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The men with the shovels invite you to bang - 81%

Felix 1666, July 5th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, GUN Records (Limited edition, Digipak)

Grave Digger returned to Scotland and its history in 2010 and this was the point where I decided to follow this band no longer. As a loyal metalhead, I had bought a certain number of albums with many ordinary material and a few strong numbers that kept these works above water. Despite the undeniable charm of the landscapes of Scotland, the Scottish period of Grave Digger had not interested me very much and their return to these themes - in addition to the musical ups and downs - was the last straw that broke the camel's back. Yet this does not mean that the group never released strong albums. "Heart of Darkness" proves evidence in this context.

First things first, "Heart of Darkness" sounds fresh. Some works of the Germans have a static touch, are slightly dusty and smell musty. This album here is energizing and this applies not only to the speedy tracks like "Warchild", but to the stomping tunes such as "The Grave Dancer" as well. The latter can be taken as a prime example for the typical Teutonic mid-pace metal song, heavy, not very complicated (to say the least) and focused on a catchy chorus. But in spite of their penchant for simple patterns, Chris Boltendahl and his brothers in spirit also offer more complex stuff. The opulent title track marks the epicentre of the album. With a length of more than eleven minutes, it shows various facets, although its structure is anything else but original for such a monument. The silent beginning, the traditional verses and bridges and the many-voiced chorus do not offer completely unforeseen twists and turns and more or less the same goes for a spoken part. But the song catches the mood of the US troops in Vietnam, the desperation, the brutality and the whole futility of this venture (or at least I think so), while some other lyrics are rather kitschy ("'I'm a little warchild...").

Secondly, the albums has a proper degree of currishness. "Hate" scores with a good drive, "Shadow Maker" appears as the typical up-tempo opener and the sluggish "Demon's Day" rolls slowly but mercilessly over the listener. Generally speaking, Grave Digger fire some really effective riffs into the crowd and Boltendahl makes good use of his voice. He does not belong to the most charismatic singers of the German scene, but here he shows a good performance, supported by background choirs from time to time that increase the power of the vocals. It would go a step too far to say that Boltendahl ennobles the compositions, but he is an important factor on an album which is almost free from mediocrity. Okay, "Circle of Witches" could be slightly too long in view of its rather goofy intro, but it also delivers some acceptable vibes as the guitar sets in. Better still, the album is devoid of crimes against humanity, also known as Grave Digger ballads. No "Love Is Breaking My Heart" and similar trash makes me wish that I would have been born without ears. Only the second bonus song points in this direction, but it does not deliver an overdose of cheesy lines.

The regular album ends with "Black Death", a solid number with a slightly hysterical yet memorable chorus. By the way, "solid" is the term that describes the production fittingly. The guitars do not lack power and everything is more or less well balanced without delivering an outstanding sound adventure. Anyway, the normal edition with a playtime of more than 56 minutes is highly recommendable, the digipak holds two extra tracks which cannot increase the quality level, but "My Life" is an adequate speed track that only suffers slightly from its rather poor chorus. Yet hopefully you agree that 56 minutes are enough for a well filled disc and therefore I give less weight to the additional material. Fans of traditional metal with speed metal tendencies should not hesitate to check out this work. But stay away if you think that legions of men in kilts before the inner eye are necessary in order to enjoy a metal album.

Leading the fools to the gates of hades. - 85%

Diamhea, January 27th, 2014

The first few Grave Digger albums after the Digger/Hawaii debacle have a unique appeal, as the final traces of the band's speed metal origins manifest themselves throughout many of these tracks. While The Reaper was a commendable comeback album, the Germans finally settled into a creative niche on Heart of Darkness that stylistically persists to this very day.

When comparing Heart of Darkness to modern classics like Rheingold, disparity in the riff delivery becomes immediately apparent. Lulis' riffs are indeed massive, and he can perhaps be lauded as the originator of Grave Digger's now legendary sound and aesthetics. His riffs aren't quite as colossal as Schmidt's, but his playing style features a slightly more melodic slant that adds lasting power and elegance to his performance. This is most evident during the impressive "Warchild", in which the riffs shift into a major key, adding catchy qualities that are without a doubt a welcome addition to Grave Digger's melting pot of speed/trad facets.

Other great examples of the melodic assault are "Demon's Day" and the title track. The former opens with throbbing acoustic passages, eventually opening into the massive riff paired with Boltendahl's primal delivery. The twelve-minute title track "Heart of Darkness" deserves special mention, as it covers a multitude of styles and features operatic choirs, serving as a precursor to later epics like "Twilight of the Gods". There is an Iron Maiden-like grace to the leadwork that periodically surfaces near the end of the song. "Hate" is more mid-paced and bludgeoning, contrasting well with the longer, progressive tracks like "Circle of Witches". My favorite of all has to be the closer "Black Death", which is both groovy and punishing.

