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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.