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Greek mythology is a theme ripe in subject matter tailor-made for Boltendahl's anachronistic delivery. In fact, Grave Digger originally planned an album in this lyrical vein immediately after Excalibur, but the subsequent loss of Lulis and the maelstrom of uncertainty that followed shoved said plans to the wayside.
Nearly fifteen years later, ideas have matured along with the band members themselves. While Grave Digger has never been a band to unnecessarily revel in their past, they released a first-ever sequel album in 2010's The Clans Will Rise Again, which returned us to the war for independence amongst the Scottish heather. Not surprisingly, the Diggers delivered their best work since Rheingold in the process. Two years later, and the band hits us with yet another modern opus, this time before we even have a chance to regain our bearings. Clash of the Gods is dripping in enthusiasm and zest, both of which were markedly absent during most of Grave Digger's post-2003 output. Ritt really comes into his own on this record, showcasing his tempered picking hand and keen ear for melody. The guitar tone is still a little too cleaned-up and fragile, akin to Liberty or Death, but Ritt's performance is enough to save this one from the void. His playing style is more animated and spastic than Schmidt or Lulis, helping stave off any semblance of stagnation as Grave Digger moves from mid-paced bruisers like the title track to scorchers like "Hell Dog".
In fact, there is quite a variety of experimental aesthetics here, proving that Grave Digger isn't afraid of exploring new songwriting avenues, even as they approach their thirty-fifth anniversary. Closer "Home at Last" hails back to the knockabout, bruising disposition of "Sword" from Rheingold, only this time with a searing melodic slant to boot. Boltendahl's celebrated multi-tracked choruses come back with a vengeance as well, with the choruses of "Hell Dog", "Walls of Sorrow", and "Death Angel and the Grave Digger" all being stickier than they have any right to be. The heaviest song on Clash of the Gods is without a doubt the mid-paced "Call of the Sirens", wafting back and forth between Ritt's cavernous open notes and Boltendahl's emotive crooning.
Katzenburg enjoys his strongest presence since perhaps Knights of the Cross, summoning a great antediluvian atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with Clash of the Gods' subject matter. While the Teutonic opener "Charon (Fährmann des Todes)" gets the proceedings off to a foreboding enough start, it is actually the understated buzzing synths of "...With the Wind" that sell the album's esoteric aesthetics most effectively. The keyboard solo that comes out of left field during the opener "God of Terror" opens new doors for Grave Digger that can potentially give them even more appeal with the modern power metal crowd.
Clash of the Gods is an extremely consistent album, with only "Medusa" failing to make much of a case for the primary approach here. The chorus seems phoned-in and thoughtless, and the rest of the song lacks the Delphic bite present on virtually every other song here. If anything, Clash of the Gods proves that the band can do no wrong when tackling historical lyrical fare, what a treat.
The album has a mythological theme to it, and the song titles alone get me excited. Opening the album is an intro track called “Charon”. Charon is the ferryman to Hades, guiding all damned souls to their home in the underworld. So what better way to kick off a heavy metal album than an eerie little number, complete with German voice-overs and creepy sound effects? It’s simply a perfect start to a great album.
Continuing on, each song has a different theme from the hell dog, “Cerberus”, to the beautiful yet deadly tale of sirens luring their prey to their ultimate death, and wrapping up with Home at Last. It is a great example of Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero, a tale of departure, internal struggle, and ultimately returning home a hero. The lyrics are so well put together and easy to hear, it makes for some true listening enjoyment, while transporting you into an ancient world of gods and goddesses and of course, some monsters to go along with them.
I was truly impressed at Grave Digger’s ability to hold onto their classic heavy metal sound. Each track brings in a different element to the album. “God of Terror” is probably the thrashiest track on the album, with a killer guitar solo and perfect drum and bass elements mixed in. I put that solo on repeat about ten times when I first played the album. “Medusa” has a deeper tone to it; of course the subject matter is a bit dark and gloomy. The track maintains a solid heavy metal tone, but manages to incorporate a feeling of fear that the listener should pick up on rather quickly.
Axel Ritt’s playing style (he is rather new to the band joining in 2009) is what really sets this album apart from other Grave Digger releases. Each track has that signature Grave Digger chorus with epic vocal layering to sound like you’re hearing them play in a crowded arena with fans shouting along, but man these guitar riffs rule. Even the slower songs have such a hook in them that you can’t help but bang your head. The guitar solos are immaculate and blend in perfectly, showing true writing talent and not just a guitarist showing off how fast they can play.
Chris Boltendahl still has the pipes of a heavy metal king, and the drum and bass help give each song a driving beat perfect for thrashing around your house, shower, car, work, or wherever that urge may come about (which I warn you – you put on this album and it WILL happen). The keys aren’t used too much in this album, but that’s pretty normal for this band. I think they managed to perfectly utilize synth so it doesn’t overpower the HEAVY METAL. The album gets better and better as it goes along the hero’s journey, with its high point in the track “Death Angel and the Grave Digger”. This song alone has everything a great metal song needs and more.
