At this point, 42 years in, the title “Symbol Of Eternity” may as well refer to Grave Digger themselves. Like their fellow Germans in U.D.O., Chris Boltendahl and his cast of comrades have carved out a career through unflinching focus on straight-ahead Teutonic trad-metal. (In)Famously, their records are built of a singular steel, with only shades of lyrical theme or slight degrees of symphonic pomp to differentiate between them, but then again, isn’t that kind of the point of being a band, to find a sound and hone in on it, and then to reward the dedicated listener with a constant stream of new variations upon it? Don’t believe me? Ask Angus Young how that’s worked out for him.
And it’s worked out for Grave Digger, too, although obviously on a smaller level than for those Aussie arena-rock giants.
Now Grave Digger’s back with album number 21, and surprise, it’s a pop-country album. Don’t believe me? Well, you shouldn’t. That’s a stupid joke. It’s a Grave Digger album, so it sounds like a Grave Digger album. Shocking, I know, but true.
Variance number two, these thirteen songs compared to the other two hundred or so. Built upon the usual Grave Digger tropes of rock-solid riff, rhythms so precise they’re almost mechanical, and huge, bombastic choruses, these are tried-and-true Grave Digger tunes, forged in the same fires as all those of the past decades and yet still fresh enough to hold their own. After the brief symphonic intro in “The Siege Of Akkon,” “Battle Cry” opens the album properly, one of the strongest Grave Digger tracks in the past few decades, all relentless metallic drive and epic pomp, with a chorus that’s damned near guaranteed to plaster a silly smile across the face of every Grave Digger fan, far and wide. Following that, “Hell Is My Purgatory” is another singalong ripper (“Hell! Hell! Hell!), and then “King Of The Kings” turns matters down to a slower but equally powerful midtempo, before the title track ratchets it all down yet again to a moody pace with one more huge Boltendahl chorus atop Axel Ritt’s harmonized guitar lines.
From there, Symbol Of Eternity stays the course, albeit with some diminishing returns, and it does drop off in the closing stretch – “Sky Of Swords,” “Holy Warfare,” and “The Last Crusade” feel like been-there, done-that tracks, jaunty choruses and more mentions of raping, slaughtering, killing, crucifixions, and so on. Not that any of the three are bad songs, just that there’s nothing new on offer, which is an ironic criticism, I know, for a Grave Digger album, but here we’re talking about within the context of the same Grave Digger album. It’s not until the Greek-language cover of Vasilis Popakonstantinou’s “Hellas Hellas” that Symbol Of Eternity catches back up to its front half. I’d never heard the original version of “Hellas Hellas” prior to this – or even heard of Popkonstantinou himself, I must admit, my knowledge of Greek rock being apparently lacking – but the track seems custom-made for the Grave Digger treatment, with another fist-in-the-air chorus and an almost action-movie-soundtrack epic flair.
In the grand scheme of Grave Digger albums, Symbol Of Eternity falls closer to Fields Of Blood’s middle-tier quality than to the higher marks of the few records before that, The Living Dead and Healed By Metal and Return Of The Reaper. Still, the variances between each of those are minor ones, as mentioned above, and if you like your metal pompous and historical and filled with tales of bloodshed and battle, then you could certainly do far worse than any Grave Digger, including this one, and when Symbol strikes squarely, it hits as hard as any, even if it’s less consistent.
Another year, another Grave Digger, another big riff and another big chorus and another step towards eternity…