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The Reaper's madness. - 85%

Diamhea, March 9th, 2014

While most fans look to The Reaper as the archetypical return to form release, that wasn't necessarily the case regarding Grave Digger. While it conclusively swept the infamous Digger debacle under the rug, it actually consisted largely of past material previously composed for the Hawaii demo Bottles and Four Coconuts. The form had already been returned to some years earlier, it just took the band several years to effectively regroup. Through The Reaper, the band exorcised the few demons that remained, and effectively wiped the slate clean to usher in a new, grand period.

To Grave Digger's credit, a bevy of quality material still remained locked in The Reaper's vault, and they amalgamated the remaining past cuts with the first throes of the modern Grave Digger formula we are familiar with today to bring us Symphony of Death. As per it's place in the timeline, this obscure EP bridges the incendiary speed metal architecture of The Reaper with the epic, forward-thinking songwriting present on Heart of Darkness. Grave Digger's lineup around this period is certainly one to envy, as Michael is far and away the best technician on the kit that they have ever boasted amongst their nefarious ranks. Even without Becker, these guys have no problem shifting between riff-driven fist pounders to darker, more atmospheric romps that came to define the band proper.

To bring up the obscure Hawaii demo again, the band pulled out two more of the cuts from that period in "Back to the Roots" and "Shout it Out". Written no later than early '89, "Back to the Roots" truly lives up to it's name and can be interpreted as the exact moment that Grave Digger got their shit together. Michael's cavernous kit and cymbal swells dominate the intro, but what about the riff beneath that? Definitely one of the greatest riffs the band has ever committed to disc, and the song wisely revolves around it for the duration. While Lulis only hinted at his brilliance on Stronger Than Ever, he truly came into his own by this point. "Shout it Out" is an equally vibrant shot in the arm, exhibiting Boltendahl's then-newly acquired harpy-like screeching alongside his normal gruff delivery.

Then the newer material swings around. The title track has to be a castoff from Heart of Darkness that somehow found a way to go back in time and insert itself snugly into this EP. The approach and delivery is virtually seamless, and how about that chorus? "We fight, we kill, we die!". Grave Digger choruses have never been the most deep or introspective, but if you are looking for those attributes in them you are missing the point. The deep, operatic passage near the end of the song instantly separates Symphony of Death from anything Grave Digger had committed to disc up to this point. The winds of change were clearly blowing.

Nearly all of the ancillary fat that plagued the pre-reformation albums such as War Games is wisely discarded. No cornball ballads to be found here, Grave Digger instead deem themselves "Wild and Dangerous", the namesake of the final and perhaps most balanced track here. Check out the single-note strumming during the verses, which repeatedly defers to an ascending pattern that repeatedly blows the doors off of the entire procession. Then what about "World of Fools", which alternates between sullen and vicious? Lulis interjects a number of then-atypical songwriting decisions like subtle acoustic layering, merging into an eclectic whole that screams of Knights of the Cross.

I can clearly continue, but Symphony of Death naturally speaks for itself. This very nearly dethrones Heart of Darkness at times, and with nearly thirty minutes worth of material to chew on, it is a wise procurement for any fan of Grave Digger's '90s approach. It is also an invaluably critical stepping stone in Grave Digger's continuing evolution, proving that there is always new ground to cover.

We Fight, We Kill, We Die! - 95%

Flamos, October 6th, 2009

This is one of my oddest reviews, mainly because this is considered to be an EP. Yet it's 24 minutes long. So, it's hard to call this album, but I want to because it's supurb. So here we go, Grave Digger's "Symphony of Death."

