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Return Of The Reaper

Napalm (2014)
Rating: 8/10

Return Of The Reaper is the 17th episode in the saga of German metal veterans Grave Digger. These guys have sure come a long way since the primal echoes of their 1984 debut classic Heavy Metal Breakdown, but fair dues to the old gods as they are still providing some excellent rock music.

For me, the last batch of albums were reasonable efforts but this time round Chris Boltendahl and company have decided it’s time to harken back to their roots with this explosive 12-track pit of fire.

As expected, the guitar work of Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt is exceptional, and at times there are passages on this opus where the band slinks into oily Motörhead territory; and I’m speaking of the Motörhead that gave us such devilish delights as Sacrifice (1995). For example, a track such as ‘Resurrection Day’ is Motörhead down to a tee, until the slamming chorus interrupts that leather-clad chug.

Grave Digger as usual finds that ground between power metal and no holds barred, straight-up chest-pounding melody. It’s an album however that takes more risks in that it’s more straightforward, rather than relying on rather cheesy hymns which may have hindered the previous offerings. This time round the band surround their pummelling drums with lashings of fire and drench the bass work of Jens Becker with an oaken crust, so that when the quintet resorts to a basic, head-crunching stomp (‘Dia de los Muertos’) we’re smothered by such an efficient barrage that we’re reminded of just how great this band used to be and the fact that they can still cut it with the best.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for ferocity too and even a hint of subtlety. The latter takes hold with the melodic ascension of album closer ‘Nothing To Believe’ and the fantastic cold steel assault of ‘Season Of The Witch’, where Chris Boltendahl’s vocal sneer rises above the dust and ash amidst an attack of gruelling drum plods and chugging rhythms. The pace is saved for the menace of ‘Road Rage Killer’, the rampant ‘Hell Funeral’ and ‘War God’, where sticksman Stefan Arnold comes into his own as a battering beast of flailing limbs and splintered sticks.

The album grabs hold pretty much straight away with ‘Tattooed Rider’ and ‘Satan’s Host’ hooking their razor-sharp talons in quickly. Without a shadow of a doubt this is Grave Digger not trying to be clever but simply offering us a batch of solid numbers which go for the throat and succeed in their predatory fashion. Let’s forget technical prowess or melodic doodling, because this is pure raging metal – the sort of cacophony we grew up with in the 80s and which will no doubt continue as the soundtrack to our lives.

It seems that Boltendahl and colleagues have opted for a shorter, sharper shock this time round, but it’s one that keep us fizzing maniacally until the next release from this German behemoth.

Neil Arnold