Album review: Mats Karlsson “The Time Optimist”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

220 Volt guitarist Mats Karlsson shows us a different side on his first-ever solo album.

Swedish musician and songwriter Mats Karlsson is best known as a founding member of the hard rock band 220 Volt. Forty years since being founded the band is still active but somehow Mats has found time to write and record a solo album. He has always been a great songwriter and guitarist, but here we get to hear a somewhat different side of the musician Mats Karlsson. His 220 Volt heritage shines through in some of the music, for example on the straightforward rock song “Function over Fashion”. But “The Time Optimist”, Mats’ first-ever solo album, is a rather varied album. Mainly it is focused around grown-up, mature rock music. Some of it lives in AOR territory, some in a singer-songwriter valley and some of this music moves around in blues-rock land. “Megalo Seitani” offers us some reggae-infused pop-rock in a relaxed beach holiday mood (yes, it has a bit of 10cc‘s “Dreadlock Holiday” about it) while “Natural High” is a catchy rock song and “Stop the World” features some fine guitar work. The tracks “October 28th” and “Heather” partly make me think of what we heard on Hellsingland Underground’s most recent album. “Real Gone” is music for an enjoyable car ride while “DayDreamer” is Tom Petty-esque. The whole album has a laidback kind of feeling. But this is not lazy music, just a great record created by someone skilled at making things sound effortless. I dig it.

Mats Karlsson’s solo album “The Time Optimist” will be released on 6th December.

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Gig review: Marty Friedman in Yokohama

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman, quite possibly the best guitarist in the world, always has a few tricks up his sleeve when he’s performing. He always delivers and he always pushes the limit. What a guy! What an artist!

Marty Friedman at Motion Blue in Yokohama on 26th November 2019

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But I still am. Surprised and in awe of a master artist. There is nothing that Marty Friedman can’t do with his guitar. Every time I see him perform he comes up with something new. This evening in Yokohama, in a beautiful venue inside the Red Brick Warehouse down by the water, Marty Friedman manages to give us plenty of emotional ballads but he also gives us some full-on metal and, most surprisingly, Argentine tango. And he pulls it off like the world-class guitarist and artist that he is. Having made his name as a heavy metal guitarist with Cacophony and Megadeth, since relocating to Japan, Marty has been active in a wide variety of musical styles, both as a solo artist and as part of various projects. In recent years, Marty has put on some very special intimate gigs for Japanese fans with setlists that vary quite a lot from what he plays when he’s on tour in other parts of the world. The entire show is instrumental (it’s billed as an orchestral concert) with Marty and his guitars at the centre of it all. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars and manages to give us a great and very varied show. The audience largely consists of diehard Marty fans who know every song and every note.

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

He opens the evening with the beautiful song “Lovesorrow”, from his 2003 album “Music for Speeding”, followed by his splendid cover of Yutaka Ozaki’s “I Love You”. One of most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, the song “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”, gets an outing here and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. Another one is when Marty treats us to some Argentine tango with the song “Adios Nonino”. Different, but very good. Marty isn’t afraid of taking his skills and his guitars into for him new territories. He also gets closer to his metal roots with some serious heaviness on the exquisite “Whiteworm” from his 2017 solo album “Wall of Sound”, before he ends the evening with “Dragon Mistress” and, of course, “Thunder March”.

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

Throughout the show Marty is using hilarious self-deprecating comments between the songs – all of it delivered in Japanese. He also picks out an audience member who gets to come up on stage and play a song with Marty and his terrific band. While Marty frequently rotates members of his backing band, he is always backed up by world-class musicians. This evening in Yokohama, he has a backing band consisting of drums, rhythm guitar, keyboards, cello and violin, all of them played by ridiculously good musicians. For me, bassist Toshiki Oomomo is the standout performer and a rock-solid bassist. He’s a very different bassist from Kiyoshi (Marty’s regular bassist), but he’s equally good. In addition to occasionally playing with Marty’s solo band, he has played with Marty in the fab metal band Metal Clone X and he also played on several tracks on Marty’s “Inferno” album.

What a night! What a band! What a collection of songs! Ladies and gentlemen – Marty Friedman! What a privilege it is to experience him in concert up close and personal.

Marty Friedman will tour Australia in December with shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra. Get your tickets here: www.overdrivetouring.com/marty

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

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Album review: Molly Hatchet “Battleground”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American Southern hard rockers Molly Hatchet are back with a live album. With no original members left in the band, some diehard fans will hate this album, while newer fans may actually find this a decent album of live versions of old and new Molly Hatchet songs.

The original members of the band are long gone. Today’s Molly Hatchet consists of musicians who have joined the band in later stages of the band’s career. Guitarist Bobby Ingram, who joined the band in 1986, is the driving force behind the current version of the band. Personally, I don’t care much about if a current line-up of a long-lasting band has enough, or any, original members in it or not. I care about what it sounds like. Is the music good? That’s what matters. On this live album, we get a mixed bag, but overall it’s decent versions of some terrific songs. The 19 tracks on “Battleground” were recorded live during the band’s recent tours in Europe and the US. Molly Hatchet remains an active international touring act with a loyal audience. On some of the classic songs on this live album, the absence of founding guitarist Dave Hlubek, who died in 2017, is obvious, but some versions of the old classics, such as “Whiskey Man”, are very good. As is evident in some of the newer material – such as “American Pride”, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” and “Justice” – the current version of the band has the skills and opportunity to be more than just a band playing old Molly Hatchet classics. Molly Hatchet’s “Battleground” will be released via SPV/Steamhammer on 29th November as a double CD and a triple-LP with a gatefold album cover.

