Album review: L.A. Guns “Renegades”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels are back with a new L.A. Guns album full of nods to the band’s 1980s Sunset Strip roots while at the same time making the band relevant here and now.

Fans who question changing line-ups of their favourite rock bands miss the point. The point of a band is to create great music for the enjoyment of the fans. Members come and go in almost all bands. It’s how life works. People move on, new blood comes in. Ever since the first version of California rock band L.A. Guns was formed back in the 1980s, the band has seen constant line-up changes with musicians coming and going. At the moment there are two versions of the band out there at the same time. This version of L.A. Guns is led by two of the members from the band’s classic line-up: drummer Steve Riley and bassist Kelly Nickels. In this version of the band, Riley (a former W.A.S.P. drummer) and Nickels (ex-Faster Pussycat) are joined by guitarist Scott Griffin (who joined L.A. Guns in 2007 and who has also played in Bobby Blotzer’s version of Ratt) and new vocalist Kurt Frohlich (ex-Brent Muscat’s version of Faster Pussycat). Discussions around L.A. Guns in recent years have focused a lot on which version is the proper one. I don’t care. I care about the quality of the music that is played for me. This version of L.A. Guns is a very good version of the band. (When I saw the Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis version of L.A. Guns perform in Japan in 2017, they too were very good.) On the new album “Renegades”, not only do we get a talented line-up but the new material is also at the right level. L.A. Guns was always good-fun party rock performed to entertain you. This version of the band carries on that tradition very well. The previously released singles “Crawl”, “Renegades” and “Well Oiled Machine” are on this album backed up by other laidback, yet kick-ass, songs such as “Don’t Wanna Know”, ”Witchcraft”, “Lost Boys” and “Why Ask Why”. With their roots in the 80s Sunset Strip rock scene and its traditions, the band obviously gives us the obligatory ballads in the form of “You Can’t Walk Away” and “Would”. They are alright, but personally, I prefer the rockier side of this band. “All That You Are” is one of the highlights on the album for me and its anthem-like appearance will make it a great new addition to the band’s live set. L.A. Guns is beers-and-chicken-wings music. It works great to get a party started or a fab night out at a rock bar. Sometimes that’s what you need in your life. Rock music is not all about two-hour concept albums by some European prog-rock band that overthinks, overcomplicates and overdoes everything. Sometimes you just need a cold beer, some chicken wings and a good time with some American rock. L.A. Guns has announced some live dates in the US next spring. Hopefully those will happen as they now have some great new songs to add to the back catalogue for their live shows.

L.A. Guns’ new album “Renegades” is out now via Golden Robot Records.

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Album review: Sodom “Genesis XIX”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrash metal band Sodom adds some new nuances and influences on the terrific “Genesis XIX”, the band’s 16th studio album.

Bandleader Tom Angelripper, on vocals and bass, remains at the helm of Sodom, a band he founded nearly four decades ago. Guitarist Frank Blackfire (ex-Kreator) has returned to Sodom of which he was a member in the 1980s. Guitarist Yorck Segatz and drummer Toni Merkel complete the current – terrific – line-up of the band. The new album is without compromises. It’s tough, raw, gritty, pissed off and in your face. It is an album created during the coronavirus pandemic and you can hear it. Sodom is a terrific thrash metal band but on this new album, we get more than just hard-hitting thrash metal. It is a rather diverse album with different influences. While we get splendid thrash on tracks such as “Euthanasia”, “Dehumanized” and “Friendly Fire” (quite possibly the top track on this release together with “Sodom & Gomorrah”), a track like “Occult Perpetrator” is quite far from normal thrash and is more some kind of bombastic and epic style of heavy metal mixed with black metal touches. “Waldo & Pigpen” is another track with a difference – it starts off slowly and a bit doomy before moving more into thrash territory and on the track “Indoctrination” we get a terrific punky shout-along chorus. On “Nicht Mehr Mein Land” we get world-class thrash sung in German. Throughout the new album, we hear proof of Sodom as a band that has inspired plenty of death and black metal acts with its sound. Frank and Yorck are two very different but equally gifted guitarists. Combining their diverse talents in the same band works very well for Sodom. I love the new Sodom with a rock-solid thrash metal foundation and with overlays of all kinds of different influences. The many nuances suit Sodom’s music very well. This is an album overflowing with terrific metal.

Sodom’s new album “Genesis XIX” will be released on 27th November via Steamhammer/SPV.

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Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI5”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fabulous Japanese artist Kiyoshi is back with her fifth solo album, “KIYOSHI5”. There is an exciting raw nerve and edge to her splendid music.

There is something about this artist that I love. She’s different. There is a raw and authentic nerve and real quality to everything Kiyoshi does. She uses the slight imperfections in her music to keep it real and to show us that she is a sincere artist that creates music from the heart. Nothing is overproduced or too polished. On “KIYOSHI5”, her fifth solo album, she continues with her trademark approach of delivering her songs only backed up by a sole drummer and with herself on vocals and bass. There is no guitar and, weirdly enough, you don’t miss it. The bass is her foundation, her oxygen. It is what her career is built upon, but she is also a splendid songwriter and a vocalist with a distinct approach. On the track “No Words” we get fine examples of all three. Sheer awesomeness. Perhaps best known as the fierce bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, Kiyoshi is also an accomplished solo artist. I still remember the day years back when Marty asked me: “Do you know Kiyoshi?” I didn’t. He said I should and he wasn’t wrong. Genre-wise this is Kiyoshi music. It lives somewhere between alternative rock, J-pop, traditional singer-songwriter music and much more. There is a foundation in a sort of classic pop-rock song structure but then fused with terrific bass work and Kiyoshi’s characteristic voice. A year ago, when she released “KIYOSHI4”, I mentioned Japanese artists such as GO!GO!7188 and Anna Tsuchiya as references in my review and in my mind that still holds true on this new album. It is the kind of nervy and edgy Japanese rock that I love. A kind of raw, underground pop music with a punk attitude. It is rawer, less polished and more real than the major and commercially-minded US pop-punk bands. At times it’s perhaps not too far from bands like Garbage and Pixies but in a very Japanese way. Kiyoshi, one of my favourite bassists in the business, shows us some really cool bass work on songs such as “Dance Darling Dance”, “Happy End”, “I’m So Sick” and “Life Goes On”. She is an immensely gifted bassist but she never overdoes it. She knows she’s here to perform and entertain, not just show off her skills. And she succeeds. She mostly sings in Japanese but we do get a few songs with English lyrics as well. “KIYOSHI5” is as good an album as I had hoped. It’s terrific. Kiyoshi never disappoints me.

“KIYOSHI5” is out now. Buy it and while you’re at it, you should treat yourself to a Kiyoshi “No Guitar More Bass” t-shirt as well.

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Album review: Marty Friedman “Tokyo Jukebox 3”

Marty Friedman “Tokyo Jukebox 3”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman never ceases to amaze me. My mind is officially blown, once again, as Marty offers us the third part of his “Tokyo Jukebox” series.

Marty Friedman lives for creating great music and he doesn’t care about any musical boundaries at all. His constant reinventions keep blowing my mind, both with his studio recordings and live shows. Not only does he play whatever style he fancies at the time when he creates new music, he frequently mixes different styles even within songs. With every new release, Marty aims to take his music one step further and he always succeeds. Even when he does covers, he makes the songs his own by infusing his personality into the music as if he had composed them.

“Tokyo Jukebox 3” is an album which mainly consists of Japanese cover songs, most of them delivered in instrumental versions. One of my personal highlights on this album is “Gurenge”, originally a pop hit in 2019 by Japanese pop vocalist LiSA and also used as the theme song for the anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”. On the album, there is also an excellent take on Da Pump’s “USA”. The standard, but annoyingly catchy, J-pop hit gets a proper Marty treatment and he turns it into a really cool instrumental showpiece. We get other covers of well-known pop songs by artists like Momoiro Clover Z, Sekai no Owari and Little Glee Monster. Marty offers us an excellent outlandish and good-fun version of ZARD’s 1993 hit “Makenaide”. Another 1990s hit, Every Little Thing’s “Time Goes By”, comes with some of the album’s finest guitar parts. On this album, Marty has taken a somewhat different approach to some of his guitar work and has managed to come up with some fine and, even for him, unusual guitar sounds.

