Album review: Neuroticos “Kill for God”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Brazilian-Japanese death metal band Neuroticos is finally releasing its debut full-length studio album some 15 years after forming. The wait has been worth it. This is one crushing metal album without compromises.

Formed in Hiroshima, Japan in 2004, Neuroticos is led by Brazilian brothers Bruno Dias Matsuda (vocals) and Kleber Dias Matsuda (guitar) and also consists of Jumpei Nakamura on bass and Yuichi Ishiguro on drums. I have seen them perform live in Tokyo a number of times and have always been impressed with their crushing delivery of this terrific kind of underground death metal. Neuroticos’ music is always brutal, crushing and without compromises. If you like your metal extreme and hard-hitting, this is a band for you. Neuroticos plays a version of metal firmly based on old-school death metal, but without sounding dated. This is not retro music. This is here and now. They have created their own music based on Brazil’s proud tradition of extreme metal. “Kill for God”, the band’s first full-length album, opens with some haunting church bells and some splendid heavy guitar riffs before the mayhem kicks off. The title track is among the album’s best tracks. It’s like being hit in the face with a metal bar and then dragged behind a getaway car. Fantastic! “Blinded by War” is another favourite track. But “Pray Until You Die” is the stand-out track on this album for me. It immediately knocks you to the ground, helps you up on your feet again, only to kick you to the ground again. Brutal! Overall “Kill for God” is a splendid album and Neuroticos is among the best of the many interesting metal bands in Japan today.

Neuroticos’ album “Kill for God” will be released on 16th June. To mark the release of the album, the band will tour Japan during July with shows in Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Nagano, Nagoya and Sapporo.

Gig review: Lucifer | “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” on stage in Tokyo

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Lucifer, one of the best rock bands in Sweden right now, returned to Japan with a close to flawless rock show of the best kind.

Lucifer at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 10th June 2019

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

It’s a rainy Monday evening in Tokyo. But it’s OK as Lucifer from Sweden is here to entertain us with a terrific rock show. To call Lucifer a Swedish band is a bit of a stretch. The band formed in Berlin, Germany in 2014 with no Swedish members. From those early days of Lucifer, only German lead singer Johanna Sadonis remains. The band is nowadays based in Sweden and three of the five members are Swedes: Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, Entombed, MC5) on drums, Linus Björklund (Vojd) and Martin Nordin (Dead Lord) on guitars – and some awesome coordinated stage moves. The current line-up also features Austrian bassist Alexander Mayr.

Lucifer’s music is doomy, at times dreamy and always very good. Backstage after the show, Nicke Andersson describes Lucifer’s music to me as “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” and that is a fitting description. Lucifer’s song material is strong, very strong. Initially, Sadonis wrote songs with legendary Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings. Gaz was an original member of Lucifer who made his mark on the first album and the first few tours. Nowadays, Sadonis writes the songs together with her husband Nicke Andersson, who joined the band in 2017 after Gaz had departed.

Nicke Andersson of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

This evening at Club Quattro in Shibuya we get a tremendous 19-song set. We get all the nine songs from the band’s most recent album, 2018’s “Lucifer II”, including the Rolling Stones cover “Dancing with Mr D”. From the band’s 2015 debut album, we get treated to five terrific tracks: “Abracadabra”, “Izrael”, “Morning Star”, “Purple Pyramid” and “Anubis”. We get a few more covers: “Snowblind” (Black Sabbath), “Bomber” (Motörhead) and, a husband-and-wife duet by Nicke and Johanna, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” (ZZ Top). We also get an absolutely fantastic version of “Take Me Away (Together as One”) from KISS legend Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album. It’s a fitting song choice as Johanna Sadonis, like Paul Stanley, is a complete entertainer that commands attention. She has a terrific voice that gets to shine on all songs. But she’s not just a voice, she has a stage presence and charisma second to none. She has the whole package and is a dominating force on stage that leads her band from the front.

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

There seems to be nonstop energy on stage throughout the show. This is a band that doesn’t stop – they are here to perform and will do so no matter what. The show’s highlights for me include the smashing tracks “Dreamer”, “California Son” and “Purple Pyramid”. A brand new and yet unreleased song, the splendid “Ghosts”, shows us that the band already has started to create some great new material for the band’s third album which is expected to be released in the spring of 2020. This is one fine evening of exquisite rock delivered almost flawlessly by a terrific band. Swedish or not, this is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and best bands in Sweden.

