Grave Digger - Chris Boltendahl

GRAVE DIGGER decided to return to the Highlands to conclude the William Wallace-inspired trilogy with a bang. Really, this album can stand on the side of “Tunes Of War” without blushing, and this says a lot for all of us who met this German band through that album. METAL KAOZ got Chris Boltendahl on the other side of Skype and discussed the new album and then some. Check our nice discussion out below, and remember to join the Clan!

Hello Chris and welcome back to METAL KAOZ! How are you?
I’m fine, thank you very much. How are you?

I’m good considering the situation with the virus.
Nice to hear that.

Well, how are you doing as a musician in the middle of this pandemic right now?
What a musician can do?! Making interviews, hanging around, thinking about live shows... Waiting for better times, basically. We have a lot to do as far as promotion goes for the new album. We have also to do a lot of organization things; moving shows to next year, talking to promoters; yeah, there’s a lot of stuff to do.

Sure, going to live shows will be missed, but it’s better to be safe, right?
For sure, because we’re not the only people who can’t do a show, but I don’t want to have 500 people in the floor and then 400 of them go home with Corona, you know.

I saw the band’s posting on Facebook about not doing shows and not willing to do shows in front of cars or in concerts with 1.5 m distance. So, what was the drive to issue such a statement online?
Can you imagine playing in front of 300 cars? A Heavy Metal show? Or having a show with people having to stay or sit at 1.5 m distance from each other? That’s not Heavy Metal, my friend. Heavy Metal is sweating, screaming, yelling people together with the band, and at the end of the show the fans and the band growing together to one unit. But all these things, that people are trying to do now playing shows through internet in an empty hall and streaming music to the fans at home or playing these quarantine shows, that is not what I have in mind. When I was young, and I started listening to Metal, I loved to be at a Heavy Metal show. And I can’t imagine doing this it the way I mentioned on the Facebook post, you know.

That makes sense. Although it would be interesting to see a moshpit with cars, right? (laughs)
Yeah, definitely! That would be really fun. But I dunno for whom the fun would be. At the end, if you’d have a lot of smashed cars, injured people or – I dunno (laughs).

Well, I’m just trying to be funny but you can see that some bands are kind of forced pushed to do that, to kind of find ways to have some kind of support, who knows… But I definitely see what you’re saying. Anyhow, last time we spoke together it was some three or four years ago, and you said you had gotten tired of making concept albums, so what did change your mind this time?
Two years ago, I was in Scotland with my family, and my boy was 12 years old at that time, and we moved to the battlefields and saw all the famous castles, and I told him about the history of Scotland and he was really interested. And this time, I noticed by myself that I had not finished telling this story to the people and I felt I had to do it again. And then we did it; it was a really fast decision. I called Axel and said Axel, we have to do another album about Scottish history” and he agreed. He told me instantly “yeah”. So, two years ago, I started writing the songs and creating the concept.

So, did you have in mind what stories to tell in the album, or it was music first and then the lyrics?
No, this time it was the concept and the lyrics and then the music.

Awesome! Did you also think “let’s make something special” since this album will mark the 40th anniversary of the band?
That’s a long time, man! (laughs)

[interrupting] To be honest, this album has a vibe of “Tunes Of War”. I dunno if it’s my emotions talking here but it’s closer to that album. I know that you released another album in the middle, “The Clans Will Rise Again”, but this one is closer to “Tunes Of War”. Did you do that on purpose or it just happened?
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of it has to do with this vibe from “Tunes Of War”. I think it’s different, musically and from the lyrical concept, but I think the vibe of “Tunes Of War” is more or less the same, you know. And I hope the people will love this album like they love “Tunes Of War”. Perhaps they’ll love it in 10 years from now – we’ll have to wait and see (laughs). That was also the reason why we changed this cover artist this time. I wanted to have something different, more in the painting of the “Tunes Of War” cover. Have you seen the cover artwork so far?

Yeah, and I can see there’s the bag-piper way in the back where the castle is burning. (laughs) You’ve hidden him so well (laughs).
(laughs) From time to time I need this kind of gimmicks, you know. I think in “Tunes Of War” we did it really well – the cover fits so good the music, so when people see that cover are like “wow, it’s like the battle in Scotland” and then they say “ok, I’ll listened to the record and discover GRAVE DIGGER. But for all the old fans, it’s another journey to Scottish history from a different side. This time I tell the people the emotional side. I have a little concept in a few sentences I can explain it to you;

Absolutely, please go ahead.
My name is Edward McLean, I’m a clan’s member of the McLean clan. I’m working in a museum and it’s really boring to work in a museum. All day I have to see paintings and art, and people aren’t telling you a word, so when sitting in the museum, I start sleeping and in my daydreams I’m a warrior, I go back to my own history and I fight together with Malcolm the Second, or with William Wallace, or with Robert the Bruce, and this is my role on this album. I tell the people the role of Edward McLean who is travelling through time like the Highlander, and I can tell people more about the emotional side because I lived with these people and fought with William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. “Tunes Of War” was more or less a history lesson – Tomi Göttlich who wrote this concept with me together was a history English history teacher so he had a lot of ideas too. But the new one is different. So, it’s interesting that you feel the same vibe. I think the vibe between these two albums is more or less the same, and it’s cool to have it after 24 years together from an album that was released in the ‘90s.

