I have to admit, bands re-recording their old material isn’t an exercise I feel is altogether necessary. The odd track here and there is fine; some songs do occasionally require a spot of post-release tinkering. But recording an entire album a second time, decades later? Unless it’s being released as a bonus disc to accompany a new record, or there’s a clear intention to bring something new to the table, then it all seems a bit pointless.
When most bands guilty of this fairly recent phenomenon first started out, they were driven by fierce determination. Their music spoke with a belligerent snarl and classics were created because of it. They were young bands out to prove a point and if they made mistakes during the process, who cared? If the songs were good then they grabbed you by the throat, and technicalities like bum notes and poor timing would eventually work themselves out somewhere else, further down the line.
No matter how improved these musicians (the remaining ones at least) may have become, and despite how hard they might try, the sound, enthusiasm and feeling captured back then can never be replicated. Some bands, like Exodus and Let there Be Blood (Megaforce) come close, some miss the mark by trying to fix things which weren’t broken in the first place (Megadeth – all of those “remasters”), and some, Manowar – Kings of Metal MMXIV (Magic Circle) I’m looking at you, are just horrifying abominations.
Thankfully, by taking their cue from Testament‘s First Strike Still Deadly (Spitfire) and choosing to re-record an assortment of songs rather than a complete album, German band Grave Digger have at least spared themselves some of that unwanted baggage. Unfortunately, there’s not an awful lot else to say in favour of 35 Year anniversary (is that even a thing?) album Exhumation (Napalm).
As it turns out, Exhumation is the perfect title for this well performed, but ultimately lifeless collection. When Grave Digger belted out tunes like ‘Witch Hunter’ or ‘Headbanging Man’ back in the day, there was scant regard for precision riffing and metronomic timing. It was all about flailing hair, ragged guitars, and flying fingers. Singer Chris Boltendahl sounded like a barefoot Udo Dirkschneider standing on a lego brick, the drums were all over the place, and it sounded fantastic.
These new versions just sound far too neat and tidy. Controlled playing rather than speed-driven chaos, it’s the sound of mature musicians performing within themselves to avoid making any of those youthful mistakes. On top of that, the band have also changed the title of ‘Playin’ Fools’ to ‘Playing Fools’. So, not content with trying to improve their old songs, it seems they’re trying to improve their old grammar too.
With Exhumation, Grave Digger (remember that ill-advised, but thankfully brief spell where they were known only as Digger?) have tried to make brilliantly flawed songs sound better by tightening things up, but seem to have forgotten that playing fast and loose while casually ripping off Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Accept was a big part of their original charm. I’m sure they’ll get back on track soon enough, but for now, I’m afraid the Heavy Metal Breakdown has temporarily, er… broken down.