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While The Reaper is lauded as Grave Digger's audacious return to form after the band's directionless motions of the late '80s, it didn't necessarily pan out like most believe. Boltendahl's short lived post-Digger project Hawaii already featured most of these songs in slightly altered fashion on Bottles and Four Coconuts, which is the band's true (if forgotten) return to form release. While it is unbelievably obscure and I have only heard a few of it's tracks such as "Back to the Roots" and "Shout It Out" I can attest that it is basically The Reaper with lower production values.
Recycled material or not, the band made an earnest attempt at forgetting the Digger mishap, and as such this serves as a proverbial bridge between earlier albums like Witch Hunter and more structured behemoths like Heart of Darkness. Lulis' riffs still feature that anachronistic '80s tone, but the delivery is very much in the vein of later Grave Digger opuses like Tunes of War. Some of the best composed and most appealing cuts are the faster ones such as "Ride On" and ode to heroin "Ruler Mr. H", both of which remind me of "Monks of War" from Knights of the Cross. There is actually a lot of experimentation as well, especially on "Spy of Mas' On", which features some of Lulis' more atypical guitar progressions and evolves into one of the best songs here by the time it wraps up. The more plodding "Wedding Day" and Boltendahl's acerbic delivery on "And the Devil Plays Piano" are also two standouts, if only for their unusual compositional qualities.
Grave Digger's legendary operatic choruses weren't fully developed by this point, so at it's best The Reaper still sounds like a poor man's Heart of Darkness or perhaps a more varied War Games. It's not that this material is bad by any stretch, but it does suffer from a somewhat-overrated reputation due to it's well-applauded return to the heavier fare of the band's earlier albums. The short keyboard interludes "Tribute to Death" and "The Madness Continues" are quite foreboding and potent, especially the former. Katzenburg's presence isn't necessarily missed that greatly here, as the session keyboardists fill the atmospheric gaps quite well. Out of all of this material "Play Your Game (And Kill)" is without a doubt the most archaic-sounding. It wouldn't sound out of place on Heavy Metal Breakdown, and embodies what is perhaps the band's final foray into straight up speed metal before they diverted into more coherent waters. The group attempts a dissonant ballad in "Legion of the Lost (Part II)", which is also decent if a bit forgettable.
One area where The Reaper trumps it's younger siblings is undoubtedly in the drumming. Michael is all over this thing, making me wish he would have stayed with the band longer. His off-the-wall playing style adds an air of uncontrolled chaos to the entire ordeal, helping to sell The Reaper's aggressive disposition. Göttlich's bass is admittedly pretty buried, leaving a sour taste that wouldn't be entirely removed until Becker took his place years later.
So while The Reaper served it's purpose, the band would become much more concerted and focused in their delivery later on. Fans of Grave Digger's pre-Digger albums will find a bit of that songwriting style still lingering here, so there is still an appeal. Just don't let people tell you this is one of their best, because it certainly isn't.
Before 1993's "The Reaper", Grave Digger was in a weird place. Frontman Chris Boltendahl tried taking the bad into a more commercial direction (the infamous "Digger" fiasco), and failing, not to mention a pair of pretty unmemorable 80's albums following the decent debut "Heavy Metal Breakdown". Well, enough's enough! After a several year hiatus, Boltendahl resurrected the good Grave Digger name with a vengeance. Unleashed during that infamous era when good metal was getting flushed down the proverbial crapper, "The Reaper" lashed out with its pure heavy metal scythe, just to be different. With "The Reaper", the band began its distinct sound we know today; rough fearsome power metal with huge singalong choruses, gritty vocals and soaring guitars. Eat the scythe, motherfucker!
Boltendahl's vocals are totally wicked on here; his traditional gruff 'n' gritty yelling is on full attack, not to mention some good shrieks thrown around here and there, something he doesn't do often on albums anymore. Then we have the legendary Uwe Lulis on guitars, brought onboard from the infamous "Digger"/"Hawaii" days. I'll admit right now, I actually enjoy the guitar work of future guitarist Manni Schmidt more than Lulis overall. But not to say he's bad, oh no. No he's probably better than Schmidt definitely, but I enjoy Schmidt's style more. Still Lulis is a master, particularly with his intricate whirlwind solos. The bass of Tomi Gottlich is buried in the mix, but he keeps the rhythm going solid anyway; not bad. The drumming of Jorg Michael (Running Wild, Headhunter, Mekong Delta) is a treat and a half; he can be fast as hell or or keep an effortless steady beat. He's certainly a well-deserved asset to assist in the band's resurrection.
Well despite all my previously-stated exaggerated hyperboles and shameless verb/adjective abuse, this album I have to say is far from perfect. It's good mind, and there aren't any dreadfully bad songs per say, but it's really just a re-start point for the band. Better than the previous three albums for sure, but not reaching the heights of most put out after it.
Well, what do we have that's any good? Well, pretty much anything that's unrelenting speed metal is a treasure on here. The title track is a ruff 'n' tumble thrasher with a mean squealing solo and a solid chorus, though the pre-chorus doesn't do anything for me. "Ride On" is even better, probably my favorite on the album; very, VERY fast with a hell of a catchy chorus ("Higher and HIIIGHER!). The fastish "Shadows of A Moonless Night" is really catchy as well, as is the speedier "Play Your Game (And Kill)" despite getting to be a bit repetitive. Lastly I highly recommend the bitchin' anthemic "Under My Flag". If there's one kind of song that ANY German metal band gets right, it's the mid-paced crusher. Oh, fuck yeah!
Lower points: "Legion of the Lost, Part 2". Didn't like the first, wasn't crazy about this either. "Wedding Day" has potential to be a decent mid-paced song, but the dumb lyrics and overall bad ideas don't do it any justice. "And The Devil Plays Piano" is also fucking weird; it has some good ideas but just winds up being a groovish mishmash with some of Boltendahl's weaker vocal performances on here.
Overall, a great return for the Diggers. Chris Boltendahl is in great form and Uwe Lulis is a welcomed asset to the ranks. A few songs are total duds admittedly but the rest of the tracks manage to keep this ship from sinking. If you want to hear what else the 90's offered other than Phil Anselmo's bullfrog imitations or Kurt Cobain's proto-emo bitching, I recommend giving this a shot. Far from Grave Digger's best, but certainly worth "digging" up.
Back after flirting with glam metal, Grave Digger picks up right where they left off. And I mean exactly where they left off... Only two things distinguish this album from their previous work. They introduce a few more power metal influences into the music to break up the all out speed metal assault. To accompany these musical changes the production is also steered towards a cleaner sound that would eventually evolve into the power metal sound of their later releases.
Easily stratified, The Reaper exhibits all the signs of a merely good album. At the top you have “The Reaper” and “Shadows of a Moonless Night.” The former belongs to the category of aggressive speed thrash while “Shadows” takes cues from the more melodic side of speed metal, even stealing a riff from Judas Priest. Both excel and mark highlights of Grave Digger’s career up to this point.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have “Wedding Day” and “The Devil Plays Piano” which completely suck. They suck in that way of “What were they thinking?” that crops up from time to time on metal albums.
However, the real weakness comes in the middle layer. Here we have a deluge of (to again appropriate Gabometal’s term) “efficient” speed metal cuts of all about similar quality. These wouldn’t feel awkward on the first three albums except for their historical lyrical content. Unfortunately, they start to blend despite Boltendahl imparting most with reasonably catchy choruses.
Special mention goes to Legion of the Lost which breaks up the flow of speed metal numbers by just giving us some good old heavy metal with an epic tinge.
After a short detour for an EP, Grave Digger would go on to make their first classic with Heart of Darkness. Still, the Reaper is worth it for the two highlights alone and as a memorial for one of the few times a band has saved itself from commercialization.
With this album Grave Digger began a new “era”, after been releasing the weak and poppy “Stronger Than Ever” with the side-thingy Digger, they came back as Grave Digger and released this “The Reaper”. More aggressive than ever, darker + better lyrics than ever and it was here they started to have The Reaper on their album covers, a badass mascot if you ask me. In other words, this can be summed up as: they played metal again. And of course we have Uwe Lulis’ awesome guitar shredding + Chris Boltendahl’s often high pitched vocals, something he has cut down pretty much for later years. The production is from what I know done by Piet Sielck, and let’s say that it’s good, but nothing more. What I miss is the bass, the ground of all, it’s way too low in the mix. But despite that it has a clean and pretty raw sound, great guitar sound.
The music nailed is often fast double bass-drumming power/speed metal songs, and most of them are pretty identical. But here and there some slower and and heavier songs show up as with “Shadows Of A Moonless Night”, “Wedding Day”, “Under My Flag”, this one is a really simple shot, with a main riff that feels like it goes through the whole song, a pretty cool song though, but maybe a bit monotonous. We have another heavy one in form of “The Devil Plays Piano”, absolutely on the top 5 of the album. Heavy duty with a simple but oh so rocking chorus, but feels like this song is maybe a bit too long, much because it’s not very variation in it, but still a cool song. Another great song is the fast speedy song called “Spy O Mason”, Chris’ shows some great vocal skills here, Chris shows some really awesome vocal skills on this one, which is really noticeable in the ending of the song. He here levels up his voice into really highpitched screms when screaming “Spy o Mason”, these screams provokes goosebumps. The ballad of the album, “Legion Of The Lost II” is one epic & nice tune, I really have images of the title in my head. Acoustic playing, and some cool windy thing + bell in the background, with calmer and cool vocals by Boltendahl. The solo by Uwe feels very emotional and of course great. And the album ends with a calm outro, and this one ends with something that sounds like a pounding heart, any connection to the album after this “Heart of Darkness” ?
