets filtered out of the repertoire in favor of something much darker, almost crossing over into territory once reserved for 1st wave black metal and early occult-oriented death metal. “Ballads Of A Hangman” accomplishes just this, upping the ante in the heaviness and aggression department and upstaging the lighter and partially Manowar oriented bands in the German power metal scene, who share a degree of parallels with them in terms of sound and stylistic attributes.

In terms of songwriting, this is really bare bones, riff oriented goodness that forsakes complexity for a deadly combination of punch and catchiness. The guitar parts are heavily reminiscent of the early German speed metal scene of the 80s, which they were themselves a part of, but with the modern sensibilities of the likes of Paragon and Iron Savior. The biggest comparisons to be made are with Running Wild, particularly the “Painkiller” oriented wildness of said band’s “Pile Of Skulls”. It melds perfectly with the dark imagery of undead, skeleton hangman accepting skull donations from a group of morose looking monks while he jams out on his lute on a gallows platform, with a recently hung victim in full view just above. You can’t really accuse these guys of stealing from their fellow German counterparts of the pirate persuasion as both bands rose to prominence at the same time and both helped define this style, but the parallels are large nonetheless.

The one area where Grave Digger really diverges from their buccaneer compatriots is in the vocal department. Though the latter band has a vocalist with a fairly raw and lower toned voice, Chris Boltendahl just personifies rawness while still somehow managing to say within the realm of tonal melodic singing, almost like a military captain who keeps shouting orders at full strength despite being out in the freezing cold for 5 hours. Whether he’s leading the fray on skull crushing speed anthems like “Sorrow Of The Dead”, which has enough riffs flashing at full blast to make Priest’s “Metal Meltdown” sound tame, or carrying a tune over the melancholy acoustic lines of the album’s token ballad “Lonely The Innocence Dies”, that gravely yet powerful vocal quality remains undiminished in the most 1 dimensional of fashions. It’s also interesting to note that said ballad isn’t content to stay slow and eventually reverts to the same formula of speed and rage, as if the band doesn’t want to give the listener time to get his neck back in line with the rest of his spinal column.

In most cases a lack of variety tends to hurt a band when you listen to an album all the way through, but here it proves to be this band’s greatest strength. Every riff just seems to be a little better than the last, each chorus a little bit catchier, and each tuneful growl a little more powerful. Things fall back into an upper mid-tempo, quasi-Thrash mode like on “Grave Of The Addicted”, while “Funeral For A Fallen Angel” has a couple of Spanish sounding acoustic breaks, but otherwise the formulaic approach wins out and is carried near perfectly. The only break in character comes on the bonus track “Jailbreak”, which though presented in the same rugged speed metal manner, retains it’s happier 70s rock character that it embodied when Thin Lizzy originally created it.

You can’t really go wrong with an album like this if the goal is to find something loaded with hooks yet also too heavy for the average power metal fan. It’s an extremely consistent listen from start to finish, which pretty much could describe any album that this band released since 1984. Picking a favorite song might prove challenging, although the best chorus and the most epic feel overall is clearly found on the album’s title song. Now if only Ralf Kasparek could get together a consistent lineup of Running Wild and put out an album of this caliber, all would be well in the world of classic old school German goodness.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 9, 2009.

The Hangman knows how to play his Heavy Metal! - 86%

Nightrunner, January 21st, 2009

The classic rockers Grave Digger’s 13th studioalbum is here, “Ballads of a Hangman”. During their career under the name of GRAVE DIGGER they have made a lot of really good albums and always sounded like traditional, rocking Heavy Metal, but still managed to variated their albums quite good. The almost speed metal albums of the 80’s, epic and melodic albums with big choirs on albums like “Tunes of War”, “Knights of the Cross” and “Rheingold” and also dark, heavy with albums like “Heart of Darkness” and “The Grave Digger”. But the bottom line in the music has always been and felt like nothing but true Heavy Metal, and as probably everyone can guess, it’s the same deal with this album.

