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Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper Review

by Matt Hensch

Man, you'd think Grave Digger would have bottomed out by thirty-four years in the business and sixteen full-length albums. Grave Digger has proven before that it was more than capable of forging a masterpiece late in the game with "Rheingold," released twenty-three years after a few Germans who loved heavy metal got together and spiced up the Deutschland music scene alongside Blind Guardian and Helloween. It's a bold statement to call "Return of the Reaper" Grave Digger's finest hour since "Rheingold," but it is higher in quality than the band's works beyond their golden years, which were reasonably far from being shrill husks of a once-fine group grasping for straws. If anything, "Return of the Reaper" verifies Grave Digger's ability to create fine opuses; ones that come dangerously close to scraping the surface of the zenith, even.

The title of the album is sort of patronizing, painting the image that "Return of the Reaper" is a homecoming of sorts (though the band did release "The Clans will Rise Again," a throwback to "Tunes of War," in 2010). Although some might take it as a reference to "The Reaper," Grave Digger's 1993 reincarnation opus, this sounds somewhat like the gritty, straightforward approach of the band's excellent self-titled composition but a little more energetic and behaviorally snappy. It's musically the bones and guts of the heavy/power metal sound that Grave Digger has utilized throughout much of its lifespan: the riffs are straightforward and heavy, the rhythm section is blitzing, the choruses are huge and catchy, and Chris Boltendahl is Chris Boltendahl.

Pinpointing exactly why these songs are the finest in years is tricky. The deeds are largely what the Grave Digger identity was built upon, so stylistically there are no anomalies. But listening to "Hell Funeral" or "Tattooed Rider" is just an absolute blast of aplomb-the wrecking riffs and excellent choruses are memorable and smart, boasting all of the intangibles of enjoyable, above-average heavy metal. The aforementioned tracks are some of the finest anthems penned since "Rheingold," a theme that remains consistent throughout the journey. Burst-fire beatings like "Satan's Host" and "Resurrection Day" match the quality and consistency of "Season of the Witch" and "Dia De Los Muertos," the record's mid-tempo offerings, and it just goes to show that Grave Digger, regardless of route, can still manufacture the goods.

Even the ballad, "Nothing to Believe," is remarkably heartfelt and powerful, a million miles from being redundant. "Return of the Reaper" is a Grave Digger album that caters solely to the strengths and attitude of the group's sonic assault. It's one of those releases that sounds exactly how any seasoned trooper would imagine, but, as I said, the tiny components and intangibles of Grave Digger's formula are tighter than they've been in years. The fact that Grave Digger is sixteen albums deep and they can create twelve fiery tracks and have not one of them be disposable is pretty outstanding. Consistent and brazen, "Return of the Reaper" is everything one could ask for in a Grave Digger record.

Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper


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