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War Games is certainly primitive, but not offensively so. The lack of refined aesthetics turns out to be one of it's greatest appeals. Early Grave Digger is music meant to be played at maximum volume, and if your hair gets stuck in the guitar while headbanging along, so be it. Being archaic German speed metal, it lives or dies by the simple yet catchy nature of the almighty riffs. In the long line of Grave Digger guitarists, Masson is certainly one of the more overlooked. That doesn't necessarily mean he is lacking in chops, as he has a keen ear for the hook and rivals Lulis in crunchy abandon when he feels like it. While not quite as well written as Heavy Metal Breakdown, War Games can be viewed as a stylistic twin to Witch Hunter, which featured a similar incendiary delivery and reliance on enormous, layered choruses.
Boltendahl's impish inflection is dripping in chaotic appeal, and he certainly isn't afraid to try and deliver the operatic choruses - even if his clean tenor is a bit lacking here. Like a fine wine, his gruff barks have only improved with age, but that isn't to discount the raging abandon of his earlier performances either. Most of these songs follow a pretty familiar and well-worn formula, leaning on Masson for the initial appeal, and gathering themselves later on for a concerted upswing during the choruses. There are also keyboards, for some reason. Grave Digger experimented with keyboards on Stronger Than Ever with moderate success, and the case is largely the same here. They help add an epic undercurrent, but at the same make a lot of War Games sound extremely dated. It doesn't help that the lyrics largely revolve around the tense international relations centered around the USSR during the latter half of the '80s. From a historical standpoint, it is interesting to see Grave Digger attempt to tackle a lyrical concept a whole decade before their first true conceptual epic Tunes of War even if it kind of falls through the cracks - save for the scorching "(Enola Gay) Drop the Bomb".
Being the speed metal monster that it is, War Games finds it difficult to emote in a more eloquent manner when the atmosphere calls for it. As such, the requisite ballad "Love Is Breaking My Heart" is really fucking lame. I'd rather take one of the cornball ballads off of Stronger Than Ever, those were at least entertaining on a cursory level. The slower, more mid-paced "Fallout" seems to be in a similar vein at first blush, but it picks up nicely and wouldn't sound out of place on Heart of Darkness or The Reaper. War Games' production is admittedly pretty weak, reminding me of Overkill's debut Feel the Fire, uneven drums and all. In fact, many of Masson's riffs aren't too far removed from Gustafson's early style, proving that early Overkill owed a lot to the burgeoning speed metal scene overseas. While Eckhardt and Brank are admittedly pretty buried in the mix, Grave Digger was wise enough to crank the guitars to the point of absurdity. As such, War Games certainly plays to it's strengths more often than not, and certainly gets a pass regarding the uneven production values; they are easily forgotten whilst singing along to anthemic numbers like "Keep on Rockin'" and "Fire in Your Eyes".
Save for the pointless two minutes of garbled noise that constitute "The End" along with the aforementioned ballad, you could cover your eyes, select any random track, and be ensured that a mighty speed metal behemoth of a riff will thunder forth. From that point of view, War Games certainly does the job admirably. It is a mangled, grizzled mass of stinking, ugly Teutonic grit - and you can't help but love it.
At this point, Grave Digger is frankly abrasive in its adherence to its particular sonic formula. The first three Grave Digger albums encapsulate everything right and everything wrong with the 80s German speed metal scene. On one hand, we have that unholy, but oh so divine, marriage of speed and thrash. On the other? An utter lack of creativity and a suffocating dearth of variety that relegated so many of these bands to obscurity.
If you have heard any Grave Digger from this era you know what to expect, so this review is going to be short. The material on display here is on par with Witch Hunter, so slightly weaker than the debut. One divergence, notable in its adumbration of later historically based albums to come, from the musical stagnancy springs from the lyrics. Grave Digger tackles a small trilogy about the dropping of the atomic bomb, a topic that stands in contrast to their more prevalent Manowar-esque lyrical compositions.
Apart from this trilogy (which is really only different lyrically), Grave Digger does nothing but pound out “efficient” (to borrow Gabometal’s germane term) speed metal number after speed metal number. They only stop for the “ballad,” “Love is Breaking My Heart” which allows Grave Digger to exercise some mellower ideas, ideas refined and better incorporated in their later material.
I question how a band like Grave Digger manages to sellout as they would for a short time after this album, but perhaps the answer lies in their lack of evolution. Maybe the thought was if not progression, regression!
Well Grave Digger turned out one hell of an album in 86.
The opening track, Keep on Rocking, pretty much sets the stage for most of the album. The song is solid speed metal, complete with pretty catchy riffs and vocals. The song also has a great solo. Great opening song. Heaven Can Wait has a heavy midpaced opening. The song is a solid midpaced headbanger with good riffs and a catchy chorus. Fire in Your Eyes picks the speed up again. Great opening riff on this one. Then off we go on another fast as hell speed metal offering. Great song. Let Your Heads Roll is another solid midpaced cruncher of a song with another great chorus. Pure Accept worship on this one. Love is Breaking my Heart is a ballad, but it's done very well. It might seem a little out of place on the album, but it has some great melodic ideas, and a great solo. Paradise is another solid slab o' speed metal. (Enola Gay) Drop the Bomb speeds up even more. Boltendahl really belts out some of these lyrics, very catchy chorus. Fallout is a little faster than it's other mid-paced counterparts, and as with those songs, is Accept worship in all it's glory. Solid song. Playin' Fools is solid fast paced heavy metal. The album ends with The End which is a little haunting atmospheric outro.
Overall the songs on here are killer 80's speed metal or "Acceptish" headbanging midpaced tunes. The lone ballad is pretty well done, and what we are left with is one solid album with no real bad track. If your a fan of 80's German speed metal go pick this up.
This isn't a full concept release, though the seond half of the album tells the story about the Enola Gay, when it dropped the atomic bomb over the Japanese town of Hiroshima. Grave Digger's lyrical interests in songs about war was undeniably noticable ever since their first album. Now, they have put the subject together into story told within 3 songs: 'Paradise', 'Enola Gay (Drop The Bomb)', and 'Fallout'. (I'm not too sure if the last tracks, 'Playin' Fools' and 'The End' have anything to do with the story, I can't find any lyrical relation.) The overall sound is slightly better than 'Witch Hunter', including an unbelievable amount of catchiness that lacked on the previous release, and would define the 'extreamly heavy, yet catchy' Grave Digger sound in later albums to come. Still though, the sound isn't as vicious or as hard hitting as the debute. In fact, it's far more polished than the last 2 releases, still keeping the same amount of heaviness. Once again, GD does another heavy metal ballad, and a much better effort this time as opposed to 'Love Is A Game', on WH. And perhapse even a 'tad' bit more enjoyable than 'Yesterday', only due to it's beutiful piano work in the begining, letting it fade into the heaviness. 'The End' is an outro, Grave Digger's first time including any sort of intro/outro on an album of their's.
Pretty damn good album, catchy and heavy, most likley to please any metal fan. Even though the concept attempt appears a bit amature when compared to let's say...'Tunes Of War' or 'Knights Of The Cross', it was only experimentation with the band at the time and is still worth a good listen.
Best songs: Keep On Rockin', Heaven Can Wait, Love Is Breaking My Heart, Paradise