Ballads Of A Hangman
1/13/2009 - Review by: Eric Compton
Ironically there are three holy trinities of German heavy metal. The power metal trio consists of Helloween, Gamma Ray, and Blind Guardian. The thrash threesome is Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction. The band at hand, Grave Digger, falls into the traditional class featuring Rage and Running Wild. These three groups of bands are as important to German metal as Udo's throaty "Sign Of Victory!" anthem in "Balls To The Wall". In other words, Grave Digger is important.
In 2009 the band celebrates twenty-five years of studio recordings with their fourteenth release entitled "Ballads Of A Hangman". Oddly enough this album actually marks a turning point for the band. For the first time ever Grave Digger has recorded with twin guitars. Along with axe-grinder Manni Schmidt stands a living legend in Thilo Hermann. This guitar God has stood in line with some pretty respectable German outfits including Running Wild, Risk, Holy Moses, Glenmore, and the age old Faithful Breath. With this much power on the strings does "Ballads Of A Hangman" return the band to the "Heart Of Darkness" glory days? Sadly no.
Certainly the band is still loud, fast, and heavy, but Chris Boltendahl has just ran out of ideas at this point. Schmidt and Hermann both back Bolendahl with writing duty but the end result is less than spectacular. This album, much like the last effort "Liberty Or Death", leaves fans like myself wondering if perhaps the Grave Digger has indeed sprinkled the dirt on the casket.
The band's single, "Pray", was released as a preview for the album a few months ago. That track featured some atmosphere and keyboard elements that really made "The Grave Digger" sound dynamic and fresh eight years ago. Now it is just another cog going through the gears. The same can be said for this album's opening trio of songs, all of which sound like riffs passed down from previous albums and explored further with Hermann's approach. "Stormrider" does provide a refreshing moment, really storming through traditional metal grounds with a Black Sabbath "Neon Knights" vibe. The other refreshment is the sobering ballad "Lonely The Innocent Dies" with Benedictum vocalist Veronica Freeman really playing to Boltendahl's deep voice duet style. Beyond that the album just falls flat, completely missing the mark in terms of exploring dueling leads or melody.
"Ballads Of A Hangman" is a thoroughly disappointing album and one that kicks off 2009 in less than stellar fashion. Grave Digger better find the same water hole as Saxon or this band and its legacy may indeed wear out their welcome.
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