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This one just doesn't do that much for me. While the Arthurian legends are a natural lyrical concept for the venomous Boltendahl, most of Excalibur fails to make the usual savage impact that is normally associated with the group's '90s masterworks.
It is something of a shame that the legendary Lulis went out on a lukewarm note such as this. His typically monolithic riffs are notably scaled back here on Excalibur. It almost appears as if the band stretched their ideas too thin by including an individual song for nearly every tertiary character in the concept. Lulis' riffs are more reminiscent of The Grave Digger than any of other albums that actually feature him. Their normal vitriolic surge is mostly intact, evident on the driving opener "Pendragon" and the mid-paced crusher "The Spell". Still, even these tracks would blend into the surroundings on albums like Heart of Darkness or Rheingold. The one exception is "Tristan's Fate", which ends up being the best song here. The vocal melody that the chorus revolves around is sublime, coexisting effectively with one of the more tolerable riff sets and a killer solo.
The problem definitely isn't Boltendahl, as Excalibur falls in line with most of the group's other classics from a vocal standpoint. Most bands that adopt lyrical concepts do it as a quick, easy way to add fantasy elements and avoid writing their own lyrics. Boltendahl, however, always comes off as sincere in his delivery. Who else can roar lines like "Magic potion, crystal clear. It's too late" with any semblance of class and passion? He tries his best to salvage the proceedings, keeping the otherwise average "Avalon"'s head just above water courtesy of a cleanly-sung, infectious chorus. The same can be said regarding "Mordred's Song", which is passable despite an atonal, bizarre solo section.
Regardless, too much of Excalibur ends up going in one ear and out the other. It seems that most fans are quite fond of the live-staple title track, but it pales in comparison to most Grave Digger classics as far as I'm concerned. Some individual moments have promise, such as the chorus of "The Round Table (Forever)" and the crooning vocal performance of "Emerald Eyes". Regardless, very little sticks. Some of the lack of impact is the production's fault, as Excalibur fails to sound as massive as the subject matter deserves. Becker's bass is almost entirely buried, and the guitars lack the sepulchral roar normally associated with Grave Digger.
Excalibur is a good album, but when judged against both it's younger and elder siblings it becomes something of a disappointment. This is still Grave Digger, but a Grave Digger a bit too by-the-numbers for their own good.
Many fans and even critics justify the popular opinion that this album might be the best Grave Digger record ever done. This album was also by far the Grave Digger record that got the highest chart position ever. Many tracks from the album are still played live by the band on a regular basis. To keep it short, this album is probably the most famous and respected one the legendary Teutonic metal icons Grave Digger have ever done.
That's the popular opinion but my view of the facts is a little bit different. I must admit that apart of a few great folk influences with bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy sounds in a couple of songs like the fast banger and still slightly diversified opener "Pendragon" or the often overseen album highlight "The Final War" and some majestic choirs and backing vocals performed by leading German metal musicians as in the catchy and yet epic single "The Round Table (Forever)" or the majestic "Avalon", aspects that have though both been present on the last two records and first two parts of the middle ages trilogy, Grave Digger offer nothing new on this album.
While the first four tracks of the album are the strongest part of the record and include catchy choruses and some epic moments, the band can't keep up with this quality for the rest of the album and promising topics as the ordinary "Morgane Le Fay" or the mediocre half ballad "Emerald Eyes" fall off the edge and bore with the usual patterns, ideas and melodies. These tracks all have one hundred percent Grave Digger trademarks but don't try out anything fresh or surprising.
Even though the album has an epic flow, the certain something that would justify the album's status is completely missing for me. I would even go as far and say that this record is not only among the average but even the weaker albums of the band. The album is still a solid old school heavy metal album with a lyrically interesting concept and few well done efforts but it feels stretched and lacks of imagination. I would have preferred a shorter and more consistent record or a truly experimental and detailed opus magnum but the final result we got here is somewhere between those worlds and by sounding exactly like a classic Grave Digger blueprint, this album sounds almost lost and faceless as if the contextual concept and the pressure to lead the once innovating medieval trilogy to an end would have been two weights on the band that seem to have blocked the sense of creativity, freshness and authenticity of the different musicians. In the end, I would suggest you to purchase the album if you want to complete the band's entire trilogy but if you want to buy it as a single album apart from the two previous ones, I would honestly give the advice to go for one of the two previous ones or even the upcoming three records rather than for this one here.
