GRAVE DIGGER "Bangin' In the Boneyard"

By Dr. Abner Mality

It is dark and dreary in Bereich der Knochen Cemetery as I await my contact for the evening. An owl hoots in the distance and the limpid light of the moon casts a stark glow on the tombstones. Suddenly I hear the thunder of hoofbeats. Tearing up the old graveyard road is a baroque and fancy horse-drawn hearse. The steeds are wild eyed and foaming at the mouth and the driver is shrouded with a hooded robe. Just as it looks like I'm going to be mowed over, the hearse comes to a halt. A door creaks open and stepping from the hearse is my interview subject of the evening, guitarist Axel Ritt of Grave Digger...

If you're a member of Grave Digger, a hearse is the only way to travel. This German metal band is reaching a level comparable to Accept and The Scorpions in terms of longevity. As far as fist-pumping metal goes, they take a back seat to nobody. After years of doing elaborate historical concept albums, Grave Digger have stripped themselves to the bones on new album "Return of the Reaper". This is fast and raw metal done the classic German way and arguably their best record in more than 10 years.

Herr Ritt agreed to an interview only if I had the nerve to meet him in this old cemetery at midnight. I've held up my end of the bargain, now he delivers on his. Prepare to dig up some dirt on these masters of German metal!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings and hail! What kind of mood were you guys in when you recorded Return of the Reaper? It sounds like you were ready for a fight at a biker bar!

AXEL RITT: Funny picture ! Yes, indeed, we were filled up to the top with energy when we recorded the album. Not that bad for some guys  our age, isnt it?

WC: Did you finally tire of the historical epic style that youve done for the last few albums…or is that something you will return to?

AR: We felt that it would be the right time to stop the concept albums for now, because we did everything you can do regarding concept stories for a band like GRAVE DIGGER. But you never know, maybe we will return with this style once again in the future…

WC: Was the new album designed as an actual sequel to "The Reaper" from 1993…or did it just turn out that way naturally?

AR: It mostly turned out in a natural way, but we thought it would be easier for the fans to have a former record in mind to understand the direction of the album. "The Reaper" was a break to the album before it and this time we did it once again in this way.

WC: This album seems to be the most death-centered of all Grave Diggers albums, with song titles like "Hell Funeral",  "Grave Desecrator",  "Dia de los Muertos" and "Death Smiles At All of Us". Were you in a morbid frame of mind when writing the album?

AR: Well, look at the band name! It's a theme that nobody will ever escape, no matter how rich or strong he or she is. Every one of us will meet the Reaper one day …

WC: Grave Digger has been a vital force for decades now. Do you foresee an end to the band at a certain point…or will it continue as long as you are able to do it?

AR: As long as the band is still able to generate that power on stage or in the studio, why should we stop a well running system? We'll be old farts in front of the TV screen with a bottle of beer in our hands ….. in about 2 decades

WC: When you started back in the early 80s, did you have in mind that you would still be doing this in 2014?

AR: For me personally? Yes, absolutely! I will keep on doing it this way as long as possible.

WC: Is it true that German metal fans never forget a band? Many of the 80s stalwarts like Running Wild, Accept, Kreator and yourself are still hugely popular there. What is it about the German fans that makes them so loyal?

AR: They are Germans! :-) Don't get me wrong, the fans in the other countries around the world are great as well, but Germans are different. It takes some time, sometimes a long time to get them, but when you got them, you got them forever!

WC: Is the American market frustrating to you? You certainly have die-hard fans here, but it cant be compared to mainland Europe? Is there something about true metal that Americans just dont seem to get?

AR: No it isnt. North America has  got its own history in popular music and to be big in the US as an European band, you have to be extreme, like Rammstein for example. We're happy for every North American fan we got, but we'll never leave the club level there. Take it as it is. But that's no problem, we just have to travel a few miles to the South, because we're pretty famous in South America, for example.

WC: Do you have any plans to play in North America?

AR: Yes, we doing the 70K tons of metal cruise in 2015.

WC: Of all the places youve played, what would you say is your favorite?

AR: A very difficult question, because every nation has got its very own qualities and there are some countries we have yet to tour, Australia for example. So I have to wait to answer this question until the whole world is done!

WC: Is there any place you havent played yet that youd like to?

AR: Australia, New Zealand, some parts of Asia like Singapore and I myself never have been in Japan, unfortunately. I'd love to tour Africa as well but as long as the  main focus of most of the countries is on killing and torturing each other, there's no chance to do so.

 WC: Are Grave Digger songs pretty much composed the same way as they were in the beginning? Or have you changed how you do things over the years?

AR:  It's the same procedure for 5 years now. First of all Jens and I will collect riffs. I myself for example composed about 70 riffs for the actual album. Then w'ell send them over to Chris, who's putting lyrics and vocal line ideas to the riffs. Then we're gonna meet in my studio to do the pre-production with some guide-instruments and drum-programming, done by me. After the final arrangements, the drum-programmings will be replaced by real drums, I record the final guitars in my Meadow Studios and the rest will be recorded in the Principal Studios / Germany.

WC:  Is there one Grave Digger album that you feel is underrated or hasn't gotten its proper due?

AR: Not really. Every album got what it deserves by the fans. Give the people what they want and you will have success, it's that easy.

WC: Do you look back on the time you performed as Digger with regret or was it necessary for Grave Digger to be what they are now?

AR: It was a part of the history and it has its place. Chris told me the reasons for acting in this way and to me, it made sense in those days. It didn't work out, but it was worth trying, because EVERYBODY did. Almost every band needs a hard cut like that in history to find their final place in the music scene.

WC: If you could ask any 3 people from history to dinner, who would they be?

AR: Leonardo da Vinci, Arthur Schopenhauer and Peter Tschaikowsky.

WC: What was the last CD or release you picked up just because you wanted to hear it?

AR: Stiff Upper Lip of AC/DC in 2000

WC: In your long history, was there any Spinal Tap moment where things werent wrong that you could share with the fans?

AR: Spinal Tap is the most accurate documentary ever, NOT kidding. I went through all of their stories by myself … ok, none of our drummers ever exploded on stage, but the rest is the pure truth!

WC: Any last words?

AR: Hope to see you at one of our upcoming shows!