Gig review: Riot celebrates 30 years of “Thundersteel” at Club Citta

Riot on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American hard rock veterans Riot celebrate the band’s past, present and future with a special weekend of performances at Club Citta.

Riot at Club Citta, Kawasaki, 10th March 2018

In March 1988, American hard rock band Riot released the album “Thundersteel”. 30 years later they mark the anniversary with two very special evenings in Japan.

Riot, or Riot V as this latest line-up of the classic hard rock band is officially known as, has no original members left in the band which was founded in New York in 1975. But that doesn’t seem to bother any of the Japanese fans. The key thing here is that Riot has had a loyal following of Japanese fans for decades and the current line-up delivers. They are worthy of the name. Today’s Riot is built around long-term members Don Van Stavern (bass) and Mike Flyntz (guitar), who both first joined Riot in the 1980s. They are joined by more recent additions Nick Lee (guitar), Frank Gilchriest (drums) and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. Hall as a vocalist is such a great fit for this band. The man has pipes that equal those of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. He can sing Riot’s back catalogue as well as the fab new material. He is without a doubt one of the best vocalists in metal today.

This evening, the first of two nights of performances in Kawasaki, the band performs two sets: first a one-hour “normal” set of classics and newer material which is then followed by a second set consisting of the 1988 album “Thundersteel”. We get the album in its entirety, nine songs. Then the band tops it all when they close the evening with classics “Road Racin’”, “Swords and Tequila” and “Warrior”.

Riot on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

The 23-song gig gives us so much good stuff and it clearly showcases the strengths of the current Riot: it still does justice to the classic material while at the same time producing new material which is among its best work. Everyone loves to hear the classics, but the newer material really is top notch. New members, new material, but it still has that same old Riot feeling and quality. One of the highlights of the evening for me is a great version of “Black Leather and Glittering Steel” from 1990’s “The Privilege of Power”. What a terrific metal song! “Fall from the Sky”, a more recent favourite, gives us a fantastic and relentless twin guitar attack. We also get a special treat in the form of “Land of the Rising Sun”, a song inspired by Japan which the band so far has never performed in any other country than Japan.

Riot will release its new studio album on 25th April via Ward Records in Japan and on 27th April internationally via Nuclear Blast. We do get to hear two great tracks from it in the set, the title track as well as “Messiah”.

Riot is a great hard rock band with a proud history, great present and bright future. This evening in Kawasaki we got to experience all three. Cheers!


Album review: The Crown “Cobra Speed Venom” | Swedish death metal at its best

The Crown on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death metal veterans The Crown are steamrolling their way into your record collection with a terrific new album.

Wow! It feels like we already have a strong contender for extreme metal album of the year here. The Crown kicks off the new album with “Destroyed by Madness”, a song which starts with what sounds like a string quartet, before all hell breaks loose. It’s a high-energy track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It announces that The Crown boys are back and they are ready to steamroll you with their death metal.

Then follows “Iron Crown”, which no doubt will be a new live favourite. “In the Name of Death” hits you in the face. No rest for the wicked on this album. It is a terrific album. The current line-up of the band – Johan Lindstrand on vocals, Marko Tervonen and Robin Sörqvist on guitars, Magnus Olsfelt on bass and Henrik Axelsson on drums – is probably the band’s best ever. Previous members have included established names such as Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates, The Lurking Fear, Lock Up), Jonas Stålhammar (At The Gates, The Lurking Fear, Bombs of Hades, God Macabre) and Marcus Sunesson (The Haunted), but it is now that they have a line-up that is a proper band, that gels, that rocks and that creates Swedish death fucking metal.

They are tight, they are filled with energy and aggression and they deliver. The Crown’s combination of riffing guitars with Lindstrand’s fitting voice is a winner. Especially when it’s done with such strong material. The title track is a showcase of melodic death metal where all band members get to shine. The drums! The guitars! That old-school bass sound! And that voice. What a combination! That this mix of talents is the dog’s bollocks (in a good way) is evident throughout the whole album.

