Grave Digger
Ballads of a Hangman

Nurtured by bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Saxon, Accept and Helloween, I don’t remember being much of a Grave Digger fan in my early years of metalhood. Yet, these Germans have been around since 1980 and have a lot of experience under their belt, which is thoroughly proven by the thirteen studio albums they have recorded. And though I’ve only been following their career since the glorious self-titled release in 2001, I can assure you that this latest cut of their work is for the most part damn impressive. If Maiden and Priest seem to be merely slumbering on the fame of their past exploits and hardly ever verify their godly status with any new good releases, Grave Digger never appear to have stopped doing what made them great.

Ballads Of A Hangman runs a hell of a chance to become my favorite Grave Digger album as there are simply no songs that fail to hit home. Whether it’s the pensive dreamy intro “The Gallows Pole” or the stormy lead squalls of the title track, we deal with top-notch German steel confirming once again that it is still able to cut and chop like a double-edged axe. The leads are punishing yet exceptionally catchy while the band’s unchallenged leader Chris Boltendahl’s raspy vibrating tenor never seems to be lacking in harshness and aggression. For that matter, I have always thought of the man as an excellent would-be vocalist in a thrash band, but it doesn’t mean he chose the wrong genre. Quite the opposite, actually as he is one of the most charismatic and unique singers Traditional Metal has ever seen. Another surprising thing about Chris’s vocal charisma is that it’s full of some unexplainable sorcery that captures, bewitches and enslaves you. Just hear him performing a duet with female vocalist Veronica Freeman of Benedictum on the moving heavy ballad “Lonely the Innocence Dies”. Listening to it is nothing short of bliss.

Thus, Ballads Of A Hangman is also rife with potential mosh pit favorites, and I bet it would be a grandiose show if the band’s live set-list consisted of these new songs alone. Name any track and I’ll say it’s my favorite. “Hell Of Disillusion”, for instance, just can’t leave you cold once you hear its crunchy cutting leads and highly contagious sing-along chorus. “Funeral For A Fallen Angel” stuns with its vigorous acoustic guitar rhythms, yet quickly morphs into an uncontrollable galloping pace of mesmerizing riffs, solos and melodies. “Pray” is destined to become the most memorable track on the album. Though simple it may seem on the part of musical execution, its chorus melody is just something to die for.

Once again, Grave Digger have shown that many a good tune can be played on old fiddle. People can go on and on about the stagnation of conventional Heavy Metal, but as long as we get great albums such as Ballads Of A Hangman, all this talk is but the babbling of a doubting Thomas. Listen to Grave Digger instead, and the contrary will be proven in no time.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Igor Stakh
March 3rd, 2009


  1. Commented by: Dimaension X

    Chris Boltendahl is one of those rare vocalists in this genre that always sounds like a “guy”, even in a “ballad”, he manages to retain a heaviness not present in Geoff Tate, Timo Kotipelto, Fabio Lione, etc.

    Never quite a death growl, more of a heavier Dio sound. Great band, too.

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