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I should probably note that this title isn’t wholly reflective of this album but rather a Scottish phrase. Imagine it said in a Glaswegian girl’s accent, ah, good times.
Germans singing about Scotland, eh? Seems like two of England’s oldest enemies have gathered together to try and form some sort of pincer movement, it’s okay though, we’ve still got straggly and sheep-invested remnants of Hadrian’s Wall and since 1945 the German army has been reduced to a small sausage factory somewhere outside of Essen… so this doesn’t look like too much of a threat. Well, it’s a pretty barmy idea, but given the time of its release I can tell Tunes of War has something to do with a certain Mel Gibson film.
This was my introduction to Grave Digger, who are – barring one standard out quirk – possibly one of the most generic and unimaginative heavy metal bands out there (the quest to find the most unimaginative proved ill-fated, but not without some amusement). Nothing in the way of innovation, nothing truly spectacular and certainly no ideas which make you go “Where did that come from?” But it’s the sort of thing metal fans often value – more so than they perhaps should – the B/C/D league bands who deliver heavy metal in the old fashioned way. I could sit here for days and tell you why you’d be better off listening to the old classics or perhaps bands taking the roots of heavy metal and doing something fresh… but the fact is those bands are few and far between, so why not just settle into a vegetative mindset and let Grave Digger do all the hard work?
Of course, it’s Chris Boltendahl’s vocals that stand out, quite noticeably so. At times he sounds like an asthmatic boy trying to frighten away the monsters under his bed with a shrill, cracking and yet pretty tuneful cry. It could be an embarrassing head-in-hands sort of way, but no, Chris delivers with so much vigour that you simply can’t help but bellow along with him. Hell, in terms of passion and enthusiasm he’s by far the best thing about this album and God knows singing coherently wouldn’t lend itself to a Scottish themed concept album. The rest of the band certainly try their hardest to remain very safely in the realms of generic heavy metal, Boltendahl has charisma enough; thank you, any more and they may have had to develop an actual personality and God knows what sort of frightful journey of self-discovery that would entail!
But one thing I do find amusing here with these sort of bands is to play a “spot the influence” game – a bit of Maiden here, some Priest there… they’ve even got their ears towards their far superior contemporaries; In the Dark of the Sun has a riff pinched from Virgin Steele’s Blood of Saints (although it would be naïve to suggest that VS invented that style of riffing), some of these vocals are a dead-ringer for Andi Deris and hilariously Scotland United and its main riff is basically Eye of the Tiger.You silly boys.
Scotland was pretty cool in the mid 90s, Braveheart was fucking massive, as was Lorraine Kelly and that’s probably about the extent of Scotland’s grand achievements… don’t worry I love you really. So cashing in this new found Scot madness, Grave Digger deliver an album celebrating the military history of Scotland – all the glory, battles and betrayals are covered in rousing form, it does a good job of giving a school-boy overview on a large proportion of the medieval and early modern period. Think back to a time of broadswords, muskets and blokes in dresses thinking they had the right to go all the way Yorkshire. Again, Mr. Boltendahl proves himself by far the most enjoyable thing about this; his pronunciation of the names of Scottish place names is fucking hilarious and stressed by his unique style. But you do get the feeling that the band were having a toss-up between singing about singing about William Wallace or pirates, I’d wager my hard-earned giro that if Pirates of the Caribbean had come out prior to this album the boys would have been very confused as to which film screamed heavy metal best. No, I’m not getting into a pirates versus clansmen debate.
In their quest for utterly plain heavy metal Grave Digger have written some excellent and well-developed songs here. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) happens to be by far the best. Maiden-esque picking is underscored by subtle guitar melodies, whilst four dudes who probably think Saxon is the epitome of cool gabble about the clans. Soon things are shifted into a rousing mid-tempo with lots of big sweeping choruses that would echo nicely through the German highlands. What with all the Scottish shenanigans bagpipes are – rather predictably – thrown into the mix. But even this wasn’t new as Blind Guardian had Somewhere Far Beyond a few years prior to this and I can remember some bagpipes on Running Wild’s Death or Glory. Gee, if ever there was an indication of being unoriginal… ripping off “mild Judas Priest worshippers” Running bloody Wild. Elsewhere the aforementioned In the Dark of the Sun and Scotland United prove to be impressive-yet-generic but ultimately the strengths certainly overcome any lack of originality. The Truth proves to have some nice eerie calling and answering between the guitars and vocals, underscored by subtle keys and a big old rousing chorus. It’s the sort of thing Grave Digger does well.
Being generic isn’t really Grave Digger’s main problem, inconsistency however, is. Some of Tunes of War comes across as massively plodding and a bit dull. The fact that I’ve heard this before further hinders the album’s weaker moments because occasionally really dodgy experimentation can be completely compelling. But often you do find yourself wandering to Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) and just neglecting the rest.