Boltendahl can hardly do wrong, his gruff intonation is probably at its best here during the mid-90s. He isn't as painfully upfront as on some more modern Grave Digger records, so kudos to Lulis on the production front. The guitars have a caustic, buzzsaw-like tone that has plenty of staying power and bite. Even the guitars can't match Göttlich's monstrous bass tone, however. Heart of Darkness rivals some Overkill albums for pure bass-driven frills. While Overkill usually settled on a popping, clangy timbre for the four-string, the tone here sounds nearly subsonic, as per its rumbling delivery.

While full of classics, Heart of Darkness isn't without some more lukewarm cuts. "The Grave Dancer" features one of the weaker choruses, and never really did much for me personally. The aforementioned "Circle of Witches" features some interesting compositional elements, but lacks much of an identity and a clear purpose; ultimately falling short compared to the otherwise high standards present here. Even singling these tracks out makes me feel like I am splitting hairs, as Heart of Darkness is most definitely an easy album to keep around. Don't miss this one.

Take THAT 90's Music!, Album II. - 91%

Metal_Jaw, October 3rd, 2012

Grave Digger was back in action baby! After the solid speedfest that was the "The Reaper", Grave Digger went into something of a different direction on their 2nd 90's album, "Heart of Darkness". The songs still had the same basic ideas, big choruses and riffs, scorching solos, etc...but they felt different. The songs on here are evil. The themes of this particular album are dark and sinister, arguably more so than any of the group's other albums. They may not be the heaviest tracks on the planet, but the darkness and mood behind each of them make the typical black metal band look like Starbuck's commercial jingle composers.

The band makes a ravaging return here. Chris Boltendahl's gruff yells are in top form, and he mixes in some more shrieks and some of his beloved clean singing as well. This album contains some of Uwe Lulis's finest work; lots of fantastic riffage and highly creative solos all around. Tommi Gottlich's bass is far more up in front here than it was on "The Reaper", and it works wonders for the album by adding a much-welcomed layer of extra heaviness. New guy drummer Frank Ullrich is unfortunately a poor replacement for the talented Jorg Michael; he's a pretty damn standard drummer with standard abilities, though I imagine a drummer of his skills was needed for the album's primarily mid-paced aim.

"Hearts of Darkness" has a total of nine songs, none of which deem any skipping. Not even the instrumental intro "Tears of Madness", which is worth listening to just for how damn creepy it is. This is followed by the wicked atmospheric speed metaller "Shadowmaker" and it's memorable chorus. Other highlights? Well, all of 'em I guess. The short, punchy and aggressive "hate" is pretty badass, and "Circle of Witches" comes with a long but entertaining spoken intro that gives way to more gritty speed metal. The plague-inspired "Black Death" reigns as something of a personal favorite, booming along with its groovish, super-heavy main riff. The fearsome but downbeat "Warchild" starts off with the most startling intro on the album: soft lullaby music, followed by a few seconds of a baby crying, and out of nowhere, a violent gunshot! Enter the fastest song on the album!

Overall, "Hearts of Darkness" is a solid crowning achievement in the Diggers' discography. The bandmates (save maybe for the drummer) are kicking almost too much creative ass on here, and all nine songs are more than worth a few hundred listens. If you want TRULY dark, truly REAL 90's heavy metal done the RIGHT way (I'm talking to YOU Pearl Jam!), then "Hearts of Darkness" is your ticket to the blackness...

Is This Grave Digger? - 95%

BotD, May 3rd, 2007

Where did this come from? After The Reaper and the Symphony of Death EP, Grave Digger from all indications intended to continue the speed metal of their early career. Yet, as just a peek at the track lengths will show you, something far different compelled Grave Digger as they composed Heart of Darkness. In what is their most ambitious project, Grave Digger builds the foundations for their later epic power metal era and simultaneous surpasses anything that era will produce, excepting perhaps Rheingold.

The first thing one will notice about this album is the sound. While I always enjoyed the Grave Digger sound up to this point as they avoided many of the flaws that plagued countless German speed metal bands in the 80s, everything here sounds great and all the instruments are situated perfectly with relation to each other. I particularly enjoy how distinct and accentuated the guitars sound, it is a quality all bands should aspire to, but that most fail to achieve.

