Sound — 7
Seventeen studio albums and more than three decades into their career, and the members of Grave Digger continue to execute formidable heavy metal that retains enough of their identifiable approach to allow them to stand out against the plethora of other new releases. Perhaps it can be accredited to one of the band's more stable lineups in recent memory, however on their newly released effort "Return of the Reaper," Grave Digger spew a familiar compilation of blistering war chants and pick grinding chord progressions, while introducing a few subtle modern metal elements to allow the outcome to remain freshing for dedicated listeners.
The brief yet engaging instrumental title track, which serves as the reintroduction of the recurring Reaper character in the Grave Digger lineage that made it's first prominent appearance on the band's 2001 studio album "The Reaper," gradually captures the listener's interest, as articulate symphonic arrangements and walls of power chords transition into the drum kick-oriented "Hell Funeral." In addition to a raging combination of palm muted guitar riffs and rock bottom bass lines in the vein of geological heavy metal brethren Accept, original lead vocalist Chris Boltendahl's gravely singing style reveals the identity of the band racing through your speakers.
The guitar playing of Axel Ritt takes on a more dominant position within the band's songwriting as the album continues, shifting between solid rhythm guitar to captivating lead licks as evident on such selections as "War God" and "Tattooed Rider," the former of which announces its presence with a soaring artificial harmonic before introducing a conclave of well crafted heavy metal. As the album continues it's pace, it becomes increasingly apparent that the members of Grave Digger have no intention of letting up on the spine crushing tone found on the beginning of the record, instead embracing a galloping pace on the hard hitting "Resurrection Day." Similarly, a punishing percussion section leads an army of deafening roars and malicious instrumental work sends the listener amidst a conflicting sonical brawl on "Road Rage Killer," which perhaps not coincidentally would find an appropriate home on one heavy metal listener's highway soundtrack.
Lyrics — 6
While the Grave Digger sound does retain plenty of elements almost synonymous with the heavy metal genre, lead vocalist Chris Boltendahl does an admirable job at keeping the band's signature sound in line. What Boltendahl compensates for range, he replaces with formidable deep pitched vocal strength which compliments the rest of the composition. Lyrically the album retains in the familiar territory of raising hell and overcoming seemingly unconquerable obstacles, with the only real low point surfacing during a slight dip in satanic references on "Satan's Host."
Overall Impression — 7
Grave Digger sticks to the formula which has benefited them throughout seventeen studio albums to date, on their latest offering "Return of the Reaper." Despite its title, the album lacks any radical return to a former approach, which in some ways is fitting considering the band hasn't really evolved or altered their sound throughout the thirty-four years since their original formation. The only apparent difference is the recording lineup, however what matters the most is that the outcome remains consistently standout and true to the band's original sound.