Review Summary: An excellent end to a glorious album trilogy, but one which made sure Grave Digger were widely hailed as Teutonic metal upstarts at the onset of the 21st Century.
Arguably the prominent focal point in Grave Digger's expansive career is the "Middle Ages" album trilogy, a triumvirate of ambitious and conceptual works which if anything, proved the band were willing to transcend the conventions of Teutonic heavy metal and at the same time mould their own identifiable musical style. Tunes of War
, Knights of the Cross
and trilogy closer Excalibur
all brought forth a newly created, fiercer metal beast.
However, the burning question is, what is the best album of the trilogy? A question which to this day causes deep-heated discussions amidst the devotees and the relative newcomers of course, but perhaps the best answer is Excalibur
. I mean think about it: The final part of the trilogy was released in 1999. Grave Digger had learnt from any mistakes they thought they made on the previous two records. Chris Boltendahl took it on himself to recruit such legendary musicians in the German metal circuit as Hansi Kürsch and Piet Selck to join in for backing vocals. And of course, Grave Digger actively focused on the central theme to bring the most visceral lyrical and conceptual experience to the listener, whilst at the same time writing and performing some of the greatest songs in the band's long-winded career.
is a strong and fierce animal, second only to 2001's self-titled effort in terms of heaviness and musicianship (and that's within a margin). The album revels in creating heavy riffs, thunderous rhythm changes and soulful symphonic elements which if anything inject more power metal than one would expect from any Grave Digger record. The rhythm section itself seems to rely on heaviness and fist-pumping anthems, but on Excalibur
the highlights arrive when the instrumentation is adapted to medieval soundscapes. Basically, the two complement each other rather than clash. The intro ("The Secrets of Merlin") develops a strong, visceral main riff by the end and leads into first song proper "Pendragon" very well indeed. Elsewhere, as on the spectacular triumvirate of "Tristan's Fate", "Lancelot" and "Mordred's Song", musicianship continues to be as vibrant and engaging as listeners would want. Credit must be given to the band's line-up on this album, in particular the efforts brought forth by both Uwe Lulis and Jens Becker, who on Excalibur
deliver a menacing, virtuous performance making songs such as the aforementioned that much meatier and more hook-laden.
truly excels in the songwriting department, and its versatility is admirable if not thoroughly noticeable. Putting aside the metallic side of Grave Digger's musical palette. The softer, more morose songs such as "Morgane Le Fay" and "The Spell" turn out to be instant highlights because of their almost progressive nature. The former begins with a mid-paced metal sound before descending into a harmonic chorus led by Boltendahl's surprisingly soft dulcet vocal tones, and the latter echoes the balance between heavier and softer instrumental parts very well. "The Spell" actually manages to sustain interest despite its softer musicianship, but is further propelled by Boltendahl's vocal delivery. In addition, the album's final two songs couldn't be better place. "Emerald Eyes" takes lyrical inspiration directly from Arthur's final words to Guinevere and "Avalon" constantly challenges "Silence" from The Grave Digger
as the band's finest "candle in the air" moment. If anything, it's songwriting like this where Grave Digger have truly made a name for themselves. With this talent, the listener understands that Boltendahl isn't one-dimensional with his vocal delivery, and that the rhythm section doesn't rely on one repetitive trick.
is certainly one of Grave Digger's crowning achievements, but it is better to remember the record as a stunning closer to an ambitious trilogy of albums concerning the Middle Ages. The musicianship and songwriting represents a very mature and energetic side to Grave Digger's legacy, and is simply a highlight of the band's career. Whilst the band would go into the 21st Century to craft more metallic supremacy, Excalibur
remains a glorious end to an era.