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Germany’s power metal kings Grave Digger have been one of the most successful metal bands from Europe within its genre and have been tantalising metal crowds since they began back in 1980. With their greatest achievements thundering through our speakers in the 90s, Grave Digger continues to forge wonderful guitar-laden releases. So in 2010, Grave Digger have rekindled a lost love (and a fan favourite) with their latest CD ‘The clans will rise again’.
Rising to power and success in the 90s after the band reformed after a 5-year breakup, Grave Digger turned to the power metal genre and with CDs like ‘Heart of darkness’ and ‘The reaper’ began their charge to the top. Finding their niche and uniqueness, particularly with the raspy and gritty tones of vocalist Chris Boltendahl, Grave Digger swiftly moved ahead with their signature power metal sound that we’ve grown to know and enjoy.
Some would argue, however, that Grave Digger hit a rough patch since the release of ‘Rheingold’ back in 2003. Both ‘The last supper’ and ‘Liberty or death’ were at best average CDs; however the band returned to form with 2009’s ‘Ballads of a hangman’, which received high acclaim. It’s with no surprise that Grave Digger have returned to a theme which brought them to glory in the 90s. Possibly receiving a scare from dropped popularity with those 2 average releases, Grave Digger has done what many bands have done before them (most recently, Gamma Ray with ‘Land of the free II’) and re-hashed a past classic. This classic is the war themed Middle Ages Trilogy, released between 1996 and 1999. ‘The clans will rise again’ is a “loose sequel” to ‘Tunes of war’, the first CD of the trilogy based on medieval Scottish history.
The new CD is their 2nd with Naplam Records and the first to feature new guitarist Axel Ritt, who has replaced Manni Schmidt after he left the band after ongoing disagreements with Chris Boltendahl. Ritt stands alone as the sole guitarist of the band due to Thilo Hermann also leaving shortly after the release of ‘Ballads of a hangman’. But enough of the background and history, the question is – how does the new CD sound?
Well I must say that the new release does not have the same impact as the previous CD. The songwriting in parts feels like it was rushed, as a few of the tracks aren’t very memorable and struggle to take off. While there are some great songs throughout the CD, it must be said that there are a few average tracks also. This is just my opinion, but once the CD stopped spinning after a few turns; I was left slightly unimpressed as I hold Grave Digger in high regard and respect. I just think it comes down consistency and on this release, there seems to be a misfire (at times) in terms of the songwriting and structure, and overall a lack of normally precise Grave Digger execution.
But enough of the negatives, let’s move on and talk about the pros. ‘The clans will rise again’ is still a good power metal CD with some great kick-ass tracks. Both “Paid in blood” and “Hammer of the Scots” are exceptional and traditional Grave Digger tracks, typical of the band’s aggressive signature sound; while “Valley of tears” is arguably the best track on the CD. Not just due to the infectious thundering riffs that flows throughout the track but also because the tempo and structure is fairly different to what is usually expected from a Grave Digger song. Other winners to be found within ‘The clans will rise again’ include “Highland farewell”, with its speedy groove riffs and bagpipes to boot, while “Execution” and “Coming home” have vigorous and catchy riffs and melodies.
When all is said and done, ‘The clans will rise again’ may not be the best CD Grave Digger has released, but there are enough top tracks here to make it a solid CD that would sit in the mid-tier of their best records to date. Whether the loss of guitarist Manni Schmidt has possibly taken away the some of the overall polish from the guitars remains to be seen, however with that said, Axel Ritt is a fine axeman and is an integral part of the band.
While die-hard Grave Digger fans will still pick this release up blindly as they have with everything else the band has brought out, the casual and also the power metal fans should try to hear this first before making that decision on whether or not to purchase.
Originally written for www.themetalforge.com and www.metalcdratings.com
While Running Wild has long been the emblem carriers for metal’s devotion to pirate lore, their equally raunchy yet tuneful speed metal counterparts Grave Digger don’t really have a distinctive image to go with their classic persona. However, with the release of “The Clans Will Rise Again”, something of an unofficial sequel to “Tunes Of War”, the all too familiar image of Highland warriors doing battle with the Vatican backed British Crown may come to be that image. Coming down with the fury of a great war hammer to the epic sound of folksy Scottish pipes, this is the sort of album that boasts a lofty visual that will require an extravagant studio effort to match.
