Rarely has an album been titled as accurately as Symbol of Eternity, Grave Digger‘s 20th goddamn full-length. I’ve been listening to these unstoppable German dirt movers since their 1984 debut and they just WILL NOT stop releasing albums. Such was the eternal crypt crud onslaught that I had to take a mental health break from reviewing them following 2017s lackluster Healed by Metal outing. Two more platters came and went since then, both fairly solid, and 2022 sees yet another release unearthed by the lords of exhumation. Taking a break from their Scottish clan war fetish, the band once again focuses on the crusades for the first time since 1998s Knights of the Cross. Other than the subject matter, nothing has changed in the tried-and-trve Digger sound. It’s still classic heavy metal sitting somewhere between Accept and Running Wild with an epic flair injected when necessary. The big difference is that the band has sounded somewhat rejuvenated since 2017, and their increased dynamism and vigor splashes over to the new platter. It’s certainly not breaking new ground (pun semi-intended), but it shows there’s still some muscle behind the shovel.
And for a band in their 40th year of existence, Grave Digger certainly sound punchy and spry. After a mood-building intro piece, “Battle Cry” kicks down the doors with a burly, robust onslaught reminiscent of the band’s Rheingold era. It’s borderline thrash with riffs ripping and drums pounding as the ageless Chris Boltendahl smears his nuclear duck vocals into every nook and cranny. It’s a formula older than dirt and it still works, demanding fist pumpery and horn throwing. The album’s high point hits early on “Hell is My Purgatory,” which is a steamrolling war anthem suitable for the battlefield and gym. The band sounds overfull of piss, vinegar, and pre-workout power powder and the result is quite impactful and entertaining. There are a number of these kinds of full-throttle skull busters like “King of Kings,” “Heart of the Warrior,” and “Sky of Swords” and this is where Grave Digger are at their best, rocking hard and kicking cadaver booty. That’s not to say they can’t successfully change it up at times. The title track is a dark, quasi-doom piece with very Gollum-esque vocals and it too lands well. Going in another direction, the epic “Grace of God” mines Blind Guardian‘s overwrought orchestral tropes for a rousing and righteous reflection on religion’s darker influences.
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the relative absence of clunkers and filler. While “Nights of Jerusalem” might not be as thrilling as some of the other tracks, it’s not bad, and it’s the weakest cut present. It’s been a while since a Grave Digger release was this consistently satisfying. Nothing here is going to melt your brain or make you swear off one-man lo-fi basement black metal, but it’s an enjoyable and energetic spin with replay value and no skippable moments. That said, it runs a tad long at 50 minutes, and the closing cover of Greek rock star Vasilis Papakonstantinou‘s “Hellas Hellas” seems unnecessary though it is kinda fun.
The main reason Symbol of Eternity feels like a breath of fresh sepulcher is the propulsive guitar work of Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt. He’s essentially channeling the Rheingold era and that’s always the right move for Grave Digger. This leads to chest-thumping, crunchy riffs, and forward momentum that keeps the material entertaining. Some of this stuff approaches Brainstorm levels of traditional/power thunder, and that’s a good thing. Back in 2017, it sounded like Chris Boltendahl was on his last legs. His vocals were weak and washed out, and I felt he had two left feet in the vault. Now it’s 2022 and he sounds almost better than ever. There isn’t much difference between his vocal work here and what he did on classic chestnuts like The Grave Digger and Rheingold. Color me impressed with this miraculous rebound, and though he’ll never be a technically sound singer, his one-of-a-kind monster muppet warble sounds potent and effectively amplifies the material.
I wasn’t expecting a heck of a lot from Symbol of Eternity, but it’s an enjoyable outing by a band that doesn’t know when or how to call it a day. This isn’t an album that will make year-end lists or be the talk of the town, but Grave Digger did themselves proud four decades into their career of evil. If they can keep this level of quality going, I hope they have another decade of mileage in their hearse. Diggy, diggy hole!
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rock of Angels
Websites: grave-digger.de | gravedigger.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/gravediggerofficial
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2022