Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper – Album Review

gravediggerreturnofthereapercd

Based on a pretty decent sample size, I have to say that the majority of bands that have survived since the 80’s are turning out some pretty amazing music these days. I don’t know if this is simply a result of all those years of experience, or an ability to get the best out of today’s recording technology without letting it dominate, or likely both, but there have been some cracking good albums in the past 2 or 3 years from bands that are now able to claim 30-plus years. I’m happy to report that Grave Digger have joined these ranks with a crushing offering in the shape of “Return Of The Reaper”.

Grave Digger are able to trace their roots back to 1980, and notwithstanding a brief 4-year period between 1987 to 1991, when the band was officially defunct, have been knocking out albums at a rate of about one every two years, which is pretty respectable. “Return Of The Reaper” (RotR) represents the seventeenth studio album from the band and it delivers a riff-heavy dose of German-flavored metal with a definite NWOBHM under-current. One particularly redeeming feature is the avoidance of anything too obviously triggered or programmed, which for me has been the bane of too many recordings coming out of the mainland-European metal scene recently.

The album opens with what seems like the obligatory ‘intro piece’ these days, which in this case is actually the title track, and clocks in at 1 minute 16 seconds, but I will note that the track does sequence directly into the first real song, “Hell Funeral”, which smashes out of your speakers with a very-metal riff. It took me a moment or two to get comfortable with the very mid-range-scooped guitar sound (almost like a wha-wah pedal at half-open), but it works. Now, I will caution some of the lyrics are almost into Spinal Tap territory, but I’ll give that a pass… “Rider from hell, with an evil smell”. Haha! After all, if I was trying to write lyrics in German for example, I’m sure they wouldn’t be the most elegant.

Track number 3 also brings a pacey and catchy opening riff, backed by a pounding double kick-drum section that blasts the song into your face. There’s definitely some pretty nice guitar work on this record – nothing ground breaking and certainly with a nod in the direction of Zakk Wylde and a good dose of pinch harmonics, but it all works in a very satisfyingly heavy metal way.

The fourth track, “Tattooed Rider”, opens with a definite hint of Judas Priest’s Turbo Lover, but this ends up in another place and is right up there fighting for consideration as “most catchy track on the album”. Overall, even though there is no question this is a heavy-ass record, there is a lot of melody reaching inside your head and drawing you to play the thing over and over. I really like the use of the backing vocals on this track.

There is no relent in the pace and “Resurrection Day” brings more crushing riffs, but again manages to sneak in a line in the vocal using the phrase “nasty smell” which is rhymed with “straight out of hell” on the following line. Shame on me, but again I have thoughts drifting toward Spinal Tap… The following track, “Season of the Witch” is a definite slower number, and to my ears evokes echoes of classic Saxon and in some parts even some Angel Witch (or is that just because of the track title?).

The next two tracks, “Road Rage Killer” and “Grave Desecrator” are my two personal favorites, and both are annoyingly catchy. Once you hear them it’s very hard to get them out of your head. The chorus to “Grave Desecrator” is impossible to not sing along with in my opinion, and I find it strangely necessary to hit the repeat button for this song more often than not.

The next three tracks roll along pretty much like those that came before. Kind of like a battle tank at full speed, there’s not much that could run this album off the rails and indeed that is true here. The only surprise might be the very final song, which opens with a classy bit of piano and builds to a fairly mega ballad. Now Chris Boltendahl, who has been the stalwart of the band on vocals since 1980, doesn’t have anything you might mistake for subtlety when it comes to his singing style, but it all works out just fine here. At times I am reminded of Chuck Billy from Testament, while at others, a sort of more musical Lips from Anvil.

There is a “however” coming, but only if you happen to shell out and purchase the deluxe version of the CD, which includes a second CD of bonus material. The first two tracks on the bonus CD are welcome additions, however the remainder are acoustic live renditions of various tracks with I think just guitar and piano, and to be honest are not always that well executed. This is a little disappointing, to say the least, and I think to be honest they would have been better off not including them, or at least not including all eight of the tracks and perhaps picked the best three.

Overall I really enjoyed this album, with the main disc offering up a total of ten crushing heavy metal tracks, one strong ballad and of course the intro tune. I’m going to ignore the bonus disk, because to be honest I suspect most people wouldn’t play it much anyway, and taken this way I score it an enjoyable 8.5/10

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