Grave Digger - Return Of The Reaper (2014)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Grave Digger is one of the most important German heavy metal institutions and I have always loved this band for its courage to try out new things. I am a big fan of the dark and epic masterpiece Heart Of Darkness; the very well written and historically authentic Middle Age trilogy around the records Tunes Of War, Knights Of The Cross and Excalibur; the more classic and orchestral tribute to Richard Wagner in Rheingold; the dark storytelling with religious background in The Last Supper; the more complex and progressive tunes in the epic Liberty Or Death; and the songs about Greek mythology on the gripping Clash Of The Gods. From time to time however, Grave Digger stops experimenting and pushing forward in order to release records that go back to the band’s energetic but usually exchangeable standard heavy metal roots. Return Of The Reaper is just such an example, as it hearkens back to the band’s comeback release The Reaper, which was released in 1993. In my opinion, these nostalgic steps back in quality and time are unnecessary, and that’s also the case for this release.
After an interesting introduction in the form of the title track, things immediately get redundant with opener “Hell Funeral”. It simply feels like hearing a very similar track that’s been done by Grave Digger a dozen times or more. The song wants to sound fresh, short, and uncompromising, but turns out to be old-fashioned, predictable, and even slightly laughable because Chris Boltendahl’s English has somehow gotten worse as time went by (which is rather strange). The new record includes several redundant short tracks like this that vary between heavy and thrash metal. Usually, the band includes a couple of songs like these on each record, but this time almost the entire release is filled with this kind of unimpressive, trite music.
A few songs break this cycle. “Tattooed Rider” sounds like a song from Judas Priest’s controversial “Turbo” release. It’s an interesting change of style, but copying a sound that already sounded quite dated almost thirty years ago isn’t a big achievement either. “Season Of The Witch” is much more interesting because it builds up a bleak, hypnotizing, and mysterious atmosphere right from the start, and includes a few surprising passages here and there. The track’s biggest strength is the epic chorus that should work very well in concert. “Death Smiles At All Of Us” opens with charming organ sounds and leads us through faster verses to a truly catchy and fresh chorus. The closing piano ballad “Nothing To Believe” sounds exchangeable however, and Chris Boltendahl’s raw vocals and very average English skills really don’t fit this kind of music at all.
If you purchase the 2 disc limited mediabook version of the album, the second disc helps to save this otherwise at-best average release. It includes two decent bonus tracks in form of the cinematic and sinister mid-tempo stomper “The Emperor’s Death” and the average heavy metal track “Rebel Of Damnation”, that at least provides a gripping guitar sound that builds up some atmosphere. The other eight songs are all acoustic versions of Grave Digger classics. However, the band didn’t simply adapt its songs from electric to acoustic versions, but also rearranged some parts here and there. These reinvented tracks have a certain free jazz approach here and there, and sound really imaginative and joyful. Grave Digger manages to sound much better than many other bands that have hopped on the bandwagon to do acoustic albums, and prove that they are still among the greatest heavy metal acts in the world when they are yet willing to experiment.
If you are a collector and faithful fan, you should really purchase the limited version of this record, as it turns out to be much more interesting than the redundant main release – where only two or three songs stand out and convince me. With this being said, I hope that Grave Digger continues to experiment again on the next release.
2.75 // 5