Grave Digger – Heavy Metal Breakdown & Witch Hunter Reissues

1980. Gladbeck, Germany.

Two young musicians – singer Chris Boltendahl and guitarist Peter Masson – are trying to settle upon a name for their fledgling heavy metal band. The choices on offer are the perfectly reasonable Grave Digger, and the wonderfully inappropriate “Gas Chamber”. Hmmm…
Sensibly, if somewhat disappointingly, the pair decides to resist the temptation of siding with their wacky German sense of humour and go with the former…
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Grave Digger – Exhumation


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, ManowarKings 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.




Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper



It’s a weird universe where Babylon Whores and earthtone9 are only allowed to release three albums, despite being interesting, unique and intelligent bands, distinctive and critically acclaimed who undersold and vanished into the ether (only to return years later to suffer the same fate) and Grave Digger get to release seventeen albums of middle of the road uninspired dross.


Raise your fists and yell… “Fuck off!” For no-one’s favourite band are back! After 30 years of peddling (slightly “harder” than) Running Wild, Judas Priest and Blind Guardian speed and power metal, and 18 years since their best album Tunes Of War (GUN), the ‘Digger release Return Of The Reaper (Napalm).


The band is clearly capable of being competent. Axel Ritt can chug, widdle, and chuck out a bog-standard old metal riff with the hordes. Chris Boltendahl is, as always, a slightly more tuneful Cronos, though notably hasn’t improved his range or delivery over the years, and Stefan Arnold holds down that double-bass and uptempo snare beat that all speed metal requires.


Presenting eleven more predictable slabs of dated speed metal, the German quintet are so deep in their comfort zone it would be surprising if they got off the sofa while recording. Everything is exactly as expected. ‘Satan’s Host’, possibly the pick of the tracks on offer, sounds like an off cut from Running Wild’s early 90’s output and the remainder is Teutonic 80’s speed metal by numbers with choruses and lyrics so cringe-worthy most teenage thrash bands would have binned them off.


I fail to see the validity of Grave Digger as a current recording artist. They’ve had plenty of chances to say what they’re trying to say, and it wasn’t interesting the last ten times. I wish the band members no ill will, and if people are continuing to support them then fair play to them, why should they pack it in and retire, I just cannot understand who still buys the records of one of the most pointless bands in existence. By all means, tour, do festivals, play the “classics” (do Grave Digger have any classics other than the one about bagpipes?), but no record collection is crying out for a new Grave Digger album in 2014.


4.5 / 10

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