This year heavy metal icons Grave Digger Will be hitting a major milestone as they celebrate their 40th anniversary. The band has also released a brand-new album Fields of blood, which is the third in the conclusion of their Highlands trilogy series. I caught up with frontman Chris Boltendahl to talk a bit about the anniversary, the new album, and what the future holds for the band.
Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. How are you and the rest of the band doing?
We are all doing well. The only thing is we can’t play live but we will be releasing a new record. So that is something positive. And so we’re looking for better times now.
Yeah, it’s been a little hard not seeing shows. But it’s also and good chance to take some time and appreciate things.
Yet in the end, heavy metal lives for live shows. From the energy to the atmosphere. Here in Germany, we started drive-in cinema concerts or ghost shows on the internet with live streaming. But Grave Digger won’t do that because we need the people to get our energy on stagee. We need to see people again, and we will just have to wait to get back our freedom and to play real live shows again.
Well, as you mentioned in a few days, you’ll be releasing the third and final chapter of the Highland trilogy. How are you feeling about the release?
We’re really proud because we put our heart and soul into this album. We worked really hard for nine months on the production, composing the songs, and creating the concept.
As a musician, you are proud and also a little bit excited because you want to see how people react to a new album. But in the times of the Internet, you have to start the promotion really early. Now we know more or less that people will love it because we got feedback from the first three released songs. So it’s easier.
With the album being focused on Scottish history. What made you connect so deeply with this place and its culture.
Have you ever been there?
I have! I went there when I was in college. I studied in London and I went up to Edinburgh for the fringe festival and it was a very magical place.
Then you know why we love Scotland. It is a very special place. I started there 25 years ago before we wrote the “Tunes of War” album and I was just caught by this mystical atmosphere of the Highlands the castles, and all these other things.
Also the weather, it’s so strange sometimes. It started with sunlight, and then five minutes later it’s like a hurricane. And I can’t put it into words because Scotland has lived for 25 years in my heart. Two years ago was the last time I was there with my family. I was there with my 12-year-old boy and I showed him all the castles and I told him about all the famous people like William Wallace, Robert the Bruce.
Then I noticed I had to tell more about this fantastic history and then we decided to do the third part in the final into this trilogy.
Some of the songs swiftly combine a bit of folk with rock metal and the album features a great ballad. The single “Thousand Tears” has been a real standout track. How did the collaboration with Noora Louhimo come to be and what was it like working with her?
Working with her was a pleasure because she’s a professional and she knows what she has to do. We were originally going to choose Alissa from Arch Enemy, but she didn’t have the time to do it. She was so busy with other projects.
And then we were wondering, what can we do? Should we do it like we did 10 years ago with Doro as we did on The Ballad of Mary (Queen of Scots)? Then we remembered that we played with a young band from Finland a couple of times, and they had a track out called “Black Ninja.” I thought, she would be great for our ballad and so we contacted her and she said “yes, I would love to work with you.”
So last November we picked her up here in Germany when they were on tour with Battle Beast and we recorded it here in Germany.
Oh, that’s wonderful! I wanted to talk about the bagpipes and the massive metal guitars that seem to blend really well in your music. “Fields of Blood” definitely attest to that. What is the secret to successfully blending folk music and hard-hitting rock and roll so that everything fits so perfectly?
The main difference is with the first two parts of the Scottish history albums, is that we made the metal music first then we added the bagpipes in later. But this time we made it another way, we wrote songs more or less for the bagpipes.
So we thought, ok this is the tune of the bagpipes and this is what we have to do. We did a lot of thinking about that. And we knew before we made the actual metal music what kind of bagpipes, which parts they would fit into the songs.
I think that is the main difference and it’s also the secret why the sound is so compacted together. I love it. The great Highlands bagpipes are a great instrument. It was an instrument used in wars in Scotland, and in the ballad, we use in Irish bagpipe called the uilleann bagpipe which is something different for that song.
So it was kind of like a reverse formula for you?
Yes, it was.
Do you think that you’ll ever do any more concept albums or a series that is similar to the Highlands trilogy?
The Highlands trilogy is going to end with the release of the new album on Friday. I think we’ve told people a lot of things now about Scottish history and the mystics side of Scotland. We’ve actually already thought about the next concept album and the concept that we aregoing to use. It is going to be cool for us and I think we start writing the new album next month.
Did you plan to have this album released in the same year that you’re celebrating your 40th anniversary?
