Just a few weeks back I reviewed Grave Digger‘s teaser EP Home at Last and had mixed feelings about it, as I did with most of their recent output. While the early albums like Heavy Metal Breakdown and War Games are classics, only a few of their later albums really clicked with me. Rheingold and The Grave Digger were particularly well done and benefitted from tons of simple, relentlessly heavy riffing and catchy song writing. Others like The Clans Will Rise Again and Liberty or Death were more like Rheinfool’sgold and left me bored and disinterested. It’s fair to say Grave Digger is the McDonalds of Germanic power metal. It’s always the same, no matter how long you go without having it. You get the same simple riffing, mid-paced to zippy tempos and the love or hate “duck-on-acid” vocals of Chris Boltendahl. The make or break “special sauce” really comes down to the level of song writing they manage from album to album. Though I went on record predicting the new opus would likely suck, now that I’m in possession of Clash of the Gods, I’m happy to report this time the chefs added plenty of sugar, spice and everything ricin. The song writing has taken a considerable leap from The Clans, as has the energy level and aggressiveness quotient. It’s still the same knuckleheaded metal from the early 80s (not to be pejorative or anything…) which walks the line between Accept and power metal, but this time it’s a big barrel of mindless fun and that’s what metal is all about, right?
Since Rheingold is their best release since the 80s, I was happy that opener “God of Terror” adopted that exact style and sound. It’s an ode to simple, “true metal” riffing with an anthemic delivery packing way more balls than brains. It’s typical Grave Digger down to the last note but when they fire on all cylinders as they do here, they’re plenty fun and all about raising the horns and beer steins. The chorus is so simple it hurts but somehow it works and I can’t explain why. Follow ups like “Helldog” (which sounds like the last few Accept albums), “Medusa” and the title track (with cool arabic plucking) all stay in the same groove and are enjoyable despite kiddie level lyrics like “eyes are my weapons, snakes in my hair.“
The big hits include the uber aggressive “Death Angel” (think “King Pest” off The Grave Digger), which is one of their better songs in years; the muscular heft of “Warrior’s Revenge,” which sports a chorus that kicks a good amount of booty; and “Walls of Sorrow,” which sounds extra heavy and angry despite the melodic chorus. “Home at Last” is reprised, and since it pretty much carried the EP, it’s welcome here too. Even the power ballady “Call of the Sirens” manages to pull up it’s skirt and party with the big boys. For the first time in a long time, you have a Grave Digger album where no song comes up lame. Considering roughly half of The Clans Will Rise Again suffered that fate, this is quite an unexpected triumph.
The key to successful Digger tunes is proper application of the big, relentless riffage they’re known for. If ever there was a band that lived and died by the guitar, they’re it. Wisely, Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt makes this a nonstop riff-fest with most ending up satisfyingly headbangy. He hammers away with no respite and no regard and I love the simple minded focus of it all. Mr. Boltendahl follows along, sounding just as ducky as ever but seems to have extra venom in his delivery. Hell, he even manages a few semi-respectable clean singing segments. Again though, things only work because they FINALLY cobbled together an album full of quality compositions with no bombs to derail the Grave-y train (thanks, Monte!)
Sound-wise, this is a throwback to the Rheingold album as well. The guitars are way upfront, sound heavy and crunchy and command the majority of the focus. Boltendahl’s warbles, and Stefan Arnold’s war drums hold their own, and despite things being a tad more polished than I like, it’s a decent enough mix.
At last these long suffering elders found the stones to give us a worthy follow-up to Rheingold and I’m so surprised, I’m willing to forget all the dreck that came in between. I admit I didn’t think they had it in them anymore, but I’m glad to be wrong and hope they squeeze out a few more albums like this before they wind up in an angry assisted living home. Screw prog-metal! Come for the Rhein, but stay for the Gold (whatever the hell that means).