Well, I bought Tunes of War on a bit of a lark, I was moving to Scotland shortly and they’d already put Braveheart and Trainspotting on the television that week… but for what it is Tunes of War is decent, goofy fun.
What cannot be emphasized enough is perhaps the impact this album had on me the moment i heard those 2 minutes of bagpipes coupled with Uwe's guitar!
Germany's very own speed metal power-house, Grave Digger come roaring in with the first part in their legendary Middle Ages Trilogy with the epic 'Tunes Of War'! The proper heirs to the majesty of Accept, the band's crunchy guitar set aside the musical landmark that is Chris Boltendahl's vocal performance has placed Grave Digger constantly one step ahead in the metal industry.
Being obviously a concept album, 'Tunes Of War' does not emphasize on a certain character or certain string of relatively close events, but instead features almost 700 years of Scottish history. The tracks tell the story of the battles of Carham, Largs, Flodden Field and Culloden in chronological order, and while this presents little relevance musically, the characters portrayed do. The legendary William Wallace, is preceded in song by a short harmonic guitar intro, after which his constant fear of not living up to his followers' expectations is brought in through the use of a strong choral performance.
As its title suggests 'The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of Scots)', is a balladic retrospective on Scotland's most beloved female figure, Queen Mary I. The vocals are executed quite out-of-style for Grave Digger outside the rough voice spectrum we are all used to, in an almost entirely acoustic piece. The most honorable mention here, and a taste of what was to come, is keyboardist HP Katzenburg's interference, creating a symphonic piece worthy of no other.
The Jacobite Rebellion quickly comes into play with perhaps the most well-known track off of this album 'Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)'. After a short acoustic intro, and an inspiring chant, the song comes into full gear and features what is in my opinion, Grave Digger's most neck-break-speed guitar-work so far! While bagpipes in rock'n'roll are not something previously unheard of, i mean who can forget AC/DC's 'It's A Long Way To The Top', it immediately becomes obvious this album would not be complete without the use of the traditional Scottish instrument.
The battle of Culloden is 'the end of Scotland' and as such, 'Culloden Muir' is sung from the perspective of a doomed warrior, with desperation absolutely obvious in the vocals at one point.
Definitely a piece to which i, for one, cannot find a flaw,'Tunes Of War' is Grave Digger's strongest work yet, which proves that a band that reunites after a relatively long hiatus is not doomed to obscure releases that only die-hards would buy and that reaching out to new generations is quite possible.
This album can be described in short as a speedy Heavy/Power Metal album. Grave Digger follow the tradition of the German Metal bands drawing inspiration from Accept, with a sound based on Speed Metal riffs. Their sound is more complex than that however. They have a quite “old” sound; you can hear that they are inspired by the whole school building on Judas Priest. They do, however, have a bit more Power Metal oriented sound, much alike that of Running Wild.
This album’s lyrics focus on Scotland’s history, especially during the Middle Ages. They fit in pretty well and they are, just like the whole songs, built up after a certain scheme: the verses are often pretty Speed Metal based, with rough vocals together with thrashy riffs and there the vocals are not so tightly bound to the melody. The choruses, on the other hand, are of a much more epic kind. Often the music is over-shadowed by the powerful vocals in the choruses and the tempo goes down for a more epic mood. The contrast between the verses and the choruses is one of the strengths of this album, and of Grave Digger’s music as a whole.
Boltendahl’s rough vocals are not as impressive as his clean ones, and altogether the Speed Metal of the verses is one of the weaker parts of the concept of Grave Digger. Sometimes the riffs are a bit monotonous, not in a single song, but if the whole album is reviewed as a unit some repetitiveness can be felt. The epic choruses are generally of a higher quality, both because they work as variation, and because they are much more melodic. They rely on the principle “if you can sing along with it, it is good”, which I personally see as a rather sound theory. Sometimes the lyrics in the choruses are a bit simple, but that I can live with. The guitar-work is skilled and the solos and instrumental parts give extra dynamic power to the album.
The best tracks on here is the intro “The Brave”, which is a metal version of the Scottish national hymn, “Killing Time”, a speedy and powerful song with a strong chorus, and “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)”. The last one is by far the best track on the album, most varied, and has the most epic chorus of them all.
This release represents the best-known and first album of the Middle Ages trilogy with a magnificent production. This concept piece on the Scottish history awaits with mighty raw guitars, great sing along choruses, massive sound and nice cover artwork. The additional notes on Scottish history for each song add to the comprehension and self-contained character of the album. The music is a great mix of power and speed metal underlain by decent but not to prominent keyboards plus some interesting bagpipe parts. The songwriting is appropriate to the subject, and after getting used to Boltendahls vox there is no real weak point on this CD.
