German power metal band Grave Digger were formed in late 1980 by frontman Chris Boltendahl, guitarist Peter Masson, bassist Willi Lackmann, and drummer Albert Eckardt. Debuting three years later on the Rock from Hell compilation, Grave Digger returned in 1984 with the full-length Heavy Metal Breakdown; after the following year's Witch Hunter, Lackmann left the lineup and was replaced by bassist C.F. Brank for 1986's War Games. The group then shortened its name to simply Digger for 1987's Stronger Than Ever, which saw guitarist Uwe Lulis substituting for Masson; Boltendahl then dissolved the project, finally reuniting with Lulis in 1991 and recruiting new bassist Tomi Gottlich and drummer Jörg Michael for The Reaper, credited once again to Grave Digger. Drummer Frank Ullrich replaced Michael for 1995's Heart of Darkness, with percussion duties handled by Stefan Arnold on Tunes of War; with the departure of Gottlich, Jens Becker assumed the bass for 1998's Knights of the Cross. Keyboardist H.P. Katzenburg expanded the Grave Digger lineup to a five-piece for Excalibur, issued a year later.
Arriving in 2001, the macabre The Grave Digger drew some of its inspiration from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, while 2003's ambitious concept album Rheingold was based on Richard Wagner's epic Der Ring des Nibelungen. Released in 2005, the critically acclaimed The Last Supper, despite featuring several songs concerning the last days of Jesus Christ, saw the band dropping the narrative-driven architecture of previous outings, as did 2007's Liberty or Death. Ballads of a Hangman, the band's 14th studio long-player, marked the first Grave Digger outing to feature twin guitars, and served as the band's inaugural release for new label Napalm. A flurry of lineup changes heralded the arrival of 2010's Clans Will Rise Again, which served as a "loose sequel" to 1996's medievally inspired Tunes of War, and a 2012 EP, Clash of the Gods, provided fans some sonic sustenance while they waited for the band's much anticipated 17th studio album. Their patience was rewarded with the release of Return of the Reaper in 2014 and Healed by Metal in 2017. ~ Jason Ankeny