The Japanese edition of the album, of course, does not only come with the international edition’s 12 tracks. Oh no, it comes with an additional bonus track in the form of “Ride the Fire” (previously only released as the B side on the “Iron Crown” 7-inch vinyl). All fabulously brutal stuff. The album was produced by the legendary Fredrik Nordström (At The Gates, The Haunted, In Flames, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity, Opeth, Soilwork, Dimmu Borgir, Outrage) at his Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Crown’s album “Cobra Speed Venom” will be released in Japan on 14th March via Avalon/Marquee and internationally on 16th March via Metal Blade Records.

Album review: Oceans of Slumber “The Banished Heart”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Texans Oceans of Slumber are back with another fabulous and hauntingly epic album filled with emotions.

It was their beautiful cover of Candlemass classic “Solitude” that brought Oceans of Slumber from Houston, Texas into my world (with a bit of help from the Century Media Records PR and marketing machine). I was hooked. And when they followed that with the 2015 album “Winter”, there was nothing to stop them from a complete invasion.

That this is a band with a difference was already obvious then. Now they’re back and they somehow manage to take things another step along the way to bleeding perfection. Shattered dreams in musical form. Dripping sadness.

Fine musicianship is combined with terrific songwriting and a complete disregard for current trends. It is all crowned by the powerful and out-of-this-world voice of Cammie Gilbert. It’s hard rock, folk music, prog, metal, world music, classical music, riffing and growling extreme metal… It’s everything and it is boiled down into one suggestive mix of epic melancholic music that takes your emotions and shakes them around. Some people have compared this band to Opeth. Sure, but I’d say it’s Fleetwood Mac meets Black Sabbath, although most of all it’s Oceans of Slumber. Drummer Dobber Beverly is the musical engine in the band while Cammie Gilbert is the lyricist and voice. Together with guitarists Sean Gary and Anthony Contreras and bassist Keegan Kelly, they form a splendid doom unit with explosive talent.

There are so many nuances and layers in this music that it keeps its listeners on edge at all times. There is always something interesting around the corner. They make great use of instruments such as piano and cello, for example on the instrumental piece “Her in the Distance”, which sounds like a fabulous film score. The title song is an epic journey through a dreamy soundscape and most of the album follows a similar path through the Texan woods. This is an album built on drama and emotions. “No Color, No Light” is a dreamy, doomy and misty duet. It is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. “Wayfaring Stranger” is sheer beauty. “A Path to Broken Stars” is my favourite track on the album because it really is out there, cramming so many different things into one little song.

Oceans of Slumber’s album “The Banished Heart” is out now via Century Media Records.

Interview: Jonas Björler of The Haunted | “We’ve always had thrash elements in our music”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When the extreme metal band The Haunted from Sweden returned to Japan for some shows in support of their latest album, Roppongi Rocks had a chat in Tokyo with co-founder and bassist Jonas Björler.

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Jonas Björler, how do you feel being back in Japan with The Haunted? “It’s nice to be back in Japan. This is like the fourteenth time. I’m always looking forward to Japan,” says Jonas Björler with a big smile as we sit down at Liquidroom in Tokyo during soundcheck.

The Haunted has fantastic thrash metal-style guitars mixed in with your extreme metal. Would you say that it is the thrash guitars that define your signature sound? “We have always had our roots in thrash metal. You’d notice that on the first album. We have never really left thrash metal behind us. The album where you have the least amount of thrash probably is ‘One Kill Wonder’ and perhaps also ‘The Dead Eye’ when we started to experiment with more prog and heavier things. But we’ve always had thrash elements in our music.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The Haunted’s members are busy not only with this band but also many other bands and projects, including At The Gates and Witchery. How do handle all the commitments? “We try to have a shared calendar and make it work somehow. It’s first come, first served, kind of. If someone has something he really wants to do, then we let him do that and we plan everything else around that. We all have jobs back home, so it becomes a bit hard to plan things. That’s why we book things a year in advance. At the moment we’re booking January and February next year. We have to be ahead in order to plan things,” explains Björler who, together with drummer Adrian Erlandsson will return to Japan already in May for gigs with At The Gates.

With a fantastic new album, “Strength in Numbers”, released in August last year, it must be tricky to put together your set lists? “We will play four or five of the new songs. We try to mix all kinds of songs, trying to include something from every album. I don’t think we will play anything from ‘Versus’ today, but other than that we have things from all our nine albums. You can’t please everybody. We just play whatever we want. Play something from all albums, except one perhaps, but with emphasis on the new album.”

When you write music does it differ between the different bands? Do you compose for a specific band or do you just write new music and then use it where it fits? “I have just finished the new At The Gates album. I did all the music for that one and thus I kind of feel like I am out of ideas. Let’s see. Often when I sit at home riffing I normally hear that this is probably cooler for that band. My wife also has opinions: ‘That sounds like that band’ and so on. It can be a bit tricky. I am one person with my influences. I think that with both bands… Sometimes things overflow the borders between the bands. With At The Gates I try to make it a bit more death metal with a melodic atmosphere. With The Haunted it’s more thrashy. That’s kind of how I think about it.”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

For many years you played together with your twin brother Anders Björler in both The Haunted and At The Gates. But Anders is no longer a member of the bands. Do you miss him? “I am used to it as he left The Haunted in 2012. I’ve gotten used to it. I miss him on stage and playing together, but we see each other quite a lot privately. Perhaps we get less tired of each other now.”

Danish producer Tue Madsen has produced many of The Haunted’s albums, but the latest album was done by British producer Russ Russell who famously has worked with Napalm Death. Was he chosen because you wanted to make a really heavy album? “Yes. Tue has been great on the earlier albums, but we felt that Russ has even more of the sound that we want, the brutal kind. Yes, we wanted something new after Tue. He has done all of them really since ‘Revolver’. Thus we thought it was time for a change, to try to get some variation in the sound.”

Do you feel any constraints when you write music? Do you feel that what you write has to fit within certain parameters or external expectations? “No. We have never written music in that way. At least not me. I don’t start the work on a new song with ‘What will people think?’ or ‘How will they react to this?’ I can’t work like that. It’s better to just write freely and not have any ulterior motive. Otherwise I think one will hinder one’s creativity and get stuck. It’s better to do as we have done with The Haunted where we have at least tried to expand the sound and the ideas. With ‘Dead Eye’ and also on ‘Unseen’ we took a step to make it progressive and darker. Many people didn’t like that, but we did it anyway. We felt that we wanted to do it. Try it out.” You kind of did an Opeth! “Yes, but perhaps not completely, just a bit. We have been sniffing at a few things. I really think that ‘Dead Eye’ is one of our better ones, even if not everyone likes it. Music is about feelings, I think. If you’re not communicating something, a good feeling or something that makes people react, then there is no point in creating music. Even if you do grindcore and that kind of music, you have to deliver some kind of feeling.”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Apart from founders Jonas Björler and Patrik Jensen, The Haunted has had quite a few line-up changes with people coming and going and returning as well. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson and vocalist Marco Aro are both on their second stints in the band while Ola Englund joined in 2013 to replace Anders Björler. With these personnel changes, how do you maintain the band’s sound? “I’ve played with Adrian in At The Gates too and Marco has been in the band before. Because we know them and how they are as musicians too, it is kind of easy. Ola is a great guitarist too and that also makes it kind of easy to work with these people. It hasn’t been any problem.”

The Haunted has a great history with Japan. You’ve recorded a live album here (“Live Rounds in Tokyo”, recorded in 2000 when on tour in Japan with In Flames) and you’ve also had great success with At The Gates here. “We like coming here whenever we get the chance. We have been here with all the album releases with The Haunted, I think. Yes, we have and even one year I was here three times, two with The Haunted and one with At The Gates.”

