Grave Digger is the veritable embodiment of consistency. Like Accept, like UDO, like Helloween, these Germans have carved themselves a kingdom from a seemingly endless wellspring of trad-metal inspiration, assembling and re-assembling the basics of power-trad into ever-new variations that, though separated by only a hair’s width from the previous one, never really feel tired or repetitive.
After nearly thirty years, Grave Digger’s formula is set in stone – chugging riffs, Chris Boltendahl’s gravelly half-growl, melodic choruses that are custom-made for fists in the air. The differences between albums come down to a narrow few factors: one, concept – many Grave Digger albums are based on some kind of overarching theme, be they built upon Arthurian legend, Scottish history, or whatever else sparked Boltendahl’s creativity. Healed By Metal is not one of those albums, no story arc or running threads – but like so many Grave Digger discs before it, it’s still a collection of damned good metal tunes.
And the other factor, of course, is qualitative. I’ve got probably nine Grave Digger albums, and they’re all different degrees of good, with some (Excalibur, Rheingold) being very good, and others (Ballads Of A Hangman, The Last Supper) being less good. The last original album, 2014’s Return Of The Reaper fell more in the middle, neither their best nor their worst, but Healed By Metal comes far closer to their better moments than any of the previous few.
All that and they’re pretty boys, too? Say it ain’t so.
(Don’t worry – It’s not.)
Opening with a four-chord figure that could easily be bumper music for some Power Rangers-ish television program, the title track is just pure mid-tempo Teutonic glory – I mean, it’s a song about the healing powers of metal, which is ridiculously awesome in its own right, and yet, it puts its proverbial money where its metaphorical mouth is by being insanely infectious and uplifting. “When Night Falls” rides a blistering riff and another of those perfect Grave Digger choruses, as do “Lawbreaker,” “Call For War,” and the killer “Kill Ritual.” Following the title track’s dedication to all things metallic, “The Ten Commandments Of Metal” is as wonderfully silly as its own title, with its admonition to “stay true!” shouted at the end of each chorus. Most notably, Grave Digger plays to its strengths by avoiding any ballads on Healed By Metal, which is yet another feather in the respective caps of the band and the album. Throughout the whole of Healed, the band plays with a renewed vigor that wasn’t quite there on more recent releases, and that plus the solid songcraft pushes Healed up towards the better end of the Grave Digger Quality Spectrum.
If you’ve been keeping up with Grave Digger, then Healed By Metal is as good an album as they’ve done in quite a long time. (And if you haven’t been keeping up, or don’t care at all, then there’s nothing here that would convince you differently, but then again, why do you hate fun, you ornery bastard?) It’s the usual approach, but now with a little added pep in the band’s step. It’s German trad metal, and it’s fun as hell. Thank you, sir, may I have another…