GRAVE DIGGER – Beware The Living Dead
September 5, 2018, 6 months ago
In the early ‘80s, the Scorpions and Accept were the two household names out of Germany to gain commercial success and become influential to the foundation, and anthems synonymous with hard rock and heavy metal music. But, in the ‘80s if you were hip to buying albums on import, you will also know the other big three from that time – Helloween, Running Wild, and Grave Digger. Songs like “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, “Witch Hunter”, to “The Reaper”, “The Grave Dancer”, and of course their ‘90s Middle Ages album trilogy: Tunes Of War (the song “Rebellion”), “Knights Of The Cross”, and “Excalibur” are as regarded as songs from the reaper’s peers. Thirty five years, and ten more albums later, original member/singer Chris Boltendalh, with long time bassist Jens Becker (1998-), guitarist Axel Ritt (2009–), with Marcus Kniep (keyboards, 2014–present); drums (2018), will exhume The Living Dead.
Chris Boltendalh spoke to BraveWords about the new album (out September 14th via Napalm Records), more vocal harmonies on The Living Dead, touring schedule, the polka inspired song “Zombie Dance”, and a musical side project he takes part in you’d never expect.
BraveWords: I have noticed from the single “The Living Dead” there are more layered vocal harmonies. Does that carry out on the whole album?
Chris: “Yes for sure. When we started working on this album we started with the vocal harmonies. On previous albums we started a lot of times with the riffs. After we did the albums Return Of The Reaper and Healed By Metal I figured I can do the same thing. But I called Axel (guitarist) and said ‘the guitars sound like Grave Digger’, and he said ‘yeah, of course’, but I want to do something different. So aside from the song ‘Zombie Dance’, which we can talk about further later, Axel came up with some different types of riffing, and there are some different drum patterns, for Grave Digger. And yes, there are more vocal melodies which you will definitely notice.”
BraveWords: Releasing The Living Dead so close to Healed By Metal (2017), does the new album share some common traits to it?
Chris: “Hahaha, no. In the past, in the ‘80s bands often released a new album almost every year, or at least every two. And releasing a new album every twelve or eighteen months now everybody says ‘oh, that’s fast, don’t you feel it may be rushed, are you sure you can be as creative so soon?’ But it’s not fast if you are in that mode, and Axel and I have a great working, and personal relationship. So ideas come pretty quickly, the melodies I come up with and his riffs, etc.”
BraveWords: This is the 5th album with Axel on guitar. Do you see a difference between the records he played on (The Clans Will Rise Again, onward), and say the previous five with Manni Schmidt from 2001-2009?
Chris: “Yes, I do. I think every decade and series of albums with another guitar player is different. Even though throughout the years the riffing does always sound like Grave Digger. Like one of the previous interviews I did today, they asked do you have a favorite Grave Digger album, or playlist you make? And I said ‘what I do is I choose songs from each decade with each guitarist, and pick my favorites. Like say with our first guitarist Peter Masson I pick ‘Heavy Metal Breakdown’, ‘Witch Hunter’, from the second, Uwe Lulis - like ‘The Reaper’, ‘Excalibur’, ‘Rebellion’, and with Manni The Grave Digger album, and with Axel I am really liking The Living Dead.”
BraveWords: Speaking of guitarist Manni, he played on two of my favorite album – The Grave Digger and Rheingold. Any reason why in the more recent ten years you have not played anything live from those albums?
Chris: “Not really, it’s just because we have so many albums. We have some live shows coming up this year and we will play some different things again. Next week we do this Full Metal Cruise in Europe, and we will do songs from The Middle Ages Trilogy, The Clans Will Rise Again. But we also over the years have thrown in ‘Circle Of Witches’ from the Heart Of Darkness album. So we do change it up. So yeah, I can see us adding a couple songs from those albums soon.”
BraveWords: Your setlist often focuses on many songs from that Middle Ages trilogy. Will you continue that for The Living Dead tour?
