Grave Digger – Return of the Reaper (Napalm Records)

Thursday, 19th June 2014
Rating: 8/10

Ah, glorious German old school power metal. Certain traditions never surrender even in 2014 – the gang choruses, the steady double bass speed throwdowns, the incendiary lead guitar passages, and you’ll get all of this and more from long-timers Grave Digger. Return of the Reaper, the band’s 16th studio record (or 17th if you consider their ‘commercial’ fiasco as Digger in 1986 for Stronger than Ever) is a sequel of sorts to their 1993 album The Reaper, and much like the monster truck that bears its name, you can always count on a level of torque to crush all in the name of metal.

Amongst its 12 main cuts, you’ll hear a bevy of slower, epic-oriented numbers like “Season of the Witch” and “Dia De Los Muertos” (think a distant U.D.O. relative for the latter), a couple of energetic, up-tempo power riff tracks in “Hellbent” and “Wargod” and then the always important middle of the field anthems that Judas Priest/Primal Fear make their living on with “Tattooed Rider” (love the Turbo oriented keyboard and guitar slide intro) and “Death Smiles at All of Us.” You have to hand it to guitarist Axel Ritt, as throughout he intertwines rock solid riff hooks and all the guitar hero tricks during the lead breaks to make him one of the best axe slingers not just for Teutonic metal, but for all the world.

The ultimate ‘deal breaker’ for some lies in the vocal abilities of Chris Boltendahl. He would be the first to admit that his rough, hoarse melodies have more in common with say Udo (if channeling Grover from Sesame Street) than anything Michael Kiske or Daniel Heiman have been able to accomplish in their finest Helloween/Lost Horizon eras. His metal character and grit can mask most of his spot on key deficiencies, but on the closing ballad “Nothing to Believe” you will probably know when to wince and cringe during certain musically sparse verse passages.

Overall, Return of the Reaper gives the listeners what they truly desire out of Grave Digger, which is solid German power metal and a few more anthems to clap, cheer, and command their attention when seeing the band live. So grab a beer (or six), crank this up and bust out your favorite metal moves- for the reaper remains alive and kicking.

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