Video: Overkill’s Blitz says hello to Japan

Video

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth speaks with Roppongi Rocks backstage at the Loud Park festival in Japan on 14th October 2017.

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Album review: Korrupt “Preachers and Creatures”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Korrupt combines energetic Norwegian shout-along punk with hardcore on its debut album.

On Korrupt’s debut album we get a great mix of shout-along punk and hardcore. Very crowd friendly. This is the kind of music that makes an audience dance and jump up and down. Korrupt’s members grew up in Kristiansand in Norway’s Bible belt. Thus there is naturally some rebellion in this band’s music and lyrics and a bit of a backlash against the church and its influence in the local community. Korrupt is a very energetic band with some explosive raw power channelled via great punk melodies. It works great on this record, but I am sure this must be even more fantastic in a sweaty and intense live setting. “Capitalist”, “Revolt” and “Martyrs” are some of my clear favourite tracks on this album, while the title track “Preachers and Creatures” is fabulous hardcore. I absolutely love the attitude and the never-ending raw energy in this music. What a Scandinavian treat!

Korrupt’s “Preachers and Creatures” album will be released via Fysisk Format on 20th October.

www.facebook.com/korruptband
www.fysiskformat.no

Album review: Ice Age “Breaking the Ice” | Gothenburg thrash metal band finally releases its debut album after three decades

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It took them three decades, but thrash metal band Ice Age from Gothenburg has finally released a splendid debut album filled with fab guitar riffing and Sabrina Kihlstrand’s commanding voice.

In the second half of the 1980s, Ice Age was one of leading underground bands on the Swedish heavy metal scene. Playing thrash metal rather than the melodic rock that dominated the Swedish metal scene at the time, they stood out and followed their own musical path. Following some line-up changes and disagreements with their management, they disbanded in 1990 and reformed in 2014.

Ice Age’s classic 80s line-up.

Back in the day, Ice Age released some great demos that were sold in cassette format at the band’s gigs. But they never released any proper album, until now. “Breaking the Ice”, the band’s debut studio album, comes some three decades after their original heyday.

On this album, Ice Age introduces the world to its signature sound based around vocalist Sabrina Kihlstrand’s voice. There are some great echoes of Megadeth here, but the band members have managed to clearly put their mark on their own version of thrash metal, which is somewhat less brutal and more built around great guitar riffs and melodies. The album has a straightforward, clean production with no fancy stuff but a crystal clear sound. It lets the music speak for itself. And the material and skills are more than good enough for that.

Kihlstrand’s voice is a perfect fit for this music. I love it. It commands attention – clear enough to make it accessible, but still with an angry attitude that tells you not to mess with this fierce lady. The band’s sound is essentially the same as it was in the 80s, but it has grown and matured. Five of the songs on the album (“Fleet Street”, “General Alert”, “Instant Justice”, “Mental Disorder” and “A Case of Cerebral Death”) are terrific re-recordings of some of the band’s classic 80s songs. On this album, the old songs have been joined by five new compositions: “Clever”, “Breaking the Ice”, “Total Collapse”, “Hell of Nothing” and “No Need to Bleed”.

The old and new songs are equally good and there are no obvious differences, proving that the band is capable of creating new music that equals its classics.

Ice Age in 2017.

Among the new songs, “Clever” is a clear favourite of mine. As if Megadeth came from Gothenburg. “Hell or Noting” is also great and will no doubt become a live favourite. But all the songs here are at a fab level. This is a very strong and even thrash metal album with a difference. As much as I love brutal and fast old-school thrash metal, Ice Age’s slightly different take on the genre is fabulous and refreshing.

Sabrina Kihlstrand on vocals and guitar and Viktoria Larsson on bass still make up the core of the band. They are joined in the current line-up by Linnea Landstedt (also in the great thrash metal band Tyranex) on lead guitar and André Holmqvist (Manimal) on drums.

What a great album! Ice Age is not stuck in the past. This is a band that is here and now and clearly one of the best Nordic metal bands at the moment. This is one of this year’s best albums so far. With those 80s demos still in my head, I had high hopes and expectations, but “Breaking the Ice” exceeds them all.

Ice Age’s “Breaking the Ice” album will be released on 20th October via GMR Music.

www.facebook.com/iceage.se.official

www.ice-age.se

Gig review: Serious Black brought the magic to Tokyo

Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

European melodic metal band Serious Black finished their “Magic” tour with a great gig in Tokyo on Friday 6th October.

Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Serious Black has often, somewhat incorrectly, been lumped in with European power metal bands. The power metal label has probably helped them win new fans, but their music is a bit broader than that. Some songs are certainly in the power metal space, but there is also more straightforward heavy metal as well as various kinds of melodic metal. Call it what you like, but this is metal with great melodies.

Christian Münzner and Mario Lochert of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Their latest album, “Magic”, was released in August and it is their best so far. Having released three studio albums in just over two and a half years, Serious Black, despite being a relative new band, already has a great body of work to choose from when they play live.

Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In its short time of existence, the band has seen some top-level members departing, including Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan), Thomen Stauch (Blind Guardian) and most recently Bob Katsionis (Firewind). But somehow the band manages to soldier on and this evening they sound stronger and better than ever. Vocalist Urban Breed is a fabulous frontman who has honed his skills in Swedish bands Tad Morose and Bloodbound before he joined Serious Black. He looks the part and he has a voice that fits the music well. He knows how to entertain a crowd and get their attention. The rest of the touring band also has both skills and pedigree: bassist Mario Lochert (Emergency Gate), guitarists Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge) and Christian Münzner (Obscura, Necrophagist, Alkaloid) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire, Avantasia, Blind Guardian). It’s quite a collection of European musicians. German guitarist Münzner only stepped into the band at the beginning of this tour, but he’s not showing any sign of that on stage. He’s a great fit for the band, despite having a background playing more extreme metal.

Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Tokyo they perform for their Japanese fans for the very first time. We get crowd favourites such as “I Can Do Magic”, “Serious Black Magic”, “This Machine Is Broken” and “Burn! Witches Burn!” This Friday evening gig is the final gig of the “Magic” tour which has taken the band on a club tour across Europe before this one-off show in Japan.

Christian Münzner and Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They finish their first-ever Japan gig with the splendid “High and Low”. This is a band that has all the ingredients for making it long-term in Japan. They have the songs, the musicians, the support from a local record label and they have the work ethic and friendliness to get lots of love from Japanese fans.

Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.serious-black.com

www.facebook.com/seriousblackofficial

Interview: Ronnie Romero of Rainbow and Lords of Black

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I always try to sing the songs in a Ronnie Romero way,” said Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Romero when he recently visited Japan again with his band Lords of Black.

Ronnie Romero in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore reformed his band Rainbow, one of the most classic hard rock bands of all time, in 2015. He surprised many by choosing a relatively unknown singer to front the new line-up band. Young vocalist Ronnie Romero was suddenly in the limelight as he stepped into the role of Rainbow frontman, following in the footsteps of Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White. Not the easiest gig to take on for an up-and-coming vocalist. But Romero took it on and he delivered. The man can sing and his voice is a good fit for Rainbow’s material.

Ronnie Romero and Tony Hernando on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ronnie Romero is a 35-year old singer from Chile. He grew up listening to Deep Purple and Rainbow. In his twenties he moved to Spain. “I met my wife nine years ago via the internet. She lives in Madrid and I lived in Santiago de Chile. We met once in Santiago and once in Madrid and then I decided to follow her to Madrid,” says Romero as we meet in Tokyo during Lords of Black’s second Japan visit in a year.

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black is a Spanish power metal band formed in Madrid by Ronnie Romero and guitarist Tony Hernando (ex-Saratoga). So far the band has released two studio albums. “I met Tony almost five years ago. He’s been working as a promoter of a Ronnie James Dio tribute concert with many local artists in Madrid. Then he invited me to sing a couple of songs in that show. We fell in love musically. We have very similar points of view and taste in music. We met at the Ronnie James Dio tribute concert and then we decided to put a band together,” explains Romero how Lords of Black formed.

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black played the Loud Park festival in Japan in October 2016 and then came back recently for a couple of very successful club gigs. The band enjoys local support from Japanese label Ward Records. “It’s one of the most important markets for us. We felt the support from the Japanese fans from the very beginning when we put the band together four years ago. Even with the first album, without any label support. Obviously this Rainbow thing happened and made us more important in the Japanese market, of course. We were really surprised about the support because we played at Loud Park less than a year ago. Then we have our first couple of headline shows. The Japanese fans, they loved the band from the very beginning. Besides the UK and probably Germany, Japan is very important for the band.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ronnie’s Rainbow role has meant a lot of publicity for Lords of Black which has helped the band sell records and concert tickets. But is there any negative side for Lords of Black to all the publicity surrounding your Rainbow role? “No, it’s really great. Everything’s positive from the Rainbow camp because… The Rainbow tour was just at the right time. When Ritchie called me for the first time, we were already working on the second Lords of Black album. We had already got the agreement with Frontiers. Everything is positive. I can’t imagine anything negative about Rainbow. There is nothing,” says Romero with a big smile. He clearly loves being a Rainbow member.

How do you prioritise between the two bands and other work as well? “In fact it’s really easy. We are really synchronised about the schedules. I’m always talking with Ritchie’s management. Everything is great with the Rainbow camp. There isn’t any problem with that.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Nozomu Wakai is a great Japanese metal guitarist who has been playing with Paul Shortino Band and also his own band Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia. Over the past year he has collaborated with Ronnie Romero and also appeared as a special guest during Lords of Black’s Japan shows. “I met Nozomu last year at Loud Park. He was backstage and the guys from Ward Records introduced me to this amazing guitar player. Then, at the beginning of this year, he told me about the possibility to sing a couple of songs on his new record. I ended up singing all the songs! The songs are really great. They’re strong songs, heavy metal and rock songs. He plays really well. It was really great to work with Nozomu. This project is a little bit on standby at the moment because we have this new Lords of Black release. Then we had this idea to invite him to these shows to play a couple of songs and have fun on stage. People here will love it!”

Ronnie Romero in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black has already established a signature sound. How has it evolved and will it keep evolving from where you are now? “We know what kinds of weapons we have in the band. My voice is not the best or the worst. It’s just my particular way to sing. Then we have this strong songwriting from Tony Hernando and the way he can play the guitar. We have this other element, on the drums with Andy C. He’s a really great and strong drummer and he can write lyrics and melodic songs. We try to put together all this in a big mix in the Lords of Black music. It’s distinctive kind of music. I think with the third album, we’re just trying to fill the empty spaces between the first and the second album. On the first album, we didn’t have any fan base. On the second album, you have a fan base because people start to know the band. On the third album, we need to fill the space between the people who love the band and people who know the band. You’re gonna hear the Lords of Black sound, but you’re gonna hear something different, something new, because we have these progressive elements and heavy metal, classic. We have a lot of things to show the people there.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Power metal legend Roland Grapow has produced the first two Lords of Black albums. How important is he for the band? “We feel that Roland is kind of the fifth member of the band. He knows, he has this background from Helloween and Masterplan. He knows what we need to do with the music, with the sound. He’s been working with us from the very beginning on every album, on the songwriting process. He helps us choosing songs for the final track list. We love to work with Roland.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Lords of Black you are singing songs you have helped create, but in Rainbow, so far, you are singing classic rock songs shaped by industry legends like Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner. Do you feel pressure when you perform their songs? “Not really. I prefer to sing the songs in my own way, in my own style. Obviously you need to show some respect when you do those kind of songs with vocalists that I love, of course. But I always try to sing the songs in a Ronnie Romero way. So, pressure, nothing! And with Lords of Black and the sound, it’s just about fun.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At Lords of Black live shows, the band has mixed their original material with performing some well-chosen rock classics. “We always try to choose songs that we love. I started to listen to Rainbow and Deep Purple when I was seven years old. So, I really love to sing Rainbow songs, even with my band, not just with Ritchie. But sometimes we play Queen songs. Even on the last album we recorded a Bruce Dickinson song, ‘Tears of the Dragon’. And we recorded ‘Innuendo’ from Queen and ‘Lady of the Lake’ from Rainbow,” explains Romero who also reveals that “we have an Anthrax song!” which has been recorded but not yet released. “For the Japanese fans we have a special set list with a special encore with special covers.”

Ronnie Romero and Tony Hernando on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While Lords of Black keeps busy with gigs around the world, they have also started work on the next album. “In fact, right now we are recording the album. We are recording the vocals. We have these Japanese shows, then we go back to Madrid to record the vocals. And then we need to go to Atlanta to the ProgPower festival. Then we have a mini tour with Voodoo Circle. It’s five or six dates around Europe. Then probably we will go to Russia in December. It’s not done with the dates, but probably we will make a couple of shows there at the end of the year.”

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.lordsofblack.com

www.facebook.com/lords-of-black

www.facebook.com/rainbow

Album review: Motörhead “Under Cöver”

Motörhead at Glastonbury in 2015. Photo: Pep Bonet.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Motörised rock classics delivered from beyond the grave. Long live Lemmy!

Lemmy may be dead but his music lives on. Here’s a brand new Motörhead album with some outrageously terrific music recorded between 1992 and 2015.

“Under Cöver” is an album which consists of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee playing covers of rock classics. And they do it in a distinct Motörhead fashion.

Opening with Judas Priest classic “Breaking the Law” and continuing with Sex Pistols‘ “God Save the Queen”, on this album we also get covers of The Ramones, Ted Nugent, Twisted Sister, The Rolling Stones and Metallica. The great Rainbow cover “Starstruck” features Saxon’s Biff Byford on vocals. There is also a fab version of “Hellraiser”, a song originally written by Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde for the 1991 Ozzy album “No More Tears” and which later appeared on Motörhead’s 1992 album “March ör Die”. Notably “Hellraiser” was Swedish drummer Mikkey Dee’s first recording with Motörhead.

One of the more unusual tracks here is David Bowie’s “Heroes” and it is a beautiful masterpiece, proving that Lemmy could do it all, although always on his own terms. “Heroes” was recorded during the band’s “Bad Magic sessions in 2015. It is one of the last songs the band recorded together before Lemmy’s sudden death.

Motörhead at Glastonbury in 2015. Photo: Pep Bonet.

Long live Lemmy. Long live Motörhead. Long live rock’n’roll.

Motörhead’s “Under Cöver” is out now via Silver Lining Music/Motörhead Music.

www.imotorhead.com

www.facebook.com/officialmotorhead

www.facebook.com/motorheadmusicofficial

Album review: CyHra “Letters To Myself” | Former Amaranthe and In Flames members are back with a terrific debut album

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

CyHra – a new dawn for former Amaranthe and In Flames members who return with a terrific modern and melodic metal album.

On 1st July 2011, I saw Swedish vocalist Jake E perform for the first time. He immediately stood out as a very talented singer who can handle the whole spectrum of different kinds of melodic rock and metal, including the power ballads. It was Swedish melodic metal band Amaranthe’s first gig in Japan, a showcase at a small club called Astro Hall in Harajuku in central Tokyo. It was a huge success. Amaranthe had just released its debut album and that was followed by several big-selling releases in Japan and numerous Japan tours and festival appearances. In September 2016 Amaranthe was the support act on a hugely successful Japan tour with Helloween. Those Japan gigs became Jake’s final appearances with Amaranthe. He was ready to move on and do his own thing.

Jake E on stage in Tokyo in September 2016 during the Helloween/Amaranthe tour. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

CyHra is the result and what a comeback it is. In CyHra, Jake E’s classic powerful and melodic metal vocals are coupled with the fantastic guitar work by former In Flames man Jesper Strömblad. The result is modern, energetic melodic metal with plenty of great pop hooks and fabulous power metal guitars.

The combination of Jake E’s voice, Strömblad’s guitar and some fabulous songwriting, is what sets CyHra apart from the pack. Added to the mix is the foundation of former In Flames bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody, Annihilator, Kamelot, Masterplan, Stratovarius).

Genre wise it is, of course, not too distant from bands like Amaranthe and In Flames. But this is something else. It will no doubt appeal to many of the same fans, although the sound and execution have been done differently. The songwriting is also quite different here. I think it is the chemistry of old friends Jake E and Strömblad that has so successfully come together to create CyHra. And since they are backed by the Iwers-Landenburg groove machine, they are comfortable and free to just focus on creating and playing great melodies.

The album opens with two fabulously energetic songs, “Karma” and “Heartrage”. Having heard early demo versions of these songs earlier this year, it’s great to hear the final versions. These two songs firmly put CyHra on the map and show the world that we have a new melodic power metal act to follow. And the album just keep going from there. Bursting with energy and terrific melodic metal.

CyHra has managed to establish a signature sound already with its debut album. Where do we go from here? We get great variation throughout the album. We obviously get some great metal guitars. But we also get slower parts. “Closure”, for example, is a fantastic power ballad. “Here to Save You” is one of the album’s best tracks. CyHra in a nutshell. It is an obvious future live favourite. The title track “Letters to Myself” quickly emerges as one of my favourites with a great melody. It is a track on which Jake E commands your attention despite being rivalled by some fab guitars. “Inside a Lullaby” is a showpiece for Jake E’s voice. “Dead to Me” is an ambitious song combining some spoken words with acoustic guitar and Jake E’s voice at the centre.

Much of this album has that special kind of never-ending energy which makes me want to jump up and down and play air guitar (yeah, OK, I am actually doing that right now).

What a debut album! 11 out of 10 in Spinal Tap terms. What a terrific combination of great songs, bundles of talent, fab band chemistry and flawless execution. Thank you for the music. When I listen to melodic metal I want it to be skilled, flawless and with fine craftsmanship demonstrated in both songwriting and delivery. With CyHra I get it all.

CyHra has announced one gig in Finland on 27th October. Now let’s start working on that Japan tour. I demand it.

CyHra’s “Letters To Myself” album will be released on 20th October internationally via Spinefarm Records and in Japan via Universal.

www.facebook.com/cyhraofficial

www.cyhra.com

Interview: Marty Friedman | “I don’t really have any kind of genre that I’m shooting to make sure I fit into”

Marty Friedman in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Guitarist Marty Friedman recently sat down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo to talk about his new album “Wall of Sound”, his band, working in Japan, his new signature Jackson guitar and much more.

Having first played in Japan in the late 80s with his band Cacophony, Marty Friedman then became a regular visitor during his decade as lead guitarist in Megadeth. Shortly after leaving Megadeth, Friedman relocated to Japan, a country that had fascinated him for quite a while.

Having already self-studied the Japanese language, when he arrived in Japan he established himself as an artist, songwriter and TV personality. He played with Japanese acts and also as a solo artist. Many of his new Japanese fans did not know anything about his Megadeth past.

His fabulous new studio album “Wall of Sound” (released in Japan in August via Ward Records), the follow-up to 2014’s “Inferno”, is an explosive and genre-bending solo album.

Currently you are so genre-bending that I want to know how you actually create this music. Do you just cram great stuff in there or how do you create this kind of cross-over music? “When I am writing any particular song, the arrangement starts to present itself. There is really no rules at that point. When I hear the song that is coming out, I think ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to step up a string section here?’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to de-tune the guitars here or add piano there?’ It all just comes along as the song gets written. I don’t really have any kind of genre that I’m shooting to make sure I fit into or anything like that.”

How is the new album “Wall of Sound” different from the last one? How have you evolved? It is very diverse with slower music, almost ballad-like with beautiful guitar parts, but then also some heavy stuff with some 70s touches to it. “I think the cover looks really 70s. I don’t know what part of the music sounds 70s, but certainly possible. I just think it is deeper, hopefully better, definitely more intense, more grotesquely romantic, dark and, in Japanese you would say ‘setsunai’. I don’t know how to say that in English. Even though it is happy, there is like an undercurrent of ‘setsunai’. [Editor’s note: “Setsunai” is a Japanese expression that is hard to translate, but it’s sort of a mixture of painful, trying, bittersweet, heartrending, miserable.]

“Wall of Sound” features some fab collaborations. You have Jinxx form Black Veil Brides, Shiv Mehra of Deafheaven and Jorgen Munkeby of Shining. How do you choose which musicians to collaborate with? “It’s really just an honest…like what I like. I like this music so let’s see if that guy would be interested in doing a collaboration. Just throw it out there. In Japanese you say ‘damemoto’ [Editor’s note: “Damemoto” means giving it a shot even if you’re unlikely to succeed.] You never know. I’m a huge fan of Deafheaven and all of a sudden, out of the blue, Shiv calls me up and says ‘Dude! I’m in Tokyo!’ We had never even met before. Somehow he got my info from someone at the label or something and gets in touch with me. I was in town so we headed out and had sushi. Things just really clicked and it was like ‘We got to do a song together. Yeah!’ Very organic way. Jinxx is the same type of thing. Well, a little bit different, because Jinxx is a guitarist in Black Veil Brides, but he’s also a violinist. When I heard that I knew that I wanted to do something that was going to shock a lot of people. Because he doesn’t really get to show his violin side in his band. So I wanted to kind of like blow minds with that and I just kind of create a monster of that thing.”

It has become rather difficult to define you musically now. “That’s all good!” says Friedman with a big smile.

Apart from the guest stars, what can you tell us about the musicians in your band? Are they the same on the album and for the tour? “This time I’m using my touring bassist Kiyoshi. She’s insane! By far the most aggressive female bassist I’ve ever heard of. Maybe the most aggressive bassist period. Drums were done by the same guy who did ‘Inferno’, Anup Sastry, who’s a monster. He’s like 24 years old and is really an innovator on drums. Yeah, it’s basically that core band and everybody else was pretty much cherry-picked. I had five different piano players, keyboardists. Their personality fits particular songs. It’s kind of like that member process is almost like pop albums. You know when you get Lady Gaga or Britney Spears, look at each song and there’s 50 different players and different studios and different producers and all that. That’s the way I did this album. Each song has particular people that I thought fit that song the best.”

Is it possible to recreate this and your earlier albums live? “Live is a different animal. Live is that interpretation. In the studio you just make it exactly… Like you’re painting a picture and it has to be exactly that way. Live, you’ve got your band and you just do it the way that band does it.”

On your own albums, you are mainly focused on instrumental music. There’s only one track on the new album with vocals. How come? Do you prefer the guitar speaking to the audience rather than having vocals? “There are very few vocalists that really fit into my radar as far as the sound that I like. I am not particularly a fan of instrumental music as a genre. I need a vocalist there, but since there are so few… The music I play is really aggressive, heavy music. I find that there aren’t a whole lot of singers in that genre that… Maybe there is, I just don’t know that, because there probably are a ton of them out there that I might like. For example, Jorgen’s got a voice that I just absolutely love. I think, as a fan I prefer vocal music by far. But, as it turns out, I wanted to be the lead vocalist on guitar which has its own challenges for me that I like. My main goal is when you’re listening to the music, you’re thinking…you’re not thinking ‘Oh, I miss the vocalist. This would be so much better with a vocalist.’ So that’s my main objective with this stuff.”

Do you still have time for other musical projects and TV work now that you have a new album out? “Not really as much when I am touring and things like that, but I still do other projects that I am committed to. I don’t have any regular television program right now, so the TV I do is all one-offs. If they fit in my schedule, fine, if not, that’s totally fine with me. But when you have a regular TV show, it really bites into any kind of time for touring and stuff like that. I had to slip this month and a half of touring in before any kind of regular TV stuff got decided. That’s all good. Right now, I’m really focusing on my album and touring and playing live.”

Marty Friedman. Photo: Takaaki Henmi

You’ve done so much in the past three decades. What’s the highlight of your career so far? “It’s coming up. I don’t even remember what I did yesterday. It’s not important. Every time I do something really cool, I think ‘This is so cool!’ and a week later, or even less, I’m just not high on that any more. Last year I played at the Hollywood Bowl. That was a big deal for me because growing up with Bugs Bunny at the Hollywood Bowl with that opera singer. That was a big one for about a second. Of course, playing in Budokan in Japan so many times is big. But I’m way too busy thinking about what I’m gonna do next. The highlights are yet to come!”

I understand that you are working on a biography. Is that in English or Japanese? “Yes. Right now it’s in English. We are also doing a documentary film and been working on that for about a year and a half now. The biography is actually done, it’s being edited right now. Full life, everything, so far. That’s the hardest thing with the biography, because there are things coming up that I’m gonna definitely wanna add in. When we finished the actual manuscript to the biography, I had yet to do this Ambassador for Japan Heritage. It didn’t even have that chapter which is starting now. That is in insane contrast to everything I’ve ever done. Coming up with an ending… How do you end it? It’s kind of right in the middle. Either way, it’s done for the most part and we’ll see where it goes.”

When will the biography be released? “That I don’t know yet. I would say probably middle of next year.”

Tell us about your recent appointment as Japan Heritage Ambassador by the Japanese government. “It blew my mind! A foreigner! The only foreigner. They appointed like six other people and they’re all Japanese. I really was blown away by that. Even more so that they asked me to play the Tokyo Marathon as a foreigner. There are so many Japanese artists they could have had do it. It just blew my mind. I think everybody can learn a little bit about immigrants from that kind of treatment. If people come into the country and they don’t break any laws and try do something nice, it’s a nice thing.”

Your guitar solo on Megadeth classic “Tornado of Souls” has been called one of the best guitar solos of all time. Do you agree? “I don’t really look back at things like that. I definitely don’t get caught up in what people think is better than another thing. If I do that, there’s no end to it. With that I just think maybe they like it because it’s long. All the big, when it comes to guitar solos, it’s like ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and all these songs with long-ass solos.”

Is there any guitarist in heavy metal today that you are impressed by? “Oh, lots! There are so many great things happening in metal. That’s why metal still exists now, because metal is like a guitar genre, obviously. We thought that metal… In the old days, we thought Metallica was never even going to get signed. So when they got signed, we thought metal is going to last for a good three-four years. And here we are, with more metal than ever. There are so many guitar players that really are coming to the party and doing cool stuff. A lot of great guys. The first guy that comes to mind is the guitarist in Skyharbor, a guy named Keshav Dhar who I have worked with a lot. This guy is a stud. He’s a star. I think that he’s awesome.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Marty Friedman in Tokyo.

Here in Japan you have played everything from J-pop to metal and performed with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Which artists and musicians in Japan are you appreciating at the moment? “I’m always a big fan of stuff like Mr. Children and Flumpool. And obviously a lot of idols, like Momoiro Clover, AKB48 and Nogizaka and all that stuff. And Perfume and pretty much anything that Nakata-san does and Hyadain and anything that he does. I’ve had the honour to work with him many times. I like all that stuff. I like a lot of the current Japanese music a lot. [The Nakata-san mentioned by Friedman is Yasutaka Nakata, the producer behind J-pop group Perfume and Hyadain is Kenichi Maeyamada, a songwriter for various J-pop acts.] The thing about Japanese pop music, it has so many elements into it and they all serve the song. It’s not just a pile of garbage. It’s not ‘Let’s mix anything up’, it’s ‘We’ve got this song. How do we interpret it in a unique way?’ That is very Japanese. There are no genre lines like back home: metal is metal, R&B is R&B, hip hop is hip hop. They don’t mix it as much. It’s frowned upon so to speak.”

Tell us about you becoming a Jackson-endorsed artist again and your new Jackson signature guitar. “It rules! I’m going back to Jackson. So, if I am gonna go back, it better be a damn good reason. Jackson has supported me even in the years I wasn’t with Jackson. The people there have never abandoned me and never not been there to help in many capacities. They always said ‘Look! Door’s open.’ When I started working on ‘Inferno’ and toured ‘Inferno’, I was thinking I really need a heavy metal work horse to do this tour. They were ready and willing and definitely able. They built me a bunch of guitars as prototypes to kind of work with on the tour. Once we started to decide ‘OK, now we are going to make a signature model’ then I started going over details with them during the tour and giving them critiques on the guitar. Over about two years of hard work on their part, they came up with a total beast. Yeah, it’s a beast!”

Marty Friedman in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album release was immediate followed by a North American tour. What’s next? “I’m recording a new project. I can’t even talk about it. I’ve got commitments in Japan for all of September and then the tour will resume, whether we’ll play more Japan shows or more America shows. I’ve got to do tours in one-month chunks due to a lot of Japanese work and stuff.”

Will there also be European shows? “Hopefully. They have been asking and I’m interested and would love to play in Europe. Always done Europe. It’s about going to the next level. I’m really actually so busy I don’t want to do anything that is a lateral movement. Often in the world of touring, when you’re gone for a year, it’s really hard to move up. You get a lot of offers that is kind of lateral to what you already did. I’m kind of too busy in Japan to really entertain that, without sounding like a goofball. What I really want to do is reach a larger audience in Europe. I love headlining, but I would rather be a support act first to someone who is much bigger than me so that I can reach some new fans. When that happens I’m gonna play Europe.”

After the previous album, “Inferno”, you did a successful package tour in Europe. “We did Shining and Arch Enemy and Kreator was on that bill too. It was great because I played some of Shining songs and they played some of my songs. It was interesting having an all-Norwegian band play my music. Usually I have an all-Japanese band. I’ve had an all-Israeli band, I’ve had an all-American band and now I’ve had an all-Norwegian band. It’s so interesting to peek in different cultures, everybody playing my music. I’ve played in an all-Chinese band and Chile, South America. It’s so interesting the cultural differences that I’ve been privy to see. I’m thankful.”

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Live report: Chaos Assault with Sigh, Mantar and Boris

Dr Mikannibal of Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese record label Ward Records put on a fabulously eccentric and extreme music night in Shibuya on Friday 22nd September with Sigh, Mantar and Boris. Roppongi Rocks reports from the first of two nights of Chaos Assault.

Mirai Kawashima of Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Ward Records invited Mantar to Tokyo for its first-ever Japan gigs, they did it in style by combining the noise-making German duo with some of Japan’s most eccentric and interesting underground acts far removed from mainstream music.

Dr Mikannibal of Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sigh

Japanese veteran metal band Sigh, led by the legendary frontman Mirai Kawashima, has evolved from playing black metal in the early days to a band now best described as playing avant-garde extreme metal with progressive elements. Sigh has a reputation for greatness, weirdness and fabulous entertainment. Ever since they made a name for themselves when they in the early 1990s signed a record deal with the late Norwegian Euronymous (of Mayhem fame) and his label Deathlike Silence Records, they have had a cult following not only here in Japan but across the globe.

Dr Mikannibal of Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening Sigh treats us to not only some superb and brutal extreme metal, but also more progressive music performed with flute and saxophone among the mayhem created by the guitars and drums. Weirdly interesting. However, personally I mostly enjoy their more brutal parts which work great when Dr. Mikannibal focuses her energy on vocals. The heavier and more extreme side to Sigh is world-class. Their stage show is always entertaining with fire, blood, capes and Dr Mikannibal feeding off the energy from the crowd. This evening they’re fantastic and entertaining as always.

Mirai Kawashima of Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mantar

Hanno of Mantar. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German raw power duo Mantar, consisting of Hanno on guitar and vocals and Erinc on drums, was formed in 2012. Since then they have created some fabulously dark, non-mainstream rage noise. Backed by Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan, they have firmly established themselves as a great studio band and an energetic live act. This Friday night’s performance marks the band’s first-ever gig in Japan and what a debut it is! Both Hanno and Erinc perform bare chested. Hanno’s stage moves and physical appearance reminds me of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Hanno of Mantar. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mantar not only sounds different, they also perform in their own way. Instead of facing their audience, they face each other from opposite sides of the stage. Music wise we get fabulous noise. It is a bit of a mystery how Mantar manages to sound so heavy with only one guitar and drums and no bass in sight. They play heavy, extreme music with a punk attitude and some hardcore elements in there and so much more. It’s damp and dark musical mayhem. It’s a high-energy show by two sweaty and hardworking Germans giving it their all. Bleeding fantastic!

Erinc of Mantar. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Boris

The evening is rounded off in a still heave-as-fuck but slower tempo with a performance by Japanese trio Boris. Boris is a genre-bending act and this evening they give us comatose doomy kind of psych rock. A bit like a stoned version of early Black Sabbath in slow motion crossbred with Monster Magnet and Opeth. Hiding in smoke and mostly dim stage lighting, the band performs soundscapes rather than conventional songs. Vocals are kept to a minimum and the focus is more on the instrumental side of things.

Sigh. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks