Interview: Paul Stanley and Eric Singer of KISS talk about three decades of playing together

Eric Singer and Paul Stanley in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

KISS legends Paul Stanley and Eric Singer recently sat down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo to talk about their nearly three decades of playing together, their love for Motown and Philly soul and much more.

Sitting down to talk with people who essentially wrote and performed the soundtrack to one’s youth is both exciting and scary at the same time. The reason for our conversation this evening in Tokyo is that Paul Stanley and his KISS colleague and former Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer, with their current side project Soul Station, are revisiting the soul music of their youth. Thus, here we have a combination of the music of my youth and the music of their youth.

We kick off our meeting in Tokyo the evening before they start a 12-gig residency at Billboard Live in Tokyo and Osaka with their Soul Station band by chitchatting about timepieces (”I like your watch,” says Eric Singer who in 2015 was elected to the jury of watchmaking’s highest awards, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) and modern art (“Kind of Basquiatish. It almost looks like Basquiat,” says Paul Stanley, who is also a painter, of my original hand-painted art t-shirt by Aussie artist James “The Walking Creative” Smith), but we soon focus the conversation on music.

Prior to Eric Singer joining Paul Stanley in KISS in 1991 he played in Stanley’s solo band in 1989 and now they are also playing together in Soul Station. The now nearly three-decade long partnership started when the former Black Sabbath and Lita Ford drummer Singer was in the band Badlands in the late 80s (which also featured Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E Lee and Singer’s former Black Sabbath colleague Ray Gillen). They recorded their debut album in 1989.

Roppongi Rocks Stefan Nilsson centre) with Eric Singer and Paul Stanley of KISS in Tokyo in January 2018.

“That’s actually how I met Paul. I was in New York recording that record. And the bass player Dennis St James, who was playing bass with Paul, he was managed by the same management people. He went to the office one day and he said: ‘Hey, what’s Eric doing? Paul Stanley needs a drummer.’ ‘He just finished his tracks. He’s going home. He’s done for like a few months’ So, I think he recommended me as well as some other people. I got a call from Paul’s office, from Derek Simon. He called and said: ‘Can you come over and meet Paul?’ It goes to show you how fate works. Literally my hotel was one block around the corner from the KISS office. I walked around the corner and went to meet Paul in his office. I remember I brought him a couple of Black Sabbath albums and some stuff I had played on. Then we just chatted. I was going home the next morning. That night I was going to the Record Plant. I was just hanging out. They were doing overdubs and Jason Flom, the A&R guy who had signed us, shows up in the studio very late at night, about midnight. He goes: ‘I heard you’re playing in Paul Stanley’s solo band.’ I go: ‘What!?’ Nobody had told me anything. ‘I just saw Paul Stanley at the China Club. He told me you’re playing drums in his solo band.’ That’s how I found out.”

“Amazing!” says Paul Stanley before Singer continues: “I remember it like it was yesterday. This was early, like January of ’89 when that happened.” Eric Singer is now well established in KISS where he replaced Eric Carr who died of cancer. “Other than Gene and Paul, my time in KISS has been the longest of anybody.” But Stanley’s working relationship with KISS co-founder Gene Simmons beats the relationship with Singer by about two decades. “With Gene it is about 49 years,” says Stanley. “What year did you meet him?” asks Singer to Stanley who replies: “Well, I was 17.” “On that fateful day,” comments Singer before Stanley adds, tongue-in-cheek, “That day that will live in infamy.”

Eric Singer in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Now, 29 years after they started playing together, Stanley and Singer are still at it. In addition to playing with KISS, they are both members of the 13-person strong soul collective Soul Station.

Singer explains how the idea of Soul Station started a few years ago. “The school where his children go, once a year they do like a fundraiser. A lot of the artists’ and musicians’ children go to that school. One day Paul said: ‘Hey, I’m gonna do a cool gig where we’re gonna play classic rock, like Led Zeppelin and Free and stuff like that’. He put together a cool band and played at the museum, the history museum downtown LA, a really cool vibe. Then the next year they wanted to do it again. So Paul said: ‘I want to do something different. I always wanted to do this Motown stuff. So he put this band together. And it was so much fun and so cool that it basically, kind of fed on itself and here we are a couple of years later. That day we played at the school, the Foo Fighters played and Bush, because their kids all went to the school. So for the parents that had children at that school, they got one hell of a concert. It was only like a 150 people there. It was on the school grounds, on the football field. It was really cool.”

