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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.