One has to give it to Grave Digger, if not for anything else, then rather for their persistence. Through thick and thin and with nearly no downtime (although they did change name and did some other bizarre things along the way, circa 86-91) they’ve been pumping out metal without ever really stopping…
On “Symbol of Eternity”, their twentieth album, the band does what the band does best, which is to play heavy, classic metal. No frills, no fancy stuff, just you basic Teutonic metal with small douches of melody.
They also seem to forego the safety of belonging to a large company like Napalm/SPV and goes with a rather smaller Greek/German company ROAR, probably on the promise of being the premiere act on the label. The wisdom or folly of such a move will probably be proven in the immediate future.
Onto the records, specifics however… While “The Digger” enjoyed at least two solid decades since their 90s reformation, with many albums earning scene wise acclaim and selling well, their multiple efforts in the 10s were not always consistent, with many a-fan slowly losing interest the further down the line, after some acceptable, but not highly palatable efforts.
“Symbol of Eternity” seems to largely address this progressive decline over time, trying to refocus the band’s energies into what made them likable in the first place. With a renewed vigor, a somewhat more vintage sound and adopting the “crusade” themes once again, after touching on it back in the late 90s with “Knights…”, the band manages to really rally the troops once more, after quite some time.
“The Siege of Akkon” is an atmospheric intro piece to “Battle Cry”, which blasts out, defiantly with a fire the band has not displayed since the early 20s. The chorus is simple, but damn effective, the riff pummeling, leaving you with little choice but to submit.
“Hell is My Purgatory” is a tad lighter, if something like that can be said, for the band’s blackened style. A little more rock n’ roll inspired 80s metal with a rousing chorus that almost feels like a good track, but imho, not as good as to be used as a single/video. That honor of that should have gone to a song like “King of the Kings” a song that goes through several stages, but always keeps its cool and galloping rhythm, moving along and delivers it’s chorus, with deadly precision.
The title track, “Symbol of Eternity” is a classic Digger, semi-ballad, melodic piece, while Chris’ voice is slowly becoming deeper with age, the choir parts manage to cover up the fact sufficiently, resulting in an interesting, symphonic if not slow track, that’s as prog, as you could hope a band like Digger to ever get (and I’m not talking about time changes). Nice soloing by the way.
“Saladin” is a mystifying, eastern flavored intro to “Nights of Jerusalem” that might feel a little like a slowed down and somewhat varied version of an older title, of “similar” title, but it’s different enough and far apart enough, timewise, to save the band from being disgraced or having people shout out “murder, murder”… Oh these unholy devils.
“Heart of a Warrior” has a nice enough build, but resolves very quietly and unimaginatively, almost like a firecracker that hardly makes a bang. A chorus that sounds more like an underdeveloped bridge to a chorus part that’s just too short, is the main culprit here.
“Grace of God” tries once more to create atmosphere and it partly manages to do so, with somewhat bolder options being explored… but it does feel a little disjointed in doing so.
“Sky of Swords” puts its foot down to reclaim the album’s faltering “strength” and manages to do so, until a rather soft chorus unfolds that could have been its undoing (with its singalong celtic-folk sensitivities), but somehow fits both the mood as well as the overall aesthetic, without offending.
“Holy Warfare” tries to fit a fair bit of storytelling in a little time and as a result is somewhat transitional both in the way it feels and sounds. It ropes in the final track “The Last Crusade” that might have the oomph of say Saxon and the grit of Motorhead, but it lacks the charm of either. It’s teutonic virtues could have possibly salvage it and it part they do, especially during the second part of the song from being a wreckage, but it fails to be the exclamation point to an album that while good is some way from being awesome.
And, I’m not sure if we really needed another rendition of “Hellas Hellas”, but it’s offered, and this time Chris has done his homework, with the aid of RD Liapakis, so he avoids to mispronounce stuff, but… the cover does lack the spontaneity and the fire of its initial “take”. It however does feature Greek vocals from the original recording artist, Vasillis Papakonstantinou that sort of create an interesting enough amalgam.
Overall, almost a proper return to form, marred by a lack of a couple more standout moments that could have elevated this album to a near classic. Close, but no cigar. A cigarette maybe ! And you know these thing might be the death of you… and who you’re gonna call, but the Grave Digger, if the unthinkable happens.