In anyway, the album is a good one, and I’m really glad that Grave Digger took this direction, because every album after this are all great ones, and actually, “The Reaper” is the “weakest” of all albums that came after this, mostly because of one factor: The songs on here can maybe feel a bit too monotonous and identical to each other, not a problem that you can find on the later ones. But still, as you can you can see on the scoring, a great album and something you really should own if you’re into speed/power metal. So if you don’t own it, go get it for sure. And thank god for the salvation of The Reaper.
3 best songs: The Reaper, Legion Of The Lost II, Spy O Mason
Well after a hiatus after War Games, Grave Digger came back in 93 with a killer speed metal album. The music is faster and heavier than most of the band's material from the 80's, and we get one hell of an album. Every song on here is home to solid riffs and leads.
The album opens with a wierd little spoken atmospheric intro. This leads into the title track which is top notch speed metal. This one has some nice riff changes, coupled with some catchy ass vocal work this song is one of the most memorable on the album. Ride On is another fast paced song, I swear these Germans can write some mean speed metal. This one has another memorable chorus and is a solid song overall. Shadow on a Moonless Night is the first somewhat unique track on the album. It opens with some crunching riffs, and then we get probably the catchiest riff on the album. It reminds me alot of Judas Priest's The Sentinel, although different, it gives of the same feel. Another great chorus on this song. Play Your Game ( And Kill ) is another speed metal song. Pretty similar to Ride On, although I like some of the riff ideas alot more on this song. The part right before the chorus is very well done and memorable. Wedding Day is the first slower song. It's a midpaced headbanger for the most part. It's a solid song, but probably the weakest on the album. Spy of Mas' On has a chugging almost doom-like intro riff. But then we get a nice tempo change, and then more speed metal. More catchy riff and vocal ideas on this one. Under My Flag is another midpaced headbanger, but this one is much done much better than Wedding Day. This one reminds me most of the band's 80's stuff, as it is total Accept worship. Very solid song. Fight the Fight is more great catchy speed metal. Legion of the Lost ( Part II ) follows much like Part I did. It has a slower melodic half, and then speed metal in all it's glory was unleashed. You have to wait a bit, but after three minutes this song gets moving. The first half is also very well done, and the last half after the song picks up is catchy as fuck, if not a tad repetitive. Then we get some lead work, and the song picks up again at the end. Good song. And the Devil Plays Piano is an odd song compared to the others on the album. Somewhat percussive riffs with some catchy vocal work. Then it oddly turns into a bluesy sort of song during the solo section, pretty unexpected. Ruler Mr. H opens with some ominous leads. Then speed metal is unleashed. This is probably the catchiest song on the album. That chorus will stick in your head for days. Very well done song. The Madness Continues is another odd outro.
Overall the songs are faster and the riffs are heavier than their 80's releases, and you can really see the beginnings of what the band will start to release on later albums. This albums only contains two tracks in the " Acceptish" midpaced headbanging tradition, the rest is incredibly well done speed metal. Definitely pick this one up if you get the chance.
Grave Digger gave the 90s metal scene a swift kick in the balls with this release. It seems as if they have taken the aggression and speed of their first album, and combined it with a 90s production, which is almost as good as you can fuckin' get. The flaw here though, is that it was only done on a few songs, the first 4 to be exact. I would have ranked this album a bit better than HMB if all the tracks had the same quality, but they don't. Some are mid-paced, average sounding metal tunes with not much effort put into them, at least not by Grave Digger's standards. "The Reaper" and "Shadows On A Moonless Night" are 2 of Grave Digger's best songs, 'Shadows' being just catchy as fuck and 'The Reaper' is pure, fuckin' speed metal, 'Fight The Fight' is vicious as well. 'Wedding Day' and 'And The Devil Plays The Piano' are less impressive, though still solid efforts. Grave Digger finally makes an intro now in one of their albums, though not anywhere near a concept.
