Album review: Decadence “Undergrounder” | Terrific Swedish thrash metal

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New album “Undergrounder” brings Decadence to the front of the current wave of Swedish thrash metal bands.

Decadence’s “Undergrounder” album is mostly made up of thrash metal played at breakneck speed. I really like it. It has a sound foundation in classic 80s Bay Area thrash metal but with a modern touch to it. It is also, for the most part, a tad bit more melodic than much of the old-school thrash metal.

The Swedish thrash metal scene seems to be on the verge of something very interesting with new bands appearing and old revitalised bands doing new things. Decadence is at the very front of that crowd together with bands such as Ice Age and Tyranex.

Decadence formed in 2003 when guitarist Metallic Kitty Saric, at the time only 16 years old, started singing. In 2004, they put together their first demo and in 2005 they released their self-titled debut album. They quickly released their follow-up album in the same year. Now they are back with “Undergrounder”, the band’s fifth studio album and it kicks ass.

The track “Undergrounder” is one of the best tracks here, but the fierce “Manifesto” is my favourite on this album. Bloody hell, the energy and relentlessness on that track is terrific. “The Inner Circle” has a similar attacking energy to it.

Metallic Kitty has that great pissed-off attitude in her voice. The band has an easily recognisable sound: great melodies, fantastic riffing and shredding guitars, a tight rhythm section and then that angry voice coupled with plenty of energy. All of that packaged together into one fine thrash metal album containing eight strong songs.

In addition to the core duo of Kitty Saric and Kenneth Lantz, on this album Decadence has brought in Lawrence Dinamarca from Nightrage as a session drummer. With such a strong album in the market, I reckon that Decadence sooner rather than later need to have a full band line-up and get out on the road with this music. This music is too good to not be performed at clubs and festivals this year.

Decadence’s “Undergrounder” is out now via Heavy Dose. Buy it. It’ll make you play air guitar and headbang.

www.facebook.com/decadencesweden / www.decadence.se

Album review: Nightrage “The Venomous”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek-Swedish melodic death metal band Nightrage is back with a great new album combining brutality and heaviness with catchy melodies.

Nightrage’s new album is rather heavy yet still melodic with some great guitar riffs. Genre wise they live next door to Arch Enemy. Like Arch Enemy, Nightrage is an international band with its base in southern Sweden combining heavy music with aggressive vocals and some fantastic melodies, choruses, hooks and riffs. Nightrage’s new album, “The Venomous”, is the band’s seventh studio album since they formed in 2000.

Nightrage has a long list of well-known former members, including Gus G (Ozzy Osbourne, Firewind), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, The Crown), Olof Mörck (Amaranthe, Dragonland), Johan Nunez (Firewind, Gus G), Nick Barker (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Brujeria), Jesper Strömblad (CyHra, In Flames, HammerFall), Brice LeClercq (Dissection, Satyricon), Per Møller Jensen (The Haunted) and many more.

Those players are no longer in the band which now consists of Marios Iliopoulos (who founded the band with Gus G) and Magnus Söderman on guitars, Anders Hammer on bass, Ronnie Nyman on vocals and Lawrence Dinamarca on drums. Make no mistake about it: Nightrage are better than ever and on this album none of the former members are missed. The current line-up of the band delivers.

The title track is one of the better songs on a very solid and even album. Some of the heavier songs, like “In Abhorrence”, “From Ashes into Stone” and “Affliction” are also my favourites. The very fast track “The Blood” is bleeding terrific. The album closes with “Denial of the Soul”, a calmer instrumental piece.

Nightrage’s album “The Venomous” is out now on Despotz Records.

www.facebook.com/nightrage / www.nightrage.com

Album review: Argus Megere “VEII”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Romania’s Argus Megere has released a new album filled with terrific atmospheric dark music.

The Romanian misanthropic black metal band Argus Megere has been around for over two decades. They unleashed their first demo in 1997 and now they have just released their fourth studio album. It is a good one.

The album “VEII” contains only four tracks but they are long epic songs, each more than ten minutes long. More importantly, they are great songs. There are some fabulous extended instrumental parts on the songs that make this stand out from the crowd. As is often the case in black metal, there are also some folk or pagan-like touches here and there. There are also medieval sounding choirs and chanting, church bells and fine melodies. All set in a dark landscape far beyond the valleys of hope. The album has a feeling of being a soundtrack to a depressing film. Like a journey to a funeral or the aftermath of a lost battle. There is an air of hopelessness about this music.

Some of the music on the album is on the slower side, much slower and less brutal than many other black metal bands. At times it feels a bit more like progressive rock crossed with extreme metal. There are plenty of keyboards being used, which – together with some of the guitar work – perhaps is what makes this a bit proggy. While it isn’t terribly brutal music, it is haunting and disturbing and beautifully dark. Overall it is a well-balanced mix of slower and faster parts, quite a nuanced piece o work. Vocally we get a wide range with your typical high-pitched black metal singing, but also some growls and clean singing. The end result is a rather varied album, a great soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist.

Argus Megere’s “VEII” is out now on Loud Rage Music.

www.facebook.com/argusmegere / www.facebook.com/loudragemusic

Interview: Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato | A future built on the past for Graham Bonnet Band

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Graham Bonnet Band recently returned to tour Japan, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with Graham Bonnet and guitarist Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo to chat about using the past to create a future.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet Band has released a terrific album called “The Book” and has finally got a stable line-up which enables them to tour properly around the world. Veteran vocalist Graham Bonnet has a very loyal fan base in Japan built up with bands such as Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz. He has been playing gigs in Japan for many years and now he is back just half a year since his last visit. Then he was here as a guest of Michael Schenker, now he’s here on a headline tour with his own band. The band’s debut album has done very well in Japan as is evident from the packed venues that the band is performing for. “It’s always great to be back here because the audiences are so great. The fans are amazing. They are very loyal. We always look forward to it being a good show because they are so enthusiastic about seeing the band” says Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato adds: “Best crowd in the world!”

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

Having performed in Japan with Michael Schenker both in 2015 and 2016 has not exactly hurt Graham Bonnet and the interest in the Graham Bonnet Band. Schenker is a major star In Japan and his fans are an obvious target for Bonnet’s music. “No doubt! He has a big following here and we lashed onto that and why not? I was in the band for at least a week… Haha!! So, it was a little reunion but not quite. But it was fantastic to do the show with him. We all respect his band and I love his music” says Bonnet with a reference to his very short original stint as MSG vocalist in the early 80s.

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

By now, Bonnet has a tradition of doing special things for his Japanese fans. For this Japan tour, Bonnet brought something very special indeed. Not only did his current band, Graham Bonnet Band, perform songs from their new album as well as old hits from Bonnet’s career. We also got treated to a special Alcatrazz set featuring the three Alcatrazz founders – Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea. “It was put together by our manager and the record company, I believe. It was a good idea because Jimmy Waldo is now part of the band, it was like a natural thing. ‘What happened to the other guys in Alcatrazz?’ That’s when Gary came in and we thought ‘Well, what about Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai?’ I don’t think so. I don’t think they will do it. And Jan Uvena, our old drummer, definitely didn’t want to do it. He is completely out of the business. So we have at least two of the guys to do an Alcatrazz set. So, that’s what we’ve done. Half the show is us, our stuff along with a mixture of a bit of Michael Schenker and whatever and obviously Rainbow stuff from my past. Then we do a separate show with Gary and Jimmy, all the Alcatrazz things we wrote together. It’s kind of cool.”

Graham Bonnet has had some of the most legendary guitarists in the world in the bands he’s fronted, names such as Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Chris Impellitteri. His latest lead guitarist Conrado Pesinato has big shoes to fill. “Yeah, I do. I do my best and have fun, that’s kind of how I take it” says Pesinato. “Right now I feel more honoured than anything else. You know, to share the stage with him, playing songs he played with all these great guitar players. And with all the rest of the band, Beth-Ami, Gary and everybody. It’s been very fulfilling. The best thing I get out of it, as far as my personal interest, are the songs that we co-wrote, some of the riffs I wrote, being performed together with riffs those guys wrote. For me that’s kind of the main thing. Playing the old stuff is very challenging and I feel honoured to play, but I get more enjoyment out of playing the new stuff that we all put together.” Having seen Pesinato perform with Bonnet in Japan both in 2015 and 2017, it is clear that he’s up to the task. He not only gets the job done with classic material, he’s also showing his brilliance with the new songs. In the past Pesinato played with Graham Bonnet Band bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in the LA band Hardly Dangerous which is how he got asked if he was up for joining Bonnet. “First I was like ‘Yeah, if you guys think I can do it. Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a shot’. Beth-Ami is a good friend. It’s always fun playing with her. She’s a great bass player, she’s got a great feel” says Pesinato.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“It was a natural thing” says Bonnet of the choice of Pesinato as the band’s guitarist. “He came in and the three of us got together and started making songs.” The trio got on well from the start but it took them some time before they could find the right drummer for the new band. “Eventually we found a drummer. Drummer number one. We’ve had about ten drummers so far. And finally we’ve found Mark over there” says Bonnet and points to the new drummer Mark Benquechea. “He is the best one. And we are gonna make him stay. We gotta tie him up, beat him up or whatever!” Beth-Ami Heavenstone weighs in on the conversation: “He can never leave!”

Bonnet continues: “He brought the band to life! The first rehearsal we had with him was incredible. It was like he’d been playing with us for years.” Pesinato continues: “I knew him for a couple of years in LA. Playing the same clubs in different bands. He has a killer feel and I know he’s a big Rainbow fan. He loves Cozy and that was the big selling point for me.”

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Clearly the band is delighted with their new drummer, but it seems that he wasn’t too confident about getting the gig when he auditioned. “I think that he was thinking ‘I’m not gonna get this’, because he brought an album with him and he got me to sign it! Haha!! It was ‘Down To Earth’, wasn’t it? So, he got me to sign ‘Down To Earth’ just in case I never saw him again” explains Bonnet. “He’s the guy! Mark, no doubt. He was so bloody good. He blew the other guy away basically. As soon as he started playing one of the songs which every drummer has a bit of a problem with … When he started playing ‘Lost in Hollywood’, that was like the clincher. It was just unbelievable. He’s really the driving force behind a lot of the songs now. Really, really good and I applaud him, I really do. He does a great job every night. We’ve got a great band, that’s all I can say. Having Mark in the band now is so refreshing. It’s really good.”

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

The band’s album “The Book” was released about half a year ago and has done really well, winning both critical acclaim and selling well. “Yeah, it feels great” says Pesinato. “I’d say, especially for me, because before I have been touring with him and you see everybody with Alcatrazz records to get signed, all his previous stuff, Rainbow… There’s one here that I made! It feels good. It especially feels good to be part of the heritage and the great catalogue that Graham’s had with this amazing body of work with brilliant musicians. It just feels great to be part of that somehow. It feels pretty good to know that people are liking it. Like the past few shows we have been playing in Japan, to see everybody singing the songs, the new stuff”. Bonnet continues: “Last night they were getting up for the new stuff. You can see them mouthing the words. There’s nothing more gratifying than to see somebody actually singing your song. It’s a great feeling. Conrado put a lot of work into this, we worked for hours and hours and hours. And after I finished working with him, he would go home and work for another 20,000 years putting all the stuff together. We all worked very hard”. Pesinato  worked hard to address the pressure of doing a Graham Bonnet album: “For me it was, even psychologically, recording guitar solos by myself. ‘It’s a good solo but is it good enough to be on a Graham Bonnet record?’”

The end result is great and a perfect follow-on from Bonnet’s legacy. All the tracks are strong, there are no fillers on the album. “I know!” says Bonnet. “That’s what a lot of people say. I got a message from one of my friends the other day. It says: ‘Every track is like a single’. I think they all have that sort of immediacy. You can sing along with them after you’ve heard them once. The big chorus or whatever. And the story, people like the stories, so it’s kind of cool. To see people singing in the audience, every damn verse. The audience knows the words better than I do, I always forget the words!”

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

While the band is now doing a fair bit of touring, they have already starting to think about the next album. “I’ve got some more stuff ready” says Bonnet. “It’s in the works already. We both have guitar parts, ideas. I’m sure that Jimmy has some ideas as well. Keyboard ideas. He’s played me a couple of things and I’ve played some stuff to Jimmy. That’s what we do right now. It’s the beginning of the next thing”. Pesinato continues: “Even on this record, it was an interesting process. It was a little, how can I say, unusual? Jimmy kind of jumped in towards the end but he helped a lot with some arrangements and he started some ideas and he co-wrote some stuff.” Creating music is very much a team effort with the whole band contributing to writing, arranging and recording. “It was definitely a joint effort” says Pesinato of the work behind “The Book”.

With a great new album out and an incredible back catalogue going back to the late 60s, it can’t be terribly easy to put together set lists for the gigs. “It’s really difficult. There are so many bloody songs to choose from” says Bonnet. “Obviously we have to do the well-known ones. The Rainbow ones and the Alcatrazz tunes. But there are so many other songs that I have recorded over the years that were singles, on my own. There’s a song called ‘Night Games’ which they know in Japan. A Japanese guy did a version of it here years ago. So, I know we’re safe to put that one. But sometimes it’s difficult because it depends on the territory, what country we’re in. I’ve been lucky, I guess. People have listened. All the songs are not necessarily the same genre. ‘Night Games’ is very poppy and ‘Since You Been Gone’ is poppy. But then there are other songs which are kind of heavy and nasty. Haha!! It’s a good mix. We have 22 songs in this set. So it’s a long thing and everybody I’ve heard from so far, they’ve liked every damn song. Because they sort of know them.” Pesinato adds: “It’s a good problem to have, for sure!”

The band is keeping busy in 2017 with quite a bit of touring and some summer festivals. “We’ve got a lot of gigs coming up” says Bonnet. Pesinato says about what’s next for them: “Start working on a new record! Next year it’s gonna be out. And we have a live DVD coming out even before that. One we recorded in Italy last year.”

The band is signed to Italian label Frontiers Music. “We thought they did a great job promoting this one” says Pesinato. “We are definitely grateful to have them onboard. Really good.” Frontiers is a label well-known for AOR and melodic hard rock. Graham Bonnet Band is a bit different from the typical Frontiers band. “I think ours is a little sort of proggy in parts” says Bonnet. “Or just different. We have a different sound. I think that once we did this album, with these players, we suddenly found out a new sound. It is very modern. When I make up tunes… I have Conrado in the band, who’s a lot younger than me, and Beth-Ami and with Mark. Jimmy’s my age, so me and Jimmy is a bit 1980. We have to be careful. But at the same time, I have a modern way of looking at songs. Conrado helps bring that out a little bit more. The next album I think, it’ll be… If people like this one, I think they are gonna like the next one too. It will be very sort of in a similar vein.”

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

Bonnet’s music has always had a sound foundation in melodic rock, but at times the latest album is quite heavy and aggressive. A bit of flashback to the MSG album “Assault Attack” which Bonnet did with Michael Schenker in 1982. “Yeah, it’s aggressive but it’s not annoyingly aggressive” agrees Bonnet. “It’s something you can listen to and sing with it, sing-along with. You can listen to the story. There is some hard-hitting stories in there about real life. It’s not made up of dragons and dungeons and whips and chains and stuff. It’s about real things. I have always made up lyrics about real life and experiences that I’ve had. People identify with certain songs and that’s really good. I can’t identify with songs about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, if you know what I mean. Those sort of silly lyrics. I won’t say who writes silly lyrics. But there are a lot of bands out there if you read the lyrics: Are you kidding me? How old is this person? 12? I like to make up intelligent words along with intelligent arrangements.”

