Review Summary: Not quite an album of "ballads", but certainly rivals the two predecessing Grave Digger records from a songwriting and musicianship aspect.Ballads of a Hangman
was probably the album Grave Digger needed to re-buff their appeal to the rabid fan-base of the heavy/power metal world. First of all, the 2009 record was the first to feature two guitarists, a decision seemingly well made given the "lighter" nature of Liberty or Death
and perhaps even The Last Supper
. Unfortunately, it was also the last record to feature long-time member Manni Schmidt, who had contributed towards some of Grave Digger's most memorable and powerful songs. That said, Ballads...
certainly sounds like more of a comeback than it does a mere continuation of Grave Digger's career into the 21st Century.
This album is arguably more accessible and straight to the point than anything Grave Digger had released even prior to the "Middle Ages" album trilogy. The album is merely 41 minutes in length, and is mostly simplistic from a songwriting aspect. That said, that's also virtually the only flaw, a clear lack of originality meaning that songs such as "Hell of Disillusion" and "Stormrider" leave the listener wanting and expecting so much more. Rivalling these two "fillers" in terms of quality is practically the rest of the album however. The rhythm section offers a selection of predictable albeit menacing power metal-related riffs to get the listener going before chanting along to the final sorrowful vocal tones of "Pray". After a rather uninteresting intro, the title track immediately proves ambitious thanks to Boltendahl's crowd-controlling lyrical chant, whilst the rest of the band portray a strong work ethic, performing excellently to ensure the listener is fully attentive. There are one or two surprises here however, one of which more so than the other. This comes under the album's longest track and arguably the only "ballad" to be found. "Lonely the Innocence Dies" features Benedictum singer Veronica Freeman, who provides a beautiful vocal duet with Boltendahl, the man himself regaining some vocal versatility thanks to his sweet yet raw delivery. The musicianship on the song is beautiful too. The guitars seem to weep and solidify just when you think the song will get too soft for its own good, and whilst it is indeed the slowest song of the album, it proves an instant highlight.
The only problem with Ballads of a Hangman
is that there's a clear lack of standout moments in the album, yet at the same time it's very appealing to fans of the band and perhaps even the more simplistic side of heavy or power metal. Boltendahl as always brings a vocal prominence to the recording and, notwithstanding the lack of one Manni Schmidt, the replacements on guitar duties seemed to fill in very well. This album is arguably the best of the last four Grave Digger albums, but if anything, it really represents that Grave Digger could still rally the metal hordes when they wanted to.