You know what you’re getting with Grave Digger. You’ve known it since 1984 and you’ll be reminded once again in 2012 with the release of the cash grabby Home at Last EP. As always, these old timers bring you Germanic power metal distilled to its most simplistic, knuckle-dragging form. That means songs with the most basic riffs and song writing imaginable and the trademark “Donald Duck on a voice modulator” vocals of Chris Boltendahl. Seriously, this stuff is so rudimentary, it makes Accept sound like Dream Theater. Simple or not, the last few albums haven’t exactly bowled me over with awesome sauce and the most recent one was half-baked. As per usual for EPs these days, you get three new songs and three live tracks of dubious value (and a surprisingly badass cover). The new material is apparently intended as a teaser for the impending Clash of the Gods full-length (seemingly based on Homer’s Odyssey; the ultimate guys roadtrip story). Is it worth your time and cash? Well, I wouldn’t risk pulling a hammy in a mad dash to the record store, that’s for sure.
Things open with the title track and lo and behold, there’s that über simple riffing, but this time, slower and thicker. Boltendahl comes in sounding like a the “other” Homer with a chest cold and it’s typical Grave Digger. However, the chorus is better than usual, with a big, sing-along, beer stein swinging charm and after a few refrains, it ends up fairly fun and the clear highpoint here. I’m even willing to overlook the total rip-off of the guitar line from Annihilator‘s “Alice in Hell” at 2:37.
“Rage of the Savage Beast” is mid-tempo, AC/DC styled rock/metal with guitar lines that almost veer toward poofy ’80s hair metal at times. It’s harmless and palatable but not likely to stick in your head in a meaningful way. Worst of the bunch is “Metal Will Never Die,” which grinds along like fifth-rate Manowar while lifting guitar lines from both “For Those About to Rock” and Iron Maiden‘s “From Here to Eternity.” By the end of the song, I was more than ready to leave the hall (and burn it behind me – because that’s what Manowar would do (W.W.M.D?)). With all the new songs lingering at mid-tempo, ill omens are on the wind, since Grave Digger is always at their best when they speed things up to quasi-thrash levels. Hopefully the rest of the new stuff is a bit more spry.
The three live songs (Ballad of the Hangman,” “Excalibur” and “Heavy Metal Breakdown”) all have a respectably professional sound, but all come across as empty and hollow. I never imagined Grave Digger as a “must see” live act and these tracks pretty much bear that out. Of the bunch, “Heavy Metal Breakdown” has the most energy and punch, but none of these are necessary, essential or substantial.
Hey, it’s an EP, there isn’t much here. The new stuff sounds slower than usual and based on these offerings, seems destined to circle the same drain of metallic mediocrity as their recent output (though the title track gives a faint glimmer of hope). I still love their first few albums, the self-titled one and the mighty Rheingold platter, and I sincerely hope for a return to their classic form, but you know what they say: you can’t go home again (until you sack Troy, blind a cyclops, hook up with slutty witches etc. etc.).