It seems barely believable that it was over thirty years ago that I first saw German power metal exponents Grave Digger in the flesh; That night, as they sat bottom of the bill in London to Helloween and Celtic Frost, I certainly didn’t believe they’d still be delivering the good stuff deep into the next century.
That’s because for all their huff n’puff and undoubted heavy metal credentials they just didn’t seem to be quite made of as stern stuff as the other two bands that night. Yet, here we are and, checkered career notwithstanding – Stronger Than Ever, anyone? – the ‘Digger is stronger, seemingly, than ever.
Put simply, Healed by Metal is a stunning album. Stunning in that you’ll be bowled over by the high quality of almost every song here, and stunning in the sense that a band forty years into the game can still summon up the enthusiasm and sheer unbounded energy to pen something so utterly unstoppable.
Opening two songs Healed by Metal and When Night Falls rattle the cage in fine, almost Running Wild Style, whilst the Painkilleresque extremity of Lawbreaker is sure to cause, if you’ll pardon the pun, heavy metal breakdowns wherever it’s heard.
Where in the past Grave Digger have seemed content to tread water, on Healed by Metal they are carving a path through the ocean and drenching everyone in their metallic wake. Bass-heavy singalong Free Forever is Saxon with a German accent, whilst the stupendous Call for War is Grave Digger at their Teutonic apogee – Chris Boltendahl’s glass-gargling roar leading the way into a superb gang-vocalled (and very catchy) chorus the whole thing supported by Axel ‘Ironfinger’ Ritt’s punishing riffage and the watertight rhythm section of bassist Jens Becker and octopoid drummer Stefan Arnold.
Ten Commandments of Metal is as cheesy as the title might suggest, but the sheer sledgehammer commitment with which the (insanely catchy, it has to be said) song is delivered renders any post-modern ironic tittering absolutely pointless – and that’s a joy to behold. Wimps and poseurs leave the hall indeed…
The Hangman’s Eye is heads down, no nonsense power metal mayhem in excelsis, Arnold’s pistonesque legs powering the song headlong into an abyss of churning guitar euphorics and yet more leather-lunged rabble rousing from Boltendahl. Can these men really be in their fourth decade?
They surely can, indeed they are, and they ain’t done yet. The martial drums at the start of Kill Ritual will remind older readers of Warrior Soul’s The Losers, but that brief interlude is soon swept away in another tide of grim-faced riffage. And more singalonachris chorus japes. Last two tracks Hallelujah and the slightly lumpen Laughing With the Dead just take the shine off matters a little, but neither track could be labelled an out and out duffer, palling merely because of the utterly superb tracks that came before. Like I said, you’ll be stunned that a band like Grave Digger could put out such an unrestrained, joyous slab of pure heavy metal in 2016; But once that shock has subsided you’ll find yourself eternally grateful that they have, and you’ll return to this album over and over again in future days. Absolutely top draw.
You too can be Healed by Metal when Napalm Records release the album on January 13 2017.