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Grave Digger - "Clash Of The Gods" (CD)

Grave Digger - "Clash Of The Gods" CD cover image

"Clash Of The Gods" track listing:

1. Charon
2. God Of Terror
3. Helldog
4. Medusa
5. Clash Of The Gods
6. Death Angel And The
7. Walls Of Sorrow
8. Call Of The Sirens
9. Warriors Revenge
10. With The Wind
11. Home At Last

Reviewed by on July 20, 2012

"The invariable modern categorization of Grave Digger as 'power metal,' by default, is belittling and lazy... This is METAL, period."

After three decades of a proven formula, diehard fans of Germany’s Grave Digger know what to expect: neither more nor less than simple, direct, honest heavy metal. This they duly receive upon each successive release, and “Clash Of The Gods” does not disappoint. This summer’s promising appetizer EP “Home At Last” (reviewed here) may or may not be necessary depending on your level of devotion to the band, but in either case, this studio album – Grave Digger’s sixteenth – is the genuine article.

As usual, the star of the show is unmistakable frontman Chris Boltendahl. A harsh but tonal growler, his zombified “power rasp” adds the perfect sinister masterstroke to the music and lyrics (and lends an intimidating authority to his German accent for a delightful dose of tongue-in-cheek humor). From its name on down, Grave Digger has always shrouded its tunes in varying layers of the macabre, whether tackling history, literature, or mythology. In this sense, Boltendahl leads what is arguably the perfect “horror metal” band in the most artsy and classical traditions, echoing the Romanticism that produced Blake, Poe, and the Brothers Grimm, long before the image of a naked chick tied to a chair and tortured to a grisly, screaming death became mistaken in pop culture for someone’s idea of a good time. No, this time out, the classier Grave Diggers have settled again on mythology – Greek, to be precise – and Boltendahl’s centerpiece vocals might as well be a stern, fire-and-brimstone lecture to shut up and listen up.

Not to ignore the rest of his men, of course. Drummer Stefan Arnold and bassist Jens Becker compose one of the most underrated rhythm sections in metal today, topped with guitarist Axel Ritt’s plentiful and evil riffery and imbued with keyboardist H.P. Katzenburg’s light, atmospheric, and supremely effective touch. As the relentless “God Of Terror” and “Helldog” demonstrate right away, these four aren’t trying to outwank anyone or win any awards for technicality; they simply excel in bringing the heavy, with dashes of memorable melody as a bonus. Moving along, “Medusa” sneaks in with a hushed whisper before bursting into vintage Judas Priest gear. “Clash Of The Gods” slows the pace to a doomy crawl and drapes itself in evocative Mediterranean overtones, while Boltendahl brutally bellows the chorus refrain, verging on death metal vocal territory.

By this point, several recent Grave Digger discs have spent themselves on such a front-heavy assault, and don’t fully recover their steam after the requisite slowdown. But here, the band reclaims it quickly, charging off on another Priest-style gallop, “Death Angel And The” (see if you can finish the phrase before the gang-shouted chorus does it for you). Unnecessary false modesty – Manowar has never hesitated to refer to itself by name in a song title, for instance – but in any case, this ought to be an open invitation to a hands-across-the-sea tour with a certain Bay Area band.

Next, Arnold’s double bass pedal and Ritt’s frantic fingers kick it up an intense few notches with “Walls Of Sorrow,” the album’s most aggressive track, which also rocks a horns-throwing, headbanging bassline from Becker in the verses. Following this climax, it's time for another break: “Call Of The Sirens” is the closest the band edges to a proper ballad, before one last hurrah for speed in “Warriors Revenge,” which boasts a chorus second in catchiness only to what arrives next and last, but not least. It’s no wonder why “Home At Last” was selected to tease the arrival of “Clash Of The Gods.” It’s an upbeat, marching, beer-waving anthem, with an infectious refrain that will delight longtime fans as much as it should attract devotees of Turisas, Alestorm, and the like. It’s the guaranteed future live staple, a rare thing for an album closer.

Listening to new Grave Digger music may not be an experience rife with surprise, but that’s no reason for me to complain when I almost always come away pleased. No, what surprises me, or once did, is the invariable modern categorization of the band as “power metal,” by default. Considering Grave Digger’s history at the early ‘80s forefront of the speed metal movement; their sizeable pioneering role in shaping and sculpting the genre into something far heavier, faster, and darker than before; and their sustained versatility since their 1980 formation; to assign to the band a lame, arbitrary label that’s been clumsily adopted to describe a Eurocentric subgenre they only loosely influenced is rather belittling and lazy. If you’re neither familiar with Grave Digger nor “into power metal,” do not fear: this is METAL, period. And if you’re already a fan, you know what you’re in for when the “Clash Of The Gods” begins. Dig it.

Highs: Grave Digger doing what they do best, from start to finish, in one of their strongest efforts in years.

Lows: None.

Bottom line: The German veterans that helped put the 'heavy' in 'heavy metal' are back for a sixteenth round, and show no signs of losing their chops, their hooks, or their balls.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)