Last year’s The Clans Will Rise Again served as something of a sequel to 1996’s Tunes Of War, continuing the Scottish-history theme that Grave Digger began on that earlier album. Again furthering the band’s return to the Highlands, this EP contains two rerecorded tracks from Tunes Of War featuring guest appearances by Doro Pesch, Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) and a cappella metal act Van Canto, returning the favor after Grave Digger vocalist Chris Boltendahl guested on their 2010 cover of “Rebellion.” To round out the five-song effort, there’s an extended symphonic take on the re-recorded title track, plus two instrumental versions of tracks that originally appeared on Clans.
Grave Digger’s blend of classic European speed metal and symphonic bombast isn’t for everyone—it’s more than a little goofy, to say the least, but it’s triumphant and catchy and certainly has its place. The band has settled into its place as an elder statesman of Teutonic power/trad metal, releasing enthusiastic if virtually interchangeable albums every year or so, satiating the faithful and never deviating from the epic speed metal now synonymous with their name. (Speaking of names, the titular lady is Mary, Queen Of Scots, not the Christian religious figure, if anyone hasn’t caught on yet.)
By nature, these EPs are for-fans-only affairs. This one’s no different, and even as a fan of Grave Digger, I can’t say that anyone, myself included, really needs this. With five songs, one of which is a repeat, and all of which are previously released, The Ballad Of Mary is hard one to review—these tunes are, in the original forms, all well-written, but in their original forms, all were better. The instrumental tracks are useless, unless you’re planning a Grave Digger Karaoke Night. (Fear not, they do have backing vocals intact, so the choruses will still soar.) The re-recordings split the possible results—the title track is given a new depth, particularly in the symphonic extended version, although the original is still the definitive version, while “Rebellion” doesn’t really gain anything in the update.
Digger die-hards will likely appreciate the new take on “Mary,” but beyond that, there’s nothing here that necessitates a purchase, nothing that isn’t a nice little novelty at best.