It’s a brand new year – a fresh beginning for all of our personal stories and a clean, blank slate for metal music. Now is the time to take risks, to be daring, to innovate. Just kidding, it’s actually time for the 17th goddamn album of monochromatic meat n’ taters metal from the unstoppable Germanic horde called Grave Digger. They’ve been banging out the same basic Accept-style heavy metal since 1984 and though they tweaked their formula slightly over the decades, it’s still the music of the 80s recycled again for 2017. So much for progression, eh? 2014s Return of the Reaper was a decent but unspectacular slab o’ Digger, as are most of their releases if I’m being totally honest. You’ll find no surprises or the slightest whiff of innovation on Healed by Metal either, aside from the Manowar-considered-then-rejected title. This is more of the same fist-pumping festival fare you’ve heard a million times before and will certainly be hearing again. The boys still sound fairly spry for their age and as always, you can imagine these songs going over pretty well live. But is it, as promised, good for what ails you?
Let’s just say I wouldn’t pick a holistic listening session over a trip to the ER. At this point in their lengthy career Grave Digger are writing from a template older than many of our readers, and though it makes for painfully familiar song craft, it still works to some extent. Cuts like “Lawbreaker” and “Free Forever” approximate a merger of Painkiller era Priest with recent U.D.O. material and that’ll always get a little blood pumping in metallic fossils like myself. The same goes for straight-ahead mouth breathers like “Call for War” and “Hallelujah” which put the boot to you without subtlety in classic Teutonic style. Wisely, the band keeps the adrenaline level pretty high throughout, which is when they’re at their troglodyte best.
The standout moment is “Kill Ritual,” which recalls their classic Rheingold platter while mixing in some snappy guitar-work similar to Dawnbringer and High Spirits. The riffing is in-your-face, the solos are out of hand and the song hits like a sucker punch in church. Then there are the quasi-parody cuts like the title track, which is so brain dead and stuck in the 80s even I’m offended by it. It’s dumb without being fun enough to make allowances and it just doesn’t work when that big, sing-along chorus of “healed by metal, we rock!” hits you like a wet halibut. “Ten Commandments of Metal” fares better but it too is so silly it’ll hurt you in the dignity zone.
The remainder of the album flits between generic and average Grave Digger, of which you’ve heard plenty of both by now. The brief 37 minute runtime helps considerably though, as do the short song-lengths, with most running around 3-minutes. Sound-wise, it’s a bit bricky and loud, but you’ve heard worse. You’ve also heard better.
Founder/vocalist Chris Boltendahl is still front and center, rasping and quacking like the AFLAC duck, and though he sounds a bit weak on the title track, for the most part his voice is still as wacky and weird as always. Guitarist Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt throws some decently aggressive old school riffs at you and each song is driven by one of two chest thumping leads. His work on “Kill Ritual” is easily some of his best and if there were more of this quality we might be looking at a pleasantly surprising exhumation, but alas, this is merely a competent but indistinguishable cog in the Grave Digger machine.
After 37 years of metallic rabble rousing, neither time nor tide seem able to silence these grave robbing fiends. Healed by Metal may not be the universal tonic for your ills, but as 80s Germanic metal goes, you can still count on it for a few fun moments of cheesy rancor. Amusingly knuckle-headed, but non-essential.