Interview: Gary Shea – the legendary New England and Alcatrazz bass player

new-england-promo4By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New England, the classic melodic rock band from Boston, originally active from 1978 until 1982, has reunited. The band’s classic line-up with John Fannon (vocals and guitar), Hirsh Gardner (drums), Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) and Gary Shea (bass) will be on stage for the reunion shows in the US and Japan. Roppongi Rocks decided to have a chat with Gary Shea ahead of New England’s first-ever visit to Japan. Gary Shea is a great bass player who apart from his time in New England has played with Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Vinnie Vincent.

The original New England line-up has reunited for a few special gigs in the US and Japan. Why is this happening now? And will we see a continuation?

“The band has been together since our real reunion in 2005 and doing select shows off and on since then. We have been playing together in the States with the aim of extending our concerts to Japan, Europe and South America. Since the band members live in the far corners of the US, it takes time to coordinate New England shows logistically and to work among the other projects all the members are involved in. We look forward to playing to new friends and we will continue to play live and make new music.”

Gary Shea

Gary Shea

You released a new track, ““I Know There’s Something There”, in 2015. Why did the band decide to write and perform new material as opposed to just do a nostalgic trip down memory lane? Are we likely to get more new material from the band?

“We are not a nostalgic band living in the past, as we have been working on new material while performing some of the older songs that we all love. We were able to release some new music last year on vinyl and we hope to keep the tradition of always creating and performing new music for ourselves and our fans. We have a new live CD coming out in November on King Records, recorded at The Regent Theater in Boston.”

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What can Japanese fans expect of the shows in Kawasaki in November?

“Since the band has never performed in Japan live in concert, the fans will now get to see and hear our musically well-rounded collection of sounds, for the first time. The band is very heavy live and also performs acoustically. We will get to demonstrate how we have toured very successfully with groups like Journey, KISS, AC/DC, Cheap Trick. Kansas, Styx, Molly Hatchet, Foghat, Thin Lizzy, etc. over the years. We are a band of musical variety, not a band that plays the same song 12 times. Also we will be playing a few songs for Japan that we don’t normally do in our regular show. We are very excited about playing for our Japanese fans who have waited a long time for this.”

When John Fannon left New England in 1982, the rest of you reformed as Warrior with Vinnie Vincent on vocals and guitar. The terrific Warrior demo featured songs and parts of songs that later would turn up on KISS and Vinnie Vincent Invasion records. What can you tell us about this brief post-New England episode?warrior

“When John left the band we spoke to many well-known guitarists to keep the band going. Gene Simmons told us of Vinnie Cusano who was ghost writing with KISS. Vinnie sent us a tape of his music and we decided to go with a whole new band and new music. The band relocated from Boston to Los Angeles and the entire project lasted less than three months. A demo under the name Warrior was made at the Record Plant, while at the same time, Vinnie was offered to replace Ace Frehley and become Vinnie Vincent, an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

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In addition to ending up playing with future KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent in your band, there are other close connections between New England and KISS: KISS manager Bill Aucoin discovered you, Paul Stanley co-produced your first album and you went on tour with KISS. How important do you think the KISS connection has been for New England’s career?

“We had our sights on four top managers in the late 70s that we wanted to work with, one of which was Bill Aucoin of KISS fame. Our demo got played backstage at a KISS show nearby in Providence, Rhode Island by a friend from Elektra Records. Everyone said ‘Wow, who are these guys?’ This resulted in our signing with Bill Aucoin for management. We were all set to record with Mike Stone of Queen fame and it was suggested that maybe we use Paul Stanley also. It was a good fit, as Paul is very much into the same influences as we are and we are all the same age. This led into the 1979 ‘Dynasty’ KISS tour where we were offered over 25 cities in North America. It was a great benefit for us to play such large venues and get such immense exposure right away. It was a great boost to the launch of our first album and we remain grateful. At The Montreal Forum we got standing ovations and were told we were off the tour after only 22 shows. We have always taken this as a huge compliment and a testament to our live performance. We continued on with Bill for two more records. Bill was a great guy but was being pushed to only manage KISS.”

Todd Rundgren also played a part in New England’s career. Tell us about his role and impact on the band’s music.

