Grave Digger

Grave Digger is a German heavy metal band formed by Chris Boltendahl (vocals), Peter Masson (guitar), Willi Lackmann (bass guitar), and Albert Eckardt (drums) in 1980 in Gladbeck, a small town in Germany. Their songs often display a power metal and speed metal ethos, with lyrics reflecting battle, destruction, and sorcery. The group's debut album, 1984's Heavy Metal Breakdown, produced some undying classics for them such as the Grave Digger anthem "Heavy Metal Breakdown" and the powerful ballad "Yesterday".

After their second studio album, 1985's Witch Hunter, was completed, Eckardt left the band and was replaced by musician C.F. Brank. Though not quite breaking through commercially as had been hoped, the group's first two albums achieved critical acclaim and were warmly received by legions of fans. Allmusic's Pemberton Roach spoke for many when he remarked that the band "doesn't disappoint" since the guys can hammer "home one huge speed metal riff after another", meaning that Grave Digger "have enough chops and energy to silence any naysayers".

After the third studio album, 1986's War Games, the group's members found themselves at a crossroads. Though they had many fans and had toured successfully, guitarist Peter Masson departed from the band, his place to be taken by Uwe Lulis. In addition, the band changed their name from "Grave Digger" to "Digger" as they aimed for a more mainstream-minded approach. They experimented with a sound more reminiscent of hard rock and pop metal, their style becoming akin to artists such as Bon Jovi and Van Halen.

The band's Stronger Than Ever release came out on December 1st, 1986, with many listeners picking it up for the first time in 1987. Digger's concept, sadly, was a drastic flop, and they failed to appeal either to a mass audience looking for pop-inspired songs or to metalheads looking for more of the group's former, aggressive music. The album's cover, featuring what many observers called a 'robotic duck', also was a topic of much mocking. Hence, frontman Chris Boltendahl announced the end of the outfit's career as a band later in 1987.

Things appeared bleak. However, the group returned with gusto several years later; with 1993 giving fans the comeback album The Reaper, which featured a spirited, heavy sound designed to bring back memories of classic 70s and 80s metal. Grave Digger now consisted of Chris Boltendahl, Uwe Lulis and two new members, Tomi Göttlich (bass) and Jörg Michael (drums). The group stated that they had created a "back to the roots" release, fully re-embracing the "Grave Digger" title again. On top of that, a compilation called The Best of the Eighties was released.

The EP Symphony of Death been released in 1994, Jörg Michael left the band and was replaced by a new drummer, Frank Ullrich, for the upcoming tour. He also played drums on Grave Digger's next album Heart of Darkness (released in 1995). Ullrich didn't stay with the band for long though, as the year 1996 saw the coming of their new drummer Stefan Arnold, who has been playing drums in Grave Digger ever since. The year 1996 also saw the beginning of Grave Digger's famous "The Middle Ages Trilogy", which consists of three concept albums: Tunes of War, Knights of the Cross and Excalibur. While "Tunes of War" is the first part of the trilogy dealing with Scotland's long fight and several attempts for independence, the second part "Knights of the Cross" (1998) tells the historical tale of the crusades and more specifically about the rise and fall of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (more commonly known as the Knights Templar). Knights of the Cross also introduced Jens Becker as the new bassist, and he has been Grave Digger's bassist ever since. The trilogy was completed in 1999 with the final part, "Excalibur", which is about the myth of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The world tour supporting this trilogy officially introduced a keyboardist for Grave Digger for the first time (he had been working with the band since Tunes of War however) - his name was Hans-Peter Kratzenburg and he thus became a permanent member of the band. During live shows and in promotional pictures Kratzenburg is often seen dressed up as "The Reaper" character.

In the year 2000 Grave Digger celebrated their 20th anniversary with a concert consisting of various old and new Grave Digger songs. This concert also ended one chapter as Uwe Lulis parted ways with the band. A new guitarist, Manni Schmidt, was found. The guitarist and record label having been changed, Grave Digger released a self-titled album called The Grave Digger in the year 2001. Many consider this album to be the darkest and heaviest Grave Digger record so far. Its songs were inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Next year brought the first live release of Grave Digger - Tunes of Wacken was released both in CD and DVD format.

The next studio concept album appeared in 2003. Rheingold dealt with the opera "Der Ring des Nibelungen" by Richard Wagner, which is based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. After the world tour that followed the release of "Rheingold", a new studio album called The Last Supper occurred in 2005. "The Last Supper" isn't wholly a concept album, but many songs deal with the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Grave Digger, the band released a live DVD & CD recording of a concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was entitled "25 to Live". In the next year an EP entitled Yesterday was released. It consists of a remake and an orchestra version of the Grave Digger classic "Yesterday" (originally released on their debut album), a cover of Led Zeppelin's song "No Quarter" and a new original composition "The Reapers Dance".

