Grave Digger - Liberty or death 3.5/5
1. Liberty or death
2. Ocean of blood
3. Highland tears
4. The terrible one
5. Until the last king died
6. March of the innocent
7. Silent revolution
9. Forecourt to hell
The 12th CD from these mighty German metallions produces powerful anthems that will neither surprise nor disappoint any of their fans (or, for that matter, any non-fans or those who have no more interest in hearing the next iteration of their music.) There is an undeniably different approach to playing a new CD by a long-standing band whose duration has been marked by an almost completely consistent style. King Diamond and Running Wild are examples of this phenomenon, and while you might see some changes and evolution over 20+ years of CDs, nothing is ever that shocking or jarringly disappointing, and so you're left to consider not the overall style of the CD, but whether it will be, at best, an inspired and exciting version of their typical work, or whether it might be a more tepid version. Grave Digger, with 20 years plus under their belt has also become a good example of a long-standing band.
Grave Digger is unusual in that they really got much stronger and better with their CDs about a decade into their recording career (though I will try not to resurrect the vicious argument that raged twixt some of my metal companions as to whether 'The reaper' or 'Heart of darkness' was better). Try and figure out which bands didn't include at least some of the best work in their career within the first 9 or 10 years of their existence. Virgin Steele is the only other one that comes to mind.... Anyway, even more so, 'Tunes of war' was when they completely hit their stride as well as their probable apex, followed up with plenty of similar strong teutonic anthems about history, mythology, and the like, especially in 'Excalibur', another high point for the band.
What was that style? If for any case you aren't familiar, it's very straightforward heavy metal, with plenty of power and a touch of speed, but also is frequently midtempo, with gruff, leather-lunged vocals, but brought together with a massive dose of soaring choruses that define "anthem", memorable melodic melodies where the backing vocals add a bit of sweet choral glory in contrast to the slightly harsher verses. We've seen the style copied in some areas, especially by Paragon. And, like its predecessors, that's exactly what this CD delivers, and if anything, is a strong fine dose that's perhaps slightly better than 'The last supper', and of equal footing with 'Rheingold'. The positive thing you can say is that the band has neither lost their deft touch, nor their interest and passion in playing this type of music, and they do it well. The vocals are good, the music is well played, and the songs are tight and direct. The downside, if you would view it as such, is that it is hard to be quite as excited as the 5th or 6th CD in this good, consistent style, as it was the first and 2nd time.
Lyrically the band has been great the last 7 or 8 CDs, using well-thought out, passionate, and intellectual topics, that has indeed kept their music much more interesting than if they had been spinning out Hammerfall subject #126 like some bands do. The CD is like a lot of its predecessors, a concept CD, but one of the looser ones, not based on one story, but upon the recurring themes of the title and fight for freedom in history, and is really a very nice idea. It's a common theme displayed not only in different periods and situations, but in quite different ways. The opening title track seems to roughly recount the American revolution; "Ocean of blood", with a nice if typical fast-tempo structure, deals with Moses parting of the Red Sea and leading the slaves from Egypt; "Highland tears" returns to the achingly familiar lyrical territory of 'Tunes of war'; "Until the last king died" touches the bloody extremes of the French revolution; and that's contrasted nicely by "Silent revolution" about Ghandi's passive endeavors.
The music is strong, well-delivered Grave Digger, nothing more, nothing less, and while there are many, many worse things you could be listening to, you probably know by now whether you hunger for another release by this band. And, even as a very good CD, if you haven't heard the band, you're probably better off picking up 'Tunes of war' or 'Excalibur' first, as they are certainly just a bit better than this.
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