Oh yeah, THIS album got me into heavy metal music! I can't thank my friend enough for showing me the tracks Excalibur, The Round Table and Lancelot. I was immediately hooked, and so you will! In my opinion this is the best thing Grave Digger has ever put out! I know I'll never be really able to decide between this, their Rheingold and probably Tunes of War, but in the end this is were my roots are!
It's a concept album about King Arthur. Each song continues the story, you can read it in the booklet if you're interested. It begins with the birth of Arthur, and ends with the final journey to Avalon. Oh, and this isn't happy flower metal, it's fuckin' Grave Digger! And it may blast you to the wall while listening to it. Chris' gruff voice may not be your taste, but they're always the band's trademark! Not the usual power metal singer...
For the importancy of this album to myself I'm going to review it track-by-track:
1. The Secrets of Merlin: Beautyful intro. It starts out with keys playing a nice melody. A flute comes in, bagpipes and others after that. Nice medieval touch! Heavy guitars follow, and drums at last to reach the final climax. Sets the perfect mood for the rest, because we get into...
2. Pendragon: ...Pendragon! A roar, followed by a speed metal riff-fest! Great chorus, and even an unusual bagpipe solo before the guitar's! And now clear vocals... Yup, this song has it all, one of the album's best. Pendragon! Pendragon!
3. Excalibur: Well, the title track, and even more speed metal than Pendragon! No special instruments found here, just pure fuckin' metal! Great sing-along-chorus. Oh, and he indeed mispronounces the sword's name... best overlook that. I didn't even noticed that until I read it in requiem99's review! By the way, the song contains also my favourite guitar solo out of the whole album.
4. The Round Table (Forever): I love that medievil-like intro to the song! It's not that speedy as the predecessing tracks, but has other qualities. The mid-paced riffs cut like a chainsaw, good work by Uwe Lulis! The chorus is even better than in the first two.
5. Morgane la Fay: Starts out ballad-like with Chris' clear voice, before it turns into the speedy pace we know and love from Grave Digger. It's really damn fast with a bit thrashiness in the riffs, right the opposite the chorus part: it's again in clear vox. Where there were bagpipes in Pandragon there are flutes here, right before the pure ownage of the solo. Probably the best track on here, and always in their live reportoire.
6. The Spell: The second mid-paced song. It's a good example of his clear voice, which I think is used well on this album. All in all it probably isn't as exciting as the other tracks, but nevertheless a good one.
7. Tristan's Fate: Right from the start you can hear the song's chorus. The double-bass never stops, and the solo is again very fast, yet melodic. It is though the shortest song of the album.
8. Lancelot: Similar to The Round Table, though different and without the keys. Nothing that special on here, but extensive soloing. Again a great sing-along. Grave Digger are masters of that.
9. Mordred's Song: Woah, is that Heavy Metal Breakdown? Really damn fast! I like the chorus, probably the second best after The Round Table! This is why it's one of the songs I like most of the album. And everything similar with HMB just can be good. I am Mordred, king of the night!
10. The Final War: Fast, as most of the stuff here is. Have I already said that most of the album's choruses are multiple-voiced? So it is here, and it's just as enjoyable as, let's say, the title track.
11. Emerald Eyes: The only 'true' ballad on here. But in his gruff voice, a lot of people may not like that, but I thinks it sounds good. Well, I think everyone has to make his own opinion about that. Highly enjoyable.
12. Avalon: The longest song with nearly six minutes. Heavy guitars, and hear Chris screaming in the pre-chorus! The actual chorus is sung clearly without the guitars. It finally fades out witha beatyful flute... I think it was a good thing they made the last two tracks a bit slower and mellower than the rest, just to relax 'til the end.