This release is much better than 'Witch Hunter' and 'War Games', but still doesn't give justice to the first album. Now as for their next release, well that's a differen't story... ;)
Best songs: The Reaper, Ride On, Shadows On A Moonless Night, Fight The Fight
Grave Digger carved their way into the 90's metal scene with their first album of the decade, entitled "The Reaper". This is plain menacing speed metal, with tons of riffs, blistering solos and melodic leads. Their most unique quality is the vocalist Chris Boltendahl, who in addition to his gruff and violent vocals lets out several aggressive shrieks on here, and sounds like a fucking madman. Drummer Jörg Michael known from Rage and Running Wild among many others also puts his mark on this album. His style is not as based around the double bass as on Running Wild's "Black Hand Inn", focusing more on catchy and powerful rhythms and backs up the album very well.
As already stated, the songs are much simpler in the structure and tend to follow quite similar song patterns, unlike their later albums. This makes for a more straightforward and in-your-face aggressive speed metal album without much deviation from it's main objection: The kicking of your ass, similar to the stuff on "Heavy Metal Breakdown". Songs like "Ride On", "Fight The Fight" and "Ruler Mr.H" are all-out assaults bombarding with riff after riff after riff, and never let up. And the songwriting is handled very well, so despite the similar song structures they never get repetitive.
There are, though, two songs that stray from the riff madness course of the other songs, and incidentally they are also the weakest spots on the album. They are "Wedding Day" and "The Devil Plays Piano". The former is pretty cool and has some really groovy basslines, although the lyrics are silly as all fucking hell; "Wedding day - the day of no return" is a quote from the chorus. Man, where would anyone come up with that shit? The solo is pretty damn nuts though, and in general it's a quite decent song, unlike And The Devil Plays Piano, which is one of the band's worst songs. It's built around one midpaced riff which is alright the first time but then they just ride it over and over again, even though it gets boring after the second time.
Oh yeah, and the middle section of "Wedding Day" is four lines completely and bluntly ripped off from Megadeth's "Liar".
But aside from this song, "The Reaper" is another worthy addition to the Grave Digger catalogue. The title track is a fucking classic, "Shadows of a Moonless Night" has one of the best riffs in the bands career- very heavy, yet with that lethal sense of melody, insanely catchy. "Spy Of Mas'on" starts out midpaced and sinister, and then just thrashes away into riff madness. "Under My Flag" is pretty midpaced and somewhat anthemic and is catchy as hell. And the list goes on, with 11 songs plus an intro and an outro. The intro, "Tribute To Death" is just silly but fun sound effects and a cool spoken part by Chris. "The Reaper shall rise...from the fires of Hell!" The outro is a haunting piece very much in the vein of "Tears of Madness"; the intro to their following album "Heart of Darkness".
"The Reaper" is Grave Digger's most speed metal based album, and completely essential for all fans of the genre. It's raw, it's aggressive and it's right in your face. To name song highlights would be hard, as aside from the previously mentioned weaker tracks, it's all very consistent. But a few personal favourites would be "The Reaper", "Ride On" and "Fight The Fight". L"egion of the Lost Part II" is also very nice - a beautiful acoustic piece with the obligatory appearance of Chris' mesmerizing clean vocals, which gets heavier by the chorus. Much better than the original version of the song, which appeared on the debut.
But like I said, pretty much all the stuff on here rules. An indispensable album for the speed metal maniac.
So do you like Running Wild? If so, you will love the Hell out of this one!! Same general idea - speed metal with the occasional classic/power moment, the rough vocals, the lots of solos, etc etc.
Man this is so much better than their 80s stuff. I never thought I'd say that about any band, but hey, it's true. Especially the albums after Heavy Metal Breakdown. Stronger than Ever? Fuck that shit, THE GRAVE IS OPEN!! THE DIGGER SMILES!!!
For the most part, this is excellent speed metal... the highlight being the awesome Shadows of a Moonless Night, with that Toxik "Count your Blessings" main riffs and the main chorus which is just fucking nuts, sounding a bit like Anthrax "Lone Justice". Oh yeah, also the title track, and "Under my Flag" and the "Fight the Fight", the other Anthrax tribute!!! Fight fight fight!! They must really have liked Spreading the Disease.
There's a few goofy songs... Wedding Day and And the Devil Plays Piano. The fuck?? Other than that, this is solid from beginning to end. Spy of Mason and Ride On are also excellent, with a nice fucking speed metal break in the middle of Das Spysongen and some thrash moments in Ride On!
Higher and higher! Straight through the sky! Man, speed metal can do no wrong. Get this album - skip the goofers, go for the winners! There's even a remake of Legion of the Lost (from the debut) which starts off not quite as good as the original, but then when it kicks in, oh man it kicks you hard in the sternum. SPEED METAL OWNS YOU.