Grave Digger – “Fields Of Blood” (Napalm Records)
‘…we did it again and put on the kilts…’ says founder vocalist Chris Boltendahl when asked how he would be celebrating Grave Digger’s 40th anniversary. Thus, in closing the Highland trilogy set by “Tunes Of War” in 1996 and “The Clans Will Rise Again” in 2010, comes this 20th studio album covering the battlefields of Stirling, Bannockburn and Culloden as seen through the eyes of the Highlanders on the fast and furious ‘Freedom’ with its razor riffing, fiery solos and double bass attack, while equally presenting a seldom presented emotional take on Scotland’s history through all its triumphs and griefs on ‘The Heart Of Scotland’, experienced dramatically through pounding warrior drums, epic bagpipes and celtic melodies, while passions are unbound on the (power) ballad of ‘Thousand Tears’, a vocal duet featuring the soprano majesty of Noora Louhimo from Battle Beast. It’s a masterful achievement by all accounts, not in the least given that the band recorded as a 4 piece following the departure of longtime drummer Stefan Arnold, who was replaced by keyboardist Marcus Kniep and has done a magnificent job covering both instruments! But what makes Grave Digger stand the test of time is how they have stayed true to their course of no frills old school power / heavy metal, mixing brutality with speed and melody to perfection as can be evidenced on the 12 tracks here. It’s no better summed up than on ‘All For The Kingdom’, with its heavy power riffing and pistoning double bass drums, while Boltendahl’s rough ‘n’ ready voice provide the perfect lead to the incredible chorus, resonating passion and heroism in epic glory, while Axel Ritt’s superb neo classical solo is just simply outta this world! Building the grandeur on ‘Union Of The Crown’, the expansive sound works a treat in a stylish blend of wailing guitars, fast neo classical breaks, mid tempo double bass drums and power riffs as the emotionally charged voice of Boltendahl takes us to another moving chorus that is as deep as it is melodic, but oh so incredibly electric and highly catchy in every regard. Bringing it all together on the 10 minute title track of ‘Fields Of Blood’, it’s straight out’ve “Braveheart” with its stirring bagpipes and military drumming before sounding the speed metal charge led by Jens Becker’s pulsating bass in building to the ambient but epic chorus, followed by a melodic folk evolution touched in places by heavy metal and even a prog piece, until looping back to its original soundscape. Wow, this album is truly a special celebration by one of Germany’s most successful heavy metal pioneers!