Roaring front man Boltendahl had originally formed Grave Digger in 1980 - with him on bass, a role he would occupy again on the Shoot Her Down EP. When Noise signed Grave Digger - at first for the Rock From Hell sampler where Philip Seibel drummed - and released the band's debut in March of 1984 Germany's Metal Hammer noted that Boltendahl's roar made all other German metal singers sound like babies crying in their cradles!
Sure enough the roaring vocals and heavy power metal of the band garnered immediate respect from the fans and Grave Digger became an instant metal hit even garnering a Canadian fan club.
The band's first tour was with Warlock, Sinner and Running Wild. Despite this, the band split after three albums and some time later became Digger in order to sell more albums. Digger was meant to have a more accessible sound, but soon reverted back to a reformed Grave Digger (although for a while Boltendahl and Lulis tried Hawaii) and adopted a Celtic image. The band has done well in Europe ever since.
1996's Tunes Of War was the beginning of a three-album trilogy of Celtic history. Further publicity was garnered when the band flew to Scotland and became the honorary sons of the Cavanaugh Clan of whom they had previously sung. Furthermore, Boltendahl managed to write a Greek soccer hymn and also sang it in Greek for the fans in that country. The band seemed to be anchored by Boltendahl and Lulis (and commercially successful with GUN) until the acrimonious departure of Lulis. Surprisingly he claimed the Grave Digger moniker and litigation ensued. With Lulis relinquishing the name and forming Rebellion (along with Tomi Goettlich), Boltendahl was free to attack the scene again headlining with bands like White Skull and Sinner. Excalibur hit position number 21 on the German charts and Boltendahl announced plans for a solo album. This project has since gotten postponed however.
2001's The Grave Digger abandons the Middle Ages' concept and instead focused on macabre stories inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. In the summer of 2001 the band announced that it is recording its Wacken appearance for a live CD in 2002. The band also re-signed with Nuclear Blast and after playing in Russia entered the studio to record a new album due in mid-2003. Philip Seibel had reportedly passed away from a stroke in 2003.
Rheingold, the next Grave Digger album, was a concept album which was divided into four parts (Rheingold, Valkyrie, Triumph-Glory-Agony and Twilight of the Gods) and was inspired by Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungs. Chris Boltendahl and the Resetti Brothers recorded the album at Principal Studios. The last Supper was issued in January, 2005. On September 22nd, 2006 Locomotive Records would release a Grave Digger single, entitled Yesterday. The band had signed to the label. A new album was issued at the start of 2007. Thilo Hermann, formerly of Risk and Faithful Breath, joined the group in the autumn of 2007. The band picked Napalm Records as its next label in 2008. The band was in the studio working on a new album called Ballads Of A Hangman, which was due next February. Thilo Hermann, formerly of Faithful Breath and Risk, was now part of the crew. Then again, the veteran guitarist left after a short year with the group. The band was not jelling and supposedly missing the extra space on stage! Guitarist Manni Schmidt was next asked to leave in October of 2009. Reportedly, the guitarist dug his own grave when he disagreed with many of singer and founder Chris Boltendahl’s opinions. The Fyredogs, was a German rock band in 2010 whose vocalist was Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl and had completed its debut album at the Comude Studios in Koeln, Germany. It was entitled Hellfyre Rock 'n' Roll and will be released on March 12th through Golden Core/Zyx Music. Former Domain guitarist Axel Ritt next joined the band. He replaced Thilo Herrman who left in 2009 amidst acrimony. Grave Digger would celebrate its thirtieth anniversary at 2010’s Wacken Open Air festival, which would take place August 5th to 7th, 2010 in Wacken, Germany. The band would perform its best-selling album, 1996‘s Tunes Of War, in its entirety and would be accompanied by guests and an orchestra. Grave Digger picked The Clans Will Rise Again as the title for its next album, which was due in on October 1st through Napalm Records. The album was partly recorded at the Meadow Studio, which was owned by Grave Digger's new guitarist