Grave Digger (Ljubljana - VPK - 19.01.04)
Written by: Aleš Podbrežnik
At last! It was about to happen but who would have the balls to organize this great event! So on this very day, with extra special thanks to Leather Throne chiefs, I was promised to have an interview with Chris Boltendhal. It never happened that I was put on a guest list or got an accreditation. And it was a strange feeling being a fan and a reporter at the same time. The press conference started at quarter past 5 p.m. I was shocked! Manni, Chris, Stefan and Jens had no interest in answering. It was so obvious that I could detect it with my eyes closed. When they arrived, they didn't say hello. With looks pointed to the floor they took their sits. And only four of us (reporters) were there to ask the questions. I found myself completely naked. I was preparing questions for the interview with Chris for two days, so I had to borrow a few among them for the press conference. But the band wasn't interested. Journalists are usually treated behind the curtains, as a pawns to state's authorities (more or less this is not far from the truth), with good sense for masquerade. But I didn't feel that way. I was innocent, believing in a word I was given. I asked my questions seriously, but I received stupid short cynic answers. So in the middle of the press conference I thought to myself: "I'll take my leave, I don't want to deal with them! They are not serious." I was completely pissed off. And in future no press conference will ever see me alive. That this disastrous experience for me would be complete a girl from Leather Throne informed me, that the band's management cancelled all interviews, but if we are still interested, we can send them questions via e-mail and the band will (generously) answer. Nevertheless I've already lost all my appetite, I will do it anyway! I don't expect much, but at least this story will get its final epilogue.
Now let me express my feelings about what happened. It seemed, that Grave Digger's management was really scared to death when band had to travel "over the sea and far, far away". Both management and band seemed frightened, but at the same time they acted as if they were kings and all good people from Leather Throne, who make this event possible and others who came from public media (TV's, radio stations, newspapers) must fall on their knees, to please them. Hell no!
A band that likes to talk loud (I've read a couple of interviews) about poseurs and judge what is true metal, acted in Slovenia as prima donnas. I was told that after Deep Purple's concert in Slovenia (Ljubljana) on 05.12.2003, fans were invited to join the band for after show party in hotel "Slon" (in English language "slon" means an elephant). So, Roger Glover, band's legendary bass player, true rock legend, stayed with fans and discussed about all sort of things till 4 a.m. And hand on the heart, Roger Glover can easily get away with such acting, as we received from Grave Digger. They are no legends of Deep Purple's cult caliber and their name will soon be forgotten. But this obviously fits Grave Digger, so let it be. At least our relations are clear from now on.
So as soon as certain German metal band passes the border of the European Union and arrives into "other" countries, they completely change their policy. If this special happening would be held in Vienna, Graz or Munich, where Slovenian fans are usually forced to anticipate the gigs, you could get autographs or share a word or two with band members etc... They always have a plenty of time for fans. But here in Slovenia, the picture was opposite. No smiles, no warmth, just pure cold routine. They were present only physically. Not in their minds and hearts. I am speechless. Stay in your grave at least for your own sake, as you are preaching in your interviews by stretching mouth to let your big words come right out! It's only talk. Elephant talk. And that's all. Everything is just a simple masquerade, and I am still one among those few crazy enthusiastic believers.
Now let us finally talk about more pleasant things. About music. First to hit the stage were Croatians Undercode. Four pieced act. They've already released three albums in Australia. They are well experienced and thus approached with full balls. I liked especially their drummer. He was a true beast murdering his drum kit especially within an epic song that carries battle rhythms (actually I don't know the song's title). What I liked was the spontaneous approach, gutsy playing and band's hot temperament. They are trying to develop their own recognizable style, which is a mixture of classic heavy metal of Judas Priest caliber with a lot of modern thrashy influences, at least what I've heard in the concert. A fistful of dynamite, truly rockin' on stage. No fear, but pure blasting attack. They also performed Grinder (orig. Judas Priest) and as the last song The Gods Made Heavy Metal (orig. Manowar). The crowd responded madly, singing along with band this last song. Convincible show full of enthusiasm, the sound was great and band's belief unbreakable. Undercode are strong as a unit and I am sure we will hear a lot about them in the future.
Unfortunately Magus Noctum, a very promising extreme black metal act from Ljubljana, which just released a fantastic new album titled "The Fall Of Shin'ar" (2004), had to cancel their gig, due to fact that their drummer got sick.
Next to follow were Requiem. A hard rock band from Slovenia. They've celebrated their tenth year of existence. Sound was superb and performance too. They put also a nice portion of glam inside their live show. All guitarists were wearing long capes looking like crusaders. Singer was surely outstanding with amazing vocal power deriving straight from his guts. His clean vocal was sounding powerful also in very difficult higher sequences. They are a bit older experienced gentlemen, but extremely well tuned and very popular in Slovenia. And their music is? Well they are taking a lot from Rainbow. Unfortunately, I don't know titles of their songs, but as far as I followed their gig, one song contained musical lines very familiar to Rainbow's Stargazer, while next song based on easy yet very effective straight powerful guitar riff that brought close connections with Black Sabbath's late (1989-94) romantic gothic era. You might say: "Well nothing special." But on stage this band sounds truly fantastic. People had a great time and the band was enjoining very much with position they've got. That's how true rock must sound.