More or less. We wanted to do something special for our 40th anniversary. And we just said yes, we need to do another part of the Scottish history series. But in the end, we had so many plans for our 40th anniversary, but COVID-19 destroyed everything.
We wanted to do a video for “Lions of the Sea” we had booked fairies and flights to Scotland in the beginning of April. With 25 people, with artist fighters and everything. But we had to cancel it the day before we were going to fly over. So we had to do a new video from nothing.
That’s really unfortunate. I would love to see you guys some go back and create your original vision.
Yeah. But now it’s really expensive and we have no idea how it’s going to work going forward. Because the UK is also really fucked up with COVID-19. So I think at the moment it is not a good idea. But we don’t give up! We now have three videos out. The one with Noora, the lyric video, and the most recent one featuring some of our live scenes from our shows in Japan.
So that was the best we can do and now we have to wait. We’ll see what the future brings.
Well, 40 years is an amazing milestone. You’ve seen so many bands come and go, and you’ve also seen many music business trends rise and fall. What is something that stayed the same through and through?
I think that would have to be the music itself. I grew up with heavy metal music since I was 12 years old. I was totally fascinated by this kind of music and I wanted to be a rock star too. When I was a young man I went to all the shows from all these big bands; Maiden, Kiss, Deep Purple. So a couple of years later my dream came true and I’ve got to play with some of my favorite idols.
Who is your number one idol that you got to play music with?
Oh, it’s Ronnie James Dio. That’s my number one, and I also love Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, and I also love David Lee Roth!
That’s awesome. I’m a concert photographer and I have bucket list bands that I’ve been shooting and it’s such an amazing feeling to be shooting in working with someone you’ve admired for so long.
Yeah, when I was a kid and when Dio played I was in the first row screaming “Ronnie!, Ronnie!” I was 16 years old and I was just fascinated with how he was singing and also acting. 20 years later I got to play with him here in Germany on the same stage. Shaking hands, drinking beers together, it was really awesome.
That’s amazing! I know that COVID-19 has impacted many hard-working bands like Grave Digger and has forced many musicians to change their plans. You spoke about your plans for the album, but now that touring is impossible, you also mentioned the concept of driving tours, but as you mentioned you guys need the fans. Is there anything else you guys are working on to promote the album that doesn’t include direct face-to-face contact with fans?
I think that we will do something. In the future would like to talk to the fans directly asking for their reactions to the album. But on the other side, we start writing new songs.
We are full of energy and we have all this stuff already in our head. So as long as we can’t play live we write songs and go into the studio to record them. And if we can’t play the festivals or tour next year, then we will definitely release a new record for the summertime. Because we want to give the people something from us you know?
Yeah. Do you think that the industry is now changed forever because of the pandemic?
I think so. Because there are a lot of us here in Germany, and I don’t know how many of us would survive. How many stages will be ready for the bands that COVID-19 has gotten. But that’s something we really don’t have any influence on. I’m not thinking the best so far, but I hope for the best.
As a German band, you’re in the heart of continental Europe. Is there any particular country or scene that has inspired you the most?
Not really. Scotland has for sure, but not really anything else around me.
Do you guys have any plans to travel at all when this is lifted to go find more inspiration?
I think traveling is also a special thing for the future. What I enjoyed when we played with Blind Guardian in the US 2015-2016, we did 18,000 km for each tour around the US starting on the east side and going to Canada, moving over from the West from Vancouver down to LA. It was amazing. It’s something that’s really special in the life of a musician.
Seeing all these different countries and places in the US. My favorite town was the city of San Francisco. I love California, but I also love a lot of parts in the US. I want to travel there in the future, I just don’t think that it’s going to happen within the next two years.
There are a lot of beautiful places in North America. You kind of get a little bit of everything. I’m in Detroit right now, but I lived in LA for 10 years. I miss the sunshine, but here in Detroit, you guys have a good fan base. People in Michigan and Detroit area are really into metal. It’s kind of something that keeps people going.
I know we played there in Pontiac. I remember that. Chicago, Pontiac, it was really good.
When you guys do go back on tour, please be sure to make a pit stop here. We’d love to have you!
We would love to come over again. We pray for everybody that they stay healthy and we see all our fans alive when we go back on tour.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, Chris. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans?
Enjoy our new record. We do our best, and stay healthy!Buy The Album Here Grave Digger On Facebook Grave Digger On Instagram