Interview: Treat “We’re a hard rock band with melodies”

Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic hard rock band Treat recently did its fourth Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met Anders “Gary” Wikström and Pontus Egberg backstage for a chat ahead of their Tokyo gig. 

Having made it big in the mid-1980s as part of a wave of Swedish melodic hard rock bands, the 90s proved tougher for Treat’s kind of music. They disbanded in 1993 but reformed in 2006 and have now released three studio albums since the reunion: “Coup de Grace” (2010), “Ghost of Graceland” (2016) and “Tunguska” (2018). The current line-up – Anders “Gary” Wikström (guitar), Robert “Robban” Ernlund (vocals), Jamie Borger (drums), Patrick Appelgren (keyboards) and Pontus Egberg (bass) – is the same as they had in the late 1980s apart from King Diamond bassist Egberg who joined in 2016.

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The new album, “Tunguska”, which was released in September (by King Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally), has received rave reviews and has also sold well. Did you feel that you had created a great album that you expected to do well? “I think that we all agree that when the album was finished and we heard the end result, we were very satisfied with the way it turned out,“ says Pontus Egberg. “It feels great. Then, of course, you never know how it will be received by people out there and if they feel the same as you.” Anders Wikström continues: “We had plenty of time. The album was finished already in the spring and we had time to listen to it during the summer, to get a feeling for it and to reflect on the result. Nowadays it is a bit hard to predict how an album might do. But for the first time with the last three albums, we succeeded in releasing a few singles ahead of the album release. The longer lead-time enabled us to make people more aware of the album. We didn’t have to rush things. We worked with a good time frame. It was quite smart.”

Treat’s sound keeps evolving. With a foundation in 1980s melodic hard rock, the band has done some AOR-sounding music and then landed in a somewhat more mature music style now. Has it been a planned evolution or it just because you’re getting old? “Haha!! What do you mean!?” laughs Pontus. “It’s a combination,” says Anders. “We’ve created a trademark sound that we can’t change. It’s how we play and sing. We have a lot of ingredients that will always be there: big choruses and the keyboards-and-guitar mix is a major part of the sound as we no longer have two guitars as we did in the beginning. That comes with both possibilities and limitations. We get influenced by everything we listen to in one way or another. There are new bands that didn’t exist when we made the earlier albums. It’s been eight years since we made ‘Coup de Grace’ and a lot has happened since then. And before that was even longer since we made an album. There are a lot of new bands that I have listened to from England and the US that didn’t exist in the 80s. It’s been an interesting way to evolve rock music. It has an impact on things. Many bands are doing it well and it’s not all about ‘rock is dead’. It isn’t! It’s just changing its shape a bit.” Pontus adds: “It’s not exactly a conscious decision that we should sound a certain way. It’s more of a natural development of what we have been doing. It’s obviously based on melodic hard rock, now and in the 80s. But it comes in different shapes. It’s a natural development.”

Pontus Egberg of Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Anders explains: “The fans that have followed us for a long time, they accept the sound we have today. If they feel it fits well with what we have done in the past, then we are very happy. Even newer fans that might be younger, they quickly also warm to our old songs as we get them to look up stuff from back in time.”

Your Italian label, Frontiers Music, has become known for being home to many AOR and other melodic rock bands. Do you feel that you now have to create music that fits in with what is expected of a Frontiers band? “No, we’ve never thought about it in that way,” says Pontus. Anders continues: “They were chasing us. We’re a melodic band and thus we probably fit quite well into their roster. We don’t belong to the extremely sugary AOR, I hope. We are basically a hard rock band. We come from those influences. We are a hard rock band with melodies. That makes us a bit more classic, I believe, because we’re a classic band today. We were around when spandex was hot! At least it was cool to walk around in spandex trousers when we started out!” 

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“They chased us because we happen to be a band that fits in on their label, rather than us trying to fit in with what they do,” says Pontus. Anders continues: “We have a lot of artistic freedom when we work, which is nice. We don’t have to play them all the new songs before we record them. They are confident in us delivering something good.”

What about the production on the new album: did you work in a different way his time around? “Basically, no,” says Anders. “The difference is that we were, in my opinion, in better shape when we recorded this album than we were when did the previous album. We’d been touring quite a bit and were thus warmed up. We came straight from gigging. There’s an energy there and harmony. Starting to work on new songs immediately means you bring with you that energy. I think you can hear that clearly on the album. There’s a joy of playing and a playfulness in our playing.” Pontus adds: “Before ‘Ghost of Graceland’ the band had a period of relative inactivity. Since ‘Ghost of Graceland’ was released it has been rather busy with touring. Thus, the starting point for the new album was a bit different.”

Lyrically Treat’s songs are also evolving from “let’s party” to more serious lyrical themes. “Growing up, perhaps?” comments Pontus. Anders, who is behind most of the band’s lyrics, explains: “Life got in the way! Haha! That’s roughly what it is about. We have different references today than we had when we were 20. Different ways of thinking. And now we are less scared of writing about certain things. We’re really only touching on things lightly on the surface in order for it to fit into our music. It is very important in music for the songwriter to reach the listener. You won’t do that unless you can stand behind the words. Robban has to be able to stand behind the words he’s singing. He has to feel that he is delivering something he understands. I can’t sit around and write too weird stuff. It has to be understood.”

Does Robban sometimes change some of the lyrics? “He always has an opinion,” says Anders. “He changes things. He has even rewritten a few things this time, something I encourage him to do. In the beginning, when we started the band, he wrote a lot more lyrics compared to today. He moved away from doing that. It has to do with inspiration. I have to start with writing music first before I can work on lyrics. I have to focus so hard on only that. The two things are done at separate times. Then I sit down and do it. But I always get it done. I don’t get stuck with writer’s block or something. It gets done but I have to separate it from the music. I write a lot of music together with other musicians, co-writing songs in five-hour writing sessions where the song is expected to be finished at the end of it. I don’t have to do that with Treat. A song can be really bad if it has to be completed in five hours. We have to sit and work on some of the details of a song. That verse wasn’t that good, then we will rewrite it. That’s the freedom associated with being your own artist rather than having to work towards a specific deadline all the time.

Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Pontus has been in the band a few years now and it seems he has given the band a healthy vitamin injection. “I think it is about Pontus’ personal commitment. It’s all about what role one wants to play. We agreed that Pontus should have a bigger role in many band things as we need everyone’s involvement. We are a band that are our own managers today. That means we have to think about everything all the time. The more people we have in the band that are clued up, the better the outcome. You’re a great bassist and you sing well too,” says Anders while looking approvingly at Pontus. “You have never really gotten credit for that in other bands. It’s really important for our sound, that everybody sings and do back-up vocals. It’s an important ingredient.” Pontus adds: “I hope and believe that I have succeeded in bringing my style of playing into the band and with that adding a level to the composition.”

Pontus also brings some serious dance moves to the stage. “Haha! I have always done that,” says Pontus. “It is some kind of subconscious, yet still very deliberate, thing to have fun and try to generate energy for the audience. It’s very important. Apart from doing my job by playing, establishing the energy exchange between the stage and the audience is very important.”

You have a massive back catalogue and a busy set list. Have you ever considered to not play your old hits from the 80s and focus on the newer material? “I don’t think we are quite there yet. There are a few songs from that era that we cannot take away. It wouldn’t be fair to ourselves to take out ‘Get You on the Run’, ‘Conspiracy’ and ‘World of Promises’. It won’t happen. Then people would start wondering if something had hit us on the head. But we’re working a lot now and the more our repertoire grows, the harder it becomes to fit in all the songs in a 90-minute show,” says Anders. “It’s starting to become a problem as we have so much great material to choose from,” explains Pontus. “You have to ‘kill your darlings’ a bit. Now I think we have a set that combines the best gems from the old stuff with the best of the newer material.” 

It’s only been a year and a half since Treat last toured Japan, but they offer their Japanese fans a rather different show this time. “The set list this time is quite different from the one we had last time we were here,“ says Anders. “We’re not doing any album medleys. We did it with ‘Dreamhunter’ because it was the 30th anniversary in 2017. That was fun to do but we’ve now put that away.” 

Pontus Egberg of Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This is your fourth Japan tour. You were here in 1990, 2015, 2017 and now 2018. I like the trend of more frequent visits. “Somebody told me when we were here that there are artists that always come back to Japan that keep their fans here loyal. Jeff Beck and artists like that are always coming back. And Eric Martin from Mr. Big. They have their audience. I think it is all about showing our Japanese fans that we care. When we came here in 2015, we thought they had forgotten about us and they thought we had forgotten them. That we didn’t care anymore. When we then got the chance to come back it was obvious that this is very important. We just hadn’t been invited to do it,” explains Anders. Pontus continues: ”We love playing in Japan! As long as we get the opportunity to do it and it works, we are very happy to come back.”

