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You're so damned wrong. - 70%

Diamhea, February 16th, 2014

No, this isn't really Grave Digger, nor is it really all that offensive either. In fact, listening to this has motivated me to make an earnest attempt at hunting down Hawaii's Bottles and Four Coconuts, which should essentially be a cross-section between this and early Grave Digger releases like The Reaper.

Stronger Than Ever at the very least accomplishes most of what it sets out to do. It is very catchy keyboard heavy rock with occasional ventures into more spirited riffing passages. Lulis doesn't live up to his potential here, if only because the guitar tone is so overdriven and sloppy. The main reason this failed as a commercial product is undoubtedly Boltendahl's vocals. He still delivers the gruff barking we have grown used to with him, only his accent is way too thick to effectively drive home vocal-driven ballads. You can barely understand what he is saying half of the time. The keyboards contribute an appealing, archaic '80s appeal to a lot of these tracks. In fact, the riffs and leads can barely hold the entire thing together without them. Some keyboard sections like during "Listen to the Music" wouldn't sound out of place on the intro of '80s sitcoms like Full House; so corny.

The high proclivity of ballads keeps the atmosphere ripe, but some of the attempts at heavier bangers lose the plot rather quickly. "Moonriders" opens in a thrashy vein but quickly devolves into atonal note bends that are all but earbleed inducing. I honestly had difficulty getting through some of these weaker cuts enough times to generate a fair appraisal of them. The choruses aren't as catchy as one would think, disappointing more often than they enthrall. "Stand Up and Rock" builds itself up to be a real fist-pounder, but the chorus wobbles about like a wet noodle. Lulis' solos are always decent, which contributes at least a single high point to every track, no matter how meandering they are otherwise. I don't know what is going on with "Shadows of the Past", the production sounds notably different, and it is in a much thrashier and compact vein than anything else here. Perhaps a leftover track from War Games or an earlier demo? It's location at the end of the procession certainly points to such.

As I stated above, the guitars sound unnaturally overdriven, this obfuscates some of the quicker riffing passages and devolves the whole ordeal into inaudible distorted slush. Brank's bass is entirely buried, I believe he is audible for exactly one single three-second passage on "Stand Up and Rock". As per Stronger Than Ever's commercial sensibilities, the vocals are reverb-heavy and upfront. Boltendahl delivers the cleaner tones quite well, making it a shame that his accent guts a lot of the desired appeal of his performance. The ballads are almost universally passable, but most of the quicker chorus-driven numbers like "Wanna Get Close" are admittedly pretty lame.

Stronger Than Ever's material certainly fails to live up to the horrific nature of the cover art, which can make it something of a disappointment for those expecting a laugh-fest out of it. Boltendahl and co. are pretty solid song-smiths, so much so that even when they try to cash it in and sell out big time, they can't help but do so with a modicum of class and musical credibility. Not even close to amazing, but harmless all the same.