Dragonlord (Tales of the Noble Steel)
What hath heavy metal’s ambassadors, the legendary Manowar, wrought? Not quite the question one – much less, the mentally sane individual – ponders each day, but one to ponder nonetheless. In the smallest of nutshells, Manowar begot a small yet steadfast legion of medieval metalheads, no shittin’ ya’: bands obsessed with power, steel, swords, triumph, knights, barbarians, and epic-length concept song-stories – majestic metal to make everyone from Conan to Sir Gawain crack a grin and foist a stein of mead.
One of the foremost bands in Manowar’s wake who has slogged through the decades unfettered by the evolution and modernism around them is Germany’s Grave Digger. As classy and careening as classic Accept but slightly more volatile and not just a little coked-up, Grave Digger stay true to the Euro-metal sound – a sound long synonymous with Udo and his crew, as well as the Scorpions, Helloween, Running Wild, and any number of Yngwie’s cronies – that’s as old as their native hills on Excalibur, the band’s eighth album overall and the final installment of their “medieval history trilogy.” But before any of you in the peanut gallery start snickering, let’s get this much straight: Grave Digger know their history. Whereas many a heavy metal band toys with such imagery in their lyrics and what not, but ultimately ends up bungling whole eras and origins of history, on Excalibur – you guessed it – Grave Digger focus on the history of King Arthur and his round table (their previous album, Knights of the Cross, focused on that of the Knights Templar [!]), coating such tales as “Tristan’s Fate,” “Pendragon,” and the title track with such a powerful veneer, it’s best to read the lyric book after being bowled over by the overwhelmingly Teutonic wallop. Per usual, Chris “Parcival” Boltendahl’s Gargamel vocals are still intact, crotch-constricting as ever, which suits the material like an equally constricting glove, but “constricting” is the operative word here: an otherwise beautiful ballad, “Emerald Eyes” gets butchered to embarrassing, yet somehow fascinating effect, Boltendahl gurgling the story of King Arthur’s love for Guinevere while on his deathbed; truly, truly sounds beyond comprehension.
On the surface, Domine may look like the new-schooled successors to Grave Digger, what with the sword-wielding guy, who looks like a cross between Ronnie James Dio and Edgar Winter, riding a dragon on the cover of Dragonlord (Tales of the Noble Steel) and all. Well, not quite so. As with any band flying the power-metal flag, Domine has chops for miles – it’s what they do with them that really counts (or, in this case, doesn’t add up). So, on Dragonlord, the band’s debut album, we find Domine going through the motions of Helloween worship, and going through them quite well, kinda like someone one-upping you in something as mundane as aerobics – frustrating, but at the end of the day, it’s still aerobics, still mundanity. That’s not to say Domine should be the target of anyone’s invectives more so than any of their equally licentious contemporaries (who mostly freeload said band’s chops, riffs, identity, etc.), but when you factor in the overt medieval imagery, the transparency becomes as clear as brand-new glass. Which is to say, then, that power-metalheads are gonna’ laud praise upon Dragonlord just as they would with any other album with clean vox and galloping rhythms. Sigh.
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