This album is the first GD-album ever to include two guitar players, and new guy on board Thilo Herrmann does a fine job together with the always incredible Manni Schmidt. The guys are spitting out classic, 80’s heavy metal riffs throughout the whole album, and the sound of them guitars is pretty old-school too. There’s not much originality in the music itself, but as soon as vocalist Chris Boltendahl enters on each song the guys manage to sound pretty ‘own’ because of that. The album is a short one (only 41 minutes) and the songs doesn’t drag out to the max, but because they are so short there aren’t many rooms for some heavy interludes to sail away with either. Most songs go in traditional intro-verse-prechorus-chorus, then repetead and then solo and then chorus time again. The pace of the songs is quite variated, but mostly in heavy mid-tempo style, though with some fast double-bass drumming songs thrown in there. The album also offers a slower ballad titled “Lonely The Innocence Dies”, with guest appearance from female vocalist Veronica Freeman from Benedictum. Not a really interesting song in overall, and i’m not sure about Veronica’s vocals. The weakest track on the album together with the single, “Pray”.

But the other songs on here are a very consistent bunch, and what the guys have done a good work with this time on most of them are the choruses. Take the titletrack as example, such a simple yet very effective chorus with just some oh-oh-oh’s and some HANGMAN shout. Really doesn’t need anything else when it’s that good. Same effectiveness with “Hell of Disillusion” and “Into The War”. With just some Hell-Hell shouts and then the song’s title on the first, and In-Into Into The War-shouts on the latter. Simple and neat. “Grave of the Addicted”, “Shadow of your Soul”, “Funeral For a Fallen Angel” (best chorus on the album) and “Stormrider” stands for the more melodic and catchy choruses, and they all work really great.

What need some complaint, though, are the guitar solos. Finally the band has two guitarists, yes, but that must generate in better solos than this! Two minds working on a solo must be better idea-bringing than one? Nope, and we don’t get much ‘guitar duos’ either. Only solos worth mentioning is in my opinion the ones on “Into The War”, “Hell of Disillusion” and “Funeral For a Fallen Angel”, which reaches good-rating. The rest aren’t really worth mentioning and should’ve been better.

But the general feeling of the album is good, really good, and is the best one this band has done since 2003’s “Rheingold”, and absolutely better than 1999’s “Excalibur”. This is a consistent album with only two bad songs and with a raw and clear sounding production....even if drummer Stefan Arnold still is a little bit of a victim yet again, with quite farty sounding drums. Nothing wrong with his performance, though, which goes for vocalist Chris and bassist Jens too. Grave Digger still delivers, even if it’s quite far from their best album. Should please any fan of the genre!

3 best songs: “Ballad of a Hangman” - “Funeral For a Fallen Angel” - “Stormrider”

The Midget Album: Search Log - 81%

Empyreal, January 18th, 2009

Mission Log: Search for the Midget Album, 01/16/2009

Grave Digger are something of an institution, from what I can tell. I haven't listened to all of their albums, but these guys have been around since fucking 1980, and they've been churning out big, epic Metal crunchers for more than twenty five years now, and while they certainly make no claim to be innovative or breathtaking, they sure do seem to have a lot of fun and creativity behind them. Apparently their last two albums have been sort of weak, but their new album Ballads of a Hangman is a direct hit on my radar in every sense.

This isn't really original at all, and the guitar playing actually reminds me quite a bit of Running Wild, as opposed to the more stodgy, sledgehammer-esque riffing of the older material. The album as a whole is a lot more down-to-Earth, very meat-and-potatoes style Metal, with little pomp or embellishments at all, just good, ballsy Heavy Metal. The songs are short and succinct, very much to the point, without most of the extra baggage and choirs that albums like Rheingold packed in spades, and as such, Ballads of a Hangman is very easy to listen to. It gets the job done quickly and without any bullshit, and that is extremely refreshing for me. This album is a lot of fun, and while some will scoff at the beautiful simplicity of this album, I embrace it.

