GRAVE DIGGER - Reaping As They Sow
January 11, 2017, 11 months ago
Metal instills a certain confidence within its listeners. There is a feeling of freedom contained in metal that can’t be duplicated in many of our lives. Traditional metal is the best place to find this sentiment. Two bands in particular, Manowar and Grave Digger are excellent purveyors of being free. Songs like “Metal Warriors,” their namesake track and “Metal Daze” are odes to standing up for yourself and not letting others distract you from your dreams and goals.
Both Manowar and Grave Digger are key components in the development of traditional and power metal. As far as Germany’s Grave Digger goes, they were one of the original German, probably the biggest hotbed for power metal bands in the world, power metal bands. Besides writing huge, nostalgic riffs and coarser vocals than the average, ball-squeezing, modern power metal vocalists, the band knows how to convey the idea of freedom. Their latest opus “Healed By Metal,” is an ode to hedonistic lifestyles. Bikers ride into town like Vikings raiding an English monistary. And of course, songs like the title track keep metal heads in a positive mental state. These types of songs are uplifting and liberating!
Grave Digger is also adept at connecting ideas through conceptual writing. While “Healed By Metal” is not a concept album, per say, it does feature a continuation of previous story lines. One mistake many artists of today make is by overdoing things. They overdue the technical playing and writing aspects of their music. Songs are written in long, blocky lines that tell a story, but lack a hook. If you want to write fiction, write a book, if you want to write a song, write a hook! Grave Digger has the ability to write good stories, but make them memorable through good song writing.
Grave Digger’s song writing abilities have helped them stay active for nearly 40 years. In the following feature, the Reaper himself, vocalist Chris Boltendahl, spoke to Bravewords on the phone about his song writing and what Germany’s metal scene was like in the 1980s—the golden years of heavy metal.
BraveWords: Tell us about recording Healed By Metal?
Chris “Reaper” Boltendahl: “It was cool. There are no great things to say about it. In the end, we do it the same way as we did in the past: compose the songs and then work on pre-production, which is nearly a real production. Then we go to the big studio and do the whole record again. We mix it and bring it to the market.”
BraveWords: What studio are you working with?
Chris Reaper: “We’ve been working, since 1995, with Principal Studios in the middle of Germany. There are a lot of big bands recording there. There is a big band from Germany called In Extremo. They are a Middle Age band. Then there is a punk band from Germany called Toten Hosen. Kreator and Rage did their recordings there.”
BraveWords: Would you say Healed By Metal is a return to your roots?
Chris Reaper: “(Laughs) which roots do we have? What I see is a classic Grave Digger record without any snick snack. It started with the first chorus of the first song and it ends with a big laughter. I think it’s Grave Digger metal 120%.”
BraveWords: One of my favorite songs is “Law Breaker”. Tell us about writing this song.
Chris Reaper: “'Law Breaker' is also one of my favorite tracks. I think this song will be in our live set list. 'Law Breaker' is a sequel to the song 'Tattooed Rider' on the Return Of The Reaper album. This song is a very simple metal song. It has very simple lyrics. A big rocker gang drive into a town, make some noise and some trouble there. They know no rules and have no laws. Then they just drive out! Bikers!”
BraveWords: Does the album reflect any of your themes like some of your other records?
Chris Reaper: “No. The one is 'Laughing With The Dead'. It is a little sequel to Clash Of The Gods. It’s a song about Charon, the river ferry man, who brings all the dead bodies over, and this guy is laughing about all these idiots that died. It’s a sarcastic song about death. On Clash Of The Gods, there is an intro called 'Charon' (pronounced 'Sharon'). It’s the guy on the boat, the ferry man.”
BraveWords: Talking about themes, one of my favorite Grave Digger records is called Excalibur and it focuses on the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table of knights. What is your favorite King Arthur film?
Chris Reaper: “The first one. It is an English film by John Boorman. It was released in 1981. Helen Mirren stars as Morgana Lefay. I think this one reflected the legend very good. It’s also very bloody and very dark. The movie really has a dark atmosphere. This one is very cool. You need to watch this one. The one with Sean Connery is crap!”
BraveWords: What about the movie that portrays King Arthur as a vassal to the Roman Empire?
Chris Reaper: “I prefer the legend. I read a lot of books that we got on this topic, and we also took some excursions through the original places, in Cornwall and in Winchester and Glastonbury where Avalon is supposed to be. They think that Avalon is near Glastonbury. Glastonbury is also a big festival in England. One of the biggest!”
BraveWords: Is that a metal festival?
Chris Reaper: “No, it’s a pop rock festival. They have 150 to 200,000 people.”
BraveWords: You play a lot of festivals in Germany. What are those festivals like?
Chris Reaper: “We play a lot of festivals in Europe in the summer time. Wacken Open Air is the biggest one. It has 90,000 people. I think it’s the biggest metal festival in Europe. On the other side, we have a lot of good festivals here. Hellfest in France, Graspop festival in Belgium.”
BraveWords: I think Hellfest is the best.
Chris Reaper: “Yes. We haven’t played there. It’s no so easy to get on the bill.”
BraveWords: Tell us about growing up in Germany with their thrash scene.
Chris Reaper: “The German thrash scene is still alive here. We have Kreator, Destruction and all the older bands, but there is nothing new coming behind it. There are really cool bands here.”
BraveWords: What were the early years of power metal like? Grave Digger is considered one of the first power metal bands.
Chris Reaper: “There were a lot of bands coming around, but I think the bands with the most success are bands from the ‘80s. Most of them are still alive: Helloween, Gamma Ray, Grave Digger, Rage…”
BraveWords: Running Wild.
Chris Reaper: “Yeah, Running Wild from time to time. When the guy needs money! Then he’s doing a new record."
BraveWords: Grave Digger played some festivals in America, right?
Chris Reaper: “We did a big tour within the last twelve months. It was one of the best experiences in our career, to play 25 shows in the U.S after 30 years of nothing.”
BraveWords: Blind Guardian is a great power metal band. What was it like touring with them?
Chris Reaper: “It was a lot of fun playing with them. Of course, we have known them for such a long time. They are from Germany, too. We were really honored to tour with them. When we had the opportunity it was like “kablam,” we’re on it!”
BraveWords: What does Grave Digger have on the horizon? Do you have tour dates set?
Chris Reaper: “Definitely. We start in the middle of January in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Then from that tour, we go to the 70,000 Tons of Metal again. In March and April we go to South America. Then at the end of May, we start with the complete festival circuit. We’ll see what happens because when I did an interview for Return of the Reaper, a lot of people from the U.S. requested we come there. I said we didn’t have any idea about how we could come over. A month later we got the offer from Blind Guardian. We played a lot of shows there. We’ll see what the future brings!”