“The Brave” as bagpipe/guitar intro leading directly to the crushing riff of the fast “Scotland united”. “Dark of the sun” is a very powerful mid tempo stomper with a strange double solo guitar part. Next comes “William Wallace”, one of my all time favorites. After the haunting intro an incredible speed attack hits your stomach, contrasting with the silent chorus parts. The second refrain is followed by an intermezzo of fighting sounds leading up to an epic guitar solo. “The Bruce” contrasts as a very slow and doomy song, continuously building up towards the end. This one really knocks you down like a ton of bricks; it’s true heavy power metal. “The battle of Flodden” returns with faster pace, speeding up ´til the abrupt finish. The “Ballad of Mary” somewhat relaxes things, before midtempo “The truth” and the fast “Cry for freedom” hit the speakers. These more standard like titles are followed by two highlights. “Killing time” with rip off intro riff work presents the best chorus after “Rebellion”, which is next. This definitely is a killer track, the rawness of the rhythm section, the epic guitar plus bagpipe solo and the mighty chorus …The fast ”Culloden Muir” features a drum solo and the short keyboard track “The fall of the Brave” closes the album as kind of a minute’s silence.
Recently, Grave Digger have forged their way into my top 5 metal bands of all time. With masterpieces like Heart of Darkness, Excalibur and the recently released Rheingold in their catalogue, they should appeal to just about any fan of heavy, power or speed metal.
Tunes of War is one of their most popular albums, and is a classic release. It serves as the huge opening to their Middle Ages Trilogy series, and is my second favourite of the three.
Lyrically, this album focuses on the Scottish clans, a theme that has (to my knowledge) never really been touched upon in music before, so it was a well chosen subject.
Musically, this is a fat slab of speed metal with a whole lot of power and traditional metal. Insane speed metal riffs are featured on most songs, accompanied by big singalong choruses and double bass drums, and of course Chris Boltendahl's gruff vocals. As I've said before about this singer: You either love him or hate him. I do the former.
An interesting thing about this album is the fact that it features bagpipes.
The best use of them is probably during the intro, The Brave, which is one of the greatest intros of all time. Definitely up there with The Hellion and the likes.
Most of the songs found on here are plain asskickers, but there are a few downers to be found. The Truth is a midpaced song, which is too groovy for it's own good. It seems out of place, and is generally pretty boring.
The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scotland) is also pretty average. It begins very nicely, and features the album's only appearance of Chris' clean vocals and some mesmerizing work on the keyboards, but it just never gets anywhere. But aside from these two songs, this album will kick you in the nuts over and over.
Song highlights... The opener Scotland United is a classic. Catchy and fast main riff, big singalong chorus, a blistering solo. What more can you ask? The Dark of the Sun follows the same concept, and does it really fucking well.
Killing Time has that amazing melodic-but-heavy chorus, closing track Culloden Muir is a heavy slab of speed metal yet also captures the sadness of defeat that the Scots go through in the lyrics, and The Bruce is a midpaced crusher.
But three songs stand out among the rest. First, we have William Wallace (Braveheart), which is probably the very best song on here.
The riffwork is fucking nuts, and the melodic post-chorus part is just beautiful. (Oh yeah, you get some of Chris' clean vocals here too...), and the verses are among the most powerful and intense shit they ever wrote.
"VENGEANCE BURNS A RAGING ANGER, I HAVE LOST THE FEAR TO DIE!
BRAVEHEART THAT'S WHAT I AM, I KILL UNTIL MY BLOOD RUNS DRY!"
Holy fucking shit, that stuff is amazing.
Next up is The Battle of Flodden. Let me tell you, that main riff is a fucking monster! It's not as fast as William Wallace, but it's no less amazing. The atmosphere on this song is much darker, and quite sad. But this is no ballad, this is fucking intense.
Did I say that the William Wallace verses were powerful? Oh hell yes, they are. But the pre-chorus part of this is THE most powerful part in Grave Digger's history. If you're not dead, this will give you goose bumps all over.
The third and final major fucking highlight is Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching). While not being quite as absolutely-fucking-amazing as the other two I mentioned, this is nonetheless awesome, and also arguably the most well-known Grave Digger.
Huge fucking singalong chorus, the best on the album, killer riffwork and a really fucking cool bagpipe part in the middle.
All in all, with two exceptions this album owns from beginning to end. The intense speed metal combined with power and heavy metal influences along with the epic atmosphere creates a journey unlike any other. While the stuff Grave Digger writes isn't too original, they perfect the sound so many other bands tries to achieve.
Final conclusion: Buy this album.