None of the songs here really reach out and grab me, but that doesn't mean they aren't kick-ass anyway. The opening title track rocks mightily, and it's followed by the even better "Hell of Disillusion," and other great songs like "Sorrow of the Dead," the pummeling "Into the War," the epic smash of "Funeral for a Fallen Angel" and the catchy anthem "Pray." The songs here all follow a similar formula, opening up with a galloping riff and expanding into quick, snappy verses and a punchy, layered chorus that you'll be singing along with before the song ends. The solos are also pretty short, and by now I'm noticing a trend: is this the long lost Midget Album, full of everything short?

Well, I don't really know, but it could be! It does have an oddity in the strange ballad "Lonely The Innocence Dies," which features the most warbly, wimpy clean vocals I've ever heard out of Chris Boltendahl (but they are strangely charming, anyway; think of him as the Power Metal Quorthon - he puts a lot of emotion into that raw, weak clean voice of his!), and also some very uncouth ideas that make for an interesting song at least.

So that's Ballads of a Hangman. Whether or not it is the Midget Album aside, it functions well as a compression of the old Grave Digger sound into something quite agreeable and fun. It might have taken them a couple of albums to get here, but I think we can all live with this. And if you are the one asshole who can't: Your standards are too high. Abort this mission while you still can.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Grave Digger Haven't Changed Much, Not A Bad Thing - 80%

Flamos, January 14th, 2009

Chris Boltendahl and company are back once again with Grave Digger thirteenth full length album “Ballads of a Hangman.” Over the past seven or eight years, Grave Digger has been plagued with mediocrity. Some songs are instant classics, while others blunder from boredom. Hopefully most of these problems are fixed here.

Well, it’s an improvement. Sure, the songs that won’t interest you are here like “Grave of the Addicted,” Pray,” and “Shadow of Your Soul” which are just bad all around. Lack of writing talent? Not a chance. Chris Boltendahl can still write some amazing songs, but some of them just don’t work out. Not to fear, because the rest is solid. “The Gallows Pole” is a nice, short acoustic guitar prologue with some cool chanting. The title track is great, the riff is superb and the simple yet catchy chorus helps the song move along. It would also be a nice mention that this is the first Grave Digger album to feature two guitarists. Why they decided to do this, I don’t know, but it’s welcomed. Thilo Herrmann does a nice job of stamping his name here. Manni Schmidt is in top form, which is always a plus. Jens Becker plays bass, although it’s tough to here on most Grave Digger albums, but he is a good one. Stefen Arnold is a great drummer and he’s very unappreciated. H.P.Katzenburg plays keyboards, and Grave Digger’s mascot on stage, but you won’t really notice him here anyway. The line-up here is solid, which should mean a positive result. “Hell of Disillusion” has yet another simple chorus line that will get stuck in your head. The solo here is something to be thrilled by. The drumming here as well also intrigues me.

“Sorrow of the Dead” is one of my favorites here. By now you’ll realize most of the lyrics and music are darker in stature, similar to there 2001 outing “The Grave Digger.” That album was far from their best and overall was disappointing; “Ballads of a Hangman” however is much more of a success. “Lonely The Innocent Dies” features Veronica Freeman from Benedictom. She does a fantastic job here working with Mr. Boltendahl. The songs creepiness level during this song is apparent, but welcomed. “Into the War” sounds like classic Grave Digger, which kicks ass. The vocals on this album form beginning to end are great, which is to be expected considering Chris Boltendhal is great 24/7. “Funeral For A Fallen Angel” is a good track; the intro is a nice piece that isn’t a norm for Grave Digger. “Stromrider” has that classic feel similar to “Into the War,” which is always a plus. If you bought the digipack version of the album you’ll get the bonus track “Jailbreak,” which is a Thin Lizzy cover. Odd choice I must say, but overall it’s nice and worth buying the special edition.

The mediocre is still here, but in very small amounts. This is a great album to add to your collection. Grave Digger fans will be happy that some problems have been fixed and that a second guitarist is a nice addition. Nothing here will really surprise you, but hell, if it isn’t broken why fix it? Great album to start the New Year with.

Achievements: “Sorrow of the Dead,” “Ballads of a Hangman,” Stormrider”, and “Into the War”

Blunders: “Pray,” “Shadow of Your Soul,” “Grave of the Addicted”