With metal anthems like ‘Heavy Metal Breakdown’, GRAVE DIGGER are one of the most influential and pioneering bands of the German heavy metal scene since the early 80s, and 2020 will celebrate the 40th anniversary of these Teutonic metal masters! The ethos of the band has not changed, and yet GRAVE DIGGER sound modern and timeless like never before. We talked with Axel „Ironfinger“ Ritt about their 40th anniversary and a lot more. Read on below!
Hello! You already have 40 years of activity and you are one of the most influential band in the world metal scene. Starting from the very beginning, how did you see the road to up here? Can we refer about a dream that came true or the responsibility you now have become a burden?
Well, we were lucky guys. Some band development hit by accident, some were „right time, right place“ and some of them were hard work. I guess the last albums were just hard work, because the music scene has changed a lot and you can only survive by getting the best out of everything.
If Grave Digger were a normal guy, how would look like in its 40s and with such an intense activity?
Like Brad Pitt!
Metal music has changed, its vibe seems to calm down over the years and it looks like there is no longer that revolt that produced so many memorable songs. I am convinced that there are differences of mentality and attitude between the 80s and the present. What exactly are they, if there are any, and where does the creative freedom and anger has lost?
Not the music has changed, the people did. The internet and toys like playstation are the new gods to the youngsters. They are a lot easier to handle and you don’t have to practice 10 years before the controller starts to do what you want him to do. It’s the normal change of live, everything became cheaper, everything became easier, you don’t have to be creative by yourself, you can download lyrics and song structures by aggregators on the internet and when you’re not able to play live, no matter, start your MacBook and get everything by backing tracks while you can take care about your choreography. 90% of the audience will give a fuck, how much music while a live show will be played by a PC. Most of the modern metal bands are not able to perform a single song without backing tracks, so there is no sense in taking care about crap like that.
Is heavy metal still rocking on? Or has it become the music of cool parents?
It depends on the definition of heavy metal. Modern metal doesn’t rock, it’s the try to put as much aggression as possible in sound structures, I avoid calling it „songs“, nether you can’t dance or swing to these rhythms, nor you can sing the melody lines, because there are no hooks. Heavy metal of the eighties is pop music these days, great to hear, easy to consume. It doesn’t „hurt“ anymore.
‘Fields of Blood’ is the 20th album of your career, such an extremely difficult thing for many bands to accomplish. What keeps on feeding your energy to create?
Well, the answer is pretty simple, it’s 10% inspiration and 90% transpiration. It’s hard work to keep your output interesting for the fans, but it’s our job. We learned this trade and we will use it as long as we think it makes sense.
Grave Digger has a number of distinct elements that transform your songs into true heavy anthems. Has ‘Fields of Blood’ followed the same recipe?
Yes, it’s classic GRAVE DIGGER all over. We do have about 3 typical GD styles plus the bagpipes for the very last time, so there can’t be more GD on a record.
In so many years you must have gone through all sort of situations. Can you tell us about an unusual behind the scene situation that got stuck in your head?
The Wacken Open Air headliner show in 2010. I was performing with a cable and we had a big bagpipe orchestra live on stage, and when they entered the stage, everybody of them stomped on my cable before my show started. We had a live DVD recording and I was so afraid that when I’ll enter the stage, the cable will be broken and there will be silence on stage regarding the guitar. Luckily it went well.
One that listen to music imagines at some point being in his favorite’s band shoes. When you were teenagers and first started listening to music, who did you dream of being?
Gary Moore, Brian May, Scott Gorham (because of a great shot in a German newspaper …)
What was the most difficult album: the first one or the most recent?
Not difficult, but intense, definitely the most recent one. The only difficulties we ever had were the exhausting and senseless discussions while the recordings with some former band members.
How do you feel this pandemic period, with the restrictions imposed and festivals canceled?
The situation in Germany is the worst disaster you can imagine. There are some music industry organizations like GEMA for example, where you can tell how much money you’ve lost because of no live shows, but the money you get is just a credit and completely billable with your further income. Germany is a very rich country and the government pays from the tax income 9.000 Millions Euro for Lufthansa or close to 7.000 Millions Euro for the Deutsche Bahn for example, but not a fucking cent for solo self-employed. Of course politicians are only interested in supporting companies, who will give them a job, when they were kicked out of the government at the end of their career, so they take the taxes from the poor, give it to the rich and the rich will take care of you. Simply an indirect corruption, works fine for the politicians since decades. Everybody knows, nobody cares. Musicians are not „system-relevant“ and it’s a lot cheaper for the government to kick thousands of artists to social care, instead of supporting them. The devil only throws his dirt always on the biggest pile, you know. Most of my colleagues will not survive the crises, so the venues will do as well. The complete music scene is slowly dying, everybody is watching it, but nobody cares. Live music is gone!
We know you are inspired both by literary creations (Edgar Alan Poe) and classical opera (Richard Wagner). What would a book about Grave Digger sound like, and who would write it?
Sound like the Planet Suite by Holst, written by Shakespeare.
How do you plan to spend both the 40th anniversary and the 20th studio material?
There were many special open air shows planed with a big entourage of guest musicians like Wacken, Rockharz, Rockhard and many more, but Corona killed it all. We try to perform as many as possible of the shows in 2021.
If you could repeat a concert, with its atmosphere and everything, what would it be and why?
The best concert, I’ve ever been was a small club show of Kings X about 15 years ago close to my place. Perfect musicians with a perfect sound and a well informed audience. You couldn’t do better.
We are a platform from Romania, so we have a curiosity. How do you see Romanian metal scene from there? And what would make you visit Romania?
I’m very sorry to tell, but I don’t know any Romanian band so far, but that does not mean that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t have the time to listen to other bands anymore. Of course we would love to play in Romania as soon as the local promoters will ask us to perform.
GRAVE DIGGER is:
Chris Boltendahl – Vocals
Axel „Ironfinger“ Ritt – Guitar
Jens Becker – Bass
Marcus Kniep – Drums