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Grave Digger – Exhumation: The Early Years Review

gravediggerexhumationcd

Released by: Napalm Records

Release Date: October 23rd, 2015

Genre: Heavy/Power Metal

Links: http://www.grave-digger.de/

 

Line Up:

Chris Boltendahl – Vocals

Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt” – Guitars

Jens Becker – Bass

Marcus Kniep – Keyboards

Stefan Arnold – Drums

 

Tracklist:

01. Headbanging Man

02. Fire In Your Eyes

03. Witch Hunter

04. Shoot Her Down

05. Stand Up And Rock

06. Heavy Metal Breakdown

07. Enola Gay – Drop The Bomb

08. Get Away

09. We Wanna Rock You

10. Playing Fools

11. Here I Stand

12. Tyrant

13. Paradise

14. My Private Morning Hell (Bonus Track)

15. Young and Dangerous (Bonus Track)

After being around for 35 years and counting, and releasing 16 albums, many of which could be considered great, it makes sense for a band like Grave Digger to do a bit of a celebratory look back to their beginnings, which is what we have here with their upcoming release Exhumation – The Early Years. This release is a collection of re-recorded songs from their 1984-1986 releases, including 11 tracks from the albums Heavy Metal Breakdown, Witch Hunter and War Games, as well as the title track from their 1984 EP Shoot Her Down, and one track from their one off Digger album Stronger Than Ever. The retail version will also feature two new tracks titled “My Private Morning Hell” and “Young and Dangerous”, meant to serve as a teaser for their next full length album, tentatively due for release in 2016, though I can’t comment on them as they don’t appear on my promo copy.

I had mixed feelings going into this release. On the one hand, I often find myself not enjoying re-recorded releases too much compared to their original versions, as I find the newer versions usually lack the energy and overall essence of the originals, so I was a bit concerned about this feeling the same, especially coming from a band that’s been around for so long. On the other hand, while I enjoyed the first three Grave Digger albums for what they were, I definitely prefer their later output, especially their albums released from 1993 through to 2003, as well as their most recent album Return of the Reaper, as those albums had much stronger power metal elements as well as some more melodic tracks, and so I was hoping they could inject some of that into these re-recordings. One last factor that gave me reason for optimism, is that I greatly prefer the more polished, modern production on their newer albums over the rougher production from 80’s metal albums in general, and I prefer how Chris Boltendahl sounds nowadays, compared to the typically cheesy and way over the top 80’s metal style he had on the original recordings. So when you put it all together, this seemed like it had potential to be one of the rare re-recorded albums I like more than the original, and in the end I’d say it delivers, though I can see it being divisive for longtime fans.

There aren’t too many surprises on this release: It’s pretty much a case of “you get what you pay for.” I don’t mean that as an insult or anything, though. Pretty much, if I were to imagine what these songs would sound like if they were updated to fit in line with newer Grave Digger albums, particularly Return of the Reaper, which it sounds a lot like at times, I’d end up with the new versions found on Exhumation. Fans expecting any huge changes to the songs may be disappointed, but those like me who just want to be able to enjoy the songs with clear production, and those who prefer Boltendahl’s vocals on newer releases, are sure to get a ton of enjoyment out of this. Perhaps the biggest difference I notice, aside from the obvious difference with the vocals, is that the drum patterns seem to have been changed a bit, and I greatly prefer how they sound on this album. Otherwise, everything sounds as good as you’d expect from Grave Digger, and the performances are definitely as strong and as energetic as I was hoping for.

The songs themselves are mostly similar to their original versions, with little to no real major changes made. Which is to say, they’re a still bit raw sounding and a bit simplified compared to some of their later works, though the power metal elements come through a little bit more, and some of the choruses are much more impressive sounding, due to Boltendahl’s gravely but not terribly cheesy vocals, when compared to how he sounded before. Most songs are fairly speedy, and fit in well with the aggressive power metal sound of recent releases, with some of my favorites being“Headbanging Man”, “Fire in My Eyes”, “Enola Gay – Drop the Bomb”and “Paradise”, while among the slower tracks my favorites are “Stand Up and Rock” and “Playing Fools”.

Overall, Exhumation is a solid collection of re-recorded tracks that I think may work best for fans of later Grave Digger albums who either haven’t heard their first three albums yet, or struggled with the production or vocals of the originals, while longtime fans should get some enjoyment, but depending on their preferences they may or not be too impressed. As someone who prefers their later works (by “later” I mean anything from 1993’s The Reaper and onwards, which isn’t represented here,) I wouldn’t put this release up there with classics like Tunes of War and Excalibur, nor among their better newer albums like Rheingold and Return of the Reaper, but I do greatly enjoy it and I do think I’d take these new versions over the originals any day of the week.

Written by: Travis Green

Ratings: Travis 7/10

 

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