Was soul music the obvious thing to do when Stanley and Singer wanted to do a side project for when KISS is not touring the world? “For me,” says Stanley, “my roots are much more diverse than some people realise. And Eric too. So, I think that is very much something we have in common. I grew up with classical music, Broadway and opera. When I got a little older, I saw Otis Redding, The Temptations. My roots were as much Philly soul and Motown as Led Zeppelin. And I think really that what you bring to your music, that’s unlike your music, is what will make your music different. If you just feed on something similar, it becomes redundant. It becomes almost incestuous. Whereas, when you have roots that are outside of your genre, you have something extra to offer. For me, there’s two kinds of music: good and bad. There’s good rock’n’roll and there’s some awful stuff. There’s jazz that is horrible. I’ve played with Eric so long that I really think, as will happen with people who play a long time, we instinctively know, without speaking, what we’re thinking. I know that Eric knows what I’m thinking.”

Paul Stanley in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Singer continues: “And what you want! I think that’s even more important. I know how he likes certain things. I am good at following, or taking his lead and anticipating how he’s feeling about something or an ending. Like we talked today in rehearsal, I am able to follow you obviously better than the other guys because I am used to it. I have a sense of how he will naturally feel things.”

Paul Stanley has much admiration for his rhythm anchor: “But Eric is also, he’s so much more than… Eric, I believe, is very, vastly underappreciated or thought of in music circles. He is right up there with the best. He’s a phenomenal drummer, not just because he plays rock, but because he comes from a background that’s far beyond rock. To think that somebody could come in and play this kind of music, to play Soul Station, would be insanity. To think you could take some guy out of a ‘hard rock band’, it just wouldn’t happen. You know, Eric really is well schooled and really understands music. On top of that, the bonus, that we didn’t even know when he joined KISS, is he is a great singer. And let’s face it, as time goes on and our voices aren’t what they once were, as any athlete’s body isn’t what it once was, Eric can do some of the lifting, so he’s great. I would say that with him here or not. He’s a terrific guy and a great person to play with.”

Two famous rock stars seemingly suddenly playing in a soul band might be somewhat of a surprise for some people. Were they at all nervous about how things would be perceived when they first performed with Soul Station? “No, I don’t think so,” says Singer. “Because, like Paul said, there’s sometimes more than meets the eye. If you only know somebody from how you first discovered them, either as a band or individually, like we always tell people: Everybody in LA only knows me as Eric Singer – a rock drummer. They don’t realise that when I grew up, in my formative years I played in my father’s band, I’d play all the standards and was exposed to opera, community theatre. I then was a band leader and they used to take me to the symphony and the opera. I was exposed to lots of stuff and played other types of music. In fact, I was really not a rock drummer originally. I was more of that type of a drummer because that’s what I did since a young age. But I always wanted to be a rock drummer and I always thought I could do it, I could be good at it, if I just had the opportunity. Once the opportunities presented themselves, I was able to take advantage of them. I always believed that I could do that. People always asked me when you’re a kid: ‘What did you think?’ or ‘What did you feel?’ All I know, I used to go to concerts and I used to have the posters on my wall and buy the magazines. I said: ‘I didn’t just think I could this, I always thought you’re supposed to do this’, if that makes sense. I know it is easy to say because I have had some success with it, but I truly believed that since a young kid. I just thought I need the opportunity and then I know I can take advantage of it. Once those opportunities manifested themselves, I was a quick study and I learned very quickly and adapted. At least I feel like I did.”

Eric Singer in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Stanley continues: “I wasn’t nervous the first time we were gonna play. I knew we were great. Whether or not people would come is another thing. Look, when you say to somebody: ‘Hey, you know the guy who sings in KISS is going to do Motown and Philly soul’, you’re gonna go: ‘What?’ And plus, in the beginning and even now, I try to make sure people know, look if you’re coming to hear ‘Love Gun’, it ain’t gonna happen. If you’re coming to see me play guitar, I’m not playing guitar. So, that very much changes the rules and the dynamics. If I put together a solo band and, honestly, just to side track, I don’t think of this as… This isn’t a back-up band for me. I’m in this band. I’m not interested in having guys play behind me. I think the reason we have so much fun as a band is because I want everybody to be featured.”

Singer explains: “Everybody’s integrated in this. There’s no doubt about it. All the singers, everybody gets to shine. But the music is so great that, as long as you stay true to the music, everybody shines because of that. Because the material is so strong. It’s undeniable.” Stanley continues: “We’re not up there rearranging these songs. Our cause is to go out and play them the way they were recorded. It’s really disappointing, unfortunately, when you see some bands from that era doing sped-up versions and Vegas arrangements. I wanna hear those songs, we all wanna hear those songs played reverently with the respect of them sounding like they should, the way we remember them. Again, for me, there was talk when we first talked about the first show: OK, the band will play and then I will come out. I come out with the band. We’re in this together. It’s not: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please…’ You know? I want everybody here to feel, not only appreciated, but essential. Somebody else said: ‘Oh, you could do some shows this summer and there’s musicians available in this country or that country.’ It’s not like that. This is a band!”

In KISS, Stanley is always playing guitar as well as singing, whereas in Soul Station he is fully focused on vocals. One might wonder if this makes a difference to how he performs on stage. “There’s no problem,” says Singer. “Because he always could dance. He’s a good dancer, a performer. So to me it’s like, instead of having a guitar, he’s got a mic stand. And he’s got the girl background singers, so he’s got the props around him!” Stanley continues: “Eric is essential, because I can lean on him. I think a great drummer is somebody who you can almost physically lean on. He’s not stiff, but he’s dependable and he’s in the pocket.”

Paul Stanley in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Singer cuts in: “One thing I was going to point out, not to interrupt you, but you made a good point before. One thing I found pretty eye opening, was when we learned the songs, I always make sure I do my homework, because while the guys in the band, they’re really more schooled about charts. They could literally show up and they would show up with the charts. They’re sitting there reading their charts all the time. I think that you should know… Paul taught me a lesson a long time ago and it applied to singing, so I applied that theory to playing. Know what you’re playing, like, know the song. Know what you’re singing so you can mean it. So I applied the same thing. Know the material so you can really play it, not just reading it like a book. The eye opening thing for me was that so many of these artists, even the bands themselves, the way they play the songs… They don’t really play the stuff faithful to the records. They play all the tempos really fast, the drummers don’t play the beats like on the albums. It’s pretty surprising. So we try to go: ‘Let’s be faithful and play these songs, the parts and stay in the pocket, the tempos, the way these songs were written.’ I think it comes off better that way. I believe it does.”

Stanley continues: “For vocalists, I think, particularly in bands where vocalists have been replaced over the years, I kind of go: ‘I don’t think you understand the song you’re singing. You might as well be singing in Chinese, because… Have you ever sat down and read those lyrics? You’ve memorised them, but what’s the intent of the lyric? What’s being said?’ Otherwise, that’s one of the problems I have with some of these talent shows on TV. I’ve said to my wife: ‘This guy might as well be singing in Latin, because he has no idea what he is singing about.’ So, it’s not a matter of the melody. It’s not a matter of memorising a lyric. You gotta know what you’re singing!”

“I’ll be honest, I get off on the vibe of a song,” says Singer. “I really love guitar, so it’s all about the vibe and the riffs. That’s what I’m attracted to musically. But these songs, the lyrics really are great lyrics. The songs are great but the lyrics have a lot of depth to them. They are a lot about relationships, about emotion. They’re great. They really are great. Like ‘Let’s Stay Together’, what a great lyric!”

