GRAVE DIGGER - Don't Fear The Reaper

July 11, 2014, 7 years ago

Kelley Simms

feature grave digger

GRAVE DIGGER - Don't Fear The Reaper

For over three decades, German power metal underdogs Grave Digger has built up a loyal fan base. Forming in 1980 and just three albums into their career, they went through an identity crisis and changed their name to Digger, which didn’t fare well. After a split in 1987, original vocalist Chris Bothendahl changed the name again to the ill-fated Hawaii before renaming themselves back to Grave Digger in 1991. On their 16th full-length release, Return Of The Reaper, the Germans have retreated back to its roots by creating a fitting album that bodes well with their back catalog. In the following interview, Chris Bothendahl explains the dangers of driving on the Autobahn, how the band created a timeless heavy metal sound on the new album and his God-given ability to create epic and catchy choruses.

BraveWords: You’ve recently stated in the press that Return Of The Reaper is reminiscent of classic Grave Digger albums such as Heavy Metal Breakdown (1984), Witch Hunter (1985) and The Reaper (1993). Was this a conscious effort to get that classic sound back?

Chris Boltendahl: “We’ve done a lot of concept CDs in the past and after the last concept CDs, I wanted to retire it. If you’re doing a concept CD, there’s always a problem; you have to always follow a story, you have to be really patient and decide which songs you can use and which not to. This time, I wanted to do an ass kicking, classic heavy metal album without boundaries and without this concept thing. I wanted to do something in the spirit of what we did in the ’80s.”

BraveWords: It definitely has that unmistakable Grave Digger sound. 

Chris Boltendahl: “When I start writing songs with the guys, we never have something special in mind. The guys hand me their guitar riffs and their ideas, then we get together and go through it step by step. After three or four songs I felt that it had this typical ‘80s flavor. But I didn’t want to use the ’80s sound of production, I wanted to use a full, modern production on the new album with the spirit of the ’80s on the songs.”

BraveWords: With the exception of a few missteps in the early days, Grave Digger has stylistically remained consistent throughout its career. What do you attribute this to?

Chris Boltendahl: Yeah, for sure. But for this time I wanted to add more in the direction of Heavy Metal Breakdown and Witch Hunter. A timeless heavy metal sound with cool guitar riffs and good choruses. This is for fans of good heavy metal songs and I think we’ve reached our goal because after one or two times listening, you can shout every song on the new album. Something that makes your fist pump up in the air.“

BraveWords: That’s definitely true. The choruses are so catchy and chant-able. Are you always aware of these elements while writing Grave Digger songs?

Chris Boltendahl: “This is something that God gave me. The ability to create good choruses and likable choruses that people can listen to a few times and get stuck in their head. On the new song we released as a lyric video on YouTube, “Season Of The Witch,” is something that burns into your head after three or four times listening to it.”

BraveWords: Throughout the band’s history, you’ve tackled many subject matters and conceptual themes. What is your inspiration for your lyrics?

Chris Boltendahl: “On the new album, there are a lot of different topics. I drive a lot in Germany and we have some laws. I drive very slow and calm in traffic. When I’m on the highway (the infamous Autobahn), I go 120 kilometers (75 mph). But there are some people who are driving 220 kilometers (137.5 mph), who are flashing their lights at you. (This inspired) some of the lyrics I wrote for the song “Road Rage Killer” for example. If you’re watching the TV everyday, you see Nigeria, Afghanistan, all the war and dying people. And that is where I put my impressions and ideas into songs like “Wargod.” You can refer to modern metal acts singing about social situations, but I put my impressions what I have for today and I put it in a special story with my lyrics to the people to show them, ‘Hey, will you stop this?’ It’s really also entertainment and we are not a political band. We are a metal band who want to entertain people.” 

BraveWords: Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt has been the guitarist since 2010’s The Clans Will Rise Again. There has always been a familiarity to the Grave Digger guitar tone no matter who the guitarist is. What do you attribute this to?

Chris Boltendahl: “Even in the past, I ask them (guitarists) to adopt the Grave Digger sound. Axel is totally open to this. Before we started the new record we discussed the guitar sound. I think this time the guitar sound is 100 percent, typical metal sound with a lot distortion. It’s very prevalent. It’s in the Grave Digger spirit. They bleed the spirit of the guitar sound.”

BraveWords: Grave Digger always has killer album art and Return Of The Reaper is no exception. Gyula Havancsák has been your cover artist since 2005. I guess you guys know what to expect from him by now?

Chris Boltendahl: “He’s a guy from Hungary. We’ve worked with him since The Last Supper. I like this guy so much. He’s a talented guy. I gave him some ideas and he showed me the draft before he started with the final painting. Step by step we discussed it. This cover took a long time. I think it took nine months or something like that. It was a long process. I’m always looking for creative artwork. It wasn’t a simple painting, as there were a lot of details. If I’m not impressed, then the people outside won’t be impressed.”

BraveWords: Grave Digger is already confirmed for 2015’s 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. You’ve played on it before in 2012. I suppose there could be worse gigs.

Chris Boltendahl: (Laughter) “It’s very cool. It’s a very good idea. I think next year’s will be bigger than the times before. It’s a bigger boat; 3,000 fans and 60 bands on the boat. If you take a look at the lineup now, it’s great.”

BraveWords: What’s your current upcoming touring plans and what’s next for the band?

Chris Boltendahl: “On the 20th of June we start with the festival season in Europe. In Germany we have festivals like The Bang Your Head festival and some other small festivals. Then we’re off to Moscow at the end of August for a big heavy metal festival. In September we go to Bulgaria and Greece. Then in November, we start a Germany tour and then we go to South America next year too.”



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