“We were all fans of Todd Rundgren and Nazz. The chance to record together came up for our third album, ‘Walking Wild’. We were all very excited about the opportunity and we got to record at Todd`s private studio in Woodstock, New York. The music was written in two weeks and recorded in one. Todd was low key and brilliant, from arranging cello parts, writing some lyrics and playing harmony guitar on ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’. We had a blast and played our best. We were set to do a fourth album with Todd producing, as we were looking forward to working together again.”

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When Vinnie joined KISS, you and Jimmy Waldo went on to form Alcatrazz with Graham Bonnet. How did that come about?

“After Warrior, Jimmy and I decided individually to stay in Los Angeles. I met Andy Truman who was managing Graham Bonnet. He explained that he was putting a group together with Graham, who had just left Michael Schenker, Barrie Barlow from Jethro Tull on drums, and Zal Cleminson of Nazareth on guitar. He asked, would I be interested to play bass and did I know a keyboard player? I said yes to both questions and Jimmy and I went to the Riot House on Sunset Strip to discuss our direction and in a few weeks’ time, wound up getting a record deal with no demo, just our previous backgrounds. Barrie at the time, was offered to play with Robert Plant and Zal had other commitments in Europe. We then auditioned other guitarists and drummers getting Yngwie Malmsteen and Jan Uvena. I came up with the name Alcatrazz and off we went. Eventually Graham, Jimmy and myself changed guitarists for our second album and got Steve Vai who had been with Frank Zappa. We all remain good friends and Jimmy plays on Graham`s new CD.”

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You’re a bass player who has played in bands with some of the biggest and most talked about (and perhaps somewhat notorious) guitarists in the history of rock – Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Vinnie Vincent. How does a bass player navigate a rehearsal room, recording studio and stage next to such big personalities?

“Yes, and I’d put John Fannon on that list also. I get along great with guitarists. As a bass player I have three options, play the same as the guitar part, play harmony to it, or play something entirely different. Usually the third option works best as I like to play to the song and provide the thunder that the guitars and keyboards can play off of. Most people don’t realise that it is the bass that they jump around in their car listening to, whether it’s rock or Motown. Behind every great guitarist like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, there is a great bass player like Jack Bruce or John Paul Jones holding the fort down. I have always been out front on stage as an equal musical personality and I don`t scare easily.”

Gary Shea is looking forward to return to Japan – where he has toured with Alcatrazz – but this time to offer the Japanese fans their first-ever Japanese New England shows. “I am extremely looking forward to playing in Japan with my best friends of 40 years, guitarist John Fannon, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and Hirsh Gardner on drums. I hope everyone tells their friends and comes to the shows.”

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New England will perform two shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Japan on 18th and 20th November.

www.clubcitta.co.jp/001/newengland-2016

www.newenglandrocks.com

Gig review: Helloween, Amaranthe at EX Theater Roppongi, Tokyo

Helloween on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Yoshika Horita

Helloween on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Yoshika Horita

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On Monday 26th September, German power metal veterans Helloween shook Roppongi with a lesson in how power metal is done properly. Supported by catchy melodic rockers Amaranthe, this turned into a terrific evening of melodic metal.

Amaranthe

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The opening act for Helloween’s Japan tour is Amaranthe. Not your usual opening act, the Swedish melodic metal band has toured in Japan six times in five years. They have built up a significant fan base in Japan which is evident as they kick off their one-hour greatest hit set with “Digital World”, quickly followed by “Trinity” and “Hunger”.

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe is in fine form and deliver as they always do. They use their three vocalists  – Jake E, Elize Ryd and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson – and their different vocal styles to great effect. They are a well-oiled machine on tour. Musical maestro Olof Mörck lets his guitar do the talking while drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen keeps the beat and the troops focused. Stand-in bassist Henric Liljesand (normally in The Unguided) does a fine job. With a slightly more groovy playing style than Johan Andreassen, he adds an interesting touch to the songs for those of us who have seen Amaranthe live on numerous occasions. We do get a great mix of the best songs from the band’s first three albums. The only disappointment is that we don’t get to hear any track from their forthcoming album “Maximalism” (read Roppongi Rocks’ album review here). Amaranthe finishes off a great gig very strongly with “The Nexus”, “Dynamite” and “Drop Dead Cynical”.

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Helloween

Helloween's Andy Deris on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Yoshika Horita

Helloween’s Andy Deris on stage in Roppongi. Photo: Yoshika Horita

Power metal pioneers Helloween triumphed at last October’s big Loud Park festival in Japan and this evening in Tokyo they are even better. Actually, they’ve never been better. Despite the fact that only guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf remain from the band’s classic 80s line-up, Helloween are a tight and great band. This evening in Roppongi in the heart of Tokyo, Helloween gives us a lesson in how power metal is done properly.

Musically they have never sounded better. The fact that while they are obviously playing some of their 80s classics, a big chunk of the music in the set list is from more recent records, proves that this is not just some nostalgia act from the 80s. They are still relevant and their newer material stands up well to the classic songs. Some of the newer songs are even better than what this band created in their early days. Vocalist Andy Deris makes sure that no one is missing his predecessor Michael Kiske.

They kick off a killer set with “Eagle Fly Free” from their 1988 classic “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II”, followed by “Dr. Stein” from the same album, before they give us the great title track from their latest album, 2015’s “My God-Given Right”.

We get a close to two-hour set filled with power metal with plenty of guitar solos and a monster drum solo performance by Daniel Löble.

Helloween finishes their regular set with a splendid medley consisting of “Halloween”, “Sole Survivor”, “I Can”, “Are You Metal?” and, of course, “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. The encore gives us “Before the War” and an extended guitar solo by phenomenal guitarist Sascha Gerstner, before they close the gig with “Future World” and “I Want Out”.

Helloween is without doubt one of the best mainstream heavy metal acts out there at the moment. Go and see them while they’re this good.

www.helloween.org / www.facebook.com/helloweenofficial

www.amaranthe.se / www.facebook.com/amarantheband

EP review: Evil Invaders “In For The Kill”

Evil Invaders Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Evil Invaders
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Belgian speed metal lunatics Evil Invaders are back with a gloriously fast EP.

Evil Invaders, my favourite speed metal band, is back with a fast and furious EP, “In For The Kill”. The band’s sound is firmly based in 1980s speed metal and Bay Area thrash metal with some Overkill thrown in for good measure.

On this EP, our favourite evil Belgian bastards give us two new studio tracks – “As Life Slowly Fades” and “Raising Hell” – as well as live versions of two songs – “Pulses of Pleasure” and “Victim of Sacrifice” – from their debut album.

Evil Invaders Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Evil Invaders
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The two new tracks are up there among the best of Evil Invaders’ back catalogue, while the two live tracks remind us that this is a great hardworking live act. The relentless energy of the band is fabulous. Live Evil Invaders is a force to be reckoned with. I think they should always include a couple of live tracks on their records.

If you like your heavy metal fast, this is for you. Metal EP of the year? So far, probably yes. This is so much headbanging and air guitar playing fun that it is hard to sit down to write this review.

Evil Invaders Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Evil Invaders
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Evil Invaders’ “In For The Kill” will be released by Napalm Records on 30th September.

www.facebook.com/evilinvaders / www.evilinvaders.be

www.napalmrecords.com

Album review: Amaranthe “Maximalism” – energetic modern metal with fantastic pop hooks

amaranthe-promo2By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe is back with a catchy metal album with plenty of pop hooks and boatloads of energy.

I have a weakness for Amaranthe. Ever since I saw them doing a showcase gig in a Tokyo basement in 2011, their modern take on catchy melodic metal with plenty of pop hooks blended with growling and smart guitar licks, has got my attention. I am not alone. Japanese fans were quick to discover the Swedish band and they have been here in Japan on tour six times in five years.