Eric Singer and Paul Stanley in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japan and KISS have had a loyal relationship ever since the 1970s. Not only KISS, but also side projects such as Soul Station, Gene Simmons Band and Eric Singer Project have done well here. In 2015, KISS last did a major Japan tour and also had a number one hit single (a collaboration with Japanese pop group Momoiro Clover Z) and in 2016, there was a successful KISS Expo Tokyo which was opened by Gene Simmons. What is this long-lasting Japanese fascination with everything KISS built on? “I think,” says Singer, “just like we were fascinated with British rock – basically they took our music, repackaged it and sent it back over – but I think the same way that we have always been fascinated with the British invasion, I think it just kept going west, across the ocean. And the fascination is there for the fashion, just the whole overall culture.”

“I think it goes beyond that,” says Stanley. “I believe that our connection to Japan is based upon their knowing how much we love being here, how much we appreciate them. A great relationship is based on reciprocity. A great relationship is based on the give and take. I think that over the years we’ve shown ourselves to be truly enamoured with everything here. So, I think it’s reciprocal. It’s not just about music. It’s not just about a culture. We’ve gone beyond that. We’ve made it personal.”

www.kissonline.comwww.facebook.com/kiss

www.paulstanley.com / www.facebook.com/paulstanleyofficial

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Gig review: Epica premieres “Attack on Titan” songs on stage in Tokyo

Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Only nine months after their first Japan tour, Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica returned to Tokyo to perform new music. It was, of course, another massive win for the band.

Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

It took Epica 15 years before they finally toured Japan in April 2017. It was a huge success. Since then, the band has released two new EPs and now they returned to Japan for a special one-off show in Japan to mark the release of the “Attack on Titan” EP.

In Japan we rarely get opening acts at concerts by international artists. But this evening is special and Japanese violinist Ayasa gets to showcase her skills to an appreciative audience who is eagerly awaiting Epica’s return to the Tokyo stage.

Epica is a bit different from most other symphonic metal artists. The Mark Jansen-led band’s signature sound is often bombastic, epic and energetic. They have a great and well-balanced mix of melodic symphonic music and sheer brutality. They have better songs than the competition. The band is tight and rock solid and they’re fronted by the one and only Simone Simons. Her vocal talents are above and beyond most  other singers in this genre. I’d say that only Floor Jansen in Nightwish is her equal.

The Tokyo show is similar to the one the band did in Japan last year. Just like then, we get a world-class show with some of the band’s most loved songs, such as “Sensorium”, “Edge of the Blade”, “The Holographic Principle”, “Unchain Utopia” and “Cry for the Moon”. But we get more than that. They also play the terrific “Fight Your Demons” from “The Solace System” EP that was released last September. And we get  the live premiere of three new songs from the new “Epica vs Attack on Titan songs” EP: “Crimson Bow and Arrow”, “If Inside These Walls Was a House” and “Dedicate Your Heart”. Epica has taken these manga soundtracks and made them into Epica-style songs. Works great both in the studio and live on stage. Fab songs.

Mark Jansen of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

During the show, keyboardist Coen Janssen once again tries to prove that he’s the Keith Moon of keyboards. When he’s not playing his rotating keyboard on stage, he’s out in the audience playing a handheld curved keyboard. He certainly adds some comedy to the well-executed show.

Epica is simply put a great band with great songs and they have what many other similar bands don’t have: Simone Simons. What a truly splendid vocalist she is. She helps to set this apart from the pack. The fact that the band seems to truly enjoy performing for their fans also adds to the positive energy that surrounds Epica shows.

As they did in April, they close a terrific evening with the modern classics “Sancta Terra”, “Beyond the Matrix” and “Consign to Oblivion”.

Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Epica has with these two visits to Japan in nine months certainly laid the groundwork for a long and loving relationship with the band’s Japanese fans.

The “Epica vs Attack on Titan songs” EP is out now via Ward Records.

www.facebook.com/epica / www.epica.nl

Gig review: A fine evening of proper British rock with Thunder at Club Citta

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

An evening of British rock music of the best kind with Thunder back on stage in Japan.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Friday 12th January 2018

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

It’s just over two years ago since British rockers Thunder last played in Japan and now they’re back for three gigs for their Japanese fans. This evening at Club Citta in Kawasaki we get another perfect demonstration of how great music played by a great band can be delivered without any fancy big stage production. There are no gimmicks, no spectacular stage outfits, no pyro or big laser show, no Stonehenge replica or anything else. Just a great rock band doing what they do best: performing great rock music for their fans.

Fab musicians (Luke Morley and Ben Matthews on guitars, Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass) playing terrific songs – that is Thunder’s foundation. And when you add vocalist Danny Bowes on top of that, it becomes awesome. Bowes is no doubt one of the best British rock singers ever. That voice, that feeling, his presence and his obvious love for performing for his fans. That is very hard to beat.

I bloody love this band because they always deliver. This evening they open with the terrific “Loser” from 2003’s “Shooting at the Sun” album and follow that with “The Enemy Inside” from their latest album, “Rip It Up”. We get a great set list of both old favourites and some newer material, including four songs from their most recent album. They have evolved from their early days when they had long hair and dressed in black leather. Since many years Thunder is now a great blues-based rock band.

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

A fine evening of British rock comes to a close with “Dirty Love” from the band’s 1990 debut album “Backstreet Symphony”. This band is clearly one of the absolute best British rock bands in recent times. Fabulous!

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Album review: Imperial State Electric “Anywhere Loud”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A sweaty, high-energy live album by Imperial State Electric? Yes, please. It is as good as one would expect of this unstoppable Swedish rock band led by Nicke Andersson.

Imperial State Electric on stage in Tokyo 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Nicke Andersson is an unstoppable musician. Nicke fans (I am for sure one of them) get so much new music every year that there is really no time for other music. If he’s not busy with Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters, Lucifer or Entombed, then he is producing music for other artists. He is always creating new music. He never stands still. In Imperial State Electric he has some equally energetic bandmates in the form of bassist Dolf de Borst, guitarist Tobias Egge and drummer Thomas Eriksson.

This live album was recorded in Tokyo, Madrid and Stockholm between 2014 and 2016. As I was at that splendid Tokyo gig, I obviously had sky-high expectations on this live album. The end result is even better than I had hoped.

Imperial State Electric on stage in Tokyo 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album features 23 songs and it showcases all the different sides to this terrific rock band. Imperial State Electric could have been a neglected stepchild of The Ramones and The Rolling Stones, seasoned with pinches of The Cramps and, of course, MC5 and some early KISS.

On the album we get modern classics such as “All Through the Night”, “Anywhere Loud”, “Déjà Vu” and “Empire of Fire”, but we also get country rock in “Break It Down”. And we get a jam-tastic version of “Faustian Bargains” where it almost sounds as if Ace Frehley is in the band. We get to dance like crazy during “More Than Enough of Your Love” and the weirdly fantastic “Reptile Brain”. We also get a couple of fun covers in the form of The Dead Boys‘ “Sonic Reducer” and The Kids‘ “This is Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

The production is a bit raw and rough around the edges, just like the band. They have thankfully stayed away from doing too much polishing of the recorded live material. This means that we get a proper live album on which the band sounds the way they sound in concert. The way we want it.

You already have “Alive” (KISS), “It’s Alive” (The Ramones) and “No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith” (Motörhead). Now you need to add “Anywhere Loud” to your live album collection. This is exceptional stuff. This is indeed the shit. It’s intense, it’s real, it’s sweaty and it’s bloody good.

Nicke Andersson of Imperial State Electric on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Imperial State Electric’s live album “Anywhere Loud” will be released on 16th February via Psychout Records/Sound Pollution.

www.imperialstateelectric.se

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Gig review: KISS legends Paul Stanley and Eric Singer return to Japan with Soul Station and a bag full of soul classics

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Best known as rockers, KISS members Paul Stanley and Eric Singer return to Japan with their band Soul Station for intimate club gigs focused on soul music classics.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, Billboard Live Tokyo, Thursday 11th January 2018

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Unlike their KISS bandmate Gene Simmons (who recently played KISS songs in Japan with his solo band), Paul Stanley and Eric Singer are staying away from KISS nostalgia when they now do a 12-gig Japan stint at Billboard Live in Tokyo and Osaka with their band Soul Station.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Soul Station puts on a terrific hour and a half celebration of classic soul music. This evening they open with The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and follow with The Delfonics’ “La-La Means I Love You”. We get a great and comprehensive showcase of classic American soul music from artists such as The Miracles, Al Green, The Spinners, Five Fairsteps and much more. Paul Stanley’s voice fits the music very well. He’s on top form and he clearly loves performing this music. But this is no solo act as Stanley pointed out to me when I met him the day before the Japan tour kicked off. Soul Station is a 13-person collective of fab musicians. Eric Singer, who has also played with Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, gets to show that he can handle soul music just as well as he normally thunders away on a KISS classic such as “Creatures of the Night”.

In Jackson 5’s “I Want You back”, vocalist Crystal Starr gets to shine with that terrific voice of hers. So does Gavin Rhone In Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and Laurhan Beato in Martha and The Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets”. There is some serious power and raw talent in this band. They are so well rehearsed that their performance seems almost effortless.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

With both Stanley and Singer on stage, there are of course some KISS fans in the audience. And while the performance is purely focused on soul music, with Soul Station we do get a few subtle nods to rock music: the fab guitarist Rafael Moreira some will remember from Paul Stanley’s solo band and there is also a cameo appearance by Doc McGhee, the legendary manager of KISS, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe.

When KISS play Japan they normally do so in massive venues such as Tokyo Dome and Budokan. This evening, Soul Station performs in a much more intimate setting which is a rare treat for the fans. Billboard Live Tokyo is a terrific venue in Roppongi: it’s like a high-end jazz club which is all-seated and with a tiered layout where everyone is close to the performers.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Soul Station finishes a splendid evening with The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” where we also get to hear guitarist Rafael Moreira really come to life. This was a great evening leaving us wanting more. Thank you for the music, Soul Station.

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Album review: Grafvitnir “Keys to the Mysteries Beyond”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hardworking but shadowy Swedish black metal trio Grafvitnir is back with yet another sinister studio album.

Sweden has long been a leading black metal nation, ever since Bathory helped form the genre in the 1980s. Grafvitnir is one of the leading stars in the current wave of Swedish black metal.

It’s only a year since the band’s last studio album, “Obeisance to a Witch Moon”, was released and yet somehow this trio has managed to put together another great record. The music is superb, both the actual compositions and the performances of them. The tempo is for the most part relentlessly fast. The possessed vocal style puts an even more sinister twist to the songs. Wonderful if you like twisted, evil and darker than dark music. Occultism is the overarching theme of pretty much everything Grafvitnir does.

More than a decade into the band’s career, Grafvitnir’s new album is its fifth full-length studio album and it is, simply put, world class. This is up there at the top of the hill, front of the pack.

The band lets its music do the talking. They don’t share much information about who the members are or any other personal information. The shadow-living band may be a tad shy, or deliberately mysterious, but that’s OK. If the band continues to produce quality extreme music like this, we can let them remain faceless.

“Whispers of the Primordial Sea” and ”Glimpses of the Unseeable” are among my favourite songs together with the fabulous title track, while “Vargavinter” is probably the best track on a very even album which is a worthy follow-up to “Obeisance to a Witch Moon”.

Grafvitnir’s album “Keys to the Mysteries Beyond” is out now via Carnal Records.

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Album review: Lechery “We Are All Born Evil”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Arch Enemy veteran Martin Bengtsson is back with a new Lechery album full of classic Swedish metal.

Martin Bengtsson is best known as a former Arch Enemy member (he played bass on their second album “Stigmata” in 1998). Since 2006 he has played a more traditional form of heavy metal with his current band Lechery, in which he handles vocals and plays guitar.

Lechery, which debuted in 2008 with the album “Violator”, is musically quite far removed from Arch Enemy. Lechery lives closer to the valleys of classic heavy metal and power metal. Lechery’s native Sweden has long been strong in traditional heavy metal, going back to the early to mid-1980s with bands such as 220 Volt and Heavy Load. However, Lechery is no copycat band. They have taken that foundation and built further on it by adding their own style to the mix and creating a few anthems along the way. It works very well.

“We Are All Born Evil” is the band’s third album and follows 2011’s “In Fire”. The album kicks off with the very HammerFall-esque “Heavy Metal Invasion”. This is a solid album built on a foundation of 1980s metal: great guitars, catchy songs, shout-along choruses and a production that oozes the 1980s (in a good way). Love it. Song titles such as “Rule the World”, “Breaker of Chains” and “Even A Hero Must Die” are very telling of what this is all about. Good old heavy metal in the Swedish tradition.

Lechery’s album “We Are All Born Evil” will be released on 19th January via Bleeding Music Records.

www.facebook.com/lecheryofficial / www.lechery.se

Album review: Ignitor “Haunted by Rock & Roll”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ignitor serves us an extra large portion of terrific heavy metal on its new album.

They say that everything is bigger in Texas. Well, Ignitor is a larger than life metal band with a terrific new album out. Formed in Texas in 2003 by Agony Column guitarist Stuart “Batlord” Laurence and drummer Pat Doyle (The Offenders), Ignitor’s current line-up also features vocalist Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth, Evil United), guitarist Robert Williams (Witches Mark) and bassist Billy Dansfiell (Agony Column).

In addition to eight fab new tracks, the album also features a cover of “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” by NWOBHM legends Raven. There is a 1980s heavy metal feeling to much of this music and that is a good thing. It’s sort of a mix of NWOBHM and some early thrash metal. Blitzkrieg, Anvil and, yes, Raven all come to mind and so does Overkill. But it’s not all old-sounding stuff. On the title track we get a great bridge between old and more modern influences. “Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown”, perhaps the album’s best track, has a fantastic Dio-esque touch to it. Splendid. No doubt this band will now start making waves outside of Texas. What a great find!

Ignitor’s album “Haunted by Rock & Roll”, with Megadeth’s David Ellefson as executive producer, is out now via EMP Label Group.

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Album review: Verikalpa “Taistelutahto” | Beer-fuelled troll metal from Finland

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Beer drinking and troll-chasing band Verikalpa debuts with an energetic and very Finnish folk metal album.

In the Nordic folk metal sub-genre of heavy metal there is plenty of great music to be found. Finland’s Verikalpa, a band about to release its debut album, refers to its version of folk metal as “troll/beer metal”. It’s a fitting label, but don’t be fooled by the somewhat not-so-serious lyrical themes: this is no comedy or novelty act. This band is for real and they’re actually a very good metal band.

There are a few key ingredients that can be found In all great folk metal: traditional folk music instruments and influences among the heavy metal, an angry vocalist, speed and often beer-fuelled energy. Verikalpa has all that and more. Their energy is contagious and makes me want to drink beer, dance and headbang. I can only imagine how good this can be live in a small club full of Finnish metalheads. Vocalist Jani Ikonen can no doubt rally the troops around Verikalpa’s battle hymns.

Style-wise this band lives in the same Nordic woods as Finntroll, Ensiferum, Moonsorrow and Korpiklaani. The lyrics are all in the band’s native Finnish language which makes this more authentic-sounding than some other bands in the genre. Verikalpa sounds VERY Finnish which is also why this appeals to me. On songs such as “Rautatammi” and “Pahan Laulu”, an accordion plays an integral role in the soundscape. This is a band from Oulu in northern Finland and they are proud of that. They do not pretend that they grew up in LA or New York. Yes, there is sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in the lyrics, but in the form of tales about Finnish-style drinking, hangovers, trolls and blood-spattered eternal battles. Great stuff which is entertaining and energetic.

Verikalpa’s “Taistelutahto” will be released on 16th February via Inverse Records.

www.facebook.com/verikalpa