Released By: Rock of Angels Records
Release Date: July 28th, 2023
Genre: Heavy/Power Metal
Chris Boltendahl – Vocals
Tobias Kersting – Guitars
Lars Schneider – Bass
Patrick Klose – Drums
1. Reborn in Flames
2. Fire Angel
3. Beyond the Black Souls
4. Gods of Steel
5. Die for Your Sins
6. Let the Evil Rise
7. Out of the Ruins
8. I Am Metal
9. The Hammer That Kills
10. Iron Christ
11. Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil Cover)
Grave Digger vocalist Chris Boltendahl sure hasn’t slowed down over the years, consistently releasing a new album with his main band a minimum of once every 2-3 years, sometimes even faster, and yet he has somehow found the time to release a brand new solo album. Indeed, he has put together a pretty strong lineup for his latest project, Chris Boltendahl’s Steelhammer, featuring former Orden Ogan members Tobias Kersting (Guitars) and Lars Schneider (Bass), as well as current Iron Savior drummer Patrick Klose. It’s always fun hearing members of big-name bands do their own thing, though considering Boltendahl is the main driving force behind Grave Digger, it isn’t too surprising to hear that a solo album by him largely feels like more of the same, which is very much the case with Steelhammer’s debut, Reborn in Flames. I’ll go into full detail below but suffice it to say: Grave Digger fans should find a lot to enjoy here, though I wouldn’t say it lives up to the best albums by that band.
There aren’t any surprises to be found on Reborn in Flames, and despite it not officially being a Grave Digger album, it may as well be one, for how similar it sounds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it does give fans of Chris Boltendahl another new album to look forward to in between releases from his main band. As expected, the main focus here is on heavy guitar work, lots of crushing riffs, pounding drums, and of course the ever-powerful, raspy vocals of Boltendahl himself. Performances are solid across the board, with Boltendahl sounding as great as always, while the musicians do their job well, without really being given a chance to stand out, beyond simply doing their best to channel their counterparts in Grave Digger. The exception to this is some of the guitar solos, which feel a bit more technical and more adventurous than expected, and they are a definite highlight. Production is also strong, and pretty much sounds exactly how fans would expect.
Songwriting is solid, if not particularly great. There’s the usual mix of speedy power metal tracks, slow, crushing heavy metal tracks, and some tracks which alternate between the two a bit. There aren’t any real surprises to be found, and for the most part, the album plays it about as safe as you can get, while still being entertaining, just because of the energy in the performances, and because this sound is always fun to listen to. No time is wasted at the beginning, as the title track opens up with a pretty epic drum roll, before the guitars and bass kick in and it turns into a sort of mid-paced stomper, never fully speeding up, but maintaining a decent tempo the whole way through. It kinda marches through the verses, at a somewhat slower pace, then speeds up for a high-energy chorus, where the vocals and drums are particularly great. Overall, it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album.
Next is another favorite in “Fire Angel”, one of the fastest-paced tracks on the album, with a very classic Grave Digger feel. The main riff has an unmistakable sound to it, and the track moves at a frantic pace throughout, with explosive verses and the first of many choruses where it’s mostly just the name of the track repeated a bunch of times, but at least in this case there’s plenty of energy in the delivery, so it ends up being fun and not too annoying. The main riff and guitar solo are the clear highlights of the track, though. Another highlight is “Beyond the Black Souls”, one of those tracks which alternate nicely between heavy and power metal. It starts with an explosive lead riff, with somewhat of a thrash feel to it, and the verses are quite aggressive and speedy, while the chorus is very slow and moody, with some of Boltendahl’s softest vocals on the album. This makes for a pretty interesting contrast, and the song flows quite well, making it one of my favorites. The solo section is also one of the best here, being one of the heaviest as well as one of the most technical solos on the album.
The first real slow track on the album is “Gods of Steel”, a full-on heavy metal track, with a very dark, sinister feel to the guitar work/ It’s a heavier track, with crushing riffs, mixed in with rather calm, yet very moody verses, before opening up for a melodic, catchy chorus. Out of the slower songs on the album, this is probably my favorite, due to the nice contrast between the dark tones of verses and the more fun, epic chorus. Yet another favorite comes in the form of “Die for Your Sins”, the shortest, fastest-paced track on the entire album. The track has a classic speed metal feel to it, moving at a fast and furious pace that doesn’t let up for one second. The track has a ton of energy, a heavy main riff, powerful vocals, and a fun, melodic, and catchy chorus, while still maintaining the fast and furious tempo throughout.
I’ve mentioned all of the previous tracks as being among my favorites on the album. Well, the truth is this is a very front-loaded album, starting like a house on fire, before losing momentum in the second half, and never fully recovering. The weakest track on the album is “Let the Evil Rise”, another slow, heavy track with a dark and sinister feel to it. The verses are fun, if not overly memorable, but the chorus is one of the laziest on the album, repeating its name constantly, but here it just doesn’t sound good at all and drives me crazy after a while. The guitar solo is very good, though, and the instrumental work is solid throughout. Thankfully, “Out of the Ruins” is better than its predecessor, though it’s still not one of my favorites. It’s another slow, heavy track, with a very dark atmosphere (yep, there’s a definite theme to the slower tracks here), and it has some of the heaviest verses out of the slower tracks on the album, paired up nicely with a more laid back, very melodic chorus. It’s not overly catchy, but I think that’s the point, as it feels very understated, and is quite effective.
Next is “I Am Metal”, another very solid track, moving at an explosive tempo throughout. It’s another track with a bit of speed metal feel to it, mixing in some thrash riffs, as well as a repetitive chorus that works out decently, just due to the high energy. The riffs and drum work are the highlights of the track, though, especially during the guitar solo, which has a classic Halloween feel to it in the best way possible. The remaining two original tracks are both solid, but not great. First is “The Hammer That Kills”, another slow-paced track, once again with a rather dark, sinister feel to it, and once again, the verses are high energy while the chorus is pretty boring and repetitive (though the “oo!” at the end is pretty funny.) Meanwhile, “Iron Christ” alternates nicely between fast verses and a slow chorus, with the verses being especially great, while the chorus is solid enough, but not one of my favorites. The guitar solo is fantastic, though, and one of the best on the album. Closing out the album is a cover of Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning”, a song I know for sure I had heard covered before by a metal band, but I can’t for the life of me think of who it was. Regardless, this is a fun cover, adding a slight metal edge to the classic track, while still maintaining the light, melodic approach of the original, with the chorus in particular sounding excellent.
Overall, Reborn in Flames is exactly what fans of Chris Boltendahl have come to expect from him, nothing more or nothing less. It offers the same mix of explosive, speedy power metal and slow, dark, and crushing heavy metal as his main band while offering very little in the way of surprises. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite albums by him, but it’s a solid release overall, with a few particularly strong tracks, and at the very least, it serves as a nice stopgap in between albums from his main band. Fans of Grave Digger should enjoy this album a lot, while anyone looking for some classic heavy/power metal with an aggressive edge to it, would also be well advised to give it a chance.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.