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For the immortal Grave Digger, it doesn't get much worse than Liberty or Death. While Schmidt would stick around long enough to release one more album with the group after this one, his impending departure due to "creative differences" is already beginning to reflect onto the compositions. There were multiple red flags that remained strewn about from the largely unspectacular The Last Supper, and all of that album's shortcomings are magnified here by varying orders of magnitude.
Schmidt's monolithic riff delivery has been unreasonably scaled back along with Grave Digger's normally macerating production values. This is particularly confounding because the formula is such a simple one. While The Last Supper lacked most of the vehement riffs present on Rheingold, it still sounded deservedly astronomical. At least when a pulverizing riff finally came around, the album was in a position to deliver the goods The number of riffs on Liberty or Death that can hold their own on albums like Rheingold or The Grave Digger can be counted on one hand alone. Not only that, Schmidt's tone sounds both offensively stock and toothless. "Forecourt to Hell" and "Ocean of Blood" both try to summon a more rocking variant of the classic number "Giants", but are both left spinning their tires due to the abysmal guitar tone.
Boltendahl and his crew try to raze all of the necessary fields, almost following a mental checklist as they rumble along. We get the obligatory Middle-Eastern themed cut in "Massada", the doomy crusher in "Shadowland", and the typical Katzenburg-led romp in "The Terrible One". It comes off as extremely forced and insincere, almost like Grave Digger feels obligated to include all of these quasi-themed tracks that are commonly associated with the band due to a lack of inspiration elsewhere. On a more interesting note, some of the tracks with less of a lyrical identity (primarily referring to "Silent Revolution") end up being some of the more impressive songs here on Liberty or Death. Regardless, the album just can't get cooking in any one direction for long enough to mount any sort of offensive. Even Boltendahl's venomous choruses -which are here in function but not form- fall largely flat.
Despite the normally-acceptable two year downtime, Grave Digger just couldn't find the necessary pieces in time to assemble one of their modern behemoths this time around. My version came with the obscure bonus track "Ship of Hope". Another slower, acoustically textured crooner, it ends up featuring enough sticky melodies and the only truly memorable multi-layered chorus. It serves as a fitting final disappointment that one of the best tracks is only present as a bonus track on certain versions of Liberty or Death.
As it stands, Liberty or Death is the least impressive Grave Digger record featuring the legendary Manni Schmidt. Even so, the "worst" of any Grave Digger album will still have it's moments, as the band simply refuses to release an all-out bomb. The band's incendiary speed metal architecture is still here, but the listener must navigate an unreasonable amount of filler to get to it. Delivers a couple of scorchers, but pales in comparison to it's siblings.
Having heard a great deal of positive feedback about Grave Digger, I was quite excited to receive a promo for "Liberty Or Death." Unfortunately, this was my first experience of hearing Grave Digger's music, and despite giving it several chances, I was not able to get into it. After having read several reviews by morons (from other sites) that essentially said that this "boldly continues the tradition of excellent albums by Grave Digger," I wrote off the band for over three years. I assumed that those reviews were accurate (they were not) and that this was as good a starting point as any, rather than a poor album by a great band.
Before the suspense kills you, a chance encounter with "Rheingold" was enough to re-evaluate my opinions on the band, and, in the past month, have purchased about 90% of their back-catalogue since their reformation in 1993. Grave Digger has some fantastic albums and are actually one of the few bands that can play several different styles well. The problem with "Liberty or Death" is that, to anyone familiar with Grave Digger, they are trying to sound very different from previous albums. The riffs are simpler, (basic chords and melodies) and the production moves them further back in the mix. The choruses tend to be of a more sing-along variety, with multi-tracked vocals used to create a choir-like sound a la Blind Guardian or Manowar.
All of this would not be as much of a negative if the songs were better written. However, this style is pulled off very poorly. The songs themselves feel very formulaic. The choruses, which should grab me since they seem to be the focus of many of the songs, have a been-there-done-that feeling. And besides, there are many Blind Guardian clones out there doing the same thing just as poorly or even slightly better. However, very few, if any, have been able to replicate the power heard on Grave Digger albums like "The Reaper" and the aforementioned "Rheingold." Besides, Grave Digger is a band I rely on for a "ballsier" sound compared to many of their power-metal contemporaries.