What you just described as the concept of “Fields Of Blood”, although it may sound cheesy but I don’t care, it takes me back to my childhood when I was listening to this albums and reading about these stories. In a way, it feels like you are becoming part of the story, you know, and when you’re going to the concert, you had this special connection with the band. And to me, this is great. Anyway, do you think that this will be the last time that GRAVE DIGGER visited the Highlands?
Yeah, I think so. It was critical to me to do it again but now the story is over. I don’t have to tell something more, and you read my Facebook post; as long as we can’t play live, we’ll record albums, so Axel and I have already started talking about a new album next year if we can’t play again live shows through this coronavirus crisis. I think we’ll start composing new songs next month and the only thing I can tell is that it will be another concept CD definitely and we’ve already worked on this concept album as far as the album cover art and everything, so we wanna use this time. Because if you can’t play live, you have to be creative. I hate hanging around at home and yelling at my computer about not being able to play live! (laughs) I have really, really fresh and good ideas and I’d like to create a new album and record it. Why not? You wanna give to people new music.

Absolutely, that’s great news! The only downside to this is that, as a fan speaking, I want to spend some time with the album to digest it, but I guess one year is enough, especially with no live shows happening.
I think so; if you’ll listen for one year to “Fields Of Blood”, you’ll be able to sing everything from that album, so you’ll need some more stuff again.

I’d like to ask you; “The Heart Of Scotland”, the song, has some bagpipe melodies that kind of reminded me Gary Moore’s “Over The Hills And Far Away”. Unless this is some sort of well-known tune that I’m not aware of, is there any connection to it?
I think the Scottish bagpipes are totally different to the Irish bagpipes. We use an Irish bagpipe in the ballad; it’s called Uilleann pipe and it’s very small as you can see also in the video, the guy who is playing the thing. The great Irish bagpipe is originally from Scotland and I know what you mean “it’s from Gary Moore’s “Over The Hills And Far Away”. It’s some kind of tribute you know. It fits very well to the song and I know this melody is more or less Irish but we made it Scottish. (laughs)

Fair enough (laughs). And you have the duet with Noora from BATTLE BEAST.
Yes, she’s an incredible singer and she slipped into the role of Queen Mary. I think she made an awesome job and she can sing very emotionally and also scream like hell and she fits very well to the song. We couldn’t find any better person to create this sequel to “The Ballad Of Mary”.

I was thinking it’d be cool to have both bands in the US touring, so you two could play that song, but who knows… So, how will this situation work for you putting one album per year? I mean, do you think it can be hard for the band to find that inspiration mode?
I have a lot of inspiration. Before we started to record this new album, we more or less had ideas for the follow-up. I don’t know why, we can’t stop our creativity – it’s like we are addicted to do it. Axel and I are a really good combination, you know, and we can’t stop writing music. The older we get, the more addicted we get writing music. It’s crazy.

We don’t mind that at all (laughs), so please keep doing that. Now that you mentioned you and Axel, I don’t know if it’s just me, I think the mix / production of the album had put more light on the guitars and maybe on the bass too, because I love what Jens is going on the bass in this album. So, did you do anything differently this time, production-wise?
No, I think it depends on the songs and not on the production. The production is more or less the same like on the other albums. But if you’re working with different songs and a different concept, it sounds different. Also, it depends on the time; two years is a lot, one year is a lot if you’re doing a record, and we like to improve our music from album to album and we’re working really hard. Sometimes it happened in a good way, sometimes it comes out not as we’d like to do it. But this time I have been listening to this record for about a month, two-three times a day, and I’m not getting bored about it. I can’t find anything that it could have been done better, and that shows me that this album is nearly 99% perfect as we’d like to have it.

Until the next one.
Until the next record, that will be 101%.

As we wrap this interview, we talked about the 40 anniversary of the band; so, if you were to compare GRAVE DIGGER at “Heavy Metal Breakdown” and “Fields Of Blood”, what is the first thing that comes to mind as the biggest change?
What can I tell you... More or less it’s been 36 years between those two albums and a lot of things have happened during all this time. I went with the band through very good times and also through very, very bad times, you know. But at the end, all these things made me to the person I am today and I am really a happy guy. Perhaps this is also the reason why I can’t stop writing music because I’m so happy doing so. I have so much fun writing this kind of music and also to play it live; it is unbelievable. Sometimes I’m looking at myself in the mirror and say “is it you, Chris? Is this really your creativity?” and sometimes I can’t believe it. It’s me and I don’t care what people think about it. I stand here with my family, I stand here with my band and I gained a lot of experience in the record business. I’m so happy that I was born into a time when Heavy Metal and Hard Rock were growing up. I’m a child of the ‘80s; I went to my first show in 1978 and saw AC/DC with Bon Scott, RAINBOW with Dio and Cozy Powell. Nobody can’t steal my memories. I’ve spent my life in such a good way and if I die tomorrow, I’ll leave something, you know, that people can remember me. To play music is the greatest gift on earth.

Since we talked about not being able to play live, tomorrow Bundesliga starts, right?
Yes (laughs).

How bizarre is this?
I’m a big fan because I live in Cologne and I’m a great fan of FC Köln but it’s crazy they start playing again because we can’t play live shows but for the money the Bundesliga starts again. Still, I will watch the game. But we love crazy things (laughs).

Ok Chris, thank you very much for your time! I wish you the best and please stay safe.
You too, my friend. Kalinixta [“good night” in perfect Greek] and enjoy your life!