Gig review: Marty Friedman back on stage in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Naoki Morioka on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A triumphant return to the Tokyo stage for guitar maestro Marty Friedman.

Marty Friedman at Cotton Club, Marunouchi, Tokyo on 9th April 2021

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

Oh, how we have missed our gigs! Marty Friedman’s Tokyo performance on Friday night was my first proper rock gig in about 14 months. 14 very long months. How great it felt to once again be in a music venue and be entertained. All the better that it was Marty Friedman that did the performing. He is an innovative and genre-bending musical genius that has never disappointed me with any of his live performances, no matter what he plays. It is always a joy to watch him perform. While his latest album, “Tokyo Jukebox 3”, is an album dominated by interpretations of J-pop songs, Marty has not forgotten his metal roots. He has most recently contributed a terrific guitar solo to the Black Sabbath tribute project Sabbatonero and he’s also done a solo on the debut single by the Singapore-based extreme metal band Adarrak. On Friday evening at Cotton Club in Tokyo, Marty rocked out with a terrific combination of many different genres, including metal and J-pop. It was Marty being Marty. He won’t restrict himself musically. With the global pandemic that has stopped most shows in the last year still going on, this gig was done in a Covid-compliant way. The audience was seated with adequate spacing between tables. All the staff and audience members had their temperatures checked as they arrived at the venue and masks were mandatory. The audience was asked to not shout between songs, only clap. This being Japan, everyone complied and it turned into a terrific evening. Music fans are craving for live music. This kind of compromise is a great way to actually be able to do gigs until the pandemic gets under control. The artists, venues, support staff and the fans need live gigs in these challenging times.

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

Marty Friedman is usually backed by a world-class band and this evening was no different in that respect. But, unlike many of Marty’s Japanese shows in recent years where he’s had bigger bands including keyboards and sometimes cello and violin, this was a scaled down band consisting of Toshiki Oomomo on bass, Naoki Morioka on guitar and the one and only Chargeeeeee on drums. It worked well where the focus was squarely on Marty’s guitar without other things getting in the way. It felt raw and gave the music an excellent less polished nerve. It’s a relatively short show of about 70 minutes (this was the second of two shows on the same night with slightly different setlists) and it was entirely instrumental. Style-wise it was all over the place. We got it all. And it was bloody good. Marty was visibly very happy to be able to perform in front of a supportive hometown audience once again. I recognised many faces in the audience. These were mainly super fans who are frequent attendees at Marty’s Japanese shows. With “Tokyo Jukebox 3” about to get its international release, Marty kicked off the show with three songs from it: “Kaze Ga Fuiteru” (an Ikimonogakari cover), “Makenaide” (a Zard cover) and “Gurenge” (a LiSA hit song that was the theme song for the anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”). Then he moved on to revisit two of the best songs from his 2017 “Wall of Sound” album, “Whiteworm” and “Self Pollution”. Later in the set we also got to hear the splendid song “For a Friend” from the same album. This evening we, of course, got the terrific “Dragon Mistress” from his first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” from 1988 and the wonderful “Undertow” from the “Inferno” album. There was a trio of songs from the first “Tokyo Jukebox” album”: “Yuki No Hana” (a Mika Nakashima cover), “Amagigoe” (a Sayuri Ishikawa cover) and “Kaeritaku Natta Yo” (another Ikimonogakari cover) to finish the set. Before that we got treated to a “Thunder March/Morioka Ocha/Barbie” medley.

After the show, Marty greeted fans and took pictures with them, although it was all done in a Covid-compliant way with face masks, no handshakes, pre-signed autographs and a transparent plastic sheet between Marty and the fans when taking pictures. A bit awkward but a great way for Marty to be able to interact with his fans. Better this than nothing for his loyal fans.

Marty not only gave us a smashing Friday evening. He also showed us that, with a few compromises, rock gigs can be done and you can interact with the fans. There is hope.

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

Coming up: The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #3 – A Black Sabbath Special

The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #3: A Black Sabbath Special with Diamond Head’s Rasmus Bom Andersen and Venom Inc’s Tony Dolan

Thursday 15th April at 8 pm Tokyo time / 12 noon London time

Rasmus Bom Andersen of Diamond Head

Roppongi Rocks is back on Clubhouse for more sweaty rock talk on your iPhone. Join us on the Clubhouse audio app for a lively and unruly discussion about Black Sabbath, the godfathers of heavy metal and the things they have influenced. This time Diamond Head frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen will join the usual Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse gang: British metal legend Tony Dolan of Venom Inc, Mack Suzuki of UDO Artists, Matt Ketchum of Kaala, music industry executive Kana Nagumo and Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson. Both Tony and Rasmus are currently involved in Sabbatonero, an international tribute to Black Sabbath. The proceeds from Sabbatonero’s all-star album “L’Uomo Di Ferro” will go to COVID workers in Italy.

Tony Dolan in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In this Clubhouse session we will get really nerdy and discuss facts and opinions as well as personal anecdotes about the mighty Black Sabbath. It will get out of control and be live and uncensored. Join us live or miss out on all the juicy stuff.


Event details here:

Album review: Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s world-leading position in melodic hard rock is showcased on a new Impera album featuring members from Europe, Nocturnal Rites, King Diamond and Lion’s Share.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera was founded by drummer Johan Kihlberg in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011. “Spirit of Alchemy” is the band’s sixth album. Johan – who has done session work in backing bands for Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick, John Corabi, Graham Bonnet and Brian Robertson – has gathered an impressive line-up of musicians to play with him on the album: Europe bassist John Levén, drummer Snowy Shaw (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Memento Mori, Therion, Dimmu Borgir, Dream Evil), vocalist Jonny Lindkvist (Nocturnal Rites) and guitarist Lars Chriss (Lion’s Share). There are also guest appearances by Kay Backlund (Lion’s Share) on keyboards, Mats Vassfjord (220 Volt) on bass and Pontus Egberg (King Diamond, Treat, Lion’s Share, The Poodles) on bass. Musically, this album lives somewhere in the valleys of 1980s Swedish melodic hard rock and power metal. It’s riff-happy but always melodic. “Lost Your Life to Rock’n’Roll” has echoes of Europe while “All About You” has some 220 Volt vibes. The song quality is very strong throughout the album and, obviously, with a band line-up like this, Impera delivers in the studio. Personal favourites on the album, in addition to the previously mentioned tracks, are “Read It and Weep”, “When Souls Collide” and “In Heaven”. All of them are melodic hard rock songs full of energy and heavy riffs. Johan Kihlberg has a passion for atmospheric film scores and we get treated to some of that on the instrumental track “Battle” and also on a “The Empire Strikes Back” medley which features as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album. Impera was scheduled as opening act for KISS in Sweden before the “End of the Road” tour came to a halt due to the global pandemic. Hopefully, Impera will get a second chance at opening for KISS once arena gigs will be possible again. This music needs to be performed live. In the meantime we will listen to this fab album of Swedish melodic hard rock.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy” will be released on 9th April via Rubicon Music in Japan and via Metalville internationally.

Album review: Evil Drive “Demons Within”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Another great metal album from Finland – Evil Drive releases its third studio album.

Founded in Finland in 2013, melodic death metal band Evil Drive debuted with the album “The Land of the Dead” in 2016. That was followed by the album “Ragemaker” in 2018 and now “Demons Within”, which is the band’s third album. Having had some line-up changes over the years, the Finnish band is now technically very skilled. I think that on this third album they have also evolved their song-writing skills and have created a great album. “In the End” is a slow ballad, but it is still heavy and with growls. However, most of the “Demons Within” album is classic melodic death metal with growls by Russian-Finnish vocalist Viktoria Viren. Viktoria’s husband Ville Viren co-founded the band with her and plays guitar. The rest of the current line-up consists of J-P Pusa (guitar), Matti Sorsa (bass) and Antti Tani (drums). Evil Drive reminds me of Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow-era (2000-2014). It is obvious that Arch Enemy has been a big influence on this band. But this is no copycat band. They may have a similar sound to Arch Enemy but they certainly are making something of their own, not least creating their own terrific songs. The album opens with the energetic “Payback” which sets the tone for the album. “We are One” is a standout track, the relentless “Bringer of Darkness” is crushing and so is the pummelling “Rising from the Revenge”. Love it.

Evil Drive’s album “Demons Within” will be released in Japan today via Spiritual Beast and internationally via Reaper Entertainment.

Album review: Korpiklaani “Jylhä”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Finnish folk metal masters Korpiklaani return with the band’s eleventh studio album.

Finland is a super power when it comes to heavy metal. The Nordic country has world-class acts in most metal subgenres. Korpiklaani is one of the best bands in the folk metal subgenre and at the same time they are one of the most Finnish bands. Korpiklaani’s music is a melting pot of heavy metal and traditional Nordic folk music. The instrumentation in the band also represents the two genres with a combination of electric guitars and accordions, mandolins and violins. Some songs are folk music with some metal injections while others are heavy metal songs with an added accordion. It should be weird but it isn’t. It’s great. Unlike many other folk metal bands who play metal with added folk parts, Korpiklaani has its roots firmly in folk music and has evolved into a folk metal band. It shows in the quality of the folk parts and in the very Finnish lyrics which are stories about nature, folklore and murders. During its career, Korpiklaani has sung in both Finnish and English. “Jylhä” is the band’s eleventh full-length studio album and it is sung entirely in Finnish. Frontman and founder Jonne Järvelä is still leading the band. New in the band since the last album is drummer Samuli Mikkonen. The splendid and heavy folk song “Mylly” is my favourite track. It has everything I love about Finnish music: melancholy, heaviness, catchiness, a great melody, energy and an accordion. “Sanaton maa” is another excellent song that puts the violin at the centre of a very catchy song. “Tuuleton” is also terrific song which is something of a campfire storytelling session deep in a dark Finnish forest. Having said that, this is a very even album with no duds and no fillers among the thirteen songs. I know that folk metal is not for everybody. But if you are into ethnic metal, then you should give this very Finnish folk metal album a listen. Finns know how to be melancholic and dark while still being catchy and melodic.

Korpiklaani’s new album “Jylhä” will be released on 2nd April in Japan via Ward Records. The album is available internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.

EP review: Bottenhavet “Ett hav av tårar”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bottenhavet debuts with hard rock sung in Swedish on new EP.

Bottenhavet (Swedish for Bothnian Sea) is a trio of rockers – Kim Minkkinen (vocals), Charlie Karlsson (guitar) and Marcus Wigren (drums) – based in Stockholm, Sweden. The band’s sound that has a kind of 1970s hard rock foundation but with plenty of other influences shining through, including prog rock and Soundgarden-style grunge. There is also a fair bit of haze rock touches here and some echoes of fellow Swedish rockers The Soundtrack of Our Lives and, yes, even Mando Diao. The resulting melting pot is very enjoyable. “Ett hav av tårar”, the band’s first release, is an exquisite four-track EP. Bottenhavet’s lyrics on the four songs – “Fula skor”, “Dra mig i håret”, “En tår” and “Två tårar” – are all sung in their native Swedish. Kim Minkkinen’s voice is perfect for this music. It is powerful and engaging. The combination of his voice and the music makes me want to dance. This is a rock-solid debut EP with very strong tracks showcasing the band’s abilities. I hope that we soon get to hear a full-length studio album from this band. I am guessing they are a terrific live band with such strong songs. Bottenhavet is now one of my new favourite Swedish bands. It will soon be yours too.

Bottenhavet’s EP “Ett hav av tårar” is out now.

Album review: Speed Command “Vestiges of Peace”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Excellent stenchy old-school basement thrash metal on debut album from Argentina’s Speed Command.

Formed in 2011, “Vestiges of Peace” is Speed Command’s debut full-length studio album. Prior to this album, the band has done a bunch of demos, singles and participated in split releases and compilations. The Argentinian lads in Speed Command have a fantastic old-school thrash metal sound. The powerful trio – consisting of Bruno de Lucia (lead guitar), Luciano Roldan (drums) and Germán Mulc (vocals and bass) – has managed to recreate not only the sound of early thrash metal but also the DIY and underground feeling of the whole thing. If you like your metal thrashy, stenchy, damp and with a sound that implies that it has been recorded in someone’s basement, this is for you. I love it. It brings me back to the many thrash metal demo cassettes I listened to in the early 1990s. The songs have a lot of speed and energy and they also have a few black metal influences shining through. “Violent Force” with its relentlessness and terrific guitars immediately becomes one of my favourite tracks and so does “Lethal Injection” with its raw energy. The title track is another terrific track with its speed metal guitar solo. And “Falcons of Death”! Well, most tracks are outstanding in their own gritty way. The Japanese edition of the album contains two bonus tracks in the form of a 2017 demo version of the splendid song “Chainsaw Evil Night” and a cover, “Face of Darkness”, which was originally performed by German blackened thrash metal band Desaster on the 1993 demo cassette “The Fog of Avalon”. Japanese record label boss Akira Sugiuchi at Spiritual Beast has a great talent for discovering new metal bands. I have no idea how he found this underground band in Argentina, but he did and I am grateful for it as I sit here playing air guitar and headbanging. What a great find!

Speed Command’s album “Vestiges of Peace” is out now in Japan via Carnal Beast/Spiritual Beast.

Report: The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #2: Rock star tour life

Matt Ketchum, Kana Nagumo, Stefan Nilsson and Tony Dolan

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When the Roppongi Rocks gang returned to Clubhouse for another session of sweaty rock talk on your iPhone, the listeners got treated to more than an hour of inside stories of the good, the bad and the ugly of the rock star tour life.