As I pointed out, a look at the track lengths should confirm that Grave Digger strays off their well-beaten track with Heart of Darkness. Gone are the short cuts that filled out previous and future Grave Digger albums and in their place come longer, more fully realized compositions. Even the classic speed metal opener of the album surpasses the five-minute mark. Also, Grave Digger’s most elaborate offering ever is the title track which stretches to fourteen minutes, a feat Grave Digger never again attempts.

Of course, the amazing part of this renaissance is that Grave Digger consistently entertains despite the increased running lengths. Most of the credit for this belongs to Uwe Lulis who crafts the best riffs of his career, riffs instantly memorable, highly melodic and uncharacteristically slow. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this the slowest Grave Digger in their entire discography, yet one must suspect that it allows Lulis some breathing room; breathing room that he takes ample advantage of to try something refreshingly new for this band.

The other component integral to Grave Digger’s success is Chris Boltendahl and like Lulis he also transcends the bounds of his speed metal heritage to offer up his best performance. I should qualify that because I enjoy the vocals on Rheingold slightly more, but he relies on backing choirs less here and the choruses are far more intelligent than stuff like “Valhalla” repeated a few times. Yes, if you find later Grave Digger predictable, I thoroughly recommend Heart of Darkness to prove that this band can excel outside of the little niche of their future albums. Boltendahl and Lulis team up to create something emanating a tenebrous atmosphere they would never strive for again.

I could extol the virtues of each song, including the bonus track “My Life,” but everything here is stupendous and any fan of the band should own this. Heck, if you don’t like the band’s later stuff, you might just like this.

No way back – from the circle of witches ! - 95%

Nightrunner, October 16th, 2006

Metal was dead in the 90’s, they say, very strange when releases like this were released. The – in my opinion – heaviest and darkest Grave Digger-album nailed is this one. Of course 2001’s “The Grave Digger” is close, and is behind this GD’s second best album, but this album just have even more of the feeling of darkness over the atmosphere. The production on this one is better and has much more bass than “The Reaper”, and in my opinion Chris sings better, not as high pitched (not that those screams are bad, but he sings even better when singing a bit lower). Of course, he screams on this album too, but they’re awesome now and Chris does one of his better performances. The riffing machine Uwe Lulis has created really memorable riffs and is pure fucking heavy metal the whole way through.

There are some longer songs to be find here, the titletrack around 12 minutes has a long cool intro than leads into heavy passages with Chris screaming and then gets calmer again. It’s a cool song to listen to some time little now and then, but not too much. We have “Circle Of Witches” which has a cool lyrics concept and intro, and as with the titletrack, heavy passages follow. This is the only song that doesn’t have a killer main riff, it sure is OK, but nothing more. The third long track is the heavy motherfucker called “Demon’s Day” a awesome creation and sure is on my top 10 Grave Digger songs. The verses is graduating in speed the longer the song goes, it also contains one of the killer solos. Among the 4 other songs not mentioned we have the two speedy ones “Shadowmaker” and “Hate”, the true speed metal Grave Digger shows up, but I found at least Hate as a much more aggressive tune than before with it’s “thrash-feeling”. The other two mid-paced monsters, “The Grave Dancer” and “Black Death”. The first one with it’s METAL riff and is a awesome song, possibly once again a song on my top 10 Grave Digger songs, must be a real asskicking song live. And “Black Death”, is also a heavy riffmonster, heavy and nice with lyrics about just The Black Death that struck all over Europe in the 14th Century.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have this album in your collection, one get over 62 minutes of kicking heavy metal, and that’s what a metal head shouldn’t dislike. As I said, this is in my opinion GD’s magnum opus. But you should also get all GD-albums that is released after this one too, it’s greatness the whole way. In anyway, if you not have this album or the other, GET EM ! If you don’t like it, yeah..”your hate is all I need”.

Best songs ? All.
Some slightly, slightly better than other ? Yeah, “The Grave Dancer” and “Demon’s Day”.

If Manowar have heart of steel... - 93%

StillDeath, October 9th, 2004

If Manowar have a heart of steel, then this album has balls of steel! Grave Digger made a comeback of sorts with The Reaper after changing their name back. The Reaper saw the Diggers unleash a speed metal monster of an album. Heart of Darkness is similar to that and both albums were released as Parts 1 & 2 as The History double disc. If you find them in that format, then get it as both albums are Grave Digger at their peak.

Heart of Darkness is not of speed metal nature as much asThe Reaper, rather the songs are more consistent and contain a truckload of memorable mid-paced riffs! Album starts off with a little instrumental intro which links with the outro from The Reaper. Then we get to “Shadowmaker” and it is kind of The Reaper left over speed metal song. Not that it’s a bad thing. The vocals are menacing, even more so than on just about any other Grave Digger album. Usually extreme vocals go well with extreme side of traditional metal. Chris Boltendahl screeches, growls and screams in an inhuman voice, just check out “Demon’s Day” for a feat of voice distortion. As for the themes of the album, lets see the track titles - “Heart of Darkness”, “Circle of Witches”, “Hate”, “Tears of Madness”, “Black Death”. Yup, these would not be out of place on a black metal album. However, the lyrics deal with being pushed over the edge, and as you are entering the last stages of rage cycle madness and darkness take over your heart. “Warchild” for example, dealing with a youth forced to fight against invading army to avenge his parents’ death. A touching story of revenge and loss of innocence, goes rather well with rip your neck off speed fucking metal and a very pissed vocalist.

The guitars are tuned and played to thrash your head off, I can honestly say that “The Grave Dancer” opening riff has not yet been matched outside of Germany for neck snapping headbanging. “Fools – I will lead you down, Losers – Your eyes will stud my crown”, this really must be what metal heaven is like. God Lemmy would be pleased. “Heart of Darkness” is an atmospheric epic, again mid-paced riffs and growl along lines rule supreme here. And who am I to doubt the epic storyline of Vietnam war and madness of the slaughter therein, when it is presented in such a “metal” way?

The highlights, well everything. Two bonus tracks are decent as well. “My Life” starts off with a demonic scream, and then the speed metal assault begins. The vocals are less distorted, one of the fastest songs Grave Digger have done. “Dolphin’s Cry” is a ballad, well you can’t win them all, but this is a listenable ballad at that, reminds me of first half of Overkill’s “Years of Decay”.

This is Grave Digger at their most evil and at their best. The 90’s releases don’t get much better than this. God bless Diggers metal hearts for this hateful masterpiece.

I Dance On Your Grave! - 88%

Nightcrawler, September 25th, 2002

Heart of Darkness is pretty similar to it's predecessor, The Reaper. It's dark, evil and heavy as all fucking hell. But what puts this one above the former, is the consistency in the songwriting (The Reaper had some pretty average songs, this is all fucking killer), and the production. The guitars are heavier, and the general sound is much sharper. Heart of Darkness also introduces a more melodic side vowed into the songwriting, which creates some truly sinister touches, especially in songs like the title track.
The general pace of songs is much slower than on speed metal assaults like Ride On from the previous, but this is more than made up for in the atmosphere that's created. Just check out the midpaced Demon's Day, and again, the title track.

We begin with Tears of Madness, a frightening intro which is a straight continuation of The Madness Continues, the outro to The Reaper.

It leads right into the most menacing song on here, and the definite highlight of the album: Shadowmaker! Insane, riff-heavy speed metal all the way. Vicious single notes riffwork, pounding double bass and that one sinister slower riff kicking in at 0:30 first time... oh man, and it doesn't stop.
"I'm the king of destruction, the master of chaos! Leading the fools to the gates of Hades!" Chris Boltendahls raw voice sounds completely fucking nuts on this one, as always. The song also goes through an insanely catchy shout-along chorus and a wicked solo and further riff madness before finally letting you breathe. This right here is one of Grave Diggers finest tunes ever.

The album continues to kick ass, and rarely letting up in heaviness but often varying in the speed of songs.
After the insane Shadowmaker come two midtempo bangers, The Grave Dancer and Demon's Day. The first one is just a classic riff-heavy headbanger with a very nice melodic solo in the middle. The latter is more experimental, if you wish. It begins with a haunting melody, and kicks into that monster of a main riff, just forcing you to bang your fucking head like a madman. Chris' vocals sounds more vicious and sinister than ever before, and is well complemented by the crazy guitar tone, and the entire song just reeks with evil.
From the raw and heavy verses to the melodic and insanely catchy chorus (these guys never run out of those) to the devastating middle section ("No escape - never try - no way out - you will die - you die so alone!"), the song just slays.

And the song quality doesn't get lower for one minute. The catchy, fast paced Warchild is more kickass speed metal in the vein of Shadowmaker but a bit more melodic. Then the epic and nearly 12-minute long title track, going through a number of cool time and mood changes, varying from melodic to raw and has both slow and fast parts, all in all it compiles yet another masterpiece, also featuring the notable inclusion of Chris' mesmerizing clean vocals. After it we have another fast paced double bass-driven crusher by the title Hate, followed by the atmospheric Circle of Witches, and then we finally end with the devastating, midpaced Black Death.

In conclusion, if you like your daily dose of metal to be dark, heavy and catchy at the same time, look no further. Grave Digger would put out finer efforts later on, but this definitely stands as a worthy addition to their catalogue, and another kickass metal album.