There's a quick intro that leads right into the title track "Symphony of Death." This song is one of my favorites of all time. The riffs, the lyrics, the performance, everything is flawless. It's one of the catchiest tracks I've ever heard. The overall feel of this song is power and blood pumping. An anthem for sure. "Back to the Roots" is a song about Grave Digger themselves, when Chirs Boltendahl changed the band name to Digger and altered there sound to make more money. This song itself rules. Great vocals from Chris Boltendahl once again pumping power to the entire atmosphere. Uwe Lulis does a fantastic job on guitar throughout the entire album. His playing has it's own feel to it and he really imposes his will here. "Shout it Out" highlights Jorg Michael's drum performance, it's spectacular on this track. One of the fastest Grave Digger songs ever created. Sure, none of the writing is original, but it's reasonable and easy to ignore. "World of Fools" is the more melodic track, but don't think it isn't superb as well, because it is. One of the more lyrically powerful Grave DIgger songs. It's much different than the rest of the album, which gives it an edge in my opinion. "House of Horror" is catchy, once again I can't say it enough. This album drills itself in your brain and it doesn't let go. "Symphony of Death" ends with "Wild and Dangerous." Sure it's a little cheesy, but who doesn't like cheese? Good song to end a near perfect EP.

The line up here, is one of Grave Digger's best, if not the best. Chirs Boltendahl's vocals are as great as ever, and you'll respect the uniqueness of it. The production is good, spotty here and there, but overall positive. It's about 24 minutes. Long for an EP, short for an album. So you could consider it a negative, but I don't. Drags down the potential for filler, which nobody wants I'm sure.

This is one of the greatest EP's I've ever heard. Fast, catchy, powerful, everything you'd want in German speed metal. Check it out for sure if you a fan of the genre, if your just getting into Grave Digger this is the best place to start. Amazing piece of music.

We're Beyond the Roots Now - 80%

BotD, March 20th, 2007

Here is an odd little release from veteran German speed metal ensemble of Grave Digger. It’s an E.P. with songs never released on any other album and with all the trappings of a full-length. The lack of reviews certainly suggests an anonymity among the metal populace that is probably not due this musical work.

Nope, this is quality early Grave Digger material, though armed with a schizophrenic personality. Looking at the whole discography, “Symphony of Death” is sandwiched between The Reaper and Heart of Darkness—cozy company that provides indications of the musical direction here. Yet, at the same time the songs within represent a certain anomaly, combining nostalgia for the even more distant past and a glimmer of future greatness.

The E.P. opens with an intro that leads into the title track and a riff peculiar in its departure from the hyper single-note riffage signature of German speed metal. In fact, this cut is not too dissimilar to the ideas perfected on their next album. Further adumbration in the middle section where choirs rise up in eerie melody and one can’t help but see the future of Grave Digger writ large.

It should be said that while none of the material is slow on this album, speed doesn’t characterize the material. It’s their, but it no longer seems the end, only the means. A subtle difference, but it produces a tremendous difference and elevates Grave Digger to the next tier.

“Back to the Roots” follows the title track with a furious ode to their return to heavy metal after the failed experiment of Digger. And then they keep hitting us with amazing cut after amazing cut, that while not truly exceptional or original mark a drastic departure with their past in terms of quality—the riffage is stronger, the choruses catchier, the solos more engaging and more ambitious songwriting. No longer populating Grave Digger’s work are nearly indistinguishable speed metal cuts. They experiment here (Check out “World of Fools”) and with great success that will reach its ultimate payout on the next album.

One flaw saddles “Symphony of Death,” however; one that continually plagues this band: considerably inane choruses. Not musically that is, but lyrically. Unfortunately, Chris Boltendahl latches onto the nasty habit of repeating the song title for his chorus.

P.S. I think this is the most appropriate place to mention a few miscellaneous songs strewed among various early releases. Tears of Blood, Don’t Kill the Children, Girls of Rock and Roll and Shoot Her Down fit snugly with anything off their first three albums and are maybe slightly better. The track that is thoroughly worth tracking down (it’s not even mentioned on this site) is the song No Quarter. It sounds completely awkward for any era of Grave Digger, but especially young Grave Digger. It combines some truly emotional riffs, odd experimentation and peculiar production into a gem worth digging up. For that matter, it might have fit well on this album.