After the Japan visit, Treat is touring in Europe. “We will probably do more touring in Europe in the spring and then summer festivals,” says Pontus, who is also still a member of King Diamond. King Diamond has announced some gigs for 2019 and Pontus may have to juggle his schedule to fit it all in. “Yes. Luckily, for the sake of Treat, it has been a rather low level of activity there over the past year which has enabled me to focus on this. It’s been great. I’m sure there will be some clashes in the future that I’ll have to deal with it. But so far it has worked well.”

Recently Anders reunited with Mats Levén, who sang in Treat in the early 90s, in a band called ReVertigo. Was this a one-off project just to do an album or do you have future plans? “The idea is that we will continue to cooperate. But we have pushed it a bit into the future now because Mats’ career has had an abrupt change as he is no longer a member of Candlemass. That part of his future plans has changed. He’s quite busy with other things, such as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and he’s working on a solo album. That’s what he’ll focus on now. We will pick things up when we feel we have the opportunity.”

The whole band is in good spirits backstage. Soon after the interview is finished, Treat walks on stage and delivers a terrific set of Swedish melodic hard rock to its Japanese fans. I have no doubt that they will be back in Japan soon enough.

Treat backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Exclusive video premiere: Reece “Two Coins and a Dead Man”

Video

Roppongi Rocks premieres former Accept singer David Reece‘s new video for the track “Two Coins and a Dead Man”. The track is taken from his latest album “Resilient Heart” which is out now via Mighty Music. Reece will tour in Germany and Switzerland in February as the opening act for original Accept singer Udo Dirkschneider.

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Gig review: Hardcore Superstar – You Can’t Kill My Rock’n’Roll Tour Japan 2018

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Hardcore Superstar delivers a Swedish-style feelgood sleaze-rock knockout in Tokyo.

Hardcore Superstar at Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo on 28th November 2018 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Scream for me, Tokyo!” commands vocalist Jocke Berg from the audience in the sold-out venue in Tokyo’s central Shibuya district. Hardcore Superstar is back in Japan as part of their tour in support of the fab new album “You Can’t Kill My Rock’n’Roll”. The Swedish party rock band (perhaps best described as the bastard son of Guns N’ Roses and Slade with a side order of Quiet Riot?) has toured Japan many times. But this is their first visit in some seven years and the sold-out venue in Tokyo is ready to be rocked. This is an evening of party rock. It is all about having fun and entertaining the audience. And this band knows how to entertain. They – Jocke Berg on vocals, Martin Sandvik on bass, Vic Zino on guitar and Magnus “Adde” Andreasson on drums – have the skills to combine musical talent with proper entertainment. 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar crowd surfing. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In a 17-song long show, we get no fewer than six songs from the latest album. It is a testament to the fact that the band’s fab new album is some kind of a “back to the roots” exercise that has been more than welcomed by the fans. Hardcore Superstar opens the show with “AD/HD” and “Electric Rider”, both songs from the latest album, before they deliver the classic anthem “We Don’t Celebrate Sundays”. 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show also includes plenty of other old favourites, such as “Liberation”, “My Good Reputation”, “Wild Boys”, “Someone Special”. “Dreamin’ in a Casket” and “Standin’ on the Verge”. The evening’s highlights for me are a terrific version of “Moonshine” and a kick-ass take on “Last Call for Alcohol” where the band invites some fans up on stage for an alcoholic toast.

Vic Zino of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Shibuya, Hardcore Superstar delivers a faultless feelgood show for its Japanese fans. For me, the only disappointment is that the track “Baboon” from the latest album wasn’t played, but with a back catalogue of eleven albums, I guess they can’t please everybody all the time. They finish a fabulous evening with “Above the Law” from 2013’s “C’mon Take on Me”.

Jocke Berg and Magnus “Adde” Andreasson of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jocke Berg is first-rate frontman. He doesn’t stand still for many seconds during the live show. He’s running around, jumping up and down and even crowd surfing twice during the gig. The few times he does stand still, it is to strike a rock star pose of one kind or another. This man is a rock star to the bone. It is very obvious from the energy on stage that these four guys really enjoy being in a rock’n’roll band that gets to perform for its fans. Indeed, you can’t kill their rock’n’roll.

