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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Album review: Amaranthe “Manifest”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Since releasing its debut full-length album in 2011, Sweden’s Amaranthe has built a career based on catchy modern metal with its signature move of having three lead vocalists. Now the band is back with “Manifest”, its sixth studio album.

I have followed Amaranthe closely since first seeing the band live here in Tokyo in 2011. They are always an entertaining live act and they have consistently delivered in the studio. Olof Mörck, band founder, guitarist, keyboard player and main songwriter, has led his troops to create another contemporary-sounding album. As the band’s principal creative force, together with Elize Ryd, he has never been afraid of bringing different influences to the band’s music. On its new album “Manifest”, Amaranthe continues with its now well-established formula of contemporary music which combines pop with metal – plenty of catchy tunes, big choruses, a massive dose of keyboards mixed with heavy guitar riffs and that one thing that really sets this band apart from the competition – three lead vocalists with very separate styles which gives the band a terrific way to mix things up between and even within their songs. A band with not one, but three, world-class singers is quite unique. Elize Ryd’s clear female pop voice is mixed with Nils Molin’s seasoned rock voice and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson‘s angry growls. The combination works a treat for the band’s music which is built on a solid foundation provided by a rock-steady rhythm section consisting of bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen. “Crystalline” is the album’s obligatory power ballad while “Strong” is a great duet between Elize Ryd and Finnish guest vocalist Noora Louhimo from Battle Beast. The song “BOOM!”, during its four minutes and thirteen seconds, sums up what Amaranthe is all about. It is one of my favourite tracks on the album. The soundscape is busy. What is essentially a contemporary pop song, keeps making twists and turns while still being both brutal and very catchy. Amaranthe in a nutshell. Other standout tracks include “Adrenaline” (fab chorus and a terrific short guitar solo), the fast and high-energy songs “The Game” and “Archangel” as well as “Do or Die”, where Nils and Henrik really get to shine with their vocal performances.

Amaranthe’s new album will be released on 30th September in Japan via Virgin Music/Universal Music Japan and internationally on 2nd October via Nuclear Blast.

Album review: Torch “Reignited”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Reunited Swedish hard rockers Torch have brought their 1980s heavy metal sound with them into 2020. All metal, no rust!

Swedish heavy metal band Torch made a name for itself in the early to mid-1980s. They released a few albums, now cult classics, and toured in Europe before they broke up in 1986. In 2013, four of the original band members reunited with the addition of a new guitarist. The reunion was well received and they kept on playing, including a successful gig at Sweden Rock Festival in 2018. In 2019, they started work on new music and now the comeback album “Reignited” is here. The album kicks off in style with the hard-hitting track “Knuckle Duster”. “Reignited” is an excellent metal album. Some of this sounds like Accept. Some of it hints at other 1980s Swedish acts like 220 Volt, Madison and Heavy Load. “Cradle to Grave” has a bit of an AC/DC vibe and “Collateral Damage” has Judas Priest touches while other songs have hints of W.A.S.P. and Mötley Crüe. Torch is a melting pot of 1980s metal that has been updated and given a contemporary upgrade. The result is very good. They manage to sound a lot like 1980s metal but without becoming a retro or tribute act. Back to the future! One of my favourite songs on the album, “In the Dead of Night”, is a terrific and catchy metal song. Vocalist Dan Dark has a voice made for singing this kind of catchy metal music. Other splendid songs include “All Metal, No Rust”, “Feed the Flame”, “Snake Charmer” and “To the Devil His Due”. Torch never made it big in the 1980s. Perhaps the band’s second coming will change that.

Torch’s new album “Reignited” will be released on 25th September via Metalville.

Album review: Napalm Death “Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

England’s Napalm Death, quite possibly the best band in the world, returns with an evolved sound and more varied musical influences on its new album.

I really dig Russ Russell’s production on this new Napalm Death album. The production process has added a lot of interesting bits and pieces like an overlay to the, mostly, chaotic songs. There are a lot of funky sound effects nestled in among the hard-hitting music. The songwriting is also more varied on the band’s 16th studio album compared to a typical Napalm record. It seems the band has taken in a lot more different influences this time. The result? It’s glorious. Glorious chaos. As always when it comes to this band, there are no compromises. They do what they want to do. There’s plenty of the kind of grindcore we have come to expect of Napalm Death. But there is also much more and many of the songs combine several different musical styles. It is a more complex Napalm we get to hear on this album. “Amoral” is an obvious highlight for me. Rather different from Napalm’s trademark chaos. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still brutal and has plenty of attitude, but it is…well…melodic. Perhaps a tad bit more Killing Joke than Bolt Thrower. Possibly a bit more creamy Stilton soup than meat and potatoes. Call it whatever, I love it. Napalm Death keeps evolving and it is still quite possibly the best band in the world. “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen” is another song which comes across as an interesting mix of industrial music and goth rock. On the more old-school grindcore side of things, “That Curse of Being in Thrall” is one of the absolute highlights with its relentless energy and excellent performance. The rumbling bass on “Backlash Just Because” is another highlight that instantly makes me smile. It will be very interesting to see how Napalm will integrate some of these new songs into their live set. The core band line-up of vocalist Barney Greenway, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera is intact. Guitarist Mitch Harris only plays a bit on the album. Napalm live guitarist John Cooke has this time also contributed in the studio. The bulk of the music has been written by Shane and the lyrics – as thought-provoking as ever – by Shane and Barney. Napalm Death, a motley crew of gentlemen and scholars of creativity, glorious chaos and protest, remains quite possibly the best band in the world.

Napalm Death’s album “Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism” will be released on 18th September via Century Media Records.

Barney and Shane Embury of Napalm Death on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks