Album review: Otep “Kult 45”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Outspoken artist and activist Otep Shamaya and her band are back with plenty of attitude and some clear political messages on a new controversial album.

Otep is a divisive and controversial artist. She’s in your face, she’s angry, she’s foul-mouthed, she’s political and she’s got a reputation. She makes social and political injustices a central part of her creative output. Otep gives us modern, hard-hitting rock in a Rage Against The Machine kind of way (with some hints of Suicidal Tendencies here and there). Some people want to put a nu metal or alternative metal label on this music. I personally don’t like those labels, but perhaps that is what it is. It has a foundation in hard rock and is incorporating plenty of spoken words, rap and hardcore influences. The lyrical themes are dominated by gender and race issues, gay rights, animal welfare, immigration, gun control and so on. With Otep, there’s no middle ground and no compromises. I had zero expectations on this album. Otep the activist has somewhat overshadowed Otep the artist for me. But as I listen to the new album, l am pleasantly surprised. It is actually a very good album. Either you like her style or you don’t. If you do, then this is a fantastic album. If you can’t stand her politics and confrontational style, this is not for you. Either way, Otep is for real and she’s not hiding anything. And she’s good at what she does.

The hard-hitting track “Shelter in Place” is one of the best songs on the album. It leaves the listener in no doubt about where Otep stands on the gun control issue (“Hey, hey, NRA. How many kids did you kill today?”). “Cross Contamination” deals with the double standards of the Christian right in the US that seems to be OK with the fact that Christian values currently are in short supply in the Oval Room. “Boss” attacks gender roles in a song with big balls and plenty of attitude. In “To The Gallows” Otep attacks the current US leadership with lyrics such as “Now The White House is infected with madness” and she goes on singing about “blood on your hands” and “we’ll walk you to the gallows”. Such words will both win her fans and attract hatred. “Sirens Calling” provides a breather from the in-your-face music and it is a beautiful, but haunting, spoken monologue. It is the album’s highlight for me next to the more energetic rocker “Halt Right” and the street poetry of “Undefeated”.

I tip my hat to you, Otep. You’ve done well with this new album. The Trump Brigade will hate this, but that is surely part of your plan here. I guess that when Donald Trump and his supporters say “buy American products”, they most likely don’t mean this product.

Otep’s album “Kult 45” is out now via Napalm Records.

Gig review: Shinjuku heavy metal invasion by Lechery, Solitude and Hell Freezes Over

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish heavy metal band Lechery made its Japanese live debut in Tokyo, they were joined by Japanese acts Solitude and Hell Freezes Over for a fantastic evening dedicated to quality metal.

Lechery, Solitude and Hell Freezes Over at Zirco, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 27th July 2018

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

Japanese record label and concert promoter Spiritual Beast always manages to put together shows in Japan featuring great combinations of international and Japanese metal bands. In addition to its annual Japanese Assault Fest in November, it also puts on gigs and tours for the artists on its label. It’s a great way to introduce international acts to Japan while at the same time provide opportunities for Japanese acts to perform on stage. This Friday evening at a club in Shinjuku, we get a few hours of splendid heavy metal. What a night of riffing and metal horns! Three great heavy metal acts who all deliver terrific performances.

Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hell Freezes Over

Hell Freezes Over gives us a short and energetic opening set filled with thrash and speed metal. The young band has just released a great debut EP (“Speed Metal Assault”) and live they add even more energy to the performance of the band’s music which is NWOBHM-influenced old-school speed and thrash metal. They formed in Tokyo five years ago and since I saw some of their early gigs they have changed vocalists. The new frontman, Treble “Gainer” Aidysho, is a perfect fit for the band. He can sing thrash and he has the stage moves to match. These lads are still young but they are off to a great start with a very strong EP out and plenty of gigs in Japan happening.

Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks


Martin Bengtsson of Lechery on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Lechery is a terrific heavy metal band that is fronted by vocalist and guitarist Martin Bengtsson, formerly bass player in Arch Enemy and Armageddon. Timeless might be a way to describe this form of heavy metal which combines great twin guitars with shout-along choruses and plenty of energy. “This is heavy metal for real,” says Bengtsson to me backstage before the gig as a way of explaining how Lechery manages to perform music based on a foundation of classic heavy metal but without sounding too much retro. “We’re not faking it like some other bands,” he adds. While Bengtsson has been in Japan before, this tour, which takes the band to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, is Lechery’s first time performing in Japan.

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

Fredrik Nordstrandh on guitar, Martin Karlsson on bass and Kristian Wallman on drums make this a very solid band built around Bengtsson’s strong metal songs and his fitting vocal style. On the opening night of the tour, we get a selection of splendid songs from the band’s three albums, including favourites such as “Heart of a Metal Virgin”, “Mechanical Beast”, “In Fire” and “Rise With Me”. We also get some newer songs like “Even A Hero Must Die” and the title track from the band’s latest fabulous album “We Are All Born Evil”. The delivery is terrific. The band’s love for performing live on stage in front of its Japanese fans is very obvious. They are feeding on the fans’ appreciation. What a live debut in Japan for a smashingly great Swedish heavy metal band.

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


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

Japanese metal veteran band Solitude is fronted by record label Spiritual Beast founder Akira Sugiuchi. Like their younger friends in Hell Freezes Over, Solitude plays metal that lives somewhere between thrash metal and NWOBHM. Sugiuchi is a terrific frontman in a band anchored by former Anthem drummer Takamasa Ohuchi. Toru Nishida on bass and Shingo Ida on guitar complete the line-up of this rock solid metal quartet that delivers every time. These guys are four professionals with fantastic songs and flawless delivery. The Tokyo band will soon tour Europe again together with Lechery and hopefully, that will win them more international fans. They deserve it. Japan is full of great metal and the rest of the world needs to hear these bands.

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

What a great showcase of heavy metal this evening turns out to be. Thank you Spiritual Beast for always flying the flag of heavy metal. We salute you!

Martin Bengtsson of Lechery on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

EP review: Detraktor “Size Matters”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fabulously hard-hitting and groovy German crossover thrash metal by Detraktor.

German thrash metal has leading names such as Destruction, Kreator, Sodom and Tankard. But there is also a great underground movement in Germany which keeps delivering great new talent. Detraktor, formed in Hamburg in 2015, is a band that is off to a great start. They’ve already played at the massive Wacken metal festival and been named “Newcomers of the Year” by Metal Hammer in Germany. The band – Boris “Sunday” Pavlov and  Rafael “Chewie” Dobbs on guitars and Henrique “Coruja” Queiroz on drums and vocals – released a four-track demo in 2016 which put them on the map. Crucially, they now enjoy the support of Gamma Ray’s bassist Dirk Schlächter, who has produced the band’s new EP and also plays bass on it. He’s quite an addition. Just listen to the bass intro to the track “B.S.P.I”!

This new EP was recorded in the band’s hometown Hamburg and is a great introduction to a German band playing angry crossover thrash metal. We get treated to four splendid songs: “Goddammit”, “B.S.P.I”, “Red Ride” and “Derednekk”. I love EPs. Kick-ass four-track releases are so much more enjoyable than releases by bands that sometimes put in fillers in order to make a questionable full-length album. Detraktor lives somewhere in the suburbs between Thrash City and Hardcore Village. Kind of like an underground German version of Suicidal Tendencies. There’s a foundation in aggressive and hard-hitting old-school thrash metal but without sounding dated. I love the energy and the uncompromising riffing. There’s groove in this music and there’s great jamming going on which makes this more crossover-like than your standard thrash metal bands. The jam-filled “Red Ride” is my favourite on the EP. What’s there not to love about an independently released four-track EP filled with crushingly great, raw and groovy thrash music? I bloody love it. This is my new favourite band.

Detraktor’s “Size Matters” is out now. You should buy it.

Album review: Diemonds “Diemonds” | Priya Panda is back

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fierce Canadian singer Priya Panda and her band Diemonds are back with a new album full of attitude and great rock music. On the new album, it is evident that one of Canada’s best rock bands have allowed some new influences to enter its musical world.

On the new album, Diemonds has taken its sound further and stretched it in a few new directions. Don’t worry, Priya Panda and her motley band of Canadian brothers are still rockers. Lead guitarist Daniel Dekay can still shred and show us a rifftastic time. The straightforward and catchy hard rock on their earlier releases is still there, but now it is accompanied by some additional influences.

Diemonds formed in Toronto, Canada in 2006 and “Diemonds” is the band’s third full-length studio album and the follow-up to 2015’s great “Never Wanna Die”. The new self-titled album kicks off in more or less traditional Diemonds style with the energetic “Breathe”. On “Our Song” we start hearing some great new modern and catchy music mixed up with the sleaze rock. The result? It sounds great and it suits Panda well. It’s more rock with attitude than hard rock. For the most part, this is more Joan Jett and the Blackhearts than heavy metal. I like it a lot. Priya Panda is fierce in everything she does and she has a great band helping her to deliver the vision. She’s a hardworking artist who is also managing her own career. The evolution of Diemonds’ sound is no coincidence. This is a planned move and it works. Diemonds will win new fans with this fab rock album while at the same time keep most of their old fan base.

The ten-track album gives us a lot of variation, but this is still very much the Diemonds that we love. They continue to evolve but we can still recognise this great Canadian rock band. I love this band and it is encouraging to see that all the hard work that Priya Panda continues to put in to make Diemonds a success is paying off. A rocker at heart with a bit of a punk attitude, Panda is also very obviously influenced by the general music and pop culture of the 1980s and early 90s. There’s something special about Panda’s voice. It has an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude while it at the same is seducing in a naughty Debbie Harry kind of way. Her voice is a perfect match for Diemond’s music.

Priya Panda at Japanese Assault Fest in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Shoulda Listened To Ya” is a poppy rocker of a song and also one of my favourites. The combination of that guitar riff and Panda’s fierce singing makes this fabulous. “How Long” is an energetic rock song with attitude while “I See Red” is one of my immediate favourite tracks on the album. “Made It Through” is also great and will become a live favourite.

Diemonds new album will be released on 10th August. The limited edition LP version of the album is already sold out.

Album review: United “Absurdity”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Veteran Japanese metal band United is back with their first new album in seven years. Of course, we get great thrash metal but also some more unexpected contemporary music.

United formed back in 1981 and as so many other Japanese metal bands, they started out as a local band playing covers. In the current line-up of the band there are no original band members left. Long-serving guitarists Yoshifumi Yoshida and Singo Otani are the core duo of the band whose current line-up also features Akira Tominaga on drums, Masatoshi Yuasa on vocals and George Enda on bass.

While they have been actively performing live, the new album is their first since 2011’s “Tear of Illusions”. Now they are back with a great new studio album. Tracks like “Arise” and “Trapped Fake World” are crushingly great – brutal thrash metal with speed metal guitars. “Dead by Dawn”, the album’s best track, is a bit different from the standard thrash metal of United. It somewhat reminds me of some of the modern stuff of Machine Head. The seven-minute long “Empty Eyes” is another contemporary sounding track which stands out from the more traditional thrash metal we get on songs such as “Don’t Ever Let Me Down” and “Alive”. On the track “May” we get something completely different. It’s a Björk-like atmospheric piece with Anza from Head Phones President on guest vocals. Very unexpected and beautifully splendid!

I have always enjoyed United’s live performances, most recently when they opened for Sepultura in Tokyo. It’s great to finally have a new studio album and I love the fact that they dare to combine their traditional thrash metal with other influences. The result is a varied metal album which is very strong.

United’s album “Absurdity” will be released on 18th July via Spiritual Beast.

Album review: Carchosa “Carchosa”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish one-man metal band Carchosa.debuts with a splendid riff-heavy album.

Carchosa is a one-man thrash/death metal band from southern Sweden. The multi-tasking Henrik Nygren has put together a splendid seven-track debut album which he has not only written all music and lyrics for, he also handles the vocals, the guitars and the programming on the album which he has recorded and mixed himself.

It’s aggressive and it’s angry, but there are some breathers in the mix where the sun shines through with some melodic guitar solos in an Arch Enemy kind of way. The progressive influences give this music some fabulous nuances. The end result is riffing great. I really dig it. It’s clearly a labour of love made by someone who loves his metal. Nygren manages to take some obvious influences from death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal and melt them all down to his own music. It’s only seven songs but they add up to almost an hour of great music. I never mind longer songs, as long as their long for a reason and the longer tracks work all the way. On this album they do.

The opening track, “Unfathomable”, is like a mini concept album or rock opera in itself. Twists and turns, tempo and style changes. It’s like a musical horror movie. The rest of the album continues in the same style. “Rise of the Valkyries” is splendid in its hard-hitting metal awesomeness. Opeth meets early Metallica? There’s not a weak moment on this album. “Ghost Insidious” is an obvious favourite with its uncompromising attack on the listener, but with a melodic guitar that refuses to go away and keeps coming back into the some kind of Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker kind of battle. This album partly reminds me of US-based Japanese artist Masaki Murashita, who released a very impressive EP a few years ago.

Sweden remains a world power in heavy metal. Carchosa is proof that there is so much interesting stuff happening at the grassroots level and not just with the big famous titans of the 80s and 90s that are still touring the world. Henrik Nygren is a talented metal artist. Let’s hope that Nygren puts a live band together and takes this music on tour. It deserves to be performed live.

EP review: Hell Freezes Over “Speed Metal Assault”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japan’s Hell Freezes Over releases debut EP full of NWOBHM-influenced old-school speed and thrash metal.

One of Japan’s more interesting new metal bands is Hell Freezes Over. They formed in 2013 and since I saw them live for the first time two years ago (opening for Evil Invaders and Unleash The Archers in Tokyo), I have been eagerly waiting for this: their debut EP.

While they’re young (the four band embers are all born between 1992 and 1994), they know their early 80s heavy metal history and use it as a foundation for the band’s music. Their debut EP certainly doesn’t disappoint. The four-track EP kicks off with “Burn Your Life” which quickly establishes what this band is all about. Hell Freezes Over plays speed metal blended with Bay Area thrash metal and a big chunk of early NWOBHM. It’s old-school speed metal with a kind of underground feel to the songs and the recording. Love it. The following track, “Hawkeye”, raises the bar with some fabulous variations and twists and turns. “Writing on the Wall” gives us splendid heavy metal, before the EP closes with “Overwhelm” which is my favourite track. Here the band combines speed metal with early, punky Iron Maiden (think Paul DiAnno on “The Soundhouse Tapes”). Great stuff. For being a speed metal band, some of their songs are unusually long, with three songs clocking in at over five minutes each. But that’s OK as long as there’s quality music to assist with the headbanging.

Well done, lads. Great EP. Now I am looking forward to seeing you live again and to get your first full-length album in the not too distant future.

Hell Freezes Over’s debut EP “Speed Metal Assault” is out now via Spiritual Beast. Hell Freezes Over will be the opening act for Lechery’s Tokyo gig on 27th July.

Album review: Graham Bonnet Band “Meanwhile, Back In The Garage”

Graham Bonnet in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

He’s 70 and he had his first hit single 50 years ago. But Graham Bonnet is not done yet. He’s better than ever, bursting with energy and he is still very much relevant as he shows on the new Graham Bonnet Band album.

Graham Bonnet is a living legend, not least from his past with Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group and Alcatrazz. He has had a long and varied career in the music business and he is still busy with Graham Bonnet Band, Michael Schenker Fest and other projects. Originally from the English seaside town of Skegness, Bonnet has called California home for several decades by now. His characteristic voice is easily recognisable and he has successfully managed to use that in all sorts of music without sounding out of place.

Graham Bonnet in Tokyo 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Throughout Bonnet’s career, he has often had phenomenal guitarists complementing his voice: Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Chris Impellitteri, Bob Kulick, Conrado Pesinato and so on. On this new album, yet another fab guitarist has emerged in the Graham Bonnet world: Joey Tafolla of Jag Panzer fame. Already on the first song, the album’s title track, “Meanwhile, Back In The Garage”, we get introduced to Tafolla’s fingers. It’s a great song with some progressive rock parts combined with that remarkable voice. Tafolla gets to shine with his guitar on tracks such as “America… Where Have You Gone?” and “Past Lives”. Splendid! But it’s not guitar wankery, it’s guitar wizardry done without overshadowing Bonnet’s voice. Tafolla knows he’s here to enhance Bonnet, not block him. Since recording the album, Tafolla has moved on and been replaced in the band by Kurt James (Steeler, Stryper, Driver, Black Sheep, Neil Turbin’s Deathriders). On this album, we get one track, “Livin’ in Suspicion”, on which Kurt James plays the guitar. It will be interesting to hear what James will bring to this band live. Graham Bonnet Band has a steady, dynamic and fierce rhythm section consisting of bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone and Mark Benquechea on drums. Of course, the band also has maestro Jimmy Waldo on keyboards, who has previously played with Bonnet in Alcatrazz and Blackthorne.

The album mainly consists of great original material – mainly modern sounding classic rock – written by the band. But we also get a cover of “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (the track written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle and sung by Tina Turner on the “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” soundtrack in 1985) and a terrific live version of Alcatrazz song “Starcarr Lane”. It all adds up to one very enjoyable grown-up rock album. “Sea of Trees” is fabulous and one of the standout tracks on this strong album, but “America… Where Have You Gone?” is probably my favourite track. “The Crying Chair” is an emotional power ballad where Bonnet’s voice and an acoustic guitar take centre stage. Overall It is quite a varied album, ranging from hard rock to classic rock. This band can pull it all off and they do, over and over again. Love it. I love pretty much everything Graham Bonnet has ever done. The new Graham Bonnet Band album is no exception. It’s up there with the best of his work. And while this is an album built around the phenomenal singer Graham Bonnet, this is a band effort and what a band it is!

Graham Bonnet in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet Band’s album “Meanwhile, Back In The Garage” will be released on 13th July via Frontiers Music. The Japanese edition is being released by King Records.

Album review: Plastic Tears “Angels with Attitude”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Finnish rockers Plastic Tears are back with “Angels with Attitude”, a new album filled with Hanoi Rocks-influenced rock’n’roll.

Finland’s Plastic Tears plays rock music that lives in the same suburb as Hanoi Rocks, The Quireboys and Dogs D’Amour. It is dirty party rock’n’roll with some sleaze and glam rock touches, Rolling Stones-inspired blues-based hard rock with catchy melodies. The band calls it “Finnish street rock” and I can agree with that. It’s straightforward rock music without too high ambitions and that is perhaps why this works. Plastic Tears’ music takes me back to the 80s and early 90s music scene of my youth. A point in time when we listened to Finland’s Hanoi Rocks, Sweden’s Easy Action and England’s Horse London (remember 1989’s terrific “Screwed Blued & Tattooed”?) and discovered Guns N’ Roses’ debut album.

The band formed in Helsinki, Finland in 1992 and their sound is very much rooted in the rock’n’roll of the 80s and early 90s. Over the years they have been through many line-ups changes. Currently, the band consists of Miqu December on vocals, Eco Xtasy on drums, Andy Whitewine and Juha Pietiläinen on guitars and Edu Kettunen on bass. The single “Secret Society” stands out. “Dark Passenger” and “Rhythm Rider” are immediate favourite songs. “Nuclear Nights” is another. “Iris Kick” is a shout-along song that will be a live favourite. “Miss Stumbling Legs” kicks off sounding like KISS classic “Let Me Go Rock ’N Roll”, before becoming another great Hanoi Rocks-sounding party rocker, the type of song that dominates this album.

Plastic Tears’ album “Angels with Attitude” is out now via City of Lights Records.

Album review: Arallu “Desert Battles 2018”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Arallu gives us Israeli black metal with Middle Eastern influences on its new album “Desert Battles 2018”.

Being based in Jerusalem, extreme metal band Arallu has two local influences that can be easily identified in its music: local folk music from the Middle East and the struggles of living in a conflict zone. Both of these ingredients are crucial in Arallu’s music. Formed in 1997, the band, led on and off stage by bassist and vocalist Daniel “Butchered” Moti, has released many albums and several live DVDs over the years. This latest album is a reworked version of an album initially released in 2009. The band has recorded new vocals, changed the track order, remixed the songs and included a different closing track on the album as well as changed the cover art. The result? Splendid!

Arallu’s music is hard to define, but extreme desert metal might be one way or Mesopotamian black/thrash metal from Jerusalem which is how the band describes itself. Instead of the cold, dark and deep Norwegian forests that helped to shape the second wave of black metal in the early 90s, Arallu has the desert, the sun and oppressive heat as a layer over its take on black metal. There is a foundation in black metal here mixed with some folk metal (including the use of regional Asian and Middle Eastern instruments) and avant-garde influences (a bit like a Middle Eastern answer to Japan’s Sigh). The album has a fabulous underground feel to it. The music is often chaotic, raw and brutal. But at the same time it is also rather complex and sophisticated music with frequent tempo and style changes. This is different from almost everything out there and it’s great. It is so refreshing to hear something that is a bit different. The album opens with an intriguing instrumental piece called “Al Macbara” before the black metal mayhem breaks out. “Millchama” is a crushing highlight on the album. “Old Form of Evil” is spectacular with so much going on that I discover new details every time I listen to the track. “Possessor of the Code” is another track that stands out on this album and so does the title track “Desert Battles”. The bonus track “Desert Genii Storm” is a great addition to an already very good album.

Arallu’s “Desert Battles 2018” is out now via Raven Music.