Chris: “I don’t think so. We do always play a few from the more recent album or two, and then a couple classics from the ‘80s. But that period of albums, and storyline, was successful so we always like to play those songs.”
BraveWords: The reaction to the new polka influenced song “Zombie Dance” has received a mixed reaction from fans. Your perspective?
Chris: “Hahaha, yes, it has. The way I see it, I have been making Grave Digger music 35 years. When I came up with this title ‘Zombie Dance’, I asked Axel what he was thinking for it. He said ‘I don’t know’. But I had this polka idea, and he said ‘what are you smoking too much weed, or something, haha’. So at this point I felt I could do a reggae song or whatever, after making Grave Digger music for so long. So polka it is. I knew the true metal warriors were probably going to hate it. But, in the end it still is a Grave Digger song, it still has that spirit and riffing. It just has a very fun party vibe. And the video is great, a combination of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The fans can’t take it so seriously, it’s not a polka Grave Digger album. Just one song that’s meant to be fun. It’s so funny when I read all these comments, haha. The new album is still a traditional Grave Digger album.”
BraveWords: How many songs from the new album will you play live?
Chris: “I don’t know yet, maybe two to four.”
BraveWords: You did two tours with Blind Guardian in America the past couple years. I went to the New York shows and I’d say it was a success. Plans on coming back for this album?
Chris: “We’d like to, but it’s not so easy with your new president to get VISA’s. Bands are booking tours, and have to cancel. The tour with Blind Guardian was very successful for us. We just need to get the right promoter to make it a success again. We were very happy to do a proper tour in America after 30 years. From the stage, the energy from the fans, we felt very happy after that tour. Look, we aren’t looking to make a ton of money, but we don’t want it to cost a lot of money either to tour in the states.”
BraveWords: Does the Grave Digger catalogue - albums, CDs, MP3s, do better in America after that tour?
Chris: “Yeah, it has after that tour. It’s much better. Our merchandise did very well.”
BraveWords: Do you have any reissues or remasters coming?
Chris: “No. Unfortunately the reissues from Noise, BMG, I have no control over.”
Bravewords: Grave Digger live footage has surfaced on Youtube from a 1985 German TV performance. Any plans to officially release it?
Chris: “Hahaha…yes, I saw that. Wow, we were so young. No, I don’t have the rights to that and it’s so difficult to get control of that footage.”
BraveWords: Any special plans to promote the new album The Living Dead?
Chris: “Isn’t the video to ‘Zombie Dance’ enough? Hahaha. We are doing some shows this year, the Full Metal Cruise through England and Scotland. A big classic metal festival in Milano, Italy. Back to Greece, and in November I go do some shows with Geoff Tate (ex-Queensryche), Phil Mogg (UFO), Johnny Gioeli (Axel Rudi Pell), James Christian (House of Lords) and Joe Lyn Turner in Germany. It’s with the band Bonfire, they are doing a tour called Rock Legends Bonfire and Friends, playing songs from all the bands we are from.”
BraveWords: Is there a Grave Digger album you are unhappy with that you would like to go back and change?
Chris: “Yes, the Digger album. When we started working on the album it was a true German metal demo of Grave Digger. But then we took out the Grave and tried to make it more commercial. We can re-record the songs, like we did on the Exhumation album and ‘Stand Up and Rock’. But there are no plans to do that for the whole album.”
BraveWords: Are you involved in any side projects?
Chris: “Well, if you can believe it, I play in a Tom Wait’s cover band. It’s called Grapefruit Moon. It’s a lot of fun. His voice is similar to mine, I do it with Hans Peter ‘H.P.’ Katzenburg (Keyboards). The website is Grapefruitmoon.de.”
BraveWords: Closing thoughts?
Chris: “Yes, first, I love the BraveWords website. Thank you for the support. And Grave Digger would really like to return to America sometime soon.”