The album is not all about covers though. There are two Marty songs on it as well. One is the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song”, a song commissioned by the Japanese government a few years ago and on which Marty performs together with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Then there is a new version of “The Perfect World”, here featuring vocals by Alfakyun. This track is the absolute highlight on the album for me. It combines terrific guitar work from Marty, a splendid and groovy rhythm section, a characteristic voice, all fitting inside a wonderful high-energy J-pop/rock song. This version beats Marty’s own original version. It’s a bit edgier. I love it.

Marty has approached this with the idea of making a good-fun album of great music to cheer people up in these dark pandemic times. He succeeds. I hope he will consider doing some special “Tokyo Jukebox 3” live gigs, perhaps playing the new album in its entirety and with the best bits from the two earlier “Tokyo Jukebox” albums. Just a thought…

I never get bored listening to Marty Friedman. I loved the heavy metal he played with Cacophony and Megadeth and I love even more all the unexpected musical directions he has gone off in since moving to Japan. He can still be a heavy metal-style guitar hero, but he doesn’t shy away from playing whatever style he stumbles across. He’s a true artist and someone who ignores what is expected of him and just focuses on taking his music creation further. My expectations on Marty Friedman are always sky high. He is one of the best guitarists alive. He constantly tries new things, always evolving, never standing still. Few artists at his level dare to do these kinds of genre-bending musical creations. But Marty does and he keeps blowing my mind.

Marty Friedman’s album “Tokyo Jukebox 3” will be released in Japan on 21st October via Avex.

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Album review: Anaal Nathrakh “Endarkenment”

Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British extreme metal band Anaal Nathrakh returns with a fabulous new album filled with controlled chaos.

Formed in Birmingham, England in 1999 by vocalist Dave Hunt and multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney, Anaal Nathrakh has always been a bit different. They’re as extreme as they can be, but their music doesn’t really sound like their fellow extreme metal bands. The music is extreme and very entertaining. It’s high-energy. It is also easily recognisable. Anaal Nathrakh has established a trademark sound that sets it apart from other extreme bands. It’s chaotic. Somewhat controlled chaos, perhaps planned chaos, but still chaos. There are fragments of melodic song structures underneath all the mayhem and cacophony. It’s a bit like a musical mosaic. As if someone has taken a bunch of songs, tore them apart, threw the pieces in a mixer and then pieced together whatever came out. Like a musical equivalent to William S. Burroughs’ cut-up literary technique. The result? Bloody fantastic! It’s glorious chaos. It’s not music for everyone. It’s music that demands attention and it needs listeners to concentrate. It’s exhausting but a joy to listen to this music. There are so many nuances, tempo and style changes and twists and turns throughout all the songs that I discover new things every time I listen to the songs. “Punish Them” with its aggression and excellent guitars is one of my immediate and clear favourite tracks on this album. Another is the title track. The album is solid throughout. There are no gaps, no fillers, not even any breathing space. It’s non-stop pummelling. Unlike many other extreme metal bands who tend to put on make up and elaborate costumes, Anaal Nathrakh lets the music do the talking. When they last performed in Japan in 2019, they performed in plain clothes. That’s perfectly fine as this band has some of the finest extreme music in the business.

The Japanese edition of the album comes with a bonus track: it’s an alternative version of the title song, here called “Endarkenment (Total Necro Version)”. It’s a glorious batshit crazy version of a terrific song.

Anaal Nathrakh’s album “Endarkenment” is out today in Japan via Ward Records and Metal Blade Records internationally.

Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Satanic Overdrive gives us cheeky garage rock on debut album

Satanic Overdrive

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Satanic Overdrive is a tongue-in-cheek punky rock’n’roll band from Gothenburg, Sweden. Its debut album is full of Swedish garage rock.

The references to Satan are seemingly there purely for shock value, to get attention for the emerging band Satanic Overdrive. Fair enough – it is hard for new bands to get noticed. Music-wise, this Swedish band is a mix of straightforward garage rock and shout-along punk rock. There is nothing evil or even sinister about this rock band. They call themselves “an occult punk rock’n’roll band” but even that is a load of tosh. They are not occult at all. They are attention seekers, but they are also gifted songwriters. There is a quality there that perhaps gets overshadowed by the references to Satan. I dig their good-fun and high-energy debut album. They’d be better off ditching the Satan references and just be a great and fun melodic punk rock/garage rock band in a proud Swedish tradition. Songs like “Cold Honey”, “Suck It Up”, “Zombie Shakedown”, “Pain Makes You Live” and “Burn” are terrific. It’s the sort of music you want to drink beer to at a summer rock festival. There is very good potential here. In addition to echoes of the Swedish punk rock scene, there are heaps of hints of classic Swedish garage rock bands like The Hives, The Leather Nun and The Nomads.

Satanic Overdrive’s self-titled debut album will be released on 2nd October via Lucifer Productions.

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Album review: Six Feet Under “Nightmares of the Decomposed”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Florida death metal is not dead. Chris Barnes and his Six Feet Under chaps return with an uncompromising new album.

Six Feet Under is a Florida death metal band seemingly, and unsurprisingly, obsessed with the subject of death. From the band name to the album cover, the album title, the song titles (“The Rotting”, “Death Will Follow”, “The Noose”, “Dead Girls Don’t Scream”, “Drink Blood, Get High” and so on), the lyrics and beyond, it’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek and over the top. Six Feet Under was founded in 1993 as a side project to Chris Barnes’ main gig in the band Cannibal Corpse. When Barnes was kicked out of that band, Six Feet Under became his main focus. They released their debut album “Haunted” in 1995 and soon established themselves as one of the biggest death metal bands in the US. The new studio album, “Nightmares of the Decomposed”, is an uncompromising show of strength. In the current line-up of the band, Barnes is joined by two other former Cannibal Corpse members – guitarists Ray Suhy and Jack Owen – as well as two former Vile and Brain Drill members – bassist Jeff Hughell and drummer Marco Pitruzzella. The music is often slow-ish and doomy yet crushing death metal. But there are some faster tracks, such as “Amputator”. The music is extreme and punishing and it has a tremendous underground quality to it. On the surface, initially, some of the music sounds primitive and a bit like meat-and-potatoes, but then there is often a groove in the music and some glorious guitar solos do come into the picture. Those touches make the songs less straightforward, more complex and more interesting. The Japanese edition comes with two terrific bonus tracks, “Violent Eruption” and “Midnight in Hell”.

Six Feet Under’s album “Nightmares of the Decomposed” will be released on 2nd October in Japan via Ward Records and Metal Blade Records internationally.

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Album review: Blue Öyster Cult “The Symbol Remains”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Classic American rockers Blue Öyster Cult return with their first studio album in 19 years.

Frontman Eric Bloom and lead guitarist Buck Dharma still lead Blue Öyster Cult. In the current line-up of the band, they are joined by Danny Miranda (bass), Jules Radino (drums) and Richie Castellano (keyboards, rhythm guitar). “The Symbol Remains” is the band’s first studio album in 19 years and expectations are high among fans. “The Symbol Remains” is a rather varied rock album, ranging from classic rock via AOR, hard rock and progressive rock to blues rock, rockabilly and much more. Throughout their career, the band has mixed various styles and influences. While in the past, the band has mainly switched styles between different albums, here they do offer up that kind of melting pot on the same album. “That Was Me” is a great hard rock song. “Nightmare Epiphany” is a terrifically catchy rock song that sounds as if it never left the 70s. The epic track “Edge of the World” is simply magic, one of the album’s absolute highlight. It manages to combine the classic rock of the band’s early years with modern hard rock touches, pop hooks and some fine guitar work. “Stand and Fight” sounds like one of those mid-80s heavy metal anthems (think a cross of Manowar and Saxon). Straightforward but effective. Love it. We get some good-fun country/rockabilly rock on the track “Train True (Lennie’s Song)”. “The Alchemist” is excellent prog-rock mixed with some old-school theatrical Alice Cooper touches. “Secret Road” is middle-of-the-road grown-up rock while “Fight” is excellent Tom Petty rock. The fact that the 14-track album is so varied keeps things interesting throughout the whole album. You never know what’s coming next. An album that manages to sound like both 10cc and Manowar can’t be a bad thing, can it? The Japanese edition comes with a bonus track in the form of an oddball acoustic remixed version of “That Was Me”.

Blue Öyster Cult’s album “The Symbol Remains” will be released in Japan on 7th October via Ward Records and internationally on 9th October via Frontiers Music.

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Album review: House of Secrets “Keyhole”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On its debut album, Danish rock band House of Secrets shows us some real potential.

Danish rock band House of Secrets describes the music on its debut album, “Keyhole”, as grungy hard rock with some progressive touches. That’s not a bad summary but I think there’s a bit more complexity to it. Style-wise this is a bit closer to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden than Nirvana if we are sticking with the grunge references. When it comes to Danish rock, this is not miles away from D-A-D or Dizzy Mizz Lizzy but without sounding like copycats. There is great potential here and they are off to a great start with this album. To differentiate themselves, I’d love for this band to go down a slightly heavier and darker path in the future. The foundation is definitely there. This is a good band with good songs. Being Scandinavian, they unsurprisingly have some great melodies. But with some more heaviness and darkness, they can really shine by taking this to the next level. I hope they choose to go down that road and avoid the slippery slope of becoming another Volbeat wannabe. I personally find Volbeat an incredibly boring and “safe” band. A Danish Nickelback if you like. House of Secrets has much more oomph and feeling in their music. Listen to tracks like “Mescalin” and “You Oughta Know” which, while quite slow tracks, have great heaviness and attitude. “Remember” is perhaps the highlight of the album with heaps of emotion and a feeling of music made from the heart and the backbone. Even a ballad like “No Turning Back” has something about it that the bigger polished acts could never accomplish. If Volbeat is kissing a girl at the movies while eating popcorn, House of Secrets is lovemaking and beer drinking. This is a band to keep an eye on.

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Album review: Benediction “Scriptures”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With Dave Ingram back on vocals, British death metal band Benediction is in fine form on its new album.

Benediction has been a British death metal institution since its formation in the late 1980s. In 2020, Benediction still plays fierce, forceful and pummelling music that hits you in the chest. Solid and rock steady. Uncompromising. Sweaty. Terrific vocalist Dave Ingram, of Bolt Thrower fame, is back following more than two decades away from Benediction. Benediction’s original vocalist was none other than Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway and during Ingram’s long absence the band was fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh. Original guitarists Darren Brookes and Peter Rewinsky, who co-founded the band in 1989, are still here and they are joined by newer additions Dan Bate on bass (ex-Blaze Bayley) and Giovanni Durst on drums (ex-White Wizzard). This is a very good version of the band. The band is tight and Ingram’s vocals are fierce. “Scriptures”, the band’s eighth studio album, is a terrific effort from Benediction. Birmingham is holy ground for heavy metal in general and even in the extreme metal category. But Benediction stands up very well to the local and international competition with this new album. “In Our Hands, The Scars” is an obvious and immediate favourite track on the album. The combination of the heavy rhythm section and Dave Ingram’s fantastically brutal voice is a winner. The guitars are of course there but they take a back seat to the bass, drums and vocals on this track. “We Are Legion” is another favourite track where the guitars get to play slightly more prominent roles. Other terrific tracks include “Iterations of I”, “Stormcrow”, “Progenitors of a New Paradigm”, “Rabid Carnality” and “Tear Off These Wings”. Like many other Birmingham bands, Benediction does not compromise. It is a band that plays the music it wants to play. What others expect of them is irrelevant. There is a bit of Bolt Thrower’s freight train approach to music evident here too but, while the music never stops being as heavy as a ton of bricks, there are also more melodic parts to some of the music. This is a very solid death metal album.

Benediction’s new album “Scriptures” will be released on 16th October via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast Records internationally.

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