Now we were waiting for Grave Digger to get their asses off the buss. I will now talk strictly as a fan. Through the fog and the sound of intro (The Ring), H.P Katzenburg dressed and masked into Reaper took his position behind keyboards. Then next four silhouettes appeared. Crowd responded loud by punching true energetic vibe in band's direction. Rheingold and here they go. All instruments were sounding supreme. Massive guitar riffage, Uncle Reaper's mad devilish raw ripping vocals, Jens's thundering fat bass voltage drives and Stefan's high velocity double bass pedal kicking that pierced the hall laid in great balance and band approached with full balls. I think they were quite surprised over huge response. VPK receives 1000 people, and it was filled with around 700 hot-blooded maniacs who were all singing and breathing with the band. It was phenomenal feeling to see how audience collided with band. Fantasy. Well at the same time, security guards got a plenty of work to do, cause they had to take few people from the hall, cause they were drunk to death. I also met a lot of old friends whom I haven't spoke or seen them for quite a while. Everybody in the hall had a great time. What really moved me was The Battle Of Bannockburn; an epic song of shivering fast guitar and rhythm drives. When song came to it's ending theme, Jens jumped in the center role. Does anyone remember his great instrumentals Over The Rainbow ("Blazon Stone", 1991) or Highland Glory ("Death Or Glory", 1989) while he was with Running Wild? After a while Chris and co. were finally convinced about Slovene fans devotion. No ballads included. Some shivering high atmospheric moments were caught especially inside grandiose mid tempo song The House. Climax was rapidly changing. From "Reaper" (1993) Under My Flag was chosen. Another bomb that detonated the hall. From "Heart Of Darkness" (1995) Circle Of Witches was changed in band's set list with The Grave Dancer. A song of horror and death, with straight blasting main riff, served as another surprise in band's set list. Among others songs like The Grave Digger, Knights Of The Cross, Son Of Evil, Maidens Of War, Morgane Le Fay and Under My Flag were true boneshaking moments that were included in regular part of the show. Band raised climax at the end to its boiling point, I mean this was truly spine tingling moment. First they hit Morgane Le Fay with fantastic clean vocals, clean guitar lines both fantastically counterweighted with Stefan's double pedal kicking in chorus. After "Excalibur's" song, band closed the show epic hymn Twilight Of The Gods with grand collision between orchestra arrangements and straight raw brute force that we are used to get from Diggers. At the end only Manni and Jens remained on stage providing song's final tunes.
Crowd responded loud and straight: "We want more, we want more..." So they stroke back with hit that simply must not miss in their live track lists. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching). Crowd went in the air. All singing loud and twisting crazy along with the band. What an energy!
Guys were in good shape, giving their 100 %. Boltendhal's voice served him supremely. He was approaching with great feeling. And I was very pleased to see Jens, how mood took him completely in. Well, it is known that Jens likes his position on stage more behind, and he always holds his emotions strictly for himself. This time he was constantly moving across the stage and acting very enthusiastic, relaxed and he was communicating with audience all the time. Chris left the audience to sing chorus of the Lionheart. Where I always like to hear Stefan's supersonic double pedal is special bridge just before chorus of Excalibur kicks off. How he incorporates his double bass pedal in overall drum work and song's structures is simply amazing. A true master of his own prophecy. I was also astonished over Manni. Even when he was doing all his solos, overall sound of the band remained full and unharmed. It is amazing how large musical space Manni fills and covers with his guitar. Manni was enjoining especially in Morgane Le Fay. And the way he blazed Knights Of The Cross, and than how crowd yelled on Chris's request at the end of this song: "Murder, murder!!!" Phenomenal cooperation between crowd and band. This only testifies how people in Slovenia are hungry for more events like this.
In second encore Chris announced The Roundtable as "a very special song that we all love to play". In same vein, this song is also my favorite "Excalibur" track. So the final moment was something special. Heavy Metal Breakdown, with no compromises, they tried to blow the speakers off, people were hot as hell and climax electrified to it's maximum. Headbanging, cheering, and shearing that great power of spreading energy vibes. Then Manni, Jens and Chris crossed guitars and microphone and switch into another refrain's circle and ended the show through a fantastic fade out. Oh, by the way, the song Yesterday from band's debut was also included on the set list, but wasn't performed. What a pity.
Grave Digger live in Ljubljana was a metal concert and a celebration day for all Slovene metal maniacs. Grave Digger are after Axxis in 1989 as a Sabbath's support act on their "Headless Cross Tour" and Primal Fear in previous year, third German classic heavy metal rock band that ever played in front of Slovene audience. They did it supremely, with no mistake. I truly hope, that they got at least a slight impression that metal in Slovenia is as alive as elsewhere in Europe. And I hope that they begin to think about us in a bit different more warm, approachable and generous way. Without that bitter experience before the gig, I would use only superlatives in this report. I wish more such events were to follow in Slovenia for the future. I mean true heavy metal rock events! And at the end I must say: a big thanks to the organizer Leather Throne, finally first serious organization to appear in Slovenia with balls enough to take on responsibility for such great event, and to bring it to it's successful end. They've really paid their asses off.
Set list Grave Digger, 19.01.2004, Ljubljana VPK:
1. The Ring (intro)
3. The Dark Of The Sun
4. Son Of Evil
5. Battle Of Bannockburn
7. Under My Flag
8. The Grave Dancer
9. Maidens Of War
10. The House
14. The Grave Digger
15. Knights Of The Cross
16. Morgane Le Fay
17. Twilight Of The Gods
----------------------------------------------------- 1st Encore
18. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)
------------------------------------------------------ 2nd Encore
19. The Roundtable
20. Heavy Metal Breakdown
These are songs that were 100% played on Grave Digger's gig in Ljubljana 19.01.2004. Please, notice that correct running order of track list is questionable. Only first four songs and songs numbered from 16 to 20 are following right live set list's order.