“Maximalism” is their fourth album and it is a natural progression of their earlier work. Once again we get a big dose of catchy, heavy, melodic music and with a few twists – just like I want my Amaranthe. “We want to continue to develop in the same direction as we have headed over the past two albums. We want to continue to develop our sound. We want to be more pop and at the same time much heavier. Yeah, more of everything!” said Elize Ryd last year when we sat down in Tokyo to talk about the next album. She wasn’t wrong. It is built on a solid foundation of Amaranthe’s signature sound but turned up a notch. Amaranthe mastermind Olof Mörck calls “Maximalism” the band’s “manifesto to the world”. This is Amaranthe Overdrive, Amaranthe Deluxe, Amaranthe Maximized. This is Amaranthe more of everything. It is a slightly more diverse Amaranthe than on the three earlier albums and it is very, very good.

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The album kicks off in a very typical Amaranthe way with “Maximize” – here you get all of Amaranthe packed into a three-minute song bursting with energy. We get a great melody, different vocal styles, some guitar hero antics and a great rhythm section (Morten Løwe Sørensen on drums and Johan Andreassen on bass) as a foundation for the music. The album then continues along the same track. Amaranthe continues to make very good use of its three vocalists – Elize Ryd, Jake E and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson – which means they can go pop, melodic rock or ball-crushing growling as they like. They have all of that and much more within the band.

As expected, there are a bunch of tracks on this album with potential to be major mainstream hits, including the fantastic R&B-esque sing-along “That Song” and the very catchy “Boomerang”, and perhaps also “Break Down and Cry” and “Supersonic”. The infectious “On the Rocks” is one of my favourites on the album – great melody and fine guitar work.

“Limitless” is a strong power ballad and the album’s closing track, “Endlessly” is a major showcase piece for Elize Ryd and her beautiful voice. I have no doubt that Ms. Ryd will be doing more solo stuff outside of Amaranthe in coming years. She has all the ingredients of a major star. She has grown on this album, doing more new things with her voice.

Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

This album is so catchy and bursting with energy that it bounces off the walls as I give my early promo copy a spin here at Roppongi Rocks headquarters. Some stubborn metalheads will no doubt reject it as non-metal, but who cares? This is metal and it is pop, it is Amaranthe and it works. It makes me want to dance, headbang and play air guitar at the same time.

Great band, great musicians, great melodies, great production. I can’t help myself – I am still on the Amaranthe bandwagon. Five years and counting.

Amaranthe’s “Maximalism” will be released on Spinefarm Records on 21st October.

www.amaranthe.se / www.facebook.com/amarantheband

www.spinefarm.fi / www.facebook.com/spinefarm

Album review: Unearthed Elf “Into the Catacomb Abyss”

unearthed-elfBy Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unearthed Elf: Arctic Sleep’s Keith D is back with an epic fantasy power doom metal project.

An elf on drugs writing and recording a solo album down in a crypt? Yeah, that sounds like a good start to me getting to know Unearthed Elf.unearthed-elf3

The debut album by Unearthed Elf is a beautiful and emotional record. At times it is stunningly beautiful in a dark, spooky kind of way. You can almost touch the loneliness and boredom that seeps out from the music. This is one sick elf who needs help…and company. But if he creates this great music when his lonely, perhaps we should keep him locked up down there…

Unearthed Elf is a one-man project from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the US by Keith D, a co-founder of progressive atmospheric doomsters Arctic Sleep. Keith D plays all instruments as well as doing the vocals on this album. The Unearthed Elf project is the result of Keith D suffering a severe knee injury in 2015, which forced him to cancel a planned Arctic Sleep tour and spend weeks home alone, unable to walk and with a body full of narcotic painkillers.

Keith D labels Unearthed Elf’s music as “epic fantasy power doom metal” and that description does it. There are slow and heavy doom elements, including extended instrumental parts on this album. There’s also some progressive touches in this epic sound landscape. It is quite different from your regular doom metal. More doom and less metal for the most part. It’s got a lot more of a folklore feeling to the whole package. It has a dark, somber tone of hopelessness to it. That probably comes from the soul-crushing boredom of being stuck alone in a house with a body full of narcotics, one would assume. Well, the druggy elf makes great musicunearthed-elf2.

The short but brilliant instrumental piece “Gauntlets of Volcanic Doom” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, while “Candles in the Crypt” is another great instrumental track. “Vial of Holy Water in an Ancient, Cobweb-Laden Mausoleum” effectively makes use of some great choral parts mixed in with the guitar riffs. “Lighting the Mummy on Fire” is almost catchy with its great melody. It is the album’s absolute highlight. Love it.

