The $10* or so that Chris Boltendahl spent on a ticket to Braveheart in 1995 may have been the best money he ever spent…
Now in their fortieth year, the bombastic Teutonic trad metallers in Grave Digger have circled back around to circling back around to their 1996 classic, Tunes Of War, re-revisiting tales of the Scottish Highlands for this, their twentieth album (if you count the ill-fated one they released as Digger). I say “re-revisiting” because, of course, they’ve already revisited the times of William Wallace a decade ago with The Clans Will Rise Again, which, unlike Tunes Of War, wasn’t a narrative concept album, but was still thematically conceptual, still inspired by all things Scottish.
What they do, of course, is traditional metal, dressed up with touches of symphonic pomp. Grave Digger records are built upon an Accept-like straight-ahead metallic drive, topped with Boltendahl’s raw-throated snarl that still manages singalong glory through the time-honored Germanic metal art of the undeniably epic chorus. The only real differences between Grave Digger albums are slight, and mostly come down to the presence / absence of any particular lyrical theme and a few degrees’ swing in general quality of the songs that comprise them.
Coming off the trio of non-conceptual rockers Return Of The Reaper, Healed By Metal, and The Living Dead — all of which I thought were solid Grave Digger offerings — Fields is immediately more bombastic than its predecessors, largely due to the presence of the Scottish theme. The instrumental intro “The Clansman’s Journey” sports bagpipes and folksy melodies that lead directly into a classic Axel Ritt riff in lead single “All For The Kingdom.” “Kingdom” is a ripper in the true Grave Digger tradition, as strong a song as they’ve released in a long time, and pretty much a distillation of their entire aesthetic. From there, through “Lions Of The Sea” to the ten-minute closing title track, Fields Of Blood is business as usual, with only the ballad “Thousand Tears” being a minor hiccup. It’s another of the band’s favorite tricks, the duet with female vocals, and here it’s with Noora Louhimo of Battle Beast, whose voice is strong and admirable, but I remain almost wholly uninterested in Grave Digger ballads.
At the end of the day, I don’t immediately love Fields Of Blood as much as the three albums that precede it — I prefer my Grave Digger with fewer bagpipes, I guess — but it’s hard to deny the fun in these Fields. Within Grave Digger’s now-completed Highlands trilogy, Fields Of Blood doesn’t reach the heights of Tunes Of War, but it does slot in above The Clans Will Rise Again. And of course, it’s Grave Digger, so you pretty much know what you’re getting. Grave Digger doesn’t disappoint, and Fields Of Blood is yet another fine entry in forty years of metal.
*Or $35 if he bought popcorn and a soda.