In the year 2007 Grave Digger released the studio album Liberty or Death. On October 8th 2007, the band revealed Thilo Hermann (ex-guitarist of Faithful Breath, Risk and Running Wild) as their second guitarist. This marked the first time for Grave Digger as a six-member band and with two guitarists. Grave Digger also signed a record deal with a new label called Napalm Records, and with this enforced line-up Grave Digger brought up two recordings: Pray EP was released on 28th of November 2008, and the studio album entitled Ballads of a Hangman was released on 9th of January 2009. The "Pray" EP contains four songs, one being an extended version of the song "Pray" (the regular version is found on the Ballads of a Hangman album), while the other songs of the EP are a cover version of Motörhead's classic tune "Overkill" and two new original compositions.

However, shortly after "Ballads of a Hangman" was released, Grave Digger announced to part ways with Thilo Hermann, explaining that it was too difficult for a sixth member to become integrated to a well-attuned team. Differences in the musical aspects were also being mentioned as one factor for separating from Hermann. In addition, soon after Hermann's departure many disagreements also appeared between Manni Schmidt and Chris Boltendahl, and this caused also Manni Schmidt to exit from Grave Digger in the Fall of 2009. For the rest of the shows in 2009, Grave Digger replaced Manni with guitarist Axel Ritt (from the German heavy metal band Domain), who afterwards became an official member of the band.

Since mid-May through mid-July 2010, Grave Digger was working on the new album. The album - entitled The Clans Will Rise Again - was released on October 1, 2010 via Napalm Records following a North American release soon after. The album is a loose sequel to their previous concept record "Tunes of War". While not a concept record itself, the album serves as a sort of biopic of Scotland, its mysticism and its people.

In August 2010, Grave Digger performed their 30th anniversary show in Wacken Open Air. In this concert, the band played "Tunes of War", their most successful album to date, in its entirety. The show saw special guest appearances from Doro Pesch, Hansi Kürsch, van Canto and Baul Muluy Pipes & Drums. The concert was released on DVD and CD entitled The Clans Are Still Marching on March 4th 2011, along with a new EP entitled Ballad of Mary, which contains re-recorded versions of The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots) and Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) (off "Tunes of War") as well as an unplugged version of the former and instrumental versions of Highland Farewell and Coming Home (off "The Clans Will Rise Again"). The EP also features Doro Pesch and Hansi Kürsch as special guests.

After the anniversary show at Wacken, the band embarked on an extensive tour through Europe and presented their fans new songs and classics. After the end of the tour, Grave Digger started songwriting for a new album. As an appetizer before the release of the full album, the band released the MCD Home at Last. The record contains one song from the album which ensued ("Home at Last"), two new original compositions plus three live versions of earlier Grave Digger songs. On the following album Grave Digger entered the legendary realm of ancient Greek and its gods and creatures. The lyrics of Clash of the Gods (released on the 31st of August 2012) pay tribute to the legendary Medusa, Odysseus, Hades and Kerberos amongst others.

Two years after "Clash of the Gods", Grave Digger released a new studio album called Return of the Reaper (2014). As the name suggests, this album saw Grave Digger returning to an earlier period in their career, considering the lyrics and themes of the songs as well as the style of the music. When given a description about the album, Chris Boltendahl cited the album to be stylistically reminiscent of "Heavy Metal Breakdown", "Witch Hunter" and "The Reaper". Also, one year after "Return of the Reaper", Grave Digger continued looking back to their roots, as they released a studio recording entitled Exhumation - The Early Years, which consists of 13 remake versions of old Grave Digger songs from the first four albums ("Heavy Metal Breakdown", "Witch Hunter", "War Games" and Digger's "Stronger Than Ever").

A number of compilations have also been released, such as Lost Tunes from the Vault and Masterpieces.


Heavy Metal Breakdown (1984)
Shoot Her Down (Single) (1984)
Witch Hunter (1985)
War Games (1986)
Stronger Than Ever (1987) (Under name "Digger")
The Reaper (1993)
The Best of the Eighties (1993)
Symphony of Death (EP) (1994)
Heart of Darkness (1995)
Tunes of War (1996)
The Dark of the Sun (EP) (1997)
Knights of the Cross (1998)
Excalibur (1999)
The Grave Digger (2001)
Tunes of Wacken - Live (2002)
Masterpieces (2002)
Rheingold (2003)
Lost Tunes from the Vault (2003)
The Last Supper (2005)
25 to Live (2005)
Yesterday (EP) (2006)
Liberty or Death (2007)
Pray (EP) (2008)
Ballads of a Hangman (2009)
The Clans Will Rise Again (2010)
Ballad of Mary (EP) (2011)
The Clans Are Still Marching (2011)
Clash of the Gods (2012)
Return of the Reaper (2014)
Exhumation - The Early Years (2015)

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