Unearthed Elf’s “Into the Catacomb Abyss” album will be released on Halloween, 31 October. You should go down the spiral staircase to the crypt and listen to this album in a damp, dark, lonely place down in the catacombs. The druggy elf will not disappoint you.

www.unearthedelf.com / www.facebook.com/unearthedelf

Album review: Bloodride “Planet Alcatraz” – thrash metal from Helsinki

bloodride_promopic1By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bloodride: Old-school thrash metal from Helsinki.

Bloodride is a thrash metal band from Helsinki, Finland formed in 2000. The band released its first EP in 2004 and its debut full-length album, “Crowned in Hell”, came out in 2011. “Planet Alcatraz” is the band’s third album. The musical assault is quite good. It’s quite catchy actually, but with plenty of fierce thrash metal riffing. The title track is fantastic and so is “Beyond Repair”. There are also other gems on this album which is quite varied, within the imagined constraints of what a Finnish thrash metal band is supposed to sound like.bloodride-cover640

Bloodride sounds quite like old-school thrash metal but there are also some darker influences that are verging on death metal, especially when it comes to the harsh, frustrated and angry vocals. Here and there the vocalist’s deep Finnish roots shine through, which is great as it adds a bit of originality to the songs. On the closing track, “Marching Off to War”, the song goes from a thrash metal piece into a Finnish singalong at the local bar.

The album was recorded at Peter´s Cross Studios by Petteri Lammassaari (who is also Bloodride’s co-founder and drummer) and mixed and mastered by Jarno Hänninen at D-Studio.

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Finland keeps delivering. We have never doubted this nation’s place at heavy metal’s head table.

Bloodride’s “Planet Alcatraz” will be released on Inverse Records on 25th November.

www.bloodride.com / www.facebook.com/bloodride

www.inverse.fi / www.facebook.com/inverserecords

Album review: Skálmöld “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” – Nordic battle metal from Iceland

Skálmöld. Photo: Heiðar Kristjánsson

Skálmöld. Photo: Heiðar Kristjánsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils”, Skálmöld brings together some of my favourite things: Iceland, Norse mythology and pagan metal music.

Skálmöld, a bunch of Icelandic metalheads releasing an album built on Norse mythology – yeah, works for me. I am reminded of my Viking roots whenever I hear quality pagan metal. Although this Icelandic band’s music, which they label “battle metal”, is somewhat different from the standard pagan metal from Norway and Finland. It is equally good, just quite different. Less metal in many ways and more folk-inspired and rather melodic rock music. The Icelandic lyrics are all written under the strict rules of ancient Icelandic poetry and influenced by the nation’s heathen roots. Great stuff.687_skalmold_rgb

Skálmöld was founded in 2009 and quickly became a leading light in the Icelandic metal scene. The band’s debut album, “Baldur” was released in 2010 and it quickly took the band from the underground scene to mainstream success and was followed by extensive touring. In 2013, Skálmöld played together with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra for three sold-out shows in Iceland. They subsequently released a live CD/DVD of the collaboration that further helped them win fans far outside of the metal scene.

Skálmöld. Photo: Heiðar Kristjánsson

Skálmöld. Photo: Heiðar Kristjánsson

“Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” is the band’s fourth studio album and this album’s big on Icelandic heritage. This is Viking dedication and Norse mythology dressed up with some kick-ass metal and folk music. “Asgardur” is one of my favourite tracks on this very sold album. “Vanaheimur”, perhaps the best track of them all, is an epic musical journey, Icelandic to the core.

Skálmöld’s “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” will be released by Napalm Records on 30th September.

 

Skálmöld – band members

Baldur Ragnarsson – guitar/vocals

Björgvin Sigurðsson – vocals/guitar

Gunnar Ben – keyboards/vocals/oboe

Jón Geir Jóhannsson – drums/vocals

Snæbjörn Ragnarsson – bass/vocals

Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson – guitar/vocals

www.facebook.com/skalmold / www.skalmold.is

www.facebook.com/napalmrecords