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

EP review: The Babes “It Ain’t Easy”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Aussie rock band The Babes has a great EP out and will tour Japan this month.

“It Ain’t Easy” is a four-track EP that is a great introduction to The Babes, a good-fun rock band based in Adelaide, Australia. It’s a family business: three of the four members are siblings and their dad is their manager. Of the four great tracks on the EP, my favourite is the terrific “Ride It”, a rock song with a punk attitude. The band has opened for artists such as Ace Frehley, Hardcore Superstar, Cherie Currie and Sebastian Bach, which should give you a hint of what type of music this is. This is meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll made to entertain. It’s straightforward party music, nothing too deep. Bring out the beers and turn up the volume. The Babes are here to give you a good time. The EP closes with “Always Ridin’” a hair metal power ballad that is a soundtrack to get laid to. They call their music “underdog rock”, but that will have to change soon as these Aussies are now winners. Live on stage these songs will be great at getting a crowd going. The band has already toured the US and extensively at home in Australia. Now they’re taking on Japan.

The Babes will play in Tokyo on Sunday 23rd June as one of the opening acts for Girlschool and Venom Inc, and will also do gigs in Tachikawa and Kyoto as well as an in-store appearance in Osaka.

Interview: Conrado Pesinato | Escaping from Alcatrazz to get Out Of The Woods

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

He made a name for himself as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet Band and also sitting in for the Alcatrazz reunion of 2017 when he filled in for Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai (as documented on the live release “Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017”). Now Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato is hard at work with his new band, Out Of The Woods in Los Angeles. When he recently visited Tokyo again on tour with Marco Mendoza, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Conrado at his hotel in Roppongi to talk about his career.

Conrado Pesinato played with bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous, an LA rock band fronted by Tomirae Brown, the widow of James Brown. In 2015, Beth-Ami subsequently brought him into the Graham Bonnet Band which she was forming with the legendary Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz vocalist. In GBB, Conrado played a significant role as guitarist, songwriter and producer of the band’s 2016 album “The Book”. He toured Japan twice with GBB. First in 2015 when GBB opened for Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (when Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time since their brief time together in MSG). In 2017, GBB did a headline tour of Japan which also included the terrific Alcatrazz reunion with Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea reunited on stage in Tokyo.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You’ve done two Japan tours and now you’re here for the third time. “That’s right! The first time was 2015 and…2017, yes. It seems to be the pattern, every two years I am back” says Conrado with a big smile as we sit down at his hotel a few hours after he has landed in Japan. 

What’s your best Japan memory so far? “Too many. Too many! Ah, Jesus. Where do I even start? The first one was really special. It was my first time in the country. It was my first time experiencing all the excitement about rock music that the Japanese fans have. It spoils the whole thing for you and anywhere else you play after that. It’s not quite the same. And seeing Graham and Michael for the first time together, being a fan, that was cool. But the second time was really special too because that time we were headlining.”

Is it different for you as a guitarist to step into a band like Alcatrazz compared to playing your own music? “Yeah, that was a lot different, for sure. I’m a lot more comfortable… I think I excel as a songwriter and doing my thing. I think I did a decent enough job honouring those songs in those performances. But, by all means, I was never to do that, playing Yngwie note for note. That’s just not the kind of player I was. So, it was challenging. A lot of growth for me, I learnt a lot trying to make justice to those songs. It was challenging because I was never that type of dude that sat down… I can definitely count on my fingers the number of solos I’ve learnt note for note. I have always tried to find my own voice and that’s always what I prefer to do. As much as I had fun and I felt honoured to be part of that, especially being a guitar player… At the same time, I was a lot more excited to play the songs we wrote back in the day on the album that we just released, ‘The Book’. I was a lot more excited about the response of people from those songs, because those were my babies, than doing the whole Alcatrazz thing. Then, of course, there was a little bit of guitar ego there. ‘Yay! Look at me playing in Alcatrazz!’ It was good. It was fun.”

On the Graham Bonnet Band album “The Book”, Conrado not only played the guitar, he wrote songs and produced the album which also featured Beth-Ami Heavenstone, Mark Zonder and Jimmy Waldo. “I co-wrote ‘The Book’ with him. It was mainly me and him and Zonder did a lot of good ideas. Great drummer, great guy. We co-wrote the songs and I ended up producing. I was wearing many hats in that band. That was one of the reasons that that band was very challenging for me too, other than all the legendary guitar stuff. I was always so busy with everything else, helping with arrangements and recording and writing. I produced the album, but I didn’t mix or master, but I engineered the whole thing. I’m proud of it. It’s a good album.”

Now you’re here in Japan for two gigs with Marco Mendoza’s trio with Marco and British drummer Kyle Hughes. These are your first-ever gigs with Marco. “That was an invite that came through my good friend Kyle. I knew of Marco and I think we spoke a couple of times previously on different occasions. Kyle was like ‘Hey, we need a guitar player for Japan’. I was like, wow, that will be fun! I love Marco’s material. I think, even me as a guitar player, I’m a lot more comfortable with that kind of classic rock-funk-bluesy type of thing instead of the neoclassical stuff. I think that is a lot more who I am as a guitar player. It’s my first gig with them so that’s definitely exciting.”

Conrado Pesinato on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marco and Kyle have come straight from a European tour and you flew in from LA. Have you had any chance to rehearse together as a trio? “No! Haha!! So, we’ll see how it goes. We have not, but they have been very solid together. They are the rhythm section and the front men together. I just have to sit in and do my part. I think we will be alright. It’s gonna be a good time, no doubt. At least for me! Marco is such a legendary musician, playing in such legendary bands like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, which I love. Thin Lizzy is one of my favourite bands of all time. Even his solo material has so many guitar players, like Richie Kotzen and Steve Lukather and all these kinds of guys. I have to do justice to those songs at those gigs. It’s an exciting part of the process. Yeah, it will be a fun time!”

Recently Conrado formed a new contemporary rock band in Los Angeles called Out Of The Woods together with vocalist Zach Jones and drummer Tomas Slemeson. The sound is quite different from the classic rock we normally hear Conrado play. “Yeah. The way I see it is… I would call it modern American rock radio. Bands like Bad Wolves and Bring Me The Horizon, that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different thing. I co-write everything with the guys and I help with a bit of the production. I don’t do the full production, but I do a little bit of it. That’s kind of exciting, to not be the guy that does everything. I use a seven-string guitar, which is something I don’t use in the most classic rock sound bands that I do. Seven-string guitar, I try to do more effects, I try to do beats and samples and things like that. It’s different stuff. That’s the beauty of it. I like it all. From The Beatles to extreme death metal to ABBA to whatever, you name it. Linkin Park and Ramones and whatever else. I dig songs!”

Out Of The Woods has done some gigs in the US and released its first song. “We have one single out and finishing an EP. We’re excited about it. We’re shopping it around with some labels for that type of music. It’s nice doing something different. It’s definitely refreshing.” Out Of The Woods is Conrado’s main focus now. “There’s a couple of other things I am working on, but, for sure, Out Of The Woods will be it. We have this EP coming out. I am trying to get busy. I like to do it all. I was even making beats for hip-hop artists! I just like to be busy and collaborate with creative people with a good heart.” 

Keep an eye (and both ears!) on Conrado Pesinato. He likes to stay busy and there will no doubt be more interesting music coming our way from this creative musician.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Single review: Dambusters “All the Way to Your Heart”

Dambusters. Photo: Lori Bockelken

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

With pedigree from Cactus, Quiet Riot, Dee Snider and Noisy Mama, American band Dambusters play straightforward, but groovy, rock’n’roll. Their first single is out today.

Freddy Villano is one of the nicest guys in American rock and also a rock-solid bassist. Having made a name for himself in the early part of his career with Quiet Riot and Dee Snider’s Widowmaker, more recently he has been releasing music with American Mafia and now with Dambusters. “All the Way to Your Heart”, the band’s first digital single, is an unpolished gem of a song. The production is raw and straightforward, no fancy stuff. And that is a good thing. This kind of music is best served straight-up and raw. Should this be repackaged in some overproduced, fancy and shiny format, it wouldn’t work. Now, as a straightforward rock song performed more or less live in the studio, it sounds great. In Dambusters, Villano has teamed up with guitarist Jimmy Gumina (Noisy Mama), drummer Vic Pullen (Larry Mitchell, Francis Dunnery) and a guest appearance by vocalist Jimmy Kunes (Cactus, Savoy Brown). Having also heard some more yet unreleased songs from the same studio sessions, it is obvious that the Dambusters boys have something interesting going on here. There is pedigree, know-how and also chemistry. This is blues-based hard rock performed by a bunch of seasoned rockers. It’s good stuff.

Dambusters’ single “All the Way to Your Heart” is out today.