Axel Ritt. According to the band, "'The Clans Will Rise Again' is a loose sequel of the 'Tunes Of War' album, but this time not a concept album about the Scottish history, rather a work about Scotland, its mysticism and its people." Amorphis, Stratovarius, Grave Digger, Coroner and others were confirmed for the 2012 edition of the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise ship, which would set sail from Miami, Florida to Cayman Islands on January 23rd, 2012 and return four days later. A total of 40 acts were to perform on this cruise. Grave Digger re-signed with Napalm Records for three albums. Grave Digger released a new album on August 24th, 2012 through Napalm Records called Clash Of The Gods. A six-song mini-CD, called Home At Last, preceded it. The EP featured live songs as well. Simultaneously, Grave Digger joined marketing forces with two German natural cosmetics companies, Esthertol and Rutano. Working with natural cosmetic company Rutano, Grave Digger released a 2-in-1 shampoo and shower gel in 2012. The product was manufactured as a “valent aluminum finish” and available at the Grave Digger online shop. Guitarist Uwe Lulis joined Accept in March of 2015 replacing Hermann Frank. Blind Guardian and Grave Digger announced a tour of North America for October and November. Grave Digger would release a 35th-anniversary album, called Exhumation - The Early Years, on October 23rd of 2015. The album would contain re-recorded versions of the band's "absolute classics with a dynamic and powerful sound of 2015.” Grave Digger picked Healed By Metal as the title for its next album, which was out on January 13th 2017 through Napalm Records.
GRAVE DIGGER - RHEINGOLD - NUCLEAR BLAST
When Grave Digger's debut hit the street, a reviewer in Metal Hammer exclaimed that the voice of Chris Boltendahl makes all other singers sound like babies. Similarly, the band's brutal delivery bordered on death metal - this in 1984! It is with a sense of sadness that the knights at Metallian Towers noted how Grave Digger now employs a full-time keyboardist.
As sad as that is, the offending intruder is not often heard on Rheingold.
Speaking of which, the new Grave Digger album is a concept based on Richard Wagner's Niebelungen Saga. Consequently, the keyboards are used for Classical effect, but otherwise and generally kept out of the proceedings. Rheingold's cover artwork is as disappointing as it is perplexing. After all, this is a tribute to one of the finer Classical masterpieces. Regardless the song Rheingold has a vigorous and fast riff borrowed from Savatage's Power Of The Night. The song rocks hard, as do the following tracks, Valhalla and Giants. Rheingold, especially, has fluid soloing. The songs Sword, Dragon, etc. in the middle of the album are generally slower and more epic. Towards the end of the album, Murderer is more dynamic in nature, changing speeds all the time. The song has brilliant lead guitars. Twilight Of The Gods (not the Bathory song!) closes the album in fine form given the vocal performance and guitar interplay. The outcome is blemished because of the presence of the keyboards though.
All in all, Rheingold is a good album. It is even better when one remembers how difficult it is to make an entertaining concept album. - Ali "The Metallian"
GRAVE DIGGER - THE LAST SUPPER - NUCLEAR BLAST
The twelfth album of German heavy metal stalwarts Grave Digger is a religiously-themed album custom made for fans of aggressive guitar work. The guitars of Manni Schmidt steal the show, but main man Chris Boltendahl puts in an impressive performance with his raucous vocals which can only be commended.
Nuclear Blast's promotional CD has deigned to punctuate the songs with outrageous interruptions, but even that is not quite enough to stop The Last Supper. The title track establishes the album's hard and heavy credentials, while Desert Rose cuts like a knife with its rhythm. Grave In The No Man's Land is the album's perplexing number with its rip off of Metallica's Enter Sandman. Past that, Hundred Days has great melodies, while still rocking. Divided Cross is catchy if a tad too simple and Always And Eternally is slow and closes the album with what sounds like an accordion! Incidentally, the album has a minimal keyboard presence and all the better for it.
Grave Digger anno 2005 might be a different beast than the thrashy band of the '80s, but this album proves that the act is very much alive and kicking and well worth investing in. - Ali "The Metallian"