The latest album was released in August last year and you have been out playing to promote it. What’s next for the band? “We played Sweden, Norway, Finland and now we’re here and then we’re doing Spain and Portugal. After that we have a few festival gigs in Germany and such. We take it as it comes. We don’t do any long tours as we have jobs back home. We’ll see what happens. We’ve had a few offers for the autumn, some bigger things as well such as support slots for tours.”

The Haunted is closely associated with the Swedish city of Gothenburg. That is where the band formed in 1996 and the band and its members have also to some degree been part of the legendary Gothenburg Sound scene. But nowadays the band has left Gothenburg. “No one actually lives in Gothenburg anymore. Before we all lived in Gothenburg, apart from Marco. I moved to Örebro. Adrian lives in London. Jensen has moved to Helsinki, Finland. Ola and Marco live in Stockholm. It’s a bit spread out now and thus we don’t rehearse much. Hahaha!! We have to rehearse at home and at soundcheck!”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

As mentioned The Haunted’s Jonas Björler and Adrian Erlandsson will be back in Japan already in May to play with At The Gates. And no doubt they will return with The Haunted at some point.

Album review: Myles Kennedy “Year of the Tiger”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Myles Kennedy the solo artist stands up well without Slash and Alter Bridge on debut solo album.

Myles Kennedy has an instantly recognisable voice. He has made a name for himself with his band Alter Bridge, but it is his work with Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist Slash that has most impressed me to date. Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators released the fabulous “World on Fire” album in 2014. Myles got to shine on that album on some fabulous rock songs. When I then saw him perform a couple of gigs with Slash in Japan in 2015, it was even better live. He’s a true performer with a great voice.

On the “Year of the Tiger”, his debut solo album, we get Myles Kennedy the solo artist. This is an album on which that voice is rightly at the centre. Here it gets to do what it does without having to adjust to what’s around it. “Year of the Tiger” is a grown-up rock album in a proud American tradition of storytelling singers. Here we have some subtle country and blues influences in music that is built around Myles’ voice. There are some decent rock songs on here, but the overall feeling here is more of a relaxed and slightly seasoned singer-songwriter. A bit like a travelling bluesman of yesteryear. That Myles the solo artist lives in a slightly different musical landscape than Slash and Alter Bridge is a good thing. Myles Kennedy the band frontman already exists and we already like him. If Myles the solo artist were just more of the same there wouldn’t be any reason for his existence.

The title track is rather catchy and one of the album’s better songs. Another favourite is the beautiful and emotional  “Love Can Only Heal”. “Devil on the Wall” is a fun and somewhat different kind of track. He has plenty of emotion is his terrific voice and he knows how to use his voice to fit in with whatever style he sings. Lyrically the songs are rather personal, much of it relating to his parents. This is an album filled with grown-up rock. Myles plays it kind of safe (there are no radical surprises on this album), although he still manages to keep it interesting with all kinds of influences shining through in his music.

The three acoustic bonus tracks are great additions to the album. “Nothing But a Name” in an acoustic demo version is the album’s best moment.

Myles Kennedy’s solo album “Year of the Tiger” will be out on 9th March via Ward Records in Japan and via Napalm Records internationally.

Album review: Napalm Death “Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs” | Noisy ear candy of the best kind

Napalm Death on stage in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, probably the best band in the world, have put together a fabulous compilation of rarities on a new double album.

Oh my oh my! The only way I can sum up this major Napalm Death compilation of rarities is: Sheer bloody brilliance! The best band in the world has done it again. The material on “Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs” has been recorded between 2004 and 2014 and include special bonus tracks, B sides, songs from split EPs and vinyl editions as well as covers by Sacrilege, Gepopel, Cardiacs, Gauze and Despair.

Songs such as “Earthwire”, “Oh So Pseudo” and the Sacrilege cover “Lifeline” are classic Napalm Death just the way we like it: full of energy, mayhem, attitude and great melodies. A musical punch in the face. There is so much good music here that I am smiling as much as I am headbanging as I listen. Most of the music is in the well-established standard Napalm Death style. But we do get a few songs which are a bit different, including “Omnipresent Knife in Your Back” which is perhaps best described as an atmospheric ballad (no shit!), but of course still performed by Napalm Death. The Cardiacs cover “To Go Off and Things” is a spaced-out track that makes me laugh out loud. Great entertainment. “Atheist Runt” is a bombastic rock opera (yes!) and “Weltschmerz” is an epic instrumental piece (with a bit of a Sisters of Mercy vibe) that is fabulous and quite far removed from what Napalm Death normally does.

Napalm Death on stage in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Another rather different track, “Oxygen of Duplicity”, is bleeding terrific and the double album’s highlight for me. As much as I love “normal” Napalm Death stuff, it is great to hear them do something different. At the same time, the straightforward brutality of “Phonetics for the Stupefied” makes me happy. Good stuff.

31 songs. An hour and a half of Napalm Death in your head. If that isn’t happiness I don’t know what is. This compilation of rarities is simply put brilliant. Noisy ear candy of the best kind. The Napalm Death members are gentlemen and scholars. Bow your head in respect to the grindcore masters.

Napalm Death’s “Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs” will be released on 30th March via Century Media Records.

Interview | Minoru Niihara of Loudness: “We can’t stop being creative”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal veterans Loudness have a terrific new album out, “Rise To Glory”. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently sat down for a quick chat with vocalist Minoru Niihara in Tokyo to talk about the new album.

“Rise To Glory” is Loudness’ 27th studio album since they debuted in 1981 with “The Birthday Eve” and it is the first album released by Japanese label Ward Records. “I’m very happy that the album is finally out. I’m very proud of this new one,” says Minoru Niihara as we meet in Tokyo.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Minoru Niihara of Loudness in Tokyo.

Niihara is Loudness’ original vocalist. He first became known as a member of the band Earthshaker, before his first stint with Loudness which lasted from 1981 until 1988. Loudness then brought in American singer Mike Vescera as a replacement for a few years before they were fronted by former EZO singer Masaki Yamada. In 2001, bandleader, guitar wizard and main songwriter Akira Takasaki reunited the original line-up with Niihara, bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Munetaka Higuchi. They have stayed together ever since, with new drummer Ampan Suzuki being the only change (he joined a decade ago as replacement for Higuchi who passed away from liver cancer).

“It’s been four years since the last album and Akira Takasaki had lots of ideas. After the original line-up got back together, it’s been 17 years and the band has made many albums. There have been really good ones and some experimental ones. On this new album, all the songs were carefully written, I feel good about it,” says Niihara.

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Niihara makes it clear that Loudness has no interest in being a mere nostalgia act touring around and just playing their hits from the 80s. Creating new music is very much part of today’s Loudness. “We started making the album last March. It’s in our nature that when we start making something new we are on fire. We can’t stop being creative. We enjoy the creativity. There was an explosion of creativity in the studio! Creativity is the most important part of the band. If we stop being creative we should split up.”

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In the past, metal bands would often spend months together in a studio somewhere in order to produce an album. Nowadays that has changed into many albums being created in the different members’ home studios. Loudness is originally from Osaka but nowadays all the members of the band, apart from Akira Takasaki, are based in Tokyo. “The way we recorded this time around was like a mixture of the past and the present. For the rhythm section, drums and bass, it was more convenient to record in a big studio. The vocal takes, because it is time consuming with doing things over and over again, it was easier for me to do it in a home studio. Akira’s guitar parts were done in his home studio in Osaka.”

Loudness famously used Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, 220 Volt, Y&T, Armored Saint, Megadeth) as a producer on a few albums when they were starting to make it internationally. This time around, Akira Takasaki produced the album himself. “Yeah, he did. We brought our own ideas to him and he produced it,” explains Niihara. Is there a big difference between having a band member like Takasaki producing the album rather than an external producer? “Ask him! Haha!! We were considering getting an external producer but decided not to. Maybe we will do it again, but this time Akira was a perfectionist working with the album. He could become demonic as a producer, but things worked out OK.”