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Single review: Electric Feel Good “Moneymaker”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Electric Feel Good is back with a new smashing blues-rock single. Where will this end?

From Hellsingland in rural Sweden comes Electric Feel Good, a band formed in 2015 that plays guitar-based rock with roots in the 70s. It is dusty blues rock from the Swedish woods. It’s impossible to avoid thinking about Hellsingland Underground when listening to Electric Feel Good due to the geographical and musical proximity of the two bands. Another current band that comes to mind is Imperial State Electric. But make no mistake about it: Electric Feel Good is no copy-cat band. They have based their sound on those who have gone before them, but they have added their own ingredients to the mix to arrive at something very promising. In a way, we get straightforward and simple rock music on this new single, “Moneymaker”. At the same time, there is some insane songwriting talent here. “Moneymaker” is two minutes and twenty seconds of musical brilliance. Writing a simple but catchy tune is hard. These lads have it in them. They base not only their songwriting in the 1970s. They also have made the production sound like it was recorded in 1974. Following a few single releases, I am now eager to hear a full album with this rather promising band to see where they can take this. 

Electric Feel Good’s new single “Moneymaker” will be released on 30th November.

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Gig review: Pretty Maids came to rock Japan with special “Future World” shows

Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Melodic heavy metal band Pretty Maids from Denmark came to rock Japan with catchy riffs and a guitar case full of classic songs.

Pretty Maids at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 17th November 2018 

Ken Hammer of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

I first saw Pretty Maids in concert in Sweden in 1990. Since then I have seen them on all their recent Japan tours. Ronnie Atkins on vocals and Ken Hammer on lead guitar – who together founded the band in 1981 – are still there and they still got it. Bassist Rene Shades has been in the band since 2011. The newer recruits – drummer Allan Sørensen (ex-Royal Hunt) and Chris Laney (ex-Zan Clan, Randy Piper’s Animal) on keyboards, rhythm guitar and background vocals – have added a dimension and helped this band back to where they should be. The line-up is the same as for the band’s last Japan tour in 2017. They were very good then, but they are even better now.

Chris Laney of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

This time they’re in Japan for two special gigs at Club Citta in Kawasaki to celebrate the band’s classic Eddie Kramer-produced album “Future World” from 1987. They’re doing it by playing the album in its entirety and then adding some more goodies from the Pretty Maids back catalogue. On the first evening we get about two hours and 15 minutes of Danish metal with great melodies. They open the evening with “Future World” and gets the crowd going. They follow with “We Came to Rock” – indeed they came from Denmark to rock Japan. It’s a solid band and Ronnie has a terrific voice that is better than ever. When it is time for songs like “Yellow Rain” and “Eye of the Storm” we really get to hear Ronnie shine with his stunning voice. He has a great voice to sing energetic rock, but it is during calmer ballads we are reminded what a splendid vocalist he is. “Love Games” is a huge crowd favourite while “Loud N Proud” is one of the evening’s musical highlights. 

Following the nine tracks from the “Future World” album – which have aged well and do not sound dated – the band keeps giving an already very excited audience plenty of more good stuff from the band’s career. They kick off the second half with the terrific “Mother of All Lies” and follow it with the equally great “Kingmaker”. “Pandemonium” is another obvious favourite of mine in the show while “Savage Heart”, from the 1990 album “Jump the Gun”, is perhaps the show’s highlight for me. For most of the song, the performance is just Ronnie’s voice backed up by Chris on keyboards. Towards the end of the song, Ken Hammer steps in with a guitar solo and he brings the rhythm section back on stage in a proper power-ballad crescendo. The band continues with plenty of fan favourites until they finish the set with “Back to Back” from their 1984 debut album “Red, Hot and Heavy”. They return to do a great encore consisting of “Sin Decade”, “Rock the House” and the John Sykes cover “Please Don’t Leave Me” before an overexcited band keeps on jamming some silly Christmas carols.

This was quite an exquisite evening for those of us who like our Nordic melodic metal.

Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

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Gig review: Marduk delivers a black metal assault on Tokyo

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish black metal band Marduk conquers Japan with a no-nonsense battle of a show. 

Marduk at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo on 25th November 2018

Most foreign artists who tour Japan do so without any opening acts. But occasionally we do get the opposite, acts who tour Japan with several support acts. This evening in Shibuya, Swedish black metal band Marduk has no fewer than five support bands on the bill. Best of the opening acts is no doubt the American black metal band Abigail Williams. This fascinating band manages to very effectively create a terrific mix of black metal brutality with a twisted and haunted soundscape that combines heavy doom with blast-beat drumming. The sound of vocalist Ken “Sorceron” Bergeron helps to take the whole package into horror movie soundtrack land. There are also hints of a fair bit of influences from the 1990s Nordic black metal scene. Excellent stuff and a very good way to prepare the ground for Marduk.

The mighty Swedes in Marduk, still led by founder and guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, hit the stage and give us exactly what we want: an energetic one-hour set of brutal Swedish black metal. Marduk’s music is to the point, precise and without any compromises. Speaking between songs are kept to an absolute minimum. Only frontman Mortuus speaks and when he does, it’s limited to a few words. Marduk is all about delivering its brutal music. It’s sinister, it’s dark and it is bloody good. The whole show has a dark atmosphere, both visually and musically. The overall impression of the show is that this is music performed in the middle of a war zone. The band’s lyrics primarily focus on second world war history and anti-religious themes which adds to the overall doom and gloom. Everything is bleak and hopeless. 

They open the fourth and final show of this Japan tour with “Panzer Division Marduk”, the title song from the band’s 1999 studio album. They continue with “Baptism by Fire” from the same album and from there they never let go of their grip around the audience. The current tour is in support of the band’s most recent studio album, the fantastic “Viktoria”, from which we get to hear a few songs this evening, including “Werwolf” and “Equestrian Bloodlust”. We also get older crowd favourites, such as what I consider the highlights of the show, “Burn My Coffin” and “Wolves”, both songs taken from the 1993 album “Those of the Unlight”. There are no dips, no weak parts, no fillers. It is one hour packed with quality black metal performed with energy and conviction by a veteran band who knows how to deliver. 

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Album review: Thomas Silver “The Gospel According to Thomas”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Hardcore Superstar guitarist Thomas Silver is back with a fabulous solo album showing him in a somewhat different light. 

Having made a name for himself as guitarist in the band Hardcore Superstar, Swedish artist Thomas Silver left the band in 2008. Now he’s back with his first solo album, “The Gospel According to Thomas”. The former sleaze rocker is now all grown up. Thomas Silver the solo artist still has some of that Hanoi Rocks kind of sleazy melodic hard rock in him that made his old band famous. But here it is mixed with other influences, ranging from garage rock to goth rock. The foundation is built on straightforward and often catchy guitar-driven rock music (just listen to the fab guitars on “Caught Between Worlds”). But, at least in my ears, there are plenty of hints of The Cramps, Misfits, Bauhaus and David Bowie as well as contemporary acts such as Ghost. The end result of this melting pot of influences is very good. Silver has found a signature sound that works very well across the entire album. As a solo artist, Silver is fully in charge as vocalist, guitarist and, not least, songwriter. He knows how to craft a song that will attach itself to its listeners. The catchy but somewhat lyrically dark track “Not Invited” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. “All Those Crazy Dreams” is a likeable and terrific slower piece in all its David Bowie-like glory. I am confident that many of Silver’s old Hardcore Superstar fans will dig this while he is also likely to attract completely new fans that are unaware of his past as a sleaze rock star.

Thomas Silver’s “The Gospel According to Thomas” is out now via Volcano Records internationally and King Records in Japan. 

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Interview: Marko Tervonen of Swedish death metal veterans The Crown

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death metal veterans The Crown have released a fab new album and are putting on some terrific live shows this year. Roppongi Rocks caught up with co-founder, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Marko Tervonen when the band recently did its third Japan tour.

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Founded in 1990, The Crown was one of the early death metal bands in Sweden. Now, 28 years into the band’s career and with ten studio albums under its belt, The Crown is back in fine form and with what seems like its best-ever line-up. Co-founders Marko Tervonen (rhythm guitar), Magnus Olsfelt (bass) and Johan Lindstrand (vocals) are joined in the band’s current line-up by newer additions Robin Sörqvist (lead guitarist since 2013) and drummer Henrik Axelsson, who joined in 2014. The new album “Cobra Speed Venom”, released earlier this year, is one of the band’s best and live they are absolutely killing it.

Marko Tervonen of The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We are a veteran band that’s been rejuvenated with the new album,” says Marko Tervonen when we meet backstage in Tokyo during the band’s recent Japan tour. This is the third time the band is touring Japan. “It’s great. Everything is upside down in this country. It is great fun being here. This is our third visit. The first time I was just walking around with my mouth open in amazement. I didn’t understand anything. The last visit was very intense. Just Osaka and Tokyo and then back home. We hardly had time to pack down our gear after the show before we were back home. This time we’re doing four gigs and start seeing the everyday reality underneath the surface. It’s a wonder we make it work. Financially it is harder for us to tour in Europe. But here in Japan, it works, on the other side of the planet! It’s great!” 

The new album is a big step up from the prior couple of albums. Did you approach “Cobra Speed Venom” in a different way? “The previous two albums we worked on in a different way. That is why they ended up being different. I shouldn’t complain about the previous two albums. Well, yes, OK, I will. There are various reasons why they ended up being the way they are. The previous album was a nightmare in many respects. I filled in as drummer. That alone is insane! Sure, I muddled through, but not at the level where it should be when it comes to intensity and so on. It sounded a bit too much like an old man playing. With this new album we realised that we should do things the way we used to back in the days. First of all, we decided to rehearse. ‘Doomsday King’ was done without any rehearsals. I learnt the riffs in the studio when we were about to record. That obviously means that you get a certain end result. This time we rehearsed all the album. I produced the earlier two albums. What that means in reality, because it sounds flashy, is that I sit alone in the studio trying to finalise things while all the others are out having fun. Thus, we decided to use an external studio this time. I didn’t want to produce or be responsible for the production at all this time. I just want to play guitar and do things like we used to. This time we did like we did all those year ago and went into the studio and acted like a band. There are many things in that process that shouldn’t be underestimated, such as those 2:00am ideas that pop up. Things like that.” 

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Was it a planned move to go back to the old classic The Crown sound? “I hear what you’re saying and I agree. It turned out that way. But we didn’t have a meeting where we decided the direction. This is the first album where we have Henrik involved from the start. He is really fast. The first song we wrote was probably ‘Iron Crown’ which became the first single. Already with that song it was like, shit, this is the level we want to be at. We also had Robin involved properly and not just for the solos. We became a band acting like a band. That’s when we are at our best. Then the song ideas just started to happen and we formed all the parts into an album. Somewhere there we realised that, shit, this will be great.” 

You now have your greatest line-up ever with three original members and a couple of newer additions. “I agree. I absolutely do not want to criticise our earlier brothers. Everything and everybody have been there for a reason, it’s as easy as that. Robin is such a musically-gifted guitarist. I am so grateful because I am not a solo guitarist. I am first and foremost a songwriter in this band. That is my role. Henrik is younger than the rest of us and he is drumming in a different way. And he’s using modern expressions that I don’t even understand. Gravity blast? I don’t even know what it is! It all forms into a very strong unit. Robin is a long-time friend. He’s the cousin of my ex-wife. I have also known Henrik for a long time. It all works very well.”

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

Your version of death metal sounds like it has a fair bit of thrash metal influences in the mix. “Yes. I think that after ‘Hell is Here’, sometime after ‘Deathrace’ we started to include those parts in the music. The whole heritage of old-school thrash and death metal – we can’t avoid it. It’s in our backbones. It is still what inspires us the most. It is music that was around in the 90s that has the biggest impact on us. It is still what shapes us and is still at the centre when we talk about music. We are very open with what ideas we steal…or borrow! If we go back to 1997 and the second album ‘Eternal Death’, that was very much inspired by Nordic melodic death/black metal music, such as Dissection. It was really inspiring. It was on the verge of being black metal. We don’t shy away from developing and taking in different influences. If we’re rehearsing and we think it sounds good, then it is good. It’s nothing to think about too much.”

Marko Tervonen of The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish death metal scene, while very influential and successful, consists of a small group of people. Two former The Crown vocalists are now members of At The Gates and the new album has been produced by Fredrik Nordström who is best known for his work with At The Gates. Have you ever considered a joint At The Gates and The Crown tour?At The Gates are now very busy with bigger things. But The Crown, Witchery and The Haunted are not too far apart. That would be a really cool tour package! A few of the people would have to pull double duty in that case, but what the hell! It would be cool as fuck.”

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You are now back on the Metal Blade label. Does it feel like you’re back home where you belong? “Exactly! When I look back at this with hindsight, I see how many pieces of the puzzle fell into place: back to using Fredrik Nordström, back in Studio Fredman and back with Metal Blade while still managing to create something fresh and new. Our deal with Century Media came to an end. Our first thought was: perhaps Metal Blade would be interested? We decided to enter Studio Fredman to record four songs and then play them to the label. I felt that we had a lot to prove. The last two albums could have been so much better. They showed us in a very strange way. With me drumming it didn’t come across as very serious. Now we wanted to do it the old-school way and play a few songs for them and see what they think. They went for it straight away. There was no discussion. We have a long history with Metal Blade and many of the people are still working there. Andreas who is in charge of the European operations is a major fan of ours. When he heard the new songs, he knew immediately that this was great, some of our strongest material. Via USA we then got a world-wide deal with Metal Blade, which is really cool.”

What’s next for The Crown? “In December we will do a week-long European tour. We haven’t done that in a very long time for various reasons. That will be a great. Then, after December, we will start working on new material. It’s mad, but we already have 13 new songs. We just need to start rehearsing and work on them. Magnus wrote 13 new songs. It’s sick! I am way behind. I have to start writing so that we can get a balanced album. Because our latest album gio such great response, we’re psyched. Often with us things take a long time. Back in the day we used to rehearse three days a week. Now it is fantastic if we manage to do once a week. That’s the way it is.” 

If you want to get royally crowned, buy “Cobra Speed Venom” and don’t forget to catch the band live.

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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EP review: Sodom “Partisan”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrash metal band Sodom is back with a new line-up and a brutal new EP. 

Sodom formed in Germany in 1981 and its debut full-length studio album “Obsessed by Cruelty” was released in 1986. Founder Tom Angelripper is still the main man in Sodom and he has now assembled a new line-up of the veteran German thrash metal band. Guitarist Frank Blackfire, who was in Sodom in the 1980s and who has also played in Kreator and Assassin, is back and he brings some of the old-school Sodom sound from around the time of “Agent Orange” with him. The new line-up also features guitarist Yorck Segatz (ex-Beyondition) and drummer Stefan “Husky” Hüskens (ex-Asphyx, Desaster). The new line-up is terrific and combines old-style, classic Sodom with some new vibes and adds some layers and nuances to the Sodom soundscape. This three-track EP features the brand new and brilliant studio tracks “Partisan” and “Conflagration” as well as a live version of “Tired and Red”. The original studio version was on the band’s 1989 classic album “Agent Orange”. Here we get it in a splendid live version recorded at the Rock Hard festival earlier this year. This new EP is fast, dirty, high-energy thrash metal performed just the way we like it. One thing that is very telling about Sodom’s music is that there is very little difference in sound between the studio tracks and the live track. It more or less sounds the same, which is a good thing as Sodom successfully manages to recreate its terrific live sound in the studio. This EP is a very appropriate way to announce that Sodom is back and it has a fabulous new line-up ready to attack.

Sodom’s “Partisan” EP will be released on 23rd November via Steamhammer/SPV. 

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Album review: The Smashing Pumpkins “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Smashing Pumpkins are back with a great new album filled with college rock and alternative pop as well as a near-complete reunion of the original 1988 line-up.

The media coverage of the partial reunion of The Smashing Pumpkins has focused on the absence of bassist D’arcy Wretzky and the back and forth mudslinging between her and leader and frontman Billy Corgan. The current line-up of the band, founded in Chicago in 1988, consists of Corgan and his co-founding members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) as well as guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who has been in the band since 2007.

So, what about the new music? I am very pleased to say that behind all the drama there is great new music. The Rick Rubin-produced new album, which has the somewhat cumbersome title “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”, is, well, smashing. It is often more pop than alternative rock, but that’s perfectly fine with me as long as it’s this good. “Knights of Malta” sets the scene with strings adding a dreamy background to Billy Corgan’s characteristic voice and a splendid song. “Travels” and “Alienation” are dreamy reflections while “Solara”, perhaps the album’s highlight, is good-old college rock of the best kind. “Marchin’ On” is an energetic rock song but with some of those dreamy touches to it. The album only has eight tracks, but they’re all good. I much rather have shorter albums or even EPs, than albums with filler songs. The album closes with “Seek and You Shall Destroy”, a typical Pumpkins alternative rock song. Having seen a few of Corgan’s alternative band line-ups performing live in Japan over the years (they have been decent), it is good to see a more proper version of the band back together. The original line-up may not be intact, but The Smashing Pumpkins are back in style and are creating great new music again.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ new album “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.” is out now via Napalm Records. 

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