Grave Digger – Ballads Of A Hangman (Napalm Records)

Friday, 15th March 2013
Rating: 8/10

Long, long, long-running German power metallers Grave Digger have always been a bit of choice commodity in trad metal circles. The X-factor with the band has always been singer Chris Boltendahl, whose gruff vocals separate him from his helium-induced contemporaries. This scribe has always had a bit of a soft spot for Boltendahl’s vocals and Grave Digger itself, so it’s no surprise Ballads Of A Hangman is a dependable, well-executed power metal platter.

For a career that has spanned 25 years and now 13 studio albums, Grave Digger clearly knows its limitations, not unlike Saxon, Gamma Ray, or any gray-haired troupe. Ballads sees the band stick to tried-and-true metal workouts, namely the festival-ready “Hell of Disillusion,” which sees Boltendahl lead a choir of gang vocals in a rousing chorus. “Sorrow of the Dead” is equally as pleasing, achieving a melodic balance that we’ve come to expect.

“Lonely the Innocence Dies” drags matters down a bit, venturing into ballad territory, yet the aggro “Into the War” and “The Shadow of Your Soul” are jams that would make Kai Hansen and crew proud.

Back to Boltendahl. The man can at times be a hindrance to Grave Digger’s sound, most notably during the cheeky “Funeral For A Fallen Angel” and the aforementioned “Lonely the Innocence Dies.” The man’s ugly, barely tuneful vocals are certainly an acquired taste, but somehow the Germs have turned an apparent weakness into a strength.

Ballads Of A Hangman is far from world-beating power metal and that is fine – someone else is going to have to pick up the slack in the coming years for the style to sustain itself. Grave Digger, though, haven’t enjoyed a career of stability on accident – few bands in power metal recognize their limitations like they do.

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