Grave Digger - Fields of Blood

Grave Digger Fields of Blood cover
Grave Digger
Fields of Blood
Napalm Records
Well, the thing with Grave Digger is kinda complicated, but also simple at the same time. They’re a band that for the best part of their forty year career has stood their ground performing their Teutonic heavy metal (greatly influenced by Accept etc.). When they did stray – trying to go into commercial territory (ie during the Digger period), they did fail rather spectacularly, thus resuming in their heavy metal ways and not refraining that much ever after.
Fact of the matter, they saw a resurgence during the 90s, releasing some of their best material during that era and reaching probably the peak of their popularity. Losing guitarist Uwe Lulis, who went on to join some rather unspectacular bands and has ended up joining the flailing one original member lineup of Accept, as of late, must have really sucked, but they did soldier on with former Rager, Manni Schmidt for almost another decade and a handful of albums that weren’t too bad either. Most recently Alex Ritt of Domain fame, has been manning the guitars and while he’s a competent player and all, the band seems resigned to releasing albums like clockwork and touring behind them to somewhat diminishing crowds and overall interest. While they’re not “terrible” the 10’s output of Grave Digger seems to lack the knack that their earlier works had in spades (excuse the pun).
The band has resorted in both returning to their “Scottish” themes once before in 2010’s “The Clans Will Rise Again”, which was an okay album, and even did a “Return of the Reaper” four years later, trying to allude to a return to their 1993 keystone album, with mixed success. And here the pity, the band is hard working and while Chris Boltendahl might not be the best singer ever, he’s got a lot of charisma and is an incredible frontman and an all-around, nice human being. To see the band sort of struggling for such a long time is not a pleasant thing…
Does “Fields of Blood” change the overall perception of the band…. not really, but if one takes a closer look, they might find both pros and cons to it…
“The Clansman’s Journey” is basically an intro based on “Scotland the Brave” with some heavy guitars, getting you all polemic and the ensuing “All for the Kingdom” arriving with a riff and ferocity almost worthy of the bands 90s heyday (and possibly lifted verbatim from “Scotland United”). Boltendahl sounds as good as he ever did and while the song climaxes with a pretty decent singalong chorus, the decision to follow up the also decent solo, with a neoclassical extension, seems a little misguided. Not a terrible misstep though.
“Lions of the Sea” tries to maintain the momentum and its verses are strong… the chorus, less so, it’s kinda lighter, but still, it’s no deal breaker…
“Freedom” tries to symphonically re-imagine some earlier riffs of the band and incorporate them into a new song. It’s not bad, but I could have done without the “spoken part” and the counterpart vocal melodies during the solo (a keyboard might have been fine).
“The Heart of Scotland” begins with bagpipes and too many “Braveheart” line references. While it’s slower pace and riffs make for a nice change, the chorus isn’t all that great and neither is the jig that’s thrown in before an otherwise fine solo. Again not terrible, but in wishing to incorporate a little more – the band seems to lose focus of what’s important. There are enough interesting parts to it, but also some that feel just tucked in there, without much thought or consequence.
“Thousand Tears” is a ballad, with a nice bagpipe touch, where the effects on CB’s voice make it sound quite bad. That and I suppose age, as he doesn’t sound as virile as he did some twenty years earlier. Noora Louhimo from Battle Beast takes on for a couple of verses and duets with Boltendalh… it’s a nice song and with a bit more effort and engineering I think it could have come out better than it did, in all due respect.
“Union of the Crown” basically feels almost as something lifted from “Tunes”, which is not bad… again the chorus, is the weakest link, but overall, it feels one of the more uniformly consistent songs on the album.
“My Final Fight” feels like it’s borrowing some pages from Alestorm’s book of songwriting, which is not exactly a great idea in my book. At least, the chorus ain’t terrible, but the polka light parts, are quite unforgivable. Again a song that a proper producer could have “saved” from ending up like it did.
Given all that has preceded it the “Gathering of the Clans” is not that bad. It’s got that bizarre dissonance that might be endearing to some and actually a bagpipe solo, which feels well placed, but that the band for some reason feels it need to be followed by a weird choral/guitar part… well… it doesn’t completely ruin it, but it does feel unnecessary as many bits and bobs do on this album.
“Barbarian” has a promising opening and some pretty gruff vocals by CB early on… while it plods through the verses, semi convincingly, it thumbing chorus doesn’t quite work; it feels borderline filler, but manages to avoid the disgrace just by the skin of its teeth.
The title track is a ten minute epic and you know what happens with those type of songs. A few are absolutely magnificent, most start well enough, but after a while lose the plot and end up becoming relative trainwrecks of varying degrees and another fair few are pretty terrible, all the way… this one spends a couple of minutes on an intro that had little consequence, to go into a plodding mid-tempo that is saved by a great chorus, actually one of the best the band delivers on the album. A solo ensues that ushers in a fairly well done softer part and that goes on for a while until the band reprises the chorus for a quite nice conclusion. Then there’s a rather questionable (love it or hate it – semi-sung part over soft key/strings…. that only comes together towards the conclusion then when you thought all was over, there’s yet another reprisal of the chorus; I suppose again a we have a song that’s mostly good, but a few edits might have made it better.
Lastly, we get an orchestral piece, “Requiem for the Fallen”, which feels a little too much after all those slower parts… it’s not bad, but it might have been better incorporated into its preceding track as an outro than be left as a standalone.
A rather good album from Grave Digger that lacks a truly classic moment. The band seems content to recycle themes and ideas from the past and is unable to outdo their previous accolades, no matter how hard they try. Props for trying though…