Grave Digger - Liberty or Death - 2006 - Locomotive Records
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 8. Shadowland 9. Forecourt to Hell 10. Massada
Though my own former band once wrote something to the contrary, maybe you can have too much of a good thing. When I first learned of the growing power metal scene taking hold in Europe back at the turn of the century, I was immediately on board, even if I didn’t know quite how to pronounce the names of guys in bands like Stratovarius and HammerFall. In a time when most people’s idea of metal in the US was some group of marginally talented punks with trendy designer clothes and an inordinate number of piercings playing simplistic detuned riffs over hip-hop beats, the melodicism and musicianship of power metal was an incredible breath of fresh air, no matter how ridiculously thespian it may have been.
Now, however, it’s been a good seven years since then, with who knows how many bands having emerged/ re-emerged or re-tooled carrying the power metal banner. And while I still enjoy much of what the genre has to offer, even a committed fan such as myself has to admit that this sheer volume of product can lead to any genre becoming a bit stale, no matter how noble and just its cause. Veteran German metallists Grave Digger have certainly benefited from the genre’s good fortune, not really aping its practitioners, but appropriating its melody and anthemic quality for use in their stirring, Teutonic metal formula.
Unfortunately, many bands, including Grave Digger, have seemingly resorted all too often to just that: formula. Following the replacement of longtime axeman Uwe Lulis with former Rage fretburner Manni Schmidt, the band managed to impress many fans and critics with the album “The Grave Digger,” followed by the Wagner-inspired concept album “Rheingold,” which thoroughly impressed me. “The Last Supper” was something of an anti-climax despite its interesting Biblical theme, and unfortunately, “Liberty or Death” offers patchy results for those hoping for something better this time around. The theme this time around is history, with rough-voiced frontman Chris Boltendahl examining injustice and society’s reaction to it in ancient Rome (on “Forecourt to Hell”), Russia (“The Terrible One”) and one of the band’s favorite subjects, the British Isles (“Highland Tears”). And while his English grammar skills still leave something to be desired, Boltendahl does provide some worthwhile food for thought here.
As for the music surrounding his musings, I wish I could say better, but most of this record falls short of my hopes in that regard. The always capable Schmidt turns in a commendable performance, even if the tunes he does it on are not up to the same standards. Riff-wise, this has all pretty much been done before- and better I might add- often by Grave Digger themselves. “Silent Revolution” breaks up the monotony with a cool, almost AC/DC-like hard rock riff, but even that song features a throwaway verse riff. There are no riffs of the infectious, arse-kicking sort commonplace on, say, “Rheingold,” but Schmidt does display an uncommon melodicism that fits these songs well in his leads, which are often like compositions unto themselves (and better than the songs at that!).
I don’t know- this is a tough one for me. I wanted to like this, as I have always had a soft spot for these hard-headed Germans. But despite their impressive track record in the past, I doubt I will be playing this one much in six months, or maybe even sooner. As much as I respect this band, I believe a rethinking of their approach may be in order.
About this Writer: Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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