Album review: Xentrix “Bury the Pain”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British band Xentrix is back with a new line-up and a terrific album of excellent thrash metal.

British thrash metal band Xentrix may not be known to the masses, but they formed already back in 1985. They are perhaps best known for their tongue-in-cheek thrash metal version of the “Ghostbusters” theme song. But gimmicks aside, it is very evident on their new album “Bury the Pain” that this is a quality thrash metal band. They have both the musical skills and the songs to be real contenders. Xentrix’s music is firmly rooted in old-school thrash metal, but they do not sound dated at all. They have brought the classic thrash metal sound with them to here and now. 

New vocalist Jay Walsh’s voice reminds me a lot about how Dee Snider sounds on his latest album, 2018’s “For the Love of Metal”. The more I listen to Xentrix I realise that the music is also not miles away from the songs on Snider’s album. Just listen to the fantastic song “There Will Be Consequences” and it oozes Dee Snider. It’s as if someone has listened to Snider’s album and decided to do a thrash metal version of it. I don’t know if that is the case, I guess not, but the result is terrific. This is a hard-hitting thrash metal album with terrific guitars, great melodies and a vocalist that does this music justice. Bassist Chris Shires is another newcomer in the band which also includes Kristian Havard on guitar and Dennis Gasser on drums. The hard-hitting “Bleeding Out” is the highlight of the album, but there are also many more great tracks on this terrific album. In fact, there are no weak songs at all. This solid and modern thrash metal album has been produced by Judas Priest’s Andy Sneap. I dig it.

Xentrix’s album “Bury the Pain” will be released on 7th June by Listenable Records. The Japanese edition will be released by Spiritual Beast on 17th July with a bonus track.

Gig review: Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia – a three-hour melodic metal extravaganza

Tobias Sammet and Ronnie Atkins on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia gives Tokyo a three-hour melodic metal extravaganza with some serious star power.

Geoff Tate and Miro Rodenberg on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia at Akasaka Blitz, Tokyo on Thursday 9th May 2019 

With Avantasia, German musician Tobias Sammet has created a wonderful magical world. Obviously, I knew the Avantasia albums were great, but experiencing this live on stage for the first time, I am just in awe. Avantasia has no fewer than 13 artists on stage during their Tokyo show. I don’t know how Edguy’s Tobias Sammet manages to get this all together. But, somehow, he does and we should all thank him for it. He is a world-class songwriter and performer. The Avantasia show is incredible. One notable thing about Avantasia is that, despite all the veteran rock stars on stage, none of them gets to sing any of their past classics. They only perform Avantasia songs (well, there is the Avantasia version of the “Flashdance” movie soundtrack “Maniac”). With Avantasia, Tobias Sammet has created a wonderful fantasy world of rock opera-meets-metal musical. Musically, it is a dramatic mix of power metal, melodic rock and West End musical.

Eric Martin on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

In addition to Sammet himself, who kicks off the show with the terrific song “Ghost in the Moon”, we get splendid vocal performances by Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids, Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan), Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrÿche), Eric Martin (Mr. Big) and Bob Catley (Magnum). Geoff Tate sounds absolutely fantastic like it’s still 1988. Him performing “Alchemy” is one of the absolute highlights of the show. Another peak during the evening is “Twisted Mind”, Tate’s duet with Eric Martin. At 71 years old, Bob Catley is the elder statesman in Avantasia. His voice is still beautiful and he rocks out on stage, clearly loving to perform in front of his fans. Among all the big star names on stage, there is a lesser known name that is no less a terrific singer and performer: Adrienne Cowan. She has a terrific voice and she also has the stage moves to go with her vocal talents. For most of the show, she’s in the background, but on songs such as “Book of Shallows”, “Moonglow” and “Farewell” she gets to step into the limelight and shine like the terrific lead singer she is. Back-up vocalist Herbie Langhans also steps up to perform some of the lead vocals on “Shelter from the Rain”. But Avantasia is not all about the fabulous voices. Tobias Sammet also has a rock-solid band of musicians: drummer Felix Bohnke, bassist André Neygenfind, guitarists Sascha Paeth and Oliver Hartmann and keyboardist Miro Rodenberg.

It’s one thing to put together a concept album. Taking all these ingredients and making it work as one band performing a show on stage isn’t easy, but Tobias Sammet pulls it off. It’s been 20 years since Sammet started this magical journey. I hope he will keep Avantasia going for many years to come. 

Avantasia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima