Album review: Slimfit “1” | Tom Petty-esque rock from the blue mountains of Hellsingland

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slimfit plays Tom Petty-esque grown-up rock on their catchy debut album “1”.

Ljusdal is a small town in Hellsingland, deep in the Swedish countryside. Basically it’s a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I grew up in that town and played bass with some local punk, rock and heavy metal bands. I wasn’t any good. But a few of the other local musicians of the same generation actually had talent. Best known among my contemporaries are perhaps rockers Hellsingland Underground, melodic hard rockers Angeline and composer, lyricist, musician and record producer Peer Åström, who went on to work with Madonna, Celine Dion, Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al Yankovic. Just like I grew up with the above-mentioned names as friends, so did the lads in Slimfit.

Slimfit – consisting of Jens Schulstad on guitar and vocals, Daniel Hogdin on bass and Stefan Martinsson on drums – has been around as a band for quite a few years, doing plenty of gigs locally and regionally. They have earned their stripes as a hardworking local party band that will play weddings in the summer and after ski sessions in the winter, and everything in between. Now the trio has a debut album ready full of original and rather catchy songs.

In a way this is similar to Hellsingland Underground in so far as that it is rock music with a firm foundation in fine melodies and great songwriting. Musically Slimfit plays grown-up rock music with some country music influences (but without going too far into the haystacks). There are certainly a few nods here to artists like Kris Kristofferson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Dire Straits, but more than anything there are echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with an added touch of Nordic melancholy.

There’s great potential here. Especially the band’s songwriting skills stand out from the pack. “Turn It Up Louder” and “Take a Ride” both have hit potential and “Can You Feel It” (with a fabulous Joy Division-like bass line at its heart) is sure to become a live favourite. This is non-threatening and radio friendly rock for grown-ups. It’s great. With some added danger and naughtiness on the next album, this will be explosive.

Slimfit’s debut album has been co-produced by Johan Dereborn and recorded in Dereborn’s studio in Sweden. The band will celebrate the release of its debut album “1” with a local release party on 3rd June. /

Album review: The Night Flight Orchestra “Amber Galactic”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Soilwork and Arch Enemy members get together for some catchy classic rock fun on the new album by The Night Flight Orchestra.

Featuring members from bands such as Soilwork and Arch Enemy, one might get the wrong expectations when putting on the new album by The Nigh Flight Orchestra. This is no death metal album, but a very different kind of rock music. This is more in line with classic rock and progressive rock from the 70s, but without sounding dated. It reminds me to a degree of 70s artists such as Manfred Mann, Boston, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult and Journey, but with a contemporary touch to it. This is the band’s third album, following 2012’s “Internal Affairs” and 2015’s “Skyline Whispers”. They deliver plenty of classic rock with pop-like catchiness on this splendid album.

Some of the tracks, such as “Midnight Flyer”, “Gemini”, “Domino” and “Something Mysterious”, are fabulous good-natured tunes, far removed from the doom and gloom of death metal. “Sad State of Affairs” has a bit of a KISS vibe to it with a 70s-style Ace Frehley guitar all over it. What a great side project this is for these musicians. Lots of fun and great tunes. My standout favourite is “Star of Rio” which chugs along like a beach party with free-flowing drinks.

The band consists of Björn Strid (Soilwork) on vocals, Sharlee D’ Angelo (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Witchery and formerly of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate) on bass, David Andersson (Soilwork) on guitar, Richard Larsson (Von Benzo) on keyboards, Jonas Källsbäck (Mean Streak) on drums and the most recent addition Sebastian Forslund (Kadwatha) on guitar and percussion.

The Night Flight Orchestra’s “Amber Galactic” is out now via Nuclear Blast.

Gig report: Suomi Feast | A celebration of Finnish metal

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Finland remains a world power in heavy metal. The Nordic country is home to major acts like Nightwish, Children of Bodom and Amorphis, but there is much more to the Finnish metal scene. On Sunday 22nd May, Suomi Feast, a mini Finnish metal festival, took place in Shibuya, Tokyo with the five Finnish metal acts Insomnium, Whispered, Brymir, Dark Flood and Re-Armed. Roppongi Rocks’ Caroline Misokane was there.


Ares. Photo: Caroline Misokane

With six acts on the bill, Suomi Feast kicked off already in the afternoon. Japanese melodic death metal band Ares entered the stage to warm up the crowd before the Finnish invasion. At the first note of Takeshi Higashimura‘s guitar, the venue went crazy. The show went fine with the crowd responding well to every request of clapping hands and banging heads. Although it wasn’t a long set, it was enough for these Kansai guys to show what they are made of. When they left the stage, I felt more than satisfied with the amazing sound and a will to see them again and again.




Re-Armed. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Next band to enter the stage was the Finnish extreme metal band Re-Armed. Coming from Kerava, the four guys were really excited being in Japan for the first time, promoting their latest album, “The Era of Precarity”. Between jumps and amazing guitar solos by Jussi Venäläinen, vocalist Jouni Matilainen gave us his all. By the third song, inflatable balls were thrown from the band to the fans and the show became a piece of fun interaction, with especially Matilainen engaging with the crowd. The extremity of Re-Armed’s songs allowed the audience to form the first circle pit of the night. It was somewhat small in size due to the limited space at the Duo Music Exchange venue. However, this was not a problem for such an excited crowd which wanted to be an active part of the show.

Dark Flood

Dark Flood. Photo: Caroline Misokane

When the curtain fell for the third act of the evening, the guys in Dark Flood were already there while their epic intro was being played. With a powerful riff combined with the drums of Tuomas Jaatinen, “Misery is Music” opened up a long-awaited spectacle to the Japanese audience. Tero Piltonen has one of the strongest guttural voices in Finnish metal and his performance couldn’t be better. Combining his harsh screams with the soft yet powerful voices of Ville Ruumensaari and Kalle Ruumensaari, the trio gave Shibuya an unforgettable experience. Dark Flood is that kind of band that when on stage, they make you forget your name with the intensity of their performance. The greatest moment was during “Deadline”, which is a song where a perfect duet between Ville and Kalle makes the base for the aggressiveness of Tero. They finished their dark show with the track “Summer” and proved that 21 years of waiting was worth it for the Japanese fans.


Brymir. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Probably one of the most awaited bands of the night, Brymir made a triumphal beginning with their single “For Those Who Died”, a powerful heavy song starting with the screams of Viktor Gullischen. Now, the crowd, which had been warming up since the opening act Ares, showed what they are made of and the room was completely filled in heat, aggressiveness and passion for Finnish heavy music. This great band was welcomed by Japanese fans singing along and banging their heads. The band’s guitarist Joona Björkroth, who is also the guitarist of Battle Beast, was unable to be in Japan as he’s currently touring in the US with Battle Beast. He was temporarily replaced by Antti Nieminen (IA, Stormic) who, together with the band’s other guitarist Sean Haslam, stole the show with the most amazing guitar solos I’ve ever heard. With these guitarists striking performances, they caught the audience’s attention from the beginning to the end of the show. Brymir could not possibly leave Japan without playing their anthem “Ragnarök”, and when they did, the whole venue went to Finland in a typical Finnish feast with lots of fun, alcohol and good music. Expecting to come back as soon as they can, Brymir created a beautiful part of their history in Japan and surely are already missed.


Whispered. Photo: Caroline Misokane

When Whispered entered the was an important moment for the band who describe themselves as playing Samurai metal, and also for the Japanese fans who feel very honoured in seeing how the culture of their country has inspired and influenced Jouni Valjakka to create his music. With the strength of “Chi No Odori”, Whispered started a memorable show, showing their abilities with their instruments and the power of Jouni’s voice. Jouni tried to speak some words in Japanese, but as the time was very limited the band preferred to not talk too much and play as many songs as they could instead. For every song with a Japanese title, like “Sakura Omen” and “Keisei”, the crowd went delirious while Jouni and Mikko Mattila delighted themselves in strong solos and energetic riffs. Kai Palo is a guy who not only takes care of the four strings of his bass, but he’s also a guy who doesn’t want to see anyone dull while his band is playing, which means that he was clapping hands, banging his head all the time. And when he wasn’t, he was asking the audience to do that. The technical abilities of Whispered are among the best of Finnish bands, but these guys from Tampere show with every single note that they play, that a good band is not only about technique. It has to have power, glory, feeling and a lot of passion too. If you’ve checked them out once and didn’t like their sound, you should check them out live, because after that it is impossible to not say that Whispered is one of the best Finnish bands of all time.


Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

The evening’s headliner Insomnium has a strong relationship with the Japanese audience. It has been two years since their last visit to Japan, but even if they had been here last month, people would still wait for them like it was their first ever time in the land of the rising sun. Their latest epic album, “Winter’s Gate”, released in 2016, has had a great response from all over the world. It is not hard to understand why when they hit the stage and open their set with “Winter’s Gate pt.1”. The album contains only one song divided into seven pieces and this evening they perform the entire album. As “Winter’s Gate” has its slow parts, we saw the Joensuu guys coming and going off the stage during the first hour of the set. After introducing guitarist Jani Liimatainen (Sonata Arctica, Cain’s Offering, Stratovarius, Paul Di’Anno) who is replacing Ville Friman on this tour, vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen took everyone back to “Above the Weeping World” with “The Gale”.

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Jani and the other guitarist Markus Vanhala (Omnium Gatherum) gave an extra flavour to the night as they joke with each other all the time, trying to show who is the best guitar player and even playfully sabotaging for each other. Niilo is the best Finnish death metal singer there is and he can still surprise me with the quality of his vocals. When combined with the clean voice of Jani, it was almost impossible to keep my tears from falling down. Heaviness, energy, humour and plenty of feeling are words that best describe what happened in that moment. With lyrics full of sadness and darkness, Insomnium takes the listener on a trip into the depths of the human mind. The crowd got the opportunity to breathe a little after an intense gig, before the band came back to perform an encore. They revived two classics from the “Shadows of the Dying Sun” album, starting with “Primeval Dark” and then, after thanking and saluting the crowd, finishing the amazing show with “While They Sleep”, maybe one of their best songs ever.

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

The five Finnish bands gave Shibuya a musically extreme dark night and brought with them a little piece of the cold lands of Finland to Japan, proving once again that the two countries can make a perfect marriage, at least when it comes to heavy music.

Once again the Evoken de Valhall Production deserves to be congratulated for bringing to Japan bands that most of the other promoters have forgotten. It was a memorable night and I can only guess that, just like me, everyone who attended Suomi Feast already wants more.

Album review: The Leather Nun “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” | Glasnost, Soviet tanks and rock’n’roll in Estonia

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Back in 1988, Swedish garage rockers The Leather Nun helped bring down the Soviet Union. Now you can add this piece of history to your record collection.

Ever wondered how the mighty Soviet Union came crumbling down? It all seems to the fault of a bunch of Swedish rockers. Rock’n’roll power.

In August 1988, Swedish cult garage rockers The Leather Nun played at Glasnost Rock ’88, the first-ever international rock festival in the Soviet Union. The massive three-day festival’s headliners were Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd and Big Country, and on the bill were other acts such as Steve Hackett, Leningrad Cowboys and Sky High.

Now The Leather Nun’s gig at the festival has been released as a live album. What we get on this album is a bunch of Swedish rockers rocking Tallinn, Estonia as the Soviet Union starts to crumble around them. Soviet tanks were present outside the festival grounds, adding a bit of nerve and excitement to this historic event.

The Leather Nun came to perform in Estonia following a successful US tour. Finnish state television filmed the festival and now fans can hear The Leather Nun’s historic gig. The gig features the best of the band’s output at that point, including “I’m Alive”, “Prime Mover”, “Lust for Love”, “I Can Smell Your Thoughts” and “Jesus Came Driving Along”. The Leather Nun plays dirty garage rock far removed from any trends or fads. It’s a bit like Elvis Presley jamming with Motörhead. Like a hungover Billy Idol in slow motion. Or Johnny Thunders before his morning coffee.

The Leather Nun’s “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” is out now on Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution.

Album review: Iced Earth “Incorruptible”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Iced Earth is back with its 12th album and yet a new line-up. The album’s killer though. Solid North American heavy metal.

Iced Earth, founded in Tampa, Florida in 1985, has more ex-members than most other bands. The list of ex-members includes major names such as Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Yngwie Malmsteen), James MacDonough (Megadeth), Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Death, Obituary, Autopsy) and Jon Dette (Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Heathen). In the current version of Iced Earth, guitarist Jon Schaffer is the only original member who is still in the band. It doesn’t matter, because on their new album, “Incorruptible”, they sound better than they have in a long time. This is great stuff. The current line-up of the band – Jon Schaffer on guitar, Stu Block on vocals, Jake Dreyer on guitar, Luke Appleton on bass and Brent Smedley on drums – delivers above expectation.

“Incorruptible” is the band’s 12th studio album since they debuted in 1990 with “Iced Earth”. Musically they live in in the same neighbourhood, but not in the same house, as Queensrÿche. This is no nonsense modern heavy metal. It has elements of both power metal and thrash metal. It’s melodic yet rather heavy. It’s big music, even bombastic at times, but in a good way. Iced Earth matches its heavy metal music, mainly created by Schaffer, with tales about Vikings, pirates and whores. “Seven Headed Whore” is my favourite track on the album. The track takes fast thrash metal (with angry, pissed off vocals and aggressive guitars) and combines that with a dramatic chorus in a gothic Sisters of Mercy kind of way. “The Veil” sounds epic while on the fab mainly instrumental piece “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” we get some Native American influences. “Black Flag” is simply heavy metal greatness in a Manowar kind of way. “Clear the Way” and “Raven Wing” are other terrific songs. The album has influences from all over the place but they all melt down to a very solid heavy metal album by a great metal band.

Iced Earth’s “Incorruptible” will released on 16th June via Century Media.

Gig review: Treat – Swedish melodic rockers better than ever

Treat posing in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

A fab evening of melodic hard rock with Swedish favourites Treat. They are still relevant and better than ever. The addition of King Diamond’s bassist Pontus Egberg has breathed new life into this classic 80s band.

Robert Ernlund of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Having previously toured Japan on their own in 1990 and in 2015 as opening act for Europe, now Swedish melodic rockers Treat are back in Japan for two club gigs. The loyal Japanese fan base is still there and the fans seem to really like today’s version of Treat and not just looking for a trip down memory lane.

Jamie Borger of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

During their heyday back in the 1980s they released four solid albums and they could easily just tour as a nostalgia act with the old material from the 80s. But that is not what Treat is about in 2017. They have two great new albums (“Coup de Grace” from 2010 and “Ghost of Graceland” from 2016) filled with great songs. To a large extent it is the newer material that makes this a top gig. Of course the Japanese fans love to hear old favourites, but they are equally enthusiastic about the newer songs.

The newer material works brilliantly live. This evening they open with three newer songs – “Ghost of Graceland”, “Better the Devil You Know” and “Nonstop Madness” – before they play the classic “Ready for the Taking” from 1989. It’s a brave set-list decision that pays off. Treat’s newer material is great and the audience already knows all the words to the newer songs too. By taking this approach, Treat sends a signal that they are here and now and that they are still relevant.

Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Original members Robert Ernlund on vocals and guitarist Anders “Gary” Wikström on guitar definitely still got it. Robert’s characteristic voice is intact. His voice combined with Anders’ fine guitar playing and songwriting have always been the foundation of the Treat sound. Jamie Borger (Talisman, Jeff Scott Soto) on drums and Patrick Appelgren (Power) on keyboards, who both joined the band in the late 80s, are still there. Bassist Pontus Egberg (best known as King Diamond’s bassist but who has also played with The Poodles, HammerFall, Lion’s Share and Zan Clan) is a fabulous addition to the band who joined in 2016. He’s by far the best bassist Treat has ever had and he makes Treat sound better than ever, not only with his magnificent bass playing but also by providing key backup vocals throughout the set. What a find!

Treat. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

As often is the case when bands tour Japan, Treat wants to treat (yay!) their fans to something special this evening. They do that in the form of a splendid medley of six songs from the 1987 album “Dreamhunter”. The medley is followed by another special: the song “Inferno” performed live for the very first time.

Anders Wikström of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Treat finishes a great evening of melodic hard rock with two old favourites from the 80s: “We Own the Night” and “World of Promises”. Over an hour and a half we get a great mixture old and new Treat. They are not only still able to perform the old songs but they also keep creating new material that is as good, if not better, than the original songs form the 80s.

Treat – Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, 17th May 2017 – set list

  1. Ghost of Graceland
  2. Better the Devil You Know
  3. Nonstop Madness
  4. Ready for the Taking
  5. Paper Tiger
  6. Do Your Own Stunts
  7. Sole Survivor
  8. You’re the One I Want
  9. Take Me on Your Wings
  10. Best of Me
  11. Dancing on the Edge
  12. Outlaw
  13. Inferno
  14. Love Stroke
  15. Roar
  16. Get You on the Run
  17. Conspiracy
  18. Skies of Mongolia
  19. We Own the Night
  20. World of Promises

Gig review: Megadeth and Anthrax – Two of the Big Four take on Tokyo

Dirk Verbeuren and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

If you can’t get another round of The Big Four gigs, a great alternative is to get two of the four for a fabulous evening of world-class thrash metal. Veterans Megadeth and Anthrax are better than ever as they once again perform in Tokyo.

Scott Ian of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following a short opening act set by local Japanese artist The Kanmuri, Anthrax walks on to the stage for a nearly one hour set of pure energy and attitude. Led on stage by vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarist Scott Ian, the band members are in a great mood and rock out with so much energy that you worry that something might explode or catch fire.

Scott Ian of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Joey Belladonna of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks










Since I saw them live for the first time in 1990 (opening for Iron Maiden in Stockholm), I have loved Anthrax’s style of thrash metal which has a bit of a punky hardcore-like side to it, a bit like Suicidal Tendencies. This evening in Tokyo that music works great and we get some serious audience participation in old favourites such as “Among the Living”, “Madhouse”, “Antisocial” and “Indians”. As it is a shorter set, we only get two songs from the latest album, 2016’s “For All Kings”: “Breathing Lightning” and “Blood Eagle Wings”. Anthrax delivers a flawless set bursting with Anthraxness. It’s a kick-ass performance. Now Anthrax has been to Japan several times in recent years, but mainly for festival appearances and now as special guests. Let’s hope that we soon can get some headline shows by Anthrax in Japan.

David Ellefson of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth are better than ever. The current line-up with founders Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson plus Kiko Loureiro and Dirk Verbeuren, not only rivals the classic “Rust in Peace” era line-up from the 1990s (which featured Nick Menza and Marty Friedman), but it is actually better. Last time Megadeth played in Japan, as headliner at the Loud Park festival in October 2015, Kiko had already joined the band, but Dirk only came onboard in 2016. And what an addition he is! He takes this band to a whole new level with his drumming. Anyone who has followed Dirk in his many previous bands, including Soilwork, knew what to expect. He’s the best extreme metal drummer in the world and he is such a great fit for Megadeth.

Kiko Loureiro of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

David Ellefson of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth’s latest album, 2016’s “Dystopia” is a fabulous album showing that Megadeth are back in business. The album introduced Angra guitarist Kiko to the Deth fans. He’s a fantastic guitarist who can handle many different styles and he is as phenomenal live on stage as he is in the studio. But the “Dystopia” album does not feature Dirk (it was recorded with Lamb of God‘s Chris Adler behind the drum kit). It’ll be very exciting to hear what the new Megadeth with Dirk behind the drum kit can achieve on the next album. Live this line-up is absolutely killing it.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Tokyo, we get a killer set-list featuring obvious classics from the 80s and 90s, but also no fewer than seven songs from “Dystopia”. Yes, the album is that good and live the songs sound even better. Megadeth are back and they are better than ever!

Shortly before the gig, when I meet Megadeth backstage, we are reached by the sad news that Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell has been found dead. Dave Mustaine, who knew Cornell personally, decides that Megadeth should pay tribute to Cornell by performing Soundgarden’s “Outshined”. Mustaine delivers an emotional version of the song together with his fearsome foursome.

What a night! Long live thrash metal and long may the veterans be delivering at this level. Cheers for the music, Megadeth and Anthrax.

Anthrax – set list at Zepp DiverCity, Tokyo – 18th May 2017

  1. Among the Living
  2. Caught in a Mosh
  3. Madhouse
  4. Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
  5. Breathing Lightning
  6. Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)
  7. Blood Eagle Wings
  8. Antisocial (Trust cover)
  9. Indians

Megadeth – set list at Zepp DiverCity, Tokyo – 18th May 2017

  1. Hangar 18
  2. Wake Up Dead
  3. In My Darkest Hour
  4. The Threat Is Real
  5. Sweating Bullets
  6. She-Wolf
  7. Conquer or Die!
  8. Lying in State
  9. Trust
  10. Poisonous Shadows
  11. Fatal Illusion
  12. A Tout e Monde
  13. Tornado of Souls
  14. Post American World
  15. Dystopia
  16. Symphony of Destruction
  17. Peace Sells
  18. Outshined (Soundgarden cover)
  19. Holy Wars…The Punishment Due

Gig review: Krisiun, NervoChaos, Neuroticos and Blind Hate at Brazilian Attack in Japan

Krisiun. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On Sunday 14th May, Brazil’s extreme metal trio Krisiun made a triumphant return to Japan and they brought their mates in NervoChaos with them.

The underground metal scene in Tokyo is alive and well. New local promoter Neuro Productions put on a terrific event called Brazilian Attack in Japan 2017 at Cyclone in Shibuya.

Blind Hate. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The event kicks off in style with fierce Japanese death metal band Blind Hate. The Hiroshima-based band gives a solid performance as the only non-Brazilian band on the bill this evening. Especially vocalist Kentarou Kasuga stands out with a fab voice that fits the music well. Their short set only gives us a glimpse of the potential of this band, but what I experience sounds great and it reminds me somewhat of a Japanese version of my favourites Belphegor.

Neuroticos. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next up is Japan-based Brazilian band Neuroticos which formed in Hiroshima in 2004 and released their debut EP, “Hell in the House of God”, in 2016. The band members (all Brazilian apart from bassist Jumpei Nakamura) are also the people behind Neuro Productions and so they are on double duty this evening. They have bundles of energy and plenty of supporters in the audience. They play brutal old-school death metal which really gets this crowd going with some serious moshing.

Cherry of NervoChaos. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Then it is time for the mighty NervoChaos, the band led by drummer Eduardo Lane, Alpha Omega Management’s Latin American boss. The extreme metal band from Sao Paulo celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2016 and tour more than most bands in the business.

NervoChaos. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They play extreme metal perhaps best described as blackened death metal with a punky hardcore feeling to it here and there. There is something dark about this band with a fabulously sinister feeling to their music. In the relatively recent addition Cherry Sickbeat (who has made a name for herself with the band Hellsakura), they seem to have received an energy injection. She is a great guitarist who is also bringing a punk attitude and a different visual element to the band. Cherry helps them stand out from the pack.

Moyses Kolesne of Krisiun. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When the event’s headliner Krisiun enters the stage, the audience knows what to expect and the expectations are high. This death metal trio consists of three brothers: Alex Camargo on vocals and bass, Moyses Kolesne on guitar and Max Kolesne on drums. Since the band’s formation 27 years ago, they have released ten studio albums and toured the world many times over, including several Japan visits. Their latest album, “Forged in Fury”, was released in 2015 and this evening we get to hear the best songs from that album as well as plenty of good stuff from their long career. We also get treated to an extreme metal version of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” as a tribute to Lemmy.

Alex Camargo of Krisiun. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening both Krisiun and NervoChaos are in top form and eager to play in front of their fans, especially as they a few days earlier were detained on entry into Bangladesh where the authorities cancelled the bands’ scheduled gigs for unclear reasons. Censorship is still a major issue in parts of Asia.

Overall this evening in Shibuya is a fab extreme metal event with great bands and an enthusiastic audience eager to mosh, stage dive and crowd surf.

Moyses Kolesne of Krisiun. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Mark Jansen on how Epica’s sound has evolved

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It took Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica some 15 years to get to Japan, but when they did show up they got a warm welcome by their Japanese fans. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met with Epica mastermind Mark Jansen before their sold out show in Tokyo.

Simone Simons and Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mark Jansen founded a new symphonic metal band when he left After Forever in 2002 over “musical and personal differences”. As we sit down backstage before Epica’s Tokyo gig Mark explains: “In After Forever there were two captains on the ship. All the time we had different opinions. It was taking a lot of energy. Yeah, I like to be a bit more in control. I am not a control freak but I need to have some control of things to feel happy.”

The new band Mark assembled was originally called Sahara Dust, but as they entered the studio to record they stumbled upon a much better name, Epica, which was the name of a Kamelot album. “We were recording in the same studio where they were recording the album ‘Epica’. We saw the cover. We were called Sahara Dust at the time. The name we weren’t completely satisfied about and we couldn’t find a better name. Then we saw that album cover of ‘Epica’. We already liked the music of Kamelot a lot. We sent them an email: ‘Are you OK with that?’ and they were fine. Not right away but after a while. They said themselves already that Epica would be a great name for a band. But I think it fits really well to us. I think not many bands who have a band name that fits their music so well as we do,” says Mark while looking very satisfied.

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Epica debuted in 2003 with “The Phantom Agony” and rapidly won a loyal fan base globally, including in Japan. In 2016 they released their seventh album, the fabulous “The Holographic Principle”. So why did it take the band some 15 years to come and play for their Japanese fans? “Several reasons. Every time when we tried to come over, the promoters said ‘Look at your CD sales. It’s not high enough in Japan to bring you over. Probably we’re not gonna sell enough tickets’ and that kind of story. We kept trying and then two years ago there was finally one promoter who wanted to get us, but then our management said we should not go yet because if we worked with that promoter we could not play Loud Park, for example. You have these kind of things. Then we said, next opportunity, we go. We can’t wait forever to go to Japan,” says Mark who is very pleased that they managed to come to Japan for a three-city tour and that the band’s first ever Tokyo gig is sold out. “Sold out! To be able to do three shows is already amazing. I’ve never been so relaxed on a tour in a country like here. Strictly on time, everything is well organised. It’s sometimes different in other countries.”

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Epica has arrived at a signature sound which means that nowadays it is rather easy to spot an Epica song. But with such success also comes expectations when new music is created and some artists feel that they become constrained to create music that fits into what is expected of them. “Usually I just start and then whatever feels right, I do it. I learnt to not think inside the box, but to just do whatever feels good. In the end, there is always something happening that makes it sound Epica. Even if you have a piece of music that in the beginning doesn’t fit well, something happens and it always fit in the end. And if it really doesn’t fit I use it for another project. So, whatever I write fits somewhere,” explains Mark his creative process.

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One part of the Epica sound that sets it apart from some of the other symphonic metal bands, is that they use death metal-like growling or grunting in addition to clean singing. “It’s a funny story how it happened. When I started to listen to metal music, I ran into an album of Amorphis. I was listening to it and as soon as the guy started singing: ‘Oh, fuck! It’s grunts, I hate it!’ Still, I bought the album because the music was so amazing and I slowly got into it. Then with my first band, we started as a melodic band with a grunter as a singer because we couldn’t find a clean vocalist. We were also looking for a background singer. Floor Jansen came to do an audition. We heard, instantly, this is not a background singer. This is somebody who has to be the front. But the grunter didn’t like the idea, so there was some competition going on… He left. Then we decided to do some of the grunts ourselves in After Forever. I kept doing it with Epica ever since. That’s how it started,” explains Mark about how Amorphis has helped shaping the Epica sound and continues: “With the new singer they were back on track. Now I love them again!”

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mark is clearly the mastermind behind Epica’s music and he pays attention to all the details. On recent albums the Epica guitarist is not even playing guitar on the tracks because he’s too busy with other things. The band’s other guitarist Isaac Delahaye handles all guitars in the studio. “I prefer to focus on the lyrics. That is already so much work. It would take me twice as long as Isaac to record it, so I prefer him doing it, rather than me working my ass off doing all these riffs. When he is done with the songs, I have two-three months’ time to study all his riffs for the tour. In the studio, if I have to work on the lyrics and to study these licks and to record them, I would go nuts!”

On the last couple of albums, Epica has used Joost van den Broek as a producer. Like Mark, Joost too has a past in After Forever, although they didn’t play in the band at the same time. “So I knew the guy and ever since we started working together, we became friends,” says mark about the close relationship. Joost is very involved in Epica’s creative process. “Definitely more than a technician. During the recording process and demo phase, he’s like a seventh band member. He’s travelling with his equipment separately to everybody’s home studios. He asks: ‘What have you got? What did you write? Let me listen to it. Let us work on it.’ Then, when he has the overview of all the music written… Is it enough material or even too much? Then we bring it together and start working on each other’s tracks. Because in the beginning we like to work on our own. There are a lot of opinions in Epica, a lot of strong opinions. When you feel like you cannot bring it any further, then we start working on it together. Then it is also easier to accept criticism.”

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With a firmly established signature sound, is the Epica sound still evolving? “I started writing music for the next album about two months ago. But it is too early yet to know what direction will evolve. Because I don’t know the music yet of any of the other guys. I know that some other guys have recorded some ideas. So, everybody is already doing something, but it is too early to know where it will go to. But we always try to make things better. There is always something on an album that we think ‘Let’s try it in a different way next time’. That is also how you keep the stuff fresh. When I listen to all the past albums…at that time it was the best we could do then. If we would make it now, we would do it differently. But it wouldn’t necessarily be better. These albums have to be like they are, they have to stay like they are. That’s also why I am still very happy with them.”

With seven studio albums below their belt there is plenty of music to choose from for their gigs. Set lists can’t be easy to compile at this stage. “It depends on where we play. For a show in Japan, we try a little bit of an alternative set list then what we do in Europe. The first was doing well, the second show we were changing some things and now in Tokyo I think we found the right balance between the new album and other songs.” In Tokyo the band performs “Unleashed”, a track no longer featured at most gigs, but a favourite among Japanese fans. “It’s one of the songs people love here. So we decided to put it in the set. So tonight has a very balanced set to keep everybody happy.”

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In all of his bands and projects, including Epica, After Forever and MaYaN, Mark has been fortunate enough to be able to work with some very fine vocalists. Current Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen is one of them. She sang in After Forever and also brought in Mark for some cooperation in ReVamp. “She also sings with my other band MaYaN. In the beginning she did even some touring but when she got asked to do Nightwish of course she ‘flew away’! And that was completely understandable, because that was the big chance and I would have done exactly the same. But she sang on some songs with MaYaN and it sounds fantastic. Then she said ‘I want you to sing on my band’s album, ReVamp’. So I did as well. Also with ReVamp, she has no time for that any more for the same reason. Nightwish takes all the time and that is also completely understandable. But it was really fun. It’s always nice to work with her. I’m pretty sure in the future, maybe it can take quite some years, I am sure in the future there will be some collaboration.’

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power singer Henning Basse (Gus G, Firewind, Gamma Ray) is also someone Mark has worked with in MaYaN. “He’s an amazing singer. He’s a singer of world class. With his qualities he could be singing in any huge band who needs a big singer. But for some reason it didn’t happen yet. So, he’s still in relatively small bands with all respect. I think if Firewind or MaYaN or Gus G is becoming big in the next couple of years, then he goes fully for them then. But at this moment he’s not yet fully attached to one band because they are all too small to make a living from. I’ve been saying that for years already because when I heard him sing for the first time, it was with Sons of Seasons, I thought ‘This singer is really world-class’. I’ve had the honour to work with so many great singers, like Floor Jansen. It took some years but now she’s the singer of Nightwish. And when I heard Simone Simons for the first time, I knew that was going to be good. In MaYaN we work also with Laura Macrì, who is also my girlfriend. When I heard her voice I also knew that this was top, top quality. I’m in such a lucky position to have worked with all these great singers.”

“There are two things that are extremely important: the singer and the drummer. When there is a shitty drummer the whole band sounds like shit. And when the singer is shit, everybody hears it right away. When there’s like one of the other musicians is not 100%, it still blends into the music. But the drummer and singer they have to be top quality. We’re also in a lucky position with Ariën van Weesenbeek, who is also a machine! Now that we became a big band ourselves…otherwise some band would have taken him, stolen him from us, I’m sure,” says Mark proudly of the drummer of both Epica and MaYaN. /

Album review: Unleash The Archers “Apex”

Photo: Shimon Karmel

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian power metal force Unleash The Archers is back with a fab new album filled with solid metal, great songs and THAT voice.

Ever since I heard “General of the Dark Army” for the first time, I knew that Unleash The Archers was a band that was special. When I saw them live at a club here in Japan in 2015, I found out that they could also deliver their splendid form of power metal live. There are many metal bands that can produce a decent album, but surprisingly few of them can deliver the goods live.

Brittney Slayes. Photo: Shimon Karmel

Frontwoman Brittney Slayes has a voice that beats the competition by a mile and a half. She wipes the floor with the also-rans. She is not only the best voice among newer and younger metal vocalists, she also stands up to the best of the established veterans. Her voice is insane, ridiculously good. She lifts Unleash The Archers’ music from great to fabulously gorgeous.

There is dramatic heavy metal here in bundles, but always centred around great melodies. The band’s music has a base in power metal, played very well and expressed through some great songwriting. At times this is fast and even brutal (in a melodic death metal kind of way), but mostly it is melodic power metal of the best kind. The fab musicianship on the album (especially some fine guitar work) and Slayes’ voice are backed up by some fabulous use of choirs on songs like “Cleanse the Bloodlines” and “The Coward’s Way”.

Brittney Slayes in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Apex” is a very solid album. True craftsmanship shines through in these songs. But even though there are no dips on this album, a few songs stand out and are likely to become new favourites in the band’s live sets. “The Matriarch” is a new “General of the Dark Army”. Fantastic. The epic “Cleanse the Bloodlines” is beyond fantastic. It’s the album’s best track. “Ten Thousand Against One” is another clear favourite, while the title track “Apex” is massive. It’s a superb piece of Canadian metal storytelling, an epic tale set to fantastic power metal music. Just the way we like our Unleash The Archers.

They’re back and they have a bright future ahead of them. The band has been around for a decade and with “Apex”, their fourth full-length album, they will no doubt win new fans.

Unleash The Archers’ “Apex” album will be released on 2nd June by Napalm Records.