German legends GRAVE DIGGER are back and so is their trusty pal, The Reaper. As one of the most tireless acts in metal history, GRAVE DIGGER deserve some sort of award for releasing their albums with incredible consistency, most of them coming every other year. Co-founding vocalist Chris Boltendahl has gone on record as saying the intent of their new album "Return of the Reaper" is to dig (pun intended) into the band's early catalog and that claim's pretty well-met. Boltendahl's the last holdout from the "Heavy Metal Breakdown" years, but he's lost not a lick of desire to rock and fortunately, his band gets what's at stake.
After a somewhat silly theatrical-maudlin intro, "Return of the Reaper" opens with the blaring thrasher "Hell Funeral", a fast-timed salute to GRAVE DIGGER's enduring ghoul mascot. The momentum continues with the blasting "Wargod", an amalgam of thrash and power metal. Something feels pulled-back in the mix since the song should be as consistently loud as the parts come off. The pounding solo section and the outro at least blare as majestically as intended. Nonetheless, the energy of "Wargod" is undeniable and the chorus will have the band's fans shouting bloody murder from wherever they consume it.
"Tattooed Rider" is going to scare the snot out of many listeners as it treads alarmingly close to JUDAS PRIEST's "Turbo Lover", straight down to duplicating the latter's cyber scraping pleats and humping tempo. GRAVE DIGGER heavies "Tattooed Rider" up a bit more than "Turbo Lover", but the throwback intent is obvious and this track does its best to serve up a pleasure pill chorus to complete the replication. The jury's out how this song will be received by GRAVE DIGGER's faithful.
GRAVE DIGGER plants down the accelerator on "Resurrection Day", again swapping speed and mid-tempo clouts. The mix is much better here than on "Wargod", as everything is pushed as volubly as can be contained. "Road Rage Killer" is a freaking beast of a cut with its rapid pulse and guitars that have no intent of quitting, much less staying in one spot. Crank it, no matter who you offend.
"Grave Desecrator" is a trad metal pumper before the MOTÖRHEAD-esque speed demon "Satan's Host" tears out from Jens Becker's buzzing bass bombs. The lyrics to "Satan's Host" are more than laughable, especially when Chris Boltendahl screams "pray for mercy, I am your whip, obey my prayer, suck my dick!" "Satan's Host" is a total hoot and even better it's a fast-moving potboiler, reminding that much of the devil's role in Eighties metal was nothing more than serving as an unholy-rolling butt-end joke. On the flipside, the harpsichord intro to the driving "Death Smiles at All of Us" is a tasteful bit of flair you almost don't see coming in light of "Satan's Host"'s shtick. Speaking of shtick, hang out for the closing anti-ballad "Nothing to Believe". You won't believe it until you hear it.
Like Udo Dirkschneider and U.D.O., everything GRAVE DIGGER today does is basically the same as they've ever done. The difference between now and the Eighties is having a proven formula under their respective belts, whereas everything was still reckless and wild in metal back in the day, especially for the German scene. "Return of the Reaper" isn't without occasional corniness (the chorus of "Season of the Witch" is an operatic metal hell and the "whoa-oh-ohs" on "Dia de Las Muertos" are downright hokey), but when a band like GRAVE DIGGER plays it as proficiently and passionately as when they began with "Heavy Metal Breakdown" and "Witch Hunter", that's pretty damned special.