GRAVE DIGGER initially turned the sod in 1980 in metal-obsessed Germany, unearthing three bare bones Teutonic slabs of heavy metal. If we choose to forget the band's 1987 left turn with the BON JOVI-esque radio rock effort "Stronger Than Ever"—released under the abbreviated moniker DIGGER, a creative and commercial flop resulting in a four-year breakup—this metal mainstay band has remained steadfast in the battle to celebrate and continue on with traditional heavy metal. If genre tags are necessary, the group has flirted with the staple elements of speed and power metal along the way.
The German band has challenged itself conceptually throughout its career. Musically, however, it has stuck to a tried and true formula, as the group does here with its 18th full-length, "Healed By Metal". It is an effort so safe that it couldn't ironically contrast its taboo namesake any more than it does. But what stands out with "Healed By Metal" is that, when measured against its back catalogue, it is noticeably heavier than most of the unit's output, most notably with the triumphant marching of "Lawbreaker" and "The Hangman's Eye", as well as "Kill Ritual"'s mid-paced pummeling.
The title track sets the tone with a sing-along chant that will presumably stir up a crowd, not to be outdone by the chorus of "Call for War". GRAVE DIGGER has always had a simplistic, straightforward primal appeal along the lines of ACCEPT and JUDAS PRIEST, and it shines through the title track musically, no doubt. And sure, GRAVE DIGGER has always been over the top, but the lyrics to this track and others, especially "Ten Commandments of Metal", are just plain ridiculous. It's safe to assume that vocalist Chris Boltendahl would disagree considering his passionate delivery marked by his characteristic gruff yet melodic stylings and creepy, slow vibrato.
What some call predictable, however, others consider reliable, and in fairness, GRAVE DIGGER can write good songs delivered with impressive talent. Axel Ritt's tasteful jagged riffing propels standout track "When Night Falls", a number that fortunately reins in the “proud to be metal” schtick to where one can take the group more seriously. His solo during "The Hangman's Eye" initially climbs scales before bending notes to great effect, fitting within the context of the song as his solos generally are, much in the way that Dan Spitz's solos perfectly fit the tone and mood of old Anthrax songs. His lulling, subdued plucking suggests promise at the onset of "Laughing with the Dead", a track that subsequently stands as pure filler, tagged onto the end of the album, no less.
It's not likely that GRAVE DIGGER will break new ground any time soon, but for musically conservative traditional heavy metal fans, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Devotees of shameless traditional heavy metal fire have plenty to bask in with "Healed By Metal".