13, *Parcival*: Only if you have the digipak edition. It's almost a clear "Monks of War"-ripoff from their own 'Knights of the Cross' album. So don't expect something innovative, just a FAST and good GD tune.
Conclusion: Arguably the best album of '99, and probably one of the best epic power metal ones of all time! All 12 (13) tracks immediately stick in mind and are performed greatly. Everyone performed well here, and the songwriting is utterly consistent. If you really want to get into Grave Digger, I highly recommend buying this album. Or better, buy it in their 'Middleages Trilogy', to get three for the price of one! You really can't make anything wrong with it!
This CD is well played, impeccably produced and all the cheese-fantasy aspects are there. Sadly, this reeks of commercial idiocy (remember - this is marketed to Germany) and a vibe of "we wish were 'Metal Heart' Accept" that fails to let this record be anything more than a decent attempt to recreate U.D.O.'s "Animal House" record with less vocal intensity and terrible lyrics/artwork. Typically well played, typicall German...typicall throwaway.
The first four songs cook a bit, with some decent "sing along" choruses and big riffs that one can pretend rock in a retro-happy sense and even I enjoy as a guilty pleasure. Sadly, this is the best the record gets as it decays into silly crap like "Morgana LeFay" and other bullshit that takes away the street-level feel of the early Grave Digger material and replaces it with a pretentious pomp that can't be carried by this "passable-at-best" riffcraft.
This record will be loved by power (aka flower) metal kids worldwide, but it dissapoints me as Grave Digger are capable of so much more. These guys could have carried some of the slack left in the wake of Accept and here we find them trying to latch to the trends (again...ever here the DIGGER project) and the result after the initial songs is a silly, horribly pointless and laughable record from a band who could be among the most important of the genre.
Grave Digger...you've let me down here.
Buy it only if you like sub-par and throwaway "junk food" Teuton-rock.
The third and final installment of the Middle Ages Trilogy is entitled Excalibur. And this album ranks as one of my top 5 albums of all time.
The final part of the string of albums concentrating on medieval themes now moves from historical events to a fantasy theme, telling the story of King Arthur and Excalibur. Lots of orchestrations, keyboard effects and even bagpipes at some places are brought in along with huge backing choirs creating a mighty epic feeling that's never been matched by any other band.
But underneath it is the intense and really fucking heavy riffwork of Uwe Lulis along with the gruff vocals of Chris Boltendahl that build the spine for the Grave Digger we all know and love. And we also have the devastating drumwork of Stefan Arnold, along with the bassplaying of Jens Becker.
The speed and power metal elements of Grave Digger blend in perfectly together, making what is by far their greatest album. And aside from their earlier albums, this album consists of 11 fucking winners (plus an intro), and not a single bad song. There is no weak spot to be found on the album, it is practically flawless.
We begin our journey with The Secrets of Merlin, their best intro by far. It is an orchestral, mood-setting and incredibly atmospheric piece of music, which blasts right into one of Grave Digger's greatest songs ever: Pendragon. Holy fucking shit, prepare to get blown away.
We begin with samples of a roaring dragon, and then you will get knocked off your feet by what may be the most brutal fucking riffage ever seen in a power metal song. Total fucking speed metal all the way, and the vocal lines are awesome- Totally memorable, catchy yet aggressive, and ideal to sing along to. And the chorus is just amazing- Huge singalong guaranteed.
And there is more ownage to expect. Also to be found is an atmospheric bagpipe part, which is torn apart by a ripping guitar solo, followed by a mesmerizing bridge, featuring the first appearance of Chris' amazing clean voice.
This is one of Grave Digger's best songs right here.
Next is the title track. A thunderous main riff kicks you in the face, starting the song off. It goes on at an efficient pace all through, although not quite as furiously insane as the opener. The song features more amazing guitarwork, most notably during the mesmerizing melodic solo. But the highlight of the song is the huge chorus- Amazing shit. I dare you not to sing along. Double dare, motherfucker.