Oh, my! The second episode of The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions – sweaty rock talk on your iPhone – was as fun as the first one. On Friday 26th March, Mack Suzuki of UDO Artists, Tony Dolan of Venom Inc, Matt Ketchum of Kaala, Kana Nagumo and Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson shared first-hand stories from what happens on tour. They say that FOMO, or fear of missing out, is one of the strong driving forces behind the initial success of the audio app Clubhouse. It’s live, audio-only, no recording, by invitation only and only available on iPhone. Well, if you weren’t tuned in to the second episode of The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, you did miss out. The focus of the discussion was on what’s going on during tours. Crazy things tend to happen when international rock stars come to Japan. They say that what happens on tour stays on tour. Well, not necessarily. We sure did cover some great stories and, no they won’t be repeated here (FOMO, remember?), but just to tease you, there were anecdotes about Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Queen, Warrant, Venom Inc, Elton John and many more. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll? Yes (including several stories taking place on shinkansen bullet trains), but also stories about panic buying new underwear, finding a Godzilla-shaped cigarette lighter, vinyl shopping and much more.

The Roppongi Rocks gang will be back on Clubhouse for more off-the-record stories from the music industry. Tune in or miss out!

Mack Suzuki

Album review: Miasma Theory “Miasma Theory”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Doomy and hazy metal on Miasma Theory’s debut album.

Florida-based Miasma Theory plays doomy, dirty heavy metal. It’s dreamy, hazy, slow metal. The core trio of the band consists of two members from the American doom metal band Northern Crown – guitarist Zachary Randall and bassist Leona Hayward – as well as the Argentinian lead guitarist Juan Carrizo from Anna Fiori’s backing band. On the debut album, the trio is joined by Latvian vocalist Māra Lisenko (from death metal band MĀRA) and German drummer Jonas Schütz (Sapiency, Diesis). Miasma Theory’s self-titled debut album has only five tracks on it. It has four very promising original songs – “Forever Ends Today”, “Together as One”, “Next Time, Last Time” and “Vector” – as well as a very good cover of “Under the Oak” by Swedish doom metal masters Candlemass (from their 1986 debut album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”). The album has an underground, grassroots, DIY kind of appeal about it. Nothing is too polished. It’s raw and gloomy and very good. “Next Time, Last Time” has excellent guitars, but it is “Together as One”, an exquisite, dreamy slow-motion haze rock song (Zachary Randall describes it as a ballad) that is my favourite on the album.

Miasma Theory’s debut album will be released on 23rd April via Shadowlit Music.

Album review: Electric Boys “Ups!de Down”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A more mature and seasoned band is emerging on the exquisite new Electric Boys album “Ups!de Down”. Who knew that Electric Boys had a secret desire to be a naughty version of The Traveling Wilburys?

Swedish rockers Electric Boys take us for another terrific and funky ride on the band’s seventh studio album, “Ups!de Down”. I have always dug this band and I was fortunate enough to see them live a few times in 1989 and 1990 when they toured in support of their just-released debut album “Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride”. Founding members Conny Bloom (guitar and vocals) and Andy Christell (bass) are still the driving force of the band. Guitarist Franco Santunione exited the band last year and has, once again, been replaced by Martin Thomander, who originally took over from Franco in 1993-94. Drum duties continue to be shared between original drummer Niclas Sigevall and Jolle Atlagic (who came into the band after having played with Conny and Andy in Hanoi Rocks in 2008-09, including some great gigs here in Japan). Jolle plays all the drums on the album as Niclas was prevented to travel to the recording studio due to the global pandemic. Electric Boys has always been a band with attitude and swagger. But they can back that up with quality. They always deliver. They open their new album with a seven-minutes and twenty-seconds long instrumental piece called “Upside Down Theme”. Not exactly what industry experts would suggest you do. But this band doesn’t care. They are confident and they do what they do. It’s up to you if you dig it or not. I dig it. “Ups!de Down” is quite a diverse album. There is a foundation built on rock and pop from the 1960s and 70s, mixed up with some funk, groove and blues and given the Electric Boys treatment to arrive at a contemporary style of rock music that is absolutely terrific. The splendid “Super God” is groovy rock meets 60s pop. “She Never Turns Around” is a terrific ballad. “Globestrutter” and “Never Again Your Slave” are energetic rocker songs with a swagger attitude. The fantastic “Tumblin’ Dominoes” has some cool Neil Young and Tom Petty vibes, but more than anything it is an exquisite Electric Boys song. Who knew that Electric Boys had a secret desire to be a naughty version of The Traveling Wilburys? On the track “It’s Not the End” the Wilburys vibes return. Those vibes suit Electric Boys very well and are seemingly part of a natural progression of a maturing band. In “The Dudes & the Dancers” we get some Mott the Hoople seasoning sprinkled over the Electric Boys sound. There are also plenty of tips of the hat and nods to The Beatles throughout the album. It’s a relaxed, laidback album. It is performed as if it were done effortlessly. But, make no mistake about it, there’s a ton of talent, skill, experience and bloody hard work behind the creation of a new Electric Boys album.

Electric Boys’ new album “Ups!de Down” will be released on 30th April via Mighty Music.