After three albums, German headbangers Grave Digger decided to re-tool their image and revamp their sound for 1987’s Stronger Than Ever (Noise Records). They wanted to reach a wider audience and make more money. This seemed like a bold leap for a band that, up to this point, sounded like Accept on crack.
The Grave Digger reboot included dropping the “Grave” from their name. They also added synthesizers to some of their songs for that all-important pop sheen. They prettied up the choruses — hoping to impregnate brains with overly-repetitive refrains. Furthermore, Digger elected to use that notorious over-processed eighties drum sound that we all know and hate (this is, by far, the worst thing about this album). Lastly, and for reasons unknown, Digger decided to put a robot duck flexing his bicep on their album cover. Seems about right. You see, this was supposed to be a “sell-out” album for Digger, but if you listen to Stronger Than Ever it is plain as day that these Teutonic metal-heads didn’t know the first thing about selling out! Heavy metal was too ingrained in their DNA. The final product is a confusing transfusion of pop sounds into what is mostly (quite) heavy metal. In some songs, the cheesy eighties keyboards seem completely superfluous — as if they were added to “soften” the impact of Digger’s metal bloodletting. Vocalist Chris Boltendahl was probably the biggest reason for this sell-out subterfuge. Sure, he sings in a “clean” voice some of the time, but he spends about three-quarters of the album using his trademark caustic “metal” voice.
What’s interesting about this album is that when Digger go full-on pop (on the title track) they kind of pull it off. This synth-driven track has a hypnotic quality to it. Other tracks that meld cheese pop and metal are surprisingly palatable. There are even a couple of full-blown OTT speed metal numbers — as if Digger just couldn’t resist feeding their metal jones.
Aside for the truly obnoxious (and distracting) drum sound, this album is an interesting experiment that works to a certain degree. However, it failed commercially and led to the band’s break up. Today, Grave Digger fans look upon Stronger Than Ever as the red-headed step child of the Grave Digger catalog — unloved and unwanted. My score: B-