Now we have another highlight, which definitely ranks among my top ten Grave Digger songs. The Round Table (Forever) begins with a majestic keyboard intro, and goes into one midpaced fucking headbanging monster. They never really nailed the midpaced stuff until this now, but this is a fucking masterpiece.
The main riff is atmospheric as hell, and the under-vers riff is completely devastating, yet still very atmospheric. The vocal lines are incredibly powerful, but check out that chorus... "TOGETHER WE STAND, STEEL IN OUR HANDS!" So it may be cliché, but who cares? These guys do it better than anyone else.
Morgane Le Fay comes up next. This is the masterpiece of the entire album, and the second greatest Grave Digger song of all time. The mesmerizing melodic intro features more of Chris Boltendahl's clean vocals, providing an atmospheric intro. But then, the first guitar riff kicks in, building up before the main riff- Total fucking speed metal, total fucking ownage. This features some of the most aggressive riffs ever played by Uwe Lulis, but just when you think you know what direction the song has taken, we are brought into the awesome chorus, featuring a pounding double bass under the clean vocals, together creating an incredible atmosphere. And the solo that appears in the song, it totally owns you.
The Spell is yet another masterpiece, and like the previous song goes through a number of mood and time changes, yet nothing sounds out of place. The midpaced main riff is heavy, yet incredibly atmospheric, while the verses are melodic and sung in a clean voice, until the pre-chorus and chorus kicks in, taking us back to the heavier parts, yet still remaining incredibly atmospheric.
Tristan's Fate begins with a backing choir chanting the atmospheric chorus, and in kicks the aggressive speed metal main riff. Amazing guitarwork all through is delivered on the song, also featuring one of the greatest solos on the album.
The vocal lines are incredibly catchy and aggressive, yet the sadness shown in the lyrics are well reflected in the vocals.
Lancelot is another personal favourite of mine. The beat is midpaced, the verses are incredibly groovy, yet the guitars play along at an efficient pace.
But what shines the most on this song, is the chorus. A strong pre-chorus part takes us into a huge, epic singalong, which shows that even Chris' gruff vocals can express emotions in a fabulous way. This is absolutely beautiful.
Mordred's Song gives us more insane speed metal riffwork under a hammering double bass attack, along with aggressive and incredibly catchy vocal lines, and excellent keyboard effects underneath the chorus. "I am Mordred, king of the night!" Oh hell yeah, the ownage continues.
The Final War follows, and gives us yet another speed metal masterpiece. Fast and heavy riffwork along with intense vocal lines telling of the final war between Arthur and Mordred. The pre-chorus seems to build up for another huge chorus, but instead we get a fast sung, aggressive chorus part, which in turn ends with backing choirs singing the title of the song. Very, very cool. Also, the song features another killer bagpipe part, leading into the atmospheric guitar solo.
Emerald Eyes is a piano-oriented, and is probably the best ballad they ever did. Chris sings the song in his gruff voice, and it actually sounds really good.
The chorus is the best moment of the song, featuring mesmerizing keyboards and some a nice riff underneath it all. It's a very good song, although it is the weakest link of the album.
Avalon is the closing track, and in it we have another one in the countless row of classics brought to us on the album.
A minute-long intro goes through a number of phases before going into the amazing, heavy and midpaced verses in the vein of The Round Table. But the chorus is melodic, mesmerizing and absolutely beautiful, providing a nice counterpoint to the heavy verses.
The song and album fades out with an incredible flute melody, which constantly sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it.
Grave Digger's Excalibur is an immortal masterpiece, and sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. What puts this over other Grave Digger albums, and many other albums in general? Well, there are many reasons. The production is the best they ever had. The songwriting just totally fucking works- each song has interesting constructions and varying characteristics, and all of them completely fucking own. This is one of my top 5 albums of all time, and rightfully so. Buy it, hear it, love it. Or I shall personally kill you.