Needless to say, there is almost nothing to recommend about "Liberty or Death." The only reason that the score is not lower is because this isn't a total earrape, but the lack of anything worthwhile (certainly nothing I'd put on a Grave Digger "best-of" mix-CD) is rather sad considering just how good past albums have been. Even though it would not reach the levels of their best work, their follow-up "Ballads of a Hangman" proved that Grave Digger was not creatively spent.
It may sound strange to you, but in my opinion the bonus song is the best one on the whole album. I'm sorry for those ones who bought only the regular edition without this song and the poster. But does that mean that the rest of the album is a deception? No, it is still an above the average and highly underrated album, though it has not the diversified creativity of "The last supper".
The album starts with an atmospheric organ introduction that leads to the mystic and epic title track "Liberty or death". "Highland tears" goes back to the style of "Tunes of war" and could have perfectly fit on this album. The song is epic and melodic, the pipers fit very well in this song. Another highlight of the album is "Silent revolution", a darker and still quiet epic song. "Massada" is then the best song on the regular edition, it has oriental and Arabic folk influences, mighty choirs and is dramatically structured. The next and very last song is "Ship of hope" with a dark atmosphere when the song begins as a dark ballad. The piano interludes are a welcome change in style but fit perfectly and the chorus is epic and gives me goose bumps every time I am listening to it. The end of the song goes back to its beginning, the perfect circle is drawn.
If we just take those five songs, the album is as creative and diversified as "The last supper", but the best word to describe the sound would have been "epic". The conceptual songs about the fight for freedom in many different ways are all quite long, highly elaborated and diversified. You find many interesting and inspiring influences and the straighter head bangers can't be found that easily. This half of the album is just perfect.
But there are still six other songs on the record. "Ocean of blood" is the straight up-tempo rock song and remembers me a lot of "Rheingold". It is a typical Grave Digger song but nothing we haven't already heard better on some older albums. "The terrible one" begins with dark choirs and creates an eerie atmosphere, but the shredding riffs that come in don't fit at all with the rest and the rest of the song is a typical up-tempo number. The only remarkable thing is the catchy chorus. "Until the last king died" begins with a bass intro and strange guitar sounds and seems to be a very interesting song. The song is very low and begins with strange choirs and deserves you some surprises, but the whole thing seems somehow discordant and too forced to me concerning the changes of style. It is without a doubt a interesting song but somehow a difficult and uneasy song that takes really a lot of time to grow on you, if it grows finally. "March of the innocent" has a very atmospheric introduction with acoustic guitars and starts very well but the whole thing is way too long and the whole song may become a little bit boring. Chimes and acoustic guitar sounds bring an interesting element to the song when the vocals come in, but the chorus is too simple. "Shadowland" begins very calm and simple riffs announce that this song will soon be transformed into a typical mid-tempo banger, a little bit too typical, too boring, too ordinary. Verses and chorus are really boring and I think that this song is by far the weakest one on this album. "Forecourt to hell" is also a mid-tempo banger but a little bit straighter and could have been found on the last album instead of the very similar "Hell to pay". The song is solid, but not great or original.
In conclusion, we have got five very creative and excellent songs and six good and typical average mid-tempo songs that you can like to listen to just to forget them a few seconds after. Once again, the more experimental songs are really interesting and show the band's talent and diversity, but for the rest of the album, they prefer too stick to their roots and please the older fans and that almost destroys the magic and power of the other album half. That's why there is an excellent half and a boring standard half on this album. I think that my rating tries to find the middle between those two styles, seen from a courageous and friendly point of view.
I would recommend this album to you if you have liked the one before and if you could imagine a fusion between the actual style and the band's classical style. And if you buy it, you must get the digipack edition!
Anxiously since last year I have awaited the coming of 2007. A new year, new beginnings, some changes, new opportunities, etc. What I have awaited more than anything, however, were the albums scheduled to be released in 2007. Now that 2007 is almost over it appears, though, I have been let down. At least in the realm of power metal, anyway. I can count the amount of decent power metal albums released in 2007 on one hand. What the hell happened? Bands like Iced Earth, Sonata Arctica, Elvenking, Manticora, etc. all had plans for a new album and each and every one was a disappointment. So what the hell does that have to do with anything? It’s my firm belief that this album’s release in early 2007 sent a terrible shockwave throughout the power metal world to release terrible, uninspired albums.
I’ll ask once again, what the hell happened? Grave Digger has one of the most solid and consistent discographies of any band I know. Grave Digger has released plenty of albums that outshine others but there’s no such thing as a bad Grave Digger Album. Well, until now. It’s hard for me to admit this is a bad album since I’m one of their biggest fans. Alas, since its unwanted release in early 2007 all logic points to this album marking the beginning of a bad year for power metal.
I’d like to go out of my way and just point out what I do like about this album. The songs are very nicely mixed and sound great. There isn’t a lack of good riffs and there are one or two good solos on the record. Plenty of songs like Ocean of Blood are fast and energetic. The title track is also one that’s okay. You can’t go wrong with Chris’ vocals, too. I like the use of clean vocals on this album, too. The songs where Chris sings clean like Silent Revolution are pretty nice. Most people will tell you Chris can’t sing clean for shit but I personally, think he does a fine job of it. Although, for all intents and purposes I greatly prefer his more raspy voice. Anyway, wherever you find good vocals on a Grave Digger record you get a nice lyric sheet. I’m a man who likes his lyrics and these are interesting. Grave Digger keeps up the history theme giving us tales of revolution and triumph. Unfortunately, the music is more fitting to the songs on it that deal with defeat and humiliation.
Now it’s time for the reason why I can’t stand this album. With all that’s above it seems like a decent and standard Grave Digger album. On the flip side the good moments are limited in number and there’s more filler and killer. The problem lies with the songs themselves. They don’t stand out and sound pretty bad. What’s worse is many of the songs have a very nice intro, which builds up your anticipation, but as the song moves along it dies down and you get a boring experience. Excluding two or three tracks all we get are empty and unmemorable songs. The main problem on the album is undoubtedly songwriting. Grave Digger’s sound is a heavy/power metal style with the signature rough yet not harsh vocals uncommonly heard in this genre. The moments of an irresistibly catchy chorus this band is so known for are scarce. It just does not deliver a plate of solid music and instead you are served a meal of a few decent tracks in a soup of crap.
Actually, the number of good tracks on this album are about the same as the number of tolerable power metal releases in 2007. Coincidence? I think not! This album is cursed!
Alrighty, those who are new to Grave Digger should definitely check out their other albums and stay away from this one. Speaking as a huge Grave Digger fan myself, I’d advise even long time fans of this band to stay away from it. Honestly, the only reason this album doesn’t get a lower score is because of my love for this band. If you haven’t heard it and just want to find out if it’s really that bad, don’t go for it. If you’re hyper obsessed with this band you may enjoy it, but otherwise stay way.
Now there is such a thing as good and bad power metal. Depending on your tastes in the sub genre, this can lean towards cheesy...or not cheesy. And depending on your definition of cheesy Grave Digger has always pushed that envelope. Liberty or Death is simply one more chapter in their long career of historical - yet very metal - albums.
The most prominent detail on Liberty or Death (that Grave Digger always has) is the tone and use of the vocals. They are borderline thrash harshness but yet very much used in a power metal way. It’s very unique and useful to make Grave Digger stick out from the rest of the medium paced power metal bands. Their guitars aren't insanely complicated and very straightforward with "power" chords overlaid with promises of melodic guitars. The melodic guitar parts are never really up to par with most other power metal bands or even by Grave Digger standards but they suffice to fill the music and give it variety. The solos aren't spectacular but they never really were anything special with Grave Digger. Sometimes the unique bass lines caught my ear underneath it all and I almost wanted the bass to be more prominent in the music (more of a Helloween thing anyway).
