Grave Digger – Exhumation: The Early Years (Napalm)

Sunday, 25th October 2015
Rating: 8/10

Grave Digger’s early catalog was suitably raw, perhaps moreso than any other German metal band considered to be traditional and/or power metal. There were plenty of reasons why: Vocalist Chris Boltendahl barely knew a lick of English, often relying on the help of his bandmates and manager Gerd Hanke for help. Then-guitarist Peter Masson’s playing was akin to the thrash guitarists of the time, but Grave Digger slowed things down by a notch. And, of course, no one quite knew how to capture metal properly then, with each of the band’s first three albums (Heavy Metal Breakdown, Witchhunter, and War Games) sounding like a thin product of the times. Looking to rectify all of this, the venerable Germans have re-recorded their most fabled early tunes for Exhumation: The Early Years.

Obviously, the production here has brought these songs up to date, making the ripping chord segments found on the childish, but oh-so-important “Headbanging Man” and “Fire in Your Eyes” have plenty of emphasis. Boltendahl’s vocals, as one would surmise, have weathered over the years, but since he’s never been a prototypical “singer,” he’s still able to do a lot, like on the chorus of what is perhaps the band’s most popular song, “Heavy Metal Breakdown.”

The biggest surprise of all would be “Stand Up and Rock,” the lone song swiped from the band’s ill-fated period as simply “Digger.” As the story goes, the band had yet to have their breakout moment come 1987. Sensing they were about to be surpassed by Hamburg’s Helloween, Boltendahl hatched the idea of stripping down the band’s sound to accommodate the American hair metal market. Needless to say, the album was a flop, and Digger were dropped just a few months after its release by Noise Records.

But across the board, Exhumation: The Early Years is quite a bit of fun, and a great ramp-up to their first-ever North American tour set to launch this fall. Since their 1993 reformation, Grave Digger have stayed on the straight-and-narrow. This compilation is exactly why.

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