Suffice to say, the album delivers magnificently, all but upstaging the spellbinding comeback album “Ballads Of A Hangman” after a bit of a slump through the mid 2000s. The same mixture of classic Judas Priest speed riffing with pounding Accept laced guitar distortion returns with a vengeance, accompanied by a somewhat more epic character, rather than the haunting and dark one on the previous release. Chris Boltendahl’s vocals are still the same series of gravely, raspy, raw, barely tuneful shouts that have typified every album since the band’s early 90s reunification, but there’s a good deal more emphasis on clean backing vocals and keyboard elements that soften the exterior and almost push things back into a mid-80s feel, minus the updated mixing equipment giving everything a modern sense of clarity and balance.
But the biggest switch and probably the most distinctive aspect of this latest offering is the entry of longtime shredder Alex Ritt to the Grave Digger family. Out of all the guitarists currently associated with German power metal, he was the last one that I would have expected them to recruit given his glam and progressive rock tendencies. But at the same time, his noticeably expressive and melodic style proves to be a perfect foil for the band’s established sound, offering a very different take on soloing than the traditional K.K. Downing meets Dave Murray style of most in this style. But he still maintains the same general riffing characteristics, adding perhaps an occasional fill/run that gives it things a slight Rhandy Rhodes flavor at times.
The usually powerful offerings of vintage speed metal are present throughout the entire album. “Paid In Blood” and “Spider” really deliver on the textbook approach of formulaic riffing style with plenty of double bass goodness, but the real point of glory in the speed department hits like a ton of freshly smelted steel on “Rebels”, complete with a massive sound chorus that permeates the ears and sticks instantly in the mind. But ironically enough, this album really gets the job done in the ballad department, offering two undeniable classics in “Whom The Gods Love Die Young” and “When Rain Turns To Blood”, showing the band’s ability to utilize keyboards and quiet guitar work without morphing into a cliché 80s glam interlude. Ritt’s solos on these two songs are so melodic and consonant that they could literally be sung along to with about the same ease as the choruses, and the atmosphere is perfectly achieved, rendering images of endless green fields littered with the corpses of fallen soldiers.
It’s pretty much an even contest between this album and the last one, and in the case of both, arguably the best work put out by the band since the late 90s. The union of Grave Digger and Alex Ritt has a lot of potential for future fits of studio produced glory and just as likely also a riveting live album, so it will hopefully not be a short lived one. In the absence of Running Wild and Metal Church from the dwindling ranks of 80s power metal mainstays, this is one of the few remnants that has basically maintained their sound and kept it free from modern influences. It has all the charm of a grand tail from the Highlands, and the bombastic bagpipes to match.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 1, 2011.
Grave Digger need no introduction to any self respecting fan of heavy metal. Being at the forefront of the German metal scene since their debut in 1984 has engraved their name into many metal fans hearts. 2010 sees the band return to the album that many fans regard as their 'magnum opus', Tunes of War. Kilts, bagpipes, clans and war, it can only be about one thing, Scotland. In-case you've been living in a cave for the last number of years, Grave Digger play a gruff, anthemic variation of power metal.
The recent output of Grave Digger to be totally honest left a lot to be desired. Ever since the fantastic Rheingold, Grave Digger's releases have been pretty unremarkable. The Last Supper was just flat out dull and the equally boring Liberty or Death no better. Ballads of a Hangman was somewhat of an improvement but lacked the spark of previous releases. The Clans Will Rise Again fortunately amends this recent dip in the Digger's form, and is certainly the best since Rheingold, if not better.
What Grave Digger manage to do so well is create a levelled mixture of bombast and infectious choruses, refraining from ever entering into self indulgence. This is what makes them one of the most effective live bands you will ever see. The songs just carry over so well into the live environment, and it's where Grave Digger really shine. If you ever get the chance to see them live, I would highly recommend you do so.
Songs like “Paid in Blood”, which is pretty much certain to be a live staple with its unashamedly catchy chorus are exactly what's been missing from the Grave Digger roster recently. The album is riddled with solos and substantial, crunchy riffs, which is owed to the introduction of new guitarist Axel Ritt. He appears to have added some much needed ardour into this metal behemoth. Chris Boltendahl's vocals never change. They sound almost identical since day one, and set Grave Digger far apart from everyone else and give them their identity. Name another vocalist who sounds similar, because I can't. Technically no, he's certainly not the best by any means, but it's his token gruff accent that makes Grave Digger who they are. “Coming Home” again is another highlight of the album, as is the headstrong “Hammer of the Scots”. The obligatory ballad appears at the end, “When Rain Turns to Blood”, and to be honest is probably the weakest song on the album, certainly not one of their best ballads, it's almost as if something is stopping it from going anywhere, in the end it just trails off without really ever provoking any sort of emotion. There isn't anything quite up to the standard of songs like “Rebellion” or “William Wallace (Braveheart)”, but they're stone cold classics of not just Grave Digger themselves, but of metal itself. It's also good to see the bagpipes making a return again, and used in moderation, we wouldn't want a metal version of Runrig now would we?