I sincerely recommend this album to any Grave Digger fan, old and new alike. It has the ability to literally transform you into another place and time, and with a fantastic soundtrack on your journey who would complain? These heavy metal giants are definitely still out for blood, and this album should seriously grab your attention and respect. There’s not much in this album I would change, it’s damn near perfect.
[Originally written for Metalholic.com]
After the somewhat lovelessly compilated "Home At Last" EP that featured three rehashed live songs, a good title track and two rather generic and powerless songs, I was a little bit secptical concerning the release of this new full length album that mostly deals with Greak culture, history and mythology. Soon, I realized that my worries weren't justified as the legendary German heavy metal institution delivers easily one of its best records of the last years. I would even go as far and say that this brand new powerhouse is the band's most amazing release since the dark, epic and experimental "Heart Of Darkness" record almost twenty years ago despite many very solid albums that appeared since then such as the powerful and diversified "Knights Of The Cross", the epic conceptual work around the "Rheingold" saga or the somewhat dark and gripping "The Last Supper".
From the first moments on, this record exactly hit my nerve. It starts with a very atmospheric introduction called "Charon" on which one can hear the charismatic and crispy vocals of Michael Robert Rhein who is the frontman of the successful German medieval rock powerhouse In Extremo and a close friend to the band. The bleak German vocals get you just in the right majestic atmosphere before "God Of Terror" offers a great mixture of typically teutonic up tempo riffs and a catchy and epic chorus but als some surprising elements such as an unusual opening riff and some weird keyboard sounds in the unchained instrumental middle part of the tune.
This mixture of old and new stands for the entire release. Mediterranean folk influences in epic mid or slow tempo hymns meet charismatic clean vocals in the outstanding album highlights such as the atmospheric "Medusa" and the enchanting and slightly floating "Call Of The Sirens" with some intriguing keyboard sounds crowned by an epic chorus that makes me think of a mixture of "Keeper Of the Holy Grail" of the great "Knights Of The Cross" album and "Crucified" from the outstanding "The Last Supper" record. Another highlight is the vivid folk influenced bonus track "Saints Of The Broken Souls" that is worth the purchase of the limited edition alone. Grave Digger always had the tendancy to put some of their best tracks on the special editions and a true fan shouldn't miss them out.
Another truly outstanding track is the closing single "Home At Last" that has a chorus written for eternity. This track is a true grower that gets better and better each time you listen to it. The song somehow reminds me of Gary Moore's famous "Over The Hills And Far Away" but this is the only negative aspect I could point out in here. I must admit that the German version of the track entitled "Zurück nach Haus" that is also included on the special edition works even better. This future live classic with a simple but truly emotional and highly addictive chorus stands in one row with classic songs such as "Heavy Metal Breakdown", "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)" or "Ballad Of A Hangman".
In the end, there is not one single bad track on the entire record that varies well between the band's typical trademarks such as simplistic heavy metal riffs, catchy choruses with epic feelings and the unique chrispy vocals and some new stuff such as a more important role played by the keyboards, some Mediterranean folk influences and more introspective and atmospheric moments as on the last releases. The only negative thing one could mention is the fact that some guitar riffs sound too similar to the classic stuff we have already known from this band and that a couple of tracks are too much influenced by things where the band has been before but this is also what makes the typical Grave Digger sound and this problem has already been more frequent on past records. Another stunning aspect is the fact that the vocals are performed with a more and more frequent German accent as if the singer's English skills would decrease instead of getting better as time goes by. One can describe these vocals as charismstic but I would also understand somebody who might argue that they are slightly flawed as the hard and forced pronounciation sounds mildly amusing at times.
In the end, I would like to bring one suggestion for the band on the table if they might read these lines one day: "Charon" and "Zurück nach Haus" are two of the best songs musically and lyrically in here and it would be great if the band was able to write and record an entire album in German one day.
It's as if Chris Boltendahl and Grave Digger stopped aging 20 years ago when the band reformed. This is not to say they haven't experimented with different ideas over that span of time, but their consistency of quality is near perfect. You always know you're going to get a great Grave Digger album when a new one comes out. There are far too few bands with that kind of reliability anymore. Especially among the classic ones.
Clash Of The Gods picks up right where the last album left off. The Clans Will Rise Again was probably the best release since Rheingold, so this album had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, this follow-up is more than worthy. Katzenburg and Axel Ritt seem to have meshed together a bit more since the last album and provide us with some keyboard/guitar licks and harmonies that are different and fun to hear. Axel's solos are especially well presented and played. Those brief moments bring a more modern power metal sound to the band when they occur, which makes things fresh despite the by-the-numbers formula the band have relied on for so long.
Long-time fans of the band know this is another album that they're going to buy and love, but this might actually be one of the few Grave Digger albums I'd put on the short list to recommend to power metal newbies. Modern power metal fans will find a lot to enjoy here. In fact, this album may be one of (if not the) best power metal releases of 2012. Buy it. Love it. Support a legendary band!