Some international editions of the new “Rise To Glory” album come packaged with the bonus disc “Samsara Flight” which consists of re-recordings of old Loudness songs from the early years. These were re-recorded and released in Japan in 2016 to mark the 35th anniversary of the band. “Because we have released over 25 albums, we wondered which area should we recreate. We finally settled on the earlier albums which were recorded when I was 21 years old. Haha!! How would the songs sound when sung when I am 55 years old? Also, there are lots of Loudness fans around the world who are not aware of the earlier works. The younger generation of fans don’t know what the band sounded like when we debuted. That’s why we decided to recreate the early tracks. We didn’t rearrange the songs too much, we played them in the original keys. It’s being released in Europe and the States and I’m very excited!”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness has in recent years been busy touring around Japan and other parts of Asia as well as Europe and North America. Niihara, who turns 58 in March, says the band will continue to tour as much as they have. “Yeah, I think so! We will tour while we can, while we are still healthy and fit to do so. We haven’t toured South America yet, and we will tour all over the world to see the smiles on the fans’ faces.”

With 27 studio albums below their belts (“No kidding! Really? OK!” says Niihara when reminded of their huge back catalogue), they have an enormous number of songs to choose from when putting together set lists. “We’re fighting a lot! Haha!! No. We start by thinking of the concept of the tour and the shows. When we toured Europe last time, there were requests that we should perform more songs from the 80s, so that’s what we did. For the next tour in March, many of the songs will be from the new album.”

Over the past few years, Loudness has performed some special anniversary shows, such as “Thunder in the East” 30th anniversary shows and “Samsara Flight” 35th anniversary shows and even a “Solider of Fortune” reunion show with Mike Vescera. There may be some additional special shows coming up. “Maybe we will do a ‘Hurricane Eyes’ album show, maybe…There are so many albums! Every year there are album anniversaries. But still, we have a new album now. As long as the fans enjoy what we play, we will do different types of shows and keep them happy.”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness fans do not have to fear that the band won’t continue to write new music and continue to tour. Other veteran Japanese metal bands such as Anthem, Outrage and Earthshaker are also still going strong, leaving less room for newer Japanese bands. Niihara keeps an eye (and two ears) out for newer Japanese bands. “Galneryus! But I can’t pronounce their name! Haha!! We’ve played with them at Loud Out festival. They are awesome! Incredible. Also, I enjoy ONE OK ROCK. I like his voice. I like his father’s voice as well. They’re cool,” says Niihara in reference to ONE OK ROCK’s singer Takahiro Moriuchi and his father, Shinichi Mori, a famous Japanese singer and one of Japan’s biggest-ever selling recording artists.

Loudness new album “Rise To Glory” is out now via Ward Records.

Loudness on Facebook /

Gig review: Rage goes higher than the sky in Tokyo

Peavy of Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German metal veterans Rage return to Japan with a great line-up and a career-spanning show.

Rage at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 22nd February 2018

German metal band Rage has managed to develop a rather unique sound over the years that is quite hard to define. They don’t quite sound like anything else out there. Formed in 1984 by bassist and vocalist Peter “Peavy” Wagner, they are often described as being part of the German power metal scene. While there certainly is some power metal in the musical mix that is Rage, it’s not quite right as a description. Rage has developed a signature sound that is a bit different. With songs such as “Season of the Black”, they move in on thrash and speed metal territory, but it is the straightforward and riff-happy singalong metal of songs like “My Way” and “Don’t Fear the Winter” that is typical of Rage. Power? Yes. Melodic? Yes. But mixed with some proper heaviness in a wonderful combination.

Lucky of Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Peavy has been the only constant member of Rage throughout the years and in the current line-up of the band he is joined by guitarist Marcos Rodriguez and drummer Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos. This line-up has recorded the band’s last two studio albums, “The Devil Strikes Again” (2016) and “Seasons of the Black” (2017). It’s a solid metal trio where Rodriguez has contributed a lot of the recent songwriting.

They open the live set in Tokyo with the fab new song “Justify” and follow that with “Great Old Ones” from the 2003 “Soundchaser” album. The trio is all dressed in black and we get treated to dark-themed songs such as “Sent by the Devil”, “Season of the Black”, “Deep in the Blackest Hole”, “Straight to Hell” and “Blackened Karma”. But despite all of that darkness, this is a good-natured band with a lot of love. They are having fun and combine a great musical performance with plenty of joking around. Rage has a long history of playing in Japan and have built up a loyal fan base here over the years. This evening they are in a great mood and the love from the audience clearly inspires them.

Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

“Price of War”, taken from the 1995 album “Black in Mind”, is perhaps the highlight of the live set this evening. Proper metal. They finish a terrific set with the 1996 classic “Higher Than the Sky”. The song is dragged out with a tribute to Ronnie James Dio in the form of parts of “Holy Diver” and “Heaven & Hell”.

This is what metal is all about: a great band that loves performing for, and interacting with, an audience that really digs the music. This was a great evening of Rage-style European metal in Tokyo.

Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Album review: Frost Giant “The Harlot Star”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Frost Giant combines folk metal with extreme metal in a splendid way.

“The Harlot Star” is the Philadelphia-based band Frost Giant’s third full-length studio album since they formed in 2005. The current line-up of the band consists of Matti Frost on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Scott Breustedt on rhythm and lead guitars, Brook Duer on bass and Armen Koroghlian on drums.

The album “The Harlot Star” is a rather interesting melting pot and genre-bending experience. We get thrash metal and speed metal guitars blended in with Nordic-style folk metal and some death metal influences as well. The result? Bloody great. There is some serious songwriting talent here. On songs such as “Forgive Me Not” they sound similar to folk metal bands such as Moonsorrow, whereas on other songs they sound more extreme. There are also breathers from the mayhem, such as “Apostasis”, a beautiful little acoustic guitar piece, and “An Exile in Storm”, a medieval-sounding a cappella song of the kind that is not too uncommon in folk metal.

The album’s best track, “Prisoner of the Past”, kicks off with an innocent but energetic piano piece before the folk metal takes over with a shout-along chorus, accordion, aggressive guitars and growling.

Frost Giant’s album “The Harlot Star” is out now via Transcending Records.

Album review: Hion Martell “Trust Me On This One!”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish blues rockers Hion Martell are all grown up on new album.

For over a quarter of a century, Swedish band Hion Martell has played boogie-filled blues rock. They hail from the small town of Ljusdal, which has also given us bands such as Hellsingland Underground, Galleon and Angeline. But this is musically a bit different.

Over the years the band has played gigs in Sweden and released a number of albums. With this new album, “Trust Me On This One!”, they take things a bit further. They seem to have ambition to take this a step up from the local scene. They are aiming higher this time and they’re starting to get noticed as they’re getting air time on radio stations far beyond Sweden. The reason is simple: they have upped their game when it comes to songwriting and also in the execution. The band has simply become better. “Rock Me Up” smells of The Rolling Stones. “Quick & Dirty” is good fun and an immediate favourite. “The Girl with the Picasso Face” is another great tune. “Can’t Stop Time” could have been a Bruce Springsteen song if he were born in rural Sweden rather than New Jersey. This song is also not miles away from Hellsingland Underground’s sound.

It’s only blues rock, but it gives hope of a great night out at the local rock club. This is a nice, grown-up album. There is nothing dangerous here, it’s not edgy and it’s not new. But it is good. Pour yourself a drink, sit back and dig it. Or put on your dancing shoes and make a fool of yourself. Hion Martell is here to make your life more boogielicious.

Hion Martell’s album “Trust Me On This One!” is out now via Viskningar och Vrål.