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

Conrado Pesinato co-produced “The Book”: “I was trying to capture like the vibe of his past catalogue, even referencing… this part is a bit more like MSG, or this part a little more like Alcatrazz. Even referencing that but definitely bring in a more modern approach to it. We try to find a balance and you know, so far we’re successful at it, because it does have the element of the classic Graham Bonnet sound and those beautiful harmonies, the nice melodies. It does recall some Rainbow, it does recall some Alcatrazz, MSG, his solo stuff. But at the same time I think there is definitely a touch of freshness there. I think we have achieved something cool.”

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

The album stands up on its own, even if it didn’t have the Bonnet name attached to it. “Great! Thanks, that’s cool. I appreciate that, because it was a bit scary” says Bonnet. “I thought: is anybody gonna go ‘What the hell’s this?’ or are they gonna go ‘This is great’? And luckily the reviews and the comments from people are just amazing. I’m surprised, pleasantly surprised. I think we all are. I’m really happy. Very happy about the whole thing.” Pesinato continues: “Surprised for sure, but in a way – I don’t wanna sound cocky – I remember when we finished the record and we got the first mixes and stuff, we were talking with our manager Giles Lavery: ‘Wow! This is cool!’ I wasn’t sure what people would think, but I was personally – I am very self-critical about stuff that I do and that I’m involved with – I remember hearing the master… Wow! I think we did something cool here. I was personally very pleased with it. And I am glad people were too.”

Graham Bonnet may be a seasoned veteran who debuted in the 1960s, but with Graham Bonnet Band he also has a future. And his guitarist and co-producer Conrado Pesinato will ensure Bonnet stays current and relevant.

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

www.grahambonnetband.com

Interview: David Ellefson talks about Megadeth’s upcoming Japan shows

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thrash metal legends Megadeth will return to play three shows in Japan in May as part of the Asian leg of the “Dystopia” world tour. And they are bringing the mighty Anthrax with them to Japan as special guests. That’s half a Big Four show! Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Megadeth’s co-founder and bassist David Ellefson during the band’s tour rehearsals to see what’s cooking in the Megadeth kitchen.

What can the Japanese fans expect from Megadeth’s upcoming shows with Anthrax? “It’s a really heavy and diverse set list of music from ‘Dystopia’ as well as the classics. Plus, the fans have not heard Dirk in Japan yet, so they will see Megadeth really firing on all cylinders in a really energetic way.” 

Since you last played Tokyo, in October 2015, you have released a great new album, “Dystopia”. Is it difficult finding a balance of including enough of the great new material versus playing old favourites in your live sets? “Sometimes when you release a new album, you only get a few songs deep into the record with the live show. But, with ‘Dystopia’ we have seven songs in the show already! The fans expect the classics, which we will play, and we have our favorites, too. It’s a very diverse set list.”

You have recruited the fantastic and energetic drummer Dirk Verbeuren from Soilwork as a new member of your rhythm section. Does he fit in well with you and the rest of the band so far? “He’s fantastic! He brings such a great energy and technical expertise to the band. He’s really the best of the best from the grindcore genre so it’s great to have him bring that skill into Megadeth. You really hear a new energy to the band with Dirk.” 

At Loud Park in 2015 we had three of the Big Four thrash metal bands on stage and now you and Anthrax are playing together again. Do you think we will ever see some more Big Four shows? “Let’s hope so! That was such a great moment for all things in thrash metal. I think the fans would love to see that again.”

Following the Asia tour this spring and summer festivals in North America and Europe, you have something very cool happening: the Crazy World tour with Scorpions! What a cool and unexpected combination. How did that come about? “Yes, it is really a cool bill to play with Scorpions. A promoter friend in Arizona brought the idea to us and right away it seemed like a great idea. We have played festivals with them over the years and it’s a really good fit musically between the two bands and our fans. Plus, I think every metal fan loves a Scorpions song! Dave and I have always been fans and they are one of Kiko’s favourites, too. They are a real guitar player’s kind of band. In fact, when Dave and I first met in 1983, we had a friend who was attending the school Musicians Institute in Hollywood and would come over to our place and jam early Scorpions songs. We always studied a lot of the European guitar players, because they had a different influence that worked well in metal…mostly classical inspirations. In a way, those jam sessions were inspiring in the development of the earliest Megadeth compositions, especially the complexity in the solos and riffs. It was a really creative and innovative period that defined some of those earliest songs for ‘Killing Is My Business…’ and even ‘Peace Sells…’. I think the tour is going to see a lot of us reliving some cool memories from over the years.”

What’s next for Megadeth? Have you started work on the next album? “We have some plans for exciting things later this year and into 2018. Stay tuned!”

Megadeth will perform in Osaka on 17th May and in Tokyo on 18th and 19th May. www.hipjpn.co.jp/archives/43543

www.facebook.com/davidellefson / www.facebook.com/megadeth

Gig review: Lightning strikes as Loudness looks back to the 80s

Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness keeps celebrating their 80s glory days while at the same time showing that they still got it.

“Ampan” Suzuki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Billed as “8117”, a 30th anniversary tour for the album “Lightning Strikes” (released in 1986), this evening at Zepp Tokyo in Odaiba we get treated to a superb two and a half hour Loudness show. The fantastic set list is a close copy of what can be heard on the 1986 live album “8186 Live” with a few extra goodies thrown in. What more can one ask for?

Akira Takasaki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

For those of us who have seen Loudness many times, it’s great to be treated to some songs that they haven’t played that often, such as “1000 Eyes”, “Dark Desire”, “Streetlife Dreams”, “Face to Face”, “Who Knows” and a combo of “The End of Earth” and “Stay Wild”. We also get a terrific and very heavy version of one of my absolute favourite Loudness songs, “Speed” from 1983.

Masayoshi Yamashita of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As expected, Osaka’s finest, Loudness, delivers a faultless performance as they always do when they’re on stage in Tokyo. They’re tight and on form and they are playing to a venue full of their loyal fans. Most of the audience members have seen the band many times. For this Japan tour they have a great stage set, including some KISS-style platforms that the members run up and down and jump off. All good fun. Loudness are happy to look back to the 80s without taking themselves too seriously. As a nod to the past they perform in outrageous 80s style clothes and wigs.

Minoru Niihara of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Akira Takasaki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness have for most of their career successfully mixed loud and heavy hard rock and melodic metal with guitar wizard Akira Takasaki at the centre of it all. As Minoru Niihara once said in an interview with Roppongi Rocks: there are many other great Japanese rock bands, but they don’t have Akira Takasaki. Indeed. He’s up there with the best metal guitarists In the world. This evening we get a fantastic extended guitar solo by the master. As if that wasn’t enough, when the band returns for an encore we also get a drum solo from the guitar hero himself.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

 

 

 

The Loudness members are very comfortable with their heritage and their current status. They are of course no mere nostalgia act. Their latest album, 2014”s “The Sun Will Rise Again”, is one of their best and they are currently working on the next studio album, due out at the end of this year.

They finish a fantastic evening with  “The Sun Will Rise Again” and, of course, their 80s classic “S.D.I.” Loudness are better than ever and I am looking forward to see what the next album will bring. But before that the band will continue touring for much of 2017.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness – Lightning Strikes 30th Anniversary 8117 Japan Tour – Zepp Tokyo, Odaiba – 13th April 2017 – set list

  1. Loudness
  2. Rock Shock (More and More)
  3. Dark Desire
  4. Streetlife Dreams
  5. Crazy Doctor
  6. Geraldine
  7. Bass solo (Masayoshi Yamashita)
  8. Drum solo (Masayuki “Ampan” Suzuki)
  9. Shadows of War (Ashes in the Sky)
  10. Let It Go
  11. 1000 Eyes
  12. Face to Face
  13. Ares’ Lament
  14. In the Mirror
  15. Guitar solo (Akira Takasaki)
  16. Who Knows (Time to Take a Stand)
  17. Crazy Nights
  18. Speed
  19. Drum solo (Akira Takasaki)
  20. The End of Earth/Stay Wild
  21. Metal Mad
  22. The Sun Will Rise Again
  23. S.D.I.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness on stage in Tokyo on 13th April 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.loudnessjp.com

Album review: Liv Sin “Follow Me”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish rock band Sister Sin may be dead and buried – but long live vocalist Liv Sin. She’s back with a fabulous solo album packed with great heavy metal.

When Swedish rockers Sister Sin called it quits at the end of 2015 after some 13 years, vocalist Liv Sin decided to go solo. Now her solo album is about to be released and what a solo debut it is. To stop singing was never an option for Liv and we are grateful for that. On this album, Liv is backed up by a quality band consisting of guitarists Patrick Ankermark (Viktoria Haze, The Hellshake, T-virus) and Chris Bertzell (Unangel, Three Days In Darkness, Esoteria), bassist Tommie Winther (Refuel) and drummer Per Bjelovuk (Aggressive Chill, Cowboy Prostitutes).

Live Sin’s solo debut “Follow Me” is a rock solid album: high energy, riff heavy and in your face. Liv Sin wants your attention.

Musically, Live Sin has a foundation in proper 80s heavy metal but with a modern touch. It is sort of a cross of W.A.S.P. (think those great melodies), Accept and Iron Maiden (think those guitar riffs and the bundles of energy) with some Judas Priest on top. It’s “The Last Command” and “Metal Heart” baked into one and served with a side dish of “Painkiller”. With that foundation and the addition of Liv’s voice, this album is fabulous. Liv’s voice is powerful and she’s got attitude and plenty of talent.

For the album’s production, Liv has taken help from Fitty Wienhold (U.D.O.) and Stefan Kaufmann (ex-Accept, ex-U.D.O.), which probably has not hurt that fantastic grounding in 80s heavy metal. But make no mistake about it, she still manages to sound current and relevant. This is no retro album.

The single “Let Me Out” is an anthem and a potential hit. “Godless Utopia” is fantastically energetic and bombastic with some Megadeth touches to it. In “Immortal Sin”, a cover of a song by Rob Halford’s old band Fight, Liv Sin walks into Sisters of Mercy territory thanks to the gothic guest vocals of Jyrki 69 from Finnish band The 69 Eyes. Not bad at all.

But most of this album is metal to the bone. Another star guest is Schmier from German thrash metal veterans Destruction who appears on “Killing Ourselves To Live”. “Emperor of Chaos” and ”Hypocrite” are the album’s most brutal and perhaps best songs. Relentless heaviness, just the way we like it.

Liv Sin’s “Follow Me” will be released via Despotz Records on 28th April.

 

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Gig review: An Epica knockout – The essence of a not-so-silent Tokyo gig

Simone Simons and Rob van der Loo of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As Epica finally stood on a stage in Tokyo on Thursday night, they were met with obsessive devotion from an audience happily dancing in a hurricane of symphonic metal.

What a night! It took them 15 years to get here, but when European symphonic metal masters Epica did turn up to play in Tokyo, it was at a sold-out venue filled with Epica fans who knew all the songs. Obsessive devotion? Indeed!

Simone Simons and Coen Janssen of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The audience at Club Quattro is loud and overexcited when Epica hits the stage. They open a fantastic gig with the “Eidola” intro then swiftly moving into the terrific “Edge of the Blade” followed by “A Phantasmic Parade”. What an opening!

Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Epica’s seventh studio album, “The Holographic Principle”, was released last September and is perhaps the band’s best album so far. Lucky us a big part of the Tokyo gig is centred around songs from the new album. We of course also get some old favourites such as “Sensorium” and “Sancta Terra”. This evening, in addition to a fantastic set list, we get a band on top form and an out of this world audience. That combination quickly turn this into an incredible metal evening for all.

Mark Jansen of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

In Simone Simons, Epica has what much of the competition lacks: a world-class vocalist. She certainly can rock a stage too. The rest of the band delivers the musical foundation: they’re tight and play like a well-oiled machine. Keyboardist Coen Janssen stands out as a showman who hugs the limelight. Not content with standing at the back, he rocks out on stage with a handheld keyboard, even bringing his instrument into the audience to be with his loyal fans. Epica mastermind Mark Jansen leads the band from the front: not only singing and playing guitar, but driving the rest of band along in coordinated headbanging and hair-throwing attacks. The band puts on a show far above and beyond the fans’ expectations.

Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

 

Over the past decade and a half, Epica has developed its signature sound, combining melodic symphonic metal with faster and heavier parts and mixing clean singing with growling. The end result works a treat both on record and live. Live they come across, at least this evening, as a tad bit heavier than in the studio which is not a bad thing as the audience is boiling over and ready to party. The whole Epica package – exquisite songs, great combination of melodic and heavy music and a frontwoman that stands out – is such a perfect fit for the Japanese market. I won’t be surprised if Epica will soon go to another level in the Japanese market. They’ve got all the ingredients.

Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

This evening the band seems overwhelmed with the response from the Tokyo audience. They are clearly loving the fact that they are finally on stage in Tokyo. The Tokyo gig is the final performance of Epica’s three-city The Japan Principle Tour. An what a way to finish their first Japan visit. I go to a lot of gigs and this was one of the best gigs I have been to in quite a while. Respect to the European symphonic metal masters. We hope to see Epica back in Japan very soon. Perhaps at Loud Park? I think they’ve now earned a slot on the big stage.

Coen Janssen and Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Epica – The Japan Principle Tour – Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo – 6th April 2017 – set list

  • Eidola
  • Edge of the Blade
  • A Phantasmic Parade
  • Sensorium
  • Unleashed
  • Martyr of the Free World
  • The Essence of Silence
  • Storm of the Sorrow
  • The Obsessive Devotion
  • Ascension
  • Dancing in a Hurricane
  • Unchain Utopia
  • Cry for the Moon
  • Sancta Terra
  • Beyond the Matrix
  • Consign to Oblivion

Rob van der Loo and Isaac Delahaye of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

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Simone Simons and Rob van der Loo of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Interview: Alcatrazz – No parole for Gary Shea

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With the three founding members of Alcatrazz – Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea – back on stage together, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Gary Shea to talk about the past, present and future of Alcatrazz.

Last year we interviewed Gary Shea a couple of times around the release of New England’s live album and their Japan tour. Gary might be a 66-year old music industry veteran, but he is young at heart and loves performing for his fans. “I want to play bass. I am not staying home. I’ll stay home when I am 85! We rock! So we’re here!” says Gary as we meet when he once again turns up in Tokyo to perform with Alcatrazz on the recent “Parole Denied 2017” Japan tour.

Alcatrazz released three splendid studio albums in the mid-80s: “No Parole from Rock’n’Roll”, “Disturbing the Peace” and “Dangerous Games”. Apart from the core line-up of vocalist Graham Bonnet, bassist Gary Shea, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and drummer Jan Uvena, the band was also home to the budding guitarists Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Danny Johnson. Bonnet had made a name for himself with Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group, Uvena had played with Alice Cooper while Shea and Waldo had been members of New England and Warrior with Vinnie Vincent. The band had all the ingredients to make it big and they did rather well for a few years, but having a new lead guitarist for each of the three albums disrupted things and eventually they disbanded in 1987.

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Recently the three founding members – Bonnet, Shea and Waldo – have been performing again as Alcatrazz, this time with guitarist Conrado Pesinato and drummer Mark Benquechea from Graham Bonnet Band. The current Alcatrazz line-up, who has been performing jointly with Graham Bonnet Band, sounds amazing. Perhaps there is not only a glorious past but also a future for Alcatrazz?

How did this special Alcatrazz set with Graham Bonnet Band come about? “Graham’s manager Giles Lavery suggested it. Jimmy has been playing in Graham’s band. Giles and Jimmy worked on another project and then Jimmy got back together with Graham – they live in Los Angeles. He joined the band, playing on the last record and everything. Then they said ‘Let’s get Gary and do some Alcatrazz stuff as well. How about two bands and two shows? That might appeal to a lot people.’ So, here we are! I am really happy about that,” says Gary as we sit down at the record company offices the day before the final gig on the Japan tour. “There were some other renditions of Alcatrazz there for a minute with some other guys. This is a chance to play it correctly! To really nail it!” explains Gary referencing the fact that for a few years Graham Bonnet performed using the Alcatrazz name but with no other original Alcatrazz members involved.

Graham Bonnet and Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What about the absent former guitar heroes of Alcatrazz Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen – are they in touch at all? “Jimmy was at Steve’s house last week to work on some tracks. He was helping Conrado get a few things from the vault, some of the songs, to learn the proper bits. And Steve’s more than happy to help him out. We talk to Steve all the time. And Yngwie is no stranger, just he’s doing his thing and, of course, Steve is doing his thing. They’re doing the Axe tour. We’re all in touch. Over the years we’ve tried to put together the band again a few times. It would be great if we could get Steve and Yngwie and play all the stuff together, but that’s never gonna happen with those guys! That would be my dream if we could do that. It would be kind of fun. So, we’re in touch, it’s good vibes. Things got blown out of the water back in the dark ages about us hating each other and all that stuff. That was more the manager’s publicity stunt than it was the actual people. We’re not hating, we had a good time. It’s just that we disagreed, so fine.”

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The reunited Alcatrazz has recently performed some US shows as well as the Japanese tour, but the future is still uncertain. “Nothing’s booked right now” says Gary who clearly seems keen on doing more Alcatrazz shows.

Japan loved Alcatrazz from the start and this is also where the band recorded the live album “Live Sentence” as well as the concert videos “Metallic Live” and “Power Live” – all recorded during the band’s two Japan tours in 1984. Gary has fond memories from Japan. “Obviously playing for the first time on the first tour when Yngwie was in the band. We played at the Sun Plaza. It was amazing. It was my first time in Japan. To see how Japanese people are with music, it’s unlike any other place on Earth. There’s no other country that rocks like Japan. They can talk about Detroit and all that stuff, not even close. People love music here, they listen to music and they have much respect for the artist, the musicians, listening to them play. They really respect the acts they know, the artists that play. That was a great time, an eye-opening experience, a whole culture shock. I love Japan.”

According to several sources, former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr was an early member of Alcatrazz. Not the case says Gary who explains that Burr’s involvement lasted for about “two minutes or one day”. “He was just one of the guys who auditioned for us. We had Aynsley Dunbar, we had Bill Lordan from Robin Trower’s band. Who else came? We had Ed Cassidy from Spirit who played for us. That was different. Bill Lordan was in the band for about a month, but he wanted to do a religious retreat in Jerusalem or something and off he went. And Clive came in, he flew in from London and played. It was OK but we just thought it wasn’t the guy, we wanted to keep looking. But somehow somebody said he was in the band and all this stuff. Great publicity, you know. The manager wanted him in the band so he could say ‘Iron Maiden and Alcatrazz’. We had to tell him: ‘Stop!’ That’s where the rumour came from. There was never anything more than one day. Great guy, it just wasn’t the right guy for it at the time.”

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Alcatrazz manager was a guy focused on getting publicity with little regard for building a proper band dynamic. “Oh, yeah! The same manager wanted us to get Laurence Juber from Wings for Alcatrazz. That’s not going to work. You can say, yes Wings is famous and Rainbow’s famous and New England is famous. But Wings? The guy wasn’t the right guy. The first thing he said when we played was: ‘Can you turn it down?’ I said: ‘That’s the wrong answer.’ He knew. Then we had this business guy saying ‘It’s business’. No, it’s not just business. The band has to have the blood and the brotherhood to persevere all the things that go on, go out as a team and work really hard. And go out in public and help you perform it properly, how you want it to be. You’ve gotta have the right guys. Some people don’t realise that. That’s why there are a lot of bands, ex-name bands, especially in LA, there is a million of them, ex-this and ex-that” says Gary in reference to bands based on people’s former achievements rather than what they are capable of doing here and now. Past success doesn’t guarantee a great future. “To make that next project better” says Gary, you need to ensure that “they really are on the same wavelength and they play great and people like them. It’s not easy. It’s not anything you can project, it’s nothing you can predict, it’s very unpredictable so it kind of keeps the blood moving.”

Gary Shea in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the first Alcatrazz album and tour, Yngwie was out of the band and was replaced with former Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai. “We found Steve. Steve’s phenomenal. We auditioned Steve without Yngwie knowing that and wanted to make the change earlier. The record company convinced us that we were gonna do a 40-city Ted Nugent tour of North America and not change guitar players, keep the guy that is on the record, especially as we were a brand new band. So we had to go through four months of arguing. But we had Steve already locked in, so by the time we came back from that tour, Steve had written a whole bunch of songs. We changed to Capitol Records and put together ‘Disturbing the Peace’. I am really proud of that. The first album was great because we had just met each other. Everybody was really hungry and worked really hard at that and did well. On the second record we had a chance to fine-tune even more and have someone like Steve that was really involved in the overall…not just be the guitar player, but overall production and concept and everything. Unfortunately our manager kind of left the scene and promoted Yngwie and went off with Yngwie’s record. He was actually offered an EP because he was in Alcatrazz. We thought ‘Great, more promotion for the band’. They turned that into an album, they forced that. They made it sound like he quit the band, got offered mega million dollar deals by some company in Japan. It didn’t happen. So we had no manager, we lost that record. As that was all going on, we played a few gigs and Steve was asked to join David Lee Roth and make a million dollars overnight, what are you gonna do? Who wouldn’t go and do that? So, we’re still friends, it’s all good. And we’re friends with Yngwie too. Yngwie is a great guy. He’s funny. We disagreed on a few things. He’s kind of self-centred and he doesn’t bend. If he wants something, he can’t change.”

“We felt that we had our style at that point. We were not Rainbow Junior anymore. It wasn’t Michael Schenker or any other band or something. It was Alcatrazz. That’s what we wanted to be. We didn’t want to be a hair metal band or a long list of Sunset Boulevard guys in California that went to high school together. None of us were from LA, but we’re an LA band, but we weren’t an LA band, we were more international.”

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gary Shea was the one who came up with the band name Alcatrazz after they had spent time thinking about what would make sense. “We argued with Yngwie, actually. Hehehe! Yngwie wanted to call the band Excalibur or Crusader, a Knights at the Round Table name. That is so overdone. We don’t want that.” The founders wanted “something that sounded tough but no dripping blood on a sword. It would be nice if some girls liked our music” explains Gary. They eventually looked at different names beginning with the letter A, in order to be at the front of the queue. They figured that In record stores people would go to browse the A section looking for AC/DC and stuff. Once Gary suggested Alcatrazz the band and the manager loved it. They extended the choice of band name into a whole concept around the famous Alcatraz prison in California with titles, lyrics, photo shoots and music videos.

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

So, is there a future for Alcatrazz now that the three founders are reunited? “Jimmy and Graham are writing for the Graham Bonnet Band, so they’re busy with that. That is going to take up some time. They are going to spend the next few months and work on that. They have a bunch of festivals lined up in Europe for the summertime. Maybe next fall or next winter we can do this again just for fun and I can be involved again. I can hang out. It’s more about the hang than it is anything else. I’ve had my fun, fun in the sun. I want to keep busy, so it’s good to get me out of Florida, off the beach and play some music” says Gary who clearly enjoys playing with his old Alcatrazz mates again. The two new additions to the band, Conrado Pesinato and Mark Benquechea, have been a good fit. “They’ve learnt the Alcatrazz stuff and the five of us play that together. Great musicians, young guys, eager to play. We’re getting along great. We’re having a good time. Hang out together.”

In addition to Alcatrazz, Gary plays in New England with Jimmy Waldo and is involved in several other projects. He’s also back doing some music with Cooper Shea, which is a continuation of the UK-based band that he played with in the 70s that included David Cooper, Peter French and future Scorpions and Michael Schenker drummer Herman Rarebell.

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At the end of our conversation, Gary reveals that when he lived in England in the 70s, he auditioned for the mighty Trapeze, the great British band whose members went on to join bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Whitesnake. He got on the short list but didn’t get the gig, returned to the US and achieved success with New England instead.

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Album review: Tyranex “Death Roll” | 80s-style thrash metal from Sweden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Tyranex gives us old-school thrash metal on its brand new album, “Death Roll”. Nothing has happened since the 80s here and that’s a good thing.

Tyranex is all about straightforward, old-school thrash metal played very fast, just the way we like it. When listening to Tyranex’s new album, it is obvious that absolutely nothing has happened since the 80s here. Great stuff.

The vocalist sounds pissed off like a mistreated cat on a hot tin roof. You probably don’t want to make this lady cross or she’ll get her claws out. Her in-your-face vocals fit the music like a glove. The music on this album is fast and furious, at times running into speed metal territory. There are bundles of energy bursting out here.

When I listen to this the first time, it reminds me somewhat of Ice Age, the Swedish thrash metal veterans from the mid-80s. I soon find out why: vocalist and guitarist Linnea Landstedt plays in both bands. In Tyranex she is joined by Nino Vukovic on guitar, Majsan Lindberg on bass and Pontus Pettersson-Gull on drums.

“Death Roll” is the band’s third album and if you like 80s thrash metal, this is rock solid. The title track is a hit and another favourite here is the track “Bloodflow” and “Blade of the Sacrificer” is so fast and angry it makes me exhausted. This is angry kick-ass music. I love this band. You should too.

Tyranex’s “Death Roll” album is out now via GMR Music.

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