Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper
Reviewed by Arno Callens
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Grave Digger live” is a phrase I utter all too regularly. Usually it’s followed by the realization that it’s been less than a year since I saw them perform. The bottom line is they’re just so much fun on stage I seem to never get enough. As dinosaur bands go, Grave Digger offers the best combination of consistent studio quality and live availability. This is contrary to Iron Maiden, which cranks out one great record after another (even though there’s decades in between), but is a much more exclusive act at summer festivals; or Saxon and W.A.S.P., who are omnipresent at said festivals, concert halls, and clubs, but release one miss for every hit. Grave Digger is always there, always active, and always good.
That being said, 2012’s Clash Of The Gods left a lesser impression on me than the Germans’ other work from this millennium. It had its moments (notably “Death Angel And The Grave Digger” and “Home At Last”), but failed to click as a fully satisfactory experience. A rare near-dud in an otherwise excellent discography. Maybe the band felt so itself, what with this record being titled Return Of The Reaper, or maybe Grave Digger is just nostalgic like that. See The Clans Will Rise Again, the spiritual successor to nineties classic Tunes Of War.
One thing is sure: whenever Grave Digger does go back in time, the results are stellar. The Clans Will Rise Again was a tasty second bout of Scottish history – making for a excellent double act with Tunes Of War, both at home and on stage – and Return Of The Reaper brings back much of the same magic, albeit without bagpipes and other decorations. I’m not overly familiar with The Reaper itself, but this is vintage Grave Digger as I’ve come to know and love it.
You can tell when Chris Boltendahl – a man who ironically looks more like the grim reaper than the eternally costumed keyboard player H.P. Katzenburg – and his cohorts are inspired. Mostly, this is when the choruses go beyond the standard repetition of the title. Of course there’s “Dia De Los Muertos”, which cheats by repeating the title in English, and “Wargod”, which threatens to go in this direction as well before mixing it up. Outside those two standouts, “Hell Funeral”, “Road Rage Killer”, “Grave Desecreator”, and “Death Smiles At All Of Us”, are all delights, with “Season Of The Witch” being a slower but just as effective number.
Even when Return Of The Reaper plays it a bit more straight, as on the aforementioned “Dia De Los Muertos”, there’s plenty of charm to sweep such matters under the rug. Chris Boltendahl’s fossilized vocals make for a great pairing with Axel Ritt’s soulful leads, and I feel that Grave Digger has been given a jolt in the guitar department ever since the latter joined the team. Sixteen albums in, and Grave Digger is still a relevant act, finding subtle new ways to make the formula seem fresh. I can’t wait to hear some of these songs on stage. Speaking of which, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
3.75 // 5