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I have no qualms with early speed metal. I dig Anvil, Stained Class-era Priest, Venom, Exciter; these were the seeds of thrash metal. But Grave Digger's shit does not kick ass. Though I’ve heard good things about their later work, it must be reinforced that early Grave Digger is generic, dated, and cheesy. Their second album, Witch Hunter, does admittedly make a decent listen now and again, but pretty much sucks when compared to any other album from the mid-80’s. My apologies for the facetious review title. Generic speed metal is nothing to cheer about.
The track listing for my US version is a little different than the one on the album’s page. It has all three of the “US tracks,” but does not include “Love is a Game” or “School’s Out.” Probably for the better, as very few of the included songs rule. Opener “Shine On” starts out pretty heavily with a decent riff, but it’s driven into the ground through repetition and an awkward stop/start chorus. This I wouldn’t mind so much if the vocals didn’t suck. Chris Boltendahl has an irritating, raspy shriek that calls to mind both Randy Rampage (Annihilator) and David Wayne (Metal Church), but without the energy or the presence. His voice is further crippled by an overpowering reverb (one of many complaints with the lackluster production) and a never-ending sequence of cheesy lines to deliver. The infamous chorus to “Night Drifter” comes to mind as a good example of this lyrical ineptitude and later hearing Boltendahl implore his audience “don’t kill the children, please let them live” is enough to solidify it.
Continuing through the tracklist, the listener will actually be pleased to find a lot of good guitarwork. Both “Witch Hunter” and “Night Drifter” feature some hammering rhythms as well as few decent lead moments (not counting the awkward break in the former, featuring an isolated tapping solo that is completely out of place). Most of the songs actually start out pretty good like this before being ruined by either repetitive song structures and/or Boltendahl’s vocals/lyrics, depending on how generous you are. “Get Ready for Power” and “Tears of Blood” stick to this trend, as do most of the rest.
Half of the time it seems like these guys are trying to be Metal Church and failing. The bass-heavy production spends too much time highlighting the miserable vocals rather than the guitars or drums, instruments that while repetitive on the album are both the highlight and the driving force behind the music’s tempo and intensity. The production does allow the bass to be quite audible, but rarely is the bassist doing much more than following the root of the guitar chords.
But back to the track list. The remaining songs continue in the above fashion for nearly the rest of the album. A few nice riffs (the triplet one in “Don’t Kill the Children,” the verse riff of “Here I Stand”) exist, eventually negated by Boltendahl’s vocal melodies. He eventually makes up for himself briefly at the beginning of “Fight for Freedom” with a surprisingly clean Dio-sounding passage, but then makes it seem like a distant memory by the chorus of “Here I Stand.” But the album as a whole is redeemed by the final track. “Friends of Mine” starts off so mercilessly slow, with Boltendahl’s nastiest vocals and a constant double bass. But then it fucking explodes into a fucking brutal thrasher. The verse riff is classic and even the lyrics aren’t so bad. The chorus section is questionable, but the overall riffage makes up for it. Talk about saving the best for last.
But one good song standing among an album of snoozers does not a good metal album make. Keep this in mind if you find this title in a used music store somewhere and avoid it unless cheap.
Here we are at Grave Digger’s second album and we can quickly ascertain that this band has not evolved at all. The easiest comparison I can make for Grave Digger’s career between their debut and Heart of Darkness is to that of Blind Guardian’s.
Both bands debut with aggressive, incessant thrashy speed metal, neither particularly inspiring, but notable for their dedication to the cause of alacrity. They then proceed to sit on their hands for a few albums, utterly obstinate to any attempts to progress their sound out of their trite origins. Finally, as we all know, they both suddenly stumble into glorious power metal and live happily ever after. Though my point is done, if we extend time a little further both bands have peaked and are presently struggling in a musical rut.
With that out of the way, the music here is nearly identical to the debut. The strengths of the first album (catchy choruses, simple and memorable riffs and a melody at odds with the metal mayhem of the guitars) arise here, only in a slightly diluted form that results in a marginally weaker album. The lyrics still show both from their substance and from topic an at best tenuous grasp of English. The chorus to Night Drifter still cracks me up after many listens. Hearing the gravelly voice of Boltendahl belt out “cries in his pillow” conjures up some ridiculous imagery.
Now my rating might seem low considering the inflated ratings prominent on this site. The material here is solid, if uninspired, with the latter reflected in my score. You might get mileage out of this album more akin to the other two reviewers. However, I wouldn’t dote too much on early Grave Digger, much better speed metal albums exist elsewhere, including later in Grave Digger’s own discography.
Not nearly as good as their phenominal debute album, but a quite decent release. It's just as heavy as HMB, with much less fury and attitude to both the lyrics and the music. The opening title tack, 'Witch Huner', picks up right where HMB left off and could have fit perfectly on that debute. Heavy as fuck riffage, with Chris shouting his lungs into the mic with his incredible, gruff vox...."He's a WITCH HUNTER! WIIIIIITCH HUNTER!!!", killer stuff right there (The mid solo just rips!!). The second track, 'Night Drifter' is pretty average when compared to the debute album, though being one of the highlights heard here. The song kicks off with a punishing riff that will keep your ears glued to the speaker, but then slowly fades into nothing more than a solid, decent metal tune. 'Love Is A Game' is one of those enjoyable ballads that Grave Digger has the ability of doing, and is of course another stand out track as opposed to the rest of the 'kick your ass' riffs and licks on the album. Great tune, though it doesn't even come close to 'Yesterday' from HMB. Every remaining track here isn't very memorable on the first listen with the exception of the afformentioned 3 and a real cool cover of Alice Cooper's 'School's Out', better than the original and even better than the version that Krokus did. Perhapse another stand out song here is the last, 'Here I Stand', with much credit to it's galloping riff during the chorus.
So overall this doesn't even compare with the debute, but it's still in your face, solid heavy metal!! Not a must have for any metal head but it's DEFINETLY a must have for any Grave Digger fan.
Best songs: Witch Hunter, Night Drifter, Love Is A Game, Here I Stand