This a very welcome return to form by these German veterans, it's classic Grave Digger and Grave Digger by numbers at the same time, and Grave Digger by numbers is better than ninety percent of anything in being called power metal today. It's majestic, dynamic and inspired, it's great to see they can still cut it in the studio.
A new album’s here again from the legendary Germans in Grave Digger, and I gotta begin to say that it seems like this band is getting ’back on track’ again (I dare say so). After the real disappointer in 2005’s ”The Last Supper” and the not-so-much-better follower ”Liberty Or Death” from 2007, it was pointing towards a downfall of the Diggers. Luckily, they came back really strong last year with ”Ballads Of A Hangman”. And now that they have returned to the Scottish highlands again with this album, they slightly beats the "Ballads"-album surprises us with their best album since ”Rheingold” from 2003.
This album has been promoted as a loose sequel to their classic album ”Tunes Of War”. And well yeah, I can get along with that, it’s just lyrics anyway, right? A new guitarist is on board since last album, Mr Axel Ritt, and it seems like a nice vitamin injection to the band. The new material sounds fresh and filled with catchy riffs, melodies and just songs, in general. Many of the songs has spun round and round in my head and still do. Axel fits the band like a glove and is just spitting out Pure Metal-riffs and solos all over the album. Like I said, a nice addition. Vocalist Chris keeps his voice in the lower and gruffy level for the most part of the album. He does a nice job (and also mostly with the pronouncing), although I really miss some of those high screams that were quite frequent on earlier albums. He could have squeezed in at least a few of them, I think. The backing vocals-gang does a great job and absolutely lifts the choruses an extra level, something Grave Digger should keep doing after the last years without those big choirs. The band in general makes a really tight performance as usual. Stefan is maybe still a bit too much held back with his drumming, but makes a solid work.
I wouldn’t call any of the songs ”bad”, but I will say that two songs are less interesting. The half-ballad ”When Rain Turns To Blood” and traditional rocker ”Spider”. Chris lower vocals doesn’t work too well in a calm ballad so the firstmentioned is the weakest track of the album. ”Spider” just don’t have anything special about it but isn’t completely bad either. A simple tune that belongs to GD’s lower standards. Among the much better songs and most worth mentioning we have my three standout favourites in the speedy ”Rebels”. Fast and riffy, varitating tempos and the albums best guitarsolo. We have the heavy stomper ”Valley Of Tears”. Rocking riff and verses and one hell of a catchy chorus. A song with fresh ideas! And also have the really cool song ”Coming Home” with it’s awesome intro, steady and groovy tempo and it’s epic chorus. (”The Piper MacLeod makes a nice introduction to it). The bonus track of the Digipak, ”Watch Me Die” should also be mentioned. Another great, simple and rocking tune that shouldn’t have been left out of the album.
So what we have here is a album delivering consistent material and nice Heavy Metal. If Grave Digger can keep this high level in their songwriting in the future, there’s many years left in these guys. And I believe it is just like that. The album is not better than it’s bigger Scottish brother from 1996, ”Tunes Of War”, but it’s still worth to be called it’s little brother. Any fan of Heavy Metal should like this.
"The clans will rise again" is loosely bound on the band's classic "Tunes of war" and is in the same time a sort of renaissance of the band after the departure of two guitar players and the integration of the new guitar player Axel Ritt. And this album sounds really fresh and diversified. It goes back to the roots of their greatest hit but has still some new elements in it. This album has his own style and is only slightly influenced by "Tunes of wars" and no cheap rip-off. For those who don't know this band very well: This new album is a strong heavy or true metal album with a very hymnic, epic touch and historical inspired lyrics.
Many songs have a lot of interesting elements in it. "Highland farewell", for which a nice video clip has been shot, surprises with a very melodic and epic chorus with some decent pipers in the background. "Whom the gods love die young" is one of the most powerful and diversified songs on the album and there are more and more elements and details to discover each time to listen to the song. "Coming home" has a very dynamic groove and surprises with a very cinematic and dramatic chorus with choirs and pipers and would have even been one of the best songs on "Tunes of war". This one is easily my favourite song on the album. The final ballad "When rain turns to blood" is a very slow, epic, dark and simply intense song and a nice surprise.
Even the more traditional standard Grave Digger songs like "Hammer of the Scots" or "Spider" which are typical for the band and which you find on each of their albums sound fresh and are full of energy. There is not a single bad or boring song on this album and for Grave Digger standards, this one is open-minded and innovating.