The most remarkable feature of Liberty or Death is the lyrical content. Grave Digger always find that way to make a decent story out of the music they play - and historical to top it off. All the tracks focus on the ideas of liberty and what they meant to certain people and times. That's really what keeps me coming back to Grave Digger for more and more. This is a better album as a whole then any of its parts. If you get a chance really just listen to the album all the way through as a whole and if you don't like it. No big deal. But I think the story of the album is fascinating and worth the time.
Songs to check out: Until the Last King Died, Shadowland, Ocean of Blood.
So finally two years after The Last Supper Grave Digger are back with the long awaited Liberty or Death. While “TLS” wasn’t a bad album, it was a little downstep from 2003’s “Rheingold”. With “LoD” Grave Digger has taken a little step forward again, and even if that step is not so big, and eventhough it’s not among their absolutely best releases, GD has once again shown that they still can deliver some good heavy metal after 26 years.
Honestly, when I first heard the album I thought the same as I did with “The Last Supper”, that it wasn’t really as good as I had hoped and that it was really inconsistent. But just as with that album I started to like the album more and more for each listen. In fact, Liberty or Death has some great songs, especially the brilliant “Shadowland”. It has it all. Great riffs, verses, chorus and a splendid guitar solo by Mr. Manni Schmidt and also a heavy outro. “Ocean Of Blood” delivers some nice speedy riffs, nice chorus, and in overall a typical Grave Digger song. Two other faves are the speedy one “The Terrible One” and “Forecourt To Hell”. Two songs that both holds a high level in almost all aspects. Intro, verse, and solos, I find nothing to complain about, except the choruses, which I will come to later. And the main riff in “Forecourt” may be the best riff Grave Digger written since the “Rheingold” album, heavy and in pure Judas Priest-style. However, among all songs not mentioned now, my rating goes from bad to good - but there’s only two songs that I think is “yeah, this is awesome ! (Shadowland, The Terrible One).
I think there are two reasons why the main part of the songs aren’t in “wow”-rating for me. First thing is, the most of the songs can start out with a really promising intro, but then just leads into something not as promising, and not very creative at all (mostly noticed in “March Of The Innocence”). And this is something Grave Digger has to work on, to make their songs more interesting – the verses must be much better, and this also leads into the second thing. The choruses. These ones, as well as verses must in overall improve for the future. There are some nice choruses, as earlier mentioned one in Shadowland, the simple but still nice one in “March..”, the titletracks big and nice choir chorus, and the emotional and catchy chorus in “Massada”. But that’s about it. The choruses must be better melody wise than most of the ones found on this album. Also, to next album they should maybe try to bring some more people into the backing vocals section. You can’t have just two people singing along in the choruses if you want it to be “big sounding”. Even if the succeeded well with the choirs in the titletrack.
A part that is always as great as usual when it comes to GD though, are all bandmembers performances. These guys knows what they’re doing after so many years with their instruments. And drummer Stefan Arnold is playing with a little bit more finesse this time, spicing it up more. When it comes to Chris’ vocals, it’s good as always, fits Grave Digger great, naturally after all this years. But I do still miss some of his “high pitched” screams that he always has done at least a few times on each record. I can’t find much of them on this record. I think he should let some of those out, at least on the albums. If he chooses to avoid them live, that’s fine, but would be nice to have at least some. The sound/production this time is more groovy, heavier and maybe a bit rawer sounding than “The Last Supper”’s. Especially the drum’s sound has got a nice face lift, sounding more thunderous and not so farty.
Maybe some people find it weird that I rate the album 80% after these several minuses, but I’ve also mentioned some pluses, which weights this album up to the better again. Even if the song structures mostly are simply put into intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-repeat chorus X2, there’s some great songs on there. But as I said, there’s maybe too few of “wow” hits. But it is a good album, and despite it’s not among their greatest releases, I think that you should give it some listens before you judge it and then see if you like it. But we can still hope that GD takes a further step forward to next album, and maybe bring the darker lyrics back ? As in fact, GD’s two best albums are weirdly those with dark lyrics/themes.
3 best songs: Shadowland, The Terrible One, Ocean Of Blood