Those who didn't like the last albums of the band and have always wished a return to their medieval trilogy will extremely appreciate this album. The fans of the new albums will get a heavy surprise and will be blown away. Sometimes, bands try to go back to their roots and don't reach their goals at all, but Grave Digger doesn't just want to sell this album and give overrated promises, they really do their very best in here. You can feel their motivation and passion again!
Grave Digger will rise again!
As with most veteran metal bands with 30 years under their belts, Grave Digger have had a series of peaks and valleys through their career. At the worst of times, Chris Boltendahl and his stable of prize horses would became laughable, as in their decision in the late 80s to drop the 'Grave' from the name and play commercial keyboard hard rock as the lame Digger. At the best of times, they have been nothing short of inspirational, as in The Reaper or the excellent Edgar Allen Poe concept album The Grave Digger. However, many would argue that their 1996 effort Tunes of War stands as their crowning moment, marrying Boltendahl's gruff vocal presence with solid anthems, a Braveheart gone power metal concept album that helped thrust the band back into the spotlight their peers Running Wild and Blind Guardian were enjoying in the mid to late 90s.
I am not part of that 'many', and while I enjoyed Tunes of War for obvious greats like "Rebellion (The Clans are Marching)" or "The Bruce (The Lion King)", I would not count it among their very best. Nevertheless, it is to the hills of Scotland and the events of William Wallace's native land that the German gods have returned to, just in time to celebrate 30 years of existence, so The Clans Will Rise Again is a sort of sequel that pulls the looking glass back a few leagues to examine Scotland as a whole. Riding on the coattails of Ballads of a Hangman, one of last year's most worthy power/traditional metal efforts, and seeing the introduction of Domain axe slinger Axel Ritt into the lineup, I build up a huge anticipation for this album, the 14th full length, and perhaps I set myself up for just a touch of disappointment.
No, this is by no means a bad or negative entry into the band's considerable discography, and in truth it's nearly an equal to Tunes of War, but I felt some of the songs were slightly less potent and consistent than its predecessor. Ritt fits the gauntlet very well here, easily dispensing the traditional Grave Digger riffs rooted so deeply in Judas Priest and Accept influence, and offering a healthy heap of shred without ever taking too far into the realm of self indulgence. Chris's vocals have their standard level of studio excellence, huge and dirty and distinct, proving that this genre does not solely belong to the shriekers and Lucio Pavarottis, and the rhythm section of Jens Becker and Stefan Arnold are so tight that they could probably step away from their instruments, and through the power of habit, they'd keep playing themselves efficiently. Add to this the careful addition of atmosphere through glorious, simple synthesizers, bells and other instruments which don't feel out of place in the Scottish realm, and you've got 53 minutes of solid, at times imperative material.
"Highland Farewell" feels like "Cat Scratch Fever" set on stun and sent careening through the highlands, with a lovely bagpipe intro and polished power metal visage, glorious chorus. "Rebels" generates a force akin to peers Primal Fear, U.D.O. and so forth with some familiar, melodic and desperate riffing. "Valley of Tears" is one of my clear favorites of the record, with a steady mid paced rock rhythm through which you can hear Ritt's strings sweating distortion, an almost dark jazzy texture to the melodic chords being slung below Boltendahl's verse. "Execution" takes a riff quite similar to "Painkiller" and then throws a little melodic twist on it, and "Coming Home" brings the roof down, with a bagpipe-gang vocal accompaniment that escalates into majesty, before the stolid weight of the finale "When Rain Turns to Blood".
The rest of the songs are engaging, but after a few listens, "Hammer of the Scots" and, say, "Spider" just felt like so many other Grave Digger songs of years past. Competent, the former with a nice battle segue, but ultimately not the sort I'll be skipping towards. I had expected "The Clans Will Rise Again" to be some epic monster anthem that rivaled the catchiness of its predecessor "Rebellion", but aside from the gravitas of the guitars and echoed vocals of the chorus, it's not highly entertaining. Thankfully, this is in the minority here, and hardly stands out as some sore thumb against the album's atmosphere. Speaking of which, the "Days of Revenge" intro is quite nicely done, as is "The Piper McLeod" interlude. Both serve to immerse you into the coming kick to the knees when the band begins to rage.
The Clans Will Rise Again is certainly enough to please the Grave Digger fanatic of The Reaper and beyond, and it stands above a few of their other concept albums like Excalibur or the mediocre Knights of the Cross, but the sweet kiss of masterpiece perfection still seems to elude them here. That said, anyone enamored of Scottish history and the strange fascinating this German band holds for their distant neighbor is unlikely to find metal music that better fits the place and concept, and there are at least half the songs here would be worth anyone's time. Anyone with ears, that is.