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Album review: The Babes “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes, some of the nicest and hardest working people in Australian rock, are back with a full-length studio album packed with good-fun rock’n’roll.

JD Ryan and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes is good fun, meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. It’s dusty, catchy and its shout-along friendly. It’s music to drink beer to and, in a best-case scenario, get laid to. It’s underdog rock somewhere between AC/DC and Mötley Crüe if that makes sense (it does to me). It has the guts and foundation of AC/DC but also the sexiness and glitz of bands like Mötley Crüe. It’s full-frontal, good-fun hard rock performed by some of Australia’s nicest people. Some bands are dreaming of big things happening and getting a break. The members of The Babes don’t dream. They plan, work hard and get it done whether it comes to gigs, album releases or touring internationally. The Babes is a hardworking band not afraid of getting some dirt under their nails. The Adelaide-based band consists of the three siblings Moni Lashes on drums, Donna Dimasi on guitar and Corey Stone on bass plus the unstoppable vocalist J.D. Ryan. Earlier this year they toured Japan for the first time and proved to me and many other new Japanese fans that this band is able to deliver live as well as in the studio. After the successful Japan tour, they toured Australia and also went to the Middle East to perform for the Australian troops. A national service of rock’n’roll! The title track of the new album, “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”, is nothing short of an anthem for the band. It sums things up nicely. Most of the songs on the album are high-energy songs. It’s sweaty rock’n’roll meant to be performed live on stage in a club. “Doghouse” is my immediate favourite song on the album. It’s hard not shouting along, headbanging and doing some air-guitar playing when this song comes on. Brilliant stuff! Another great track is “Riding Home” which has a somewhat different sound and some slower parts to it but is no less great. It’s like an early 90s power rock music video on MTV. But this is a solid hard rock album with twelve great tracks.

The Babes’ album “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars” is out now. Buy the album and catch this great band live.

Donna Dimasi of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Danko Jones “We already know what kind of band we are. We’re not delusional!”

Danko Jones backstage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Danko Jones and his punky Canadian rock trio recently toured Australia, Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson met him backstage at Crowbar in Sydney prior to the third and final gig on their Aussie tour. They had a chat about writing music, how conservative some rock fans are, collaborating with Marty Friedman, Danko’s interest in Japan and Sweden and much more.

Canadian trio Danko Jones – consisting of John Calabrese on bass, Rich Knox on drums and Danko Jones himself on guitar and vocals – is without a doubt one of the best rocks acts out there. They write great songs, release splendid albums, produce fab music videos and put on one hell of a rock show. The band released “A Rock Supreme”, its ninth full-length studio album, earlier this year and has been touring it ever since.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney in September 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When you write music, do you feel any constraints that you need to fit in with what is expected of you or do you feel free to create whatever you want? “I just write. We don’t really think like that. We know what kind of band we are. We’re a rock band. It’s not as if we feel confined. It’s what we are. If I didn’t want to play rock, I wouldn’t play rock music. It’s the reason why we play rock! We like it, so it’s easy to stick within the confines of what a rock band should sound like. If people think we have a sound… We’re still able to expand the sound. A song like ‘Sugar Chocolate’ is totally different than a song like ‘Invisible’. But because it’s us playing it, it’s pretty much through the same filter or funnel, so it just ends up being very consistent regardless of where we take the rock sound. We know what we are, so we’re not trying to find ourselves. I think a lot of bands, even a band like Metallica, kind of, are trying to find themselves, even though I think a lot of people could tell them what they are. We don’t need that. We already know what kind of band we are. We’re not delusional in that sense. We’re not gonna try to do an indie rock record or a rap-rock record or a symphonic record or anything. We pretty much stick to the script in the same tradition as bands like The Ramones and Motörhead and Slayer and AC/DC.”

Earlier this year you released the “Dance, Dance, Dance” music video. It’s a fantastic song with a terrific video of three dancers shot in what seems to be one continuous take. How did that come about? “It was shot in Stockholm by Amir Chamdin. We’ve been friends with Amir for years but never worked together. We kind of met him at a Hellacopters show in Gröna Lund last year and we reconnected with him. When it came time to figure out how to make the video for the song, we asked Amir. He wanted to do it. He loved the song. He had this idea. We always like to juxtapose images and stuff and ideas of what people think is rock. I kind of find people’s idea of rock to be pretty boring and stock. To play with those expectations is amusing to us and refreshing. One of the problems with rock’n’roll is it’s pretty stagnant and conservative. As much as I like the music, I really don’t like that kind of thinking. A lot of people… Maybe it’s just insecurity on their part, you know? They have to wear the uniform, they have to have the look down, the attitude. I kind of laugh at all that. Because, really, rock’n’roll is about freedom. I can pretty much dress and look and sing whatever the hell I want! That still conforms with what rock’n’roll is. I think a lot of people have a problem with that. I think that has to do with the fact that maybe they feel insecure about listening to the music. They don’t know how to dress or how to look. Even though they might be 28 years old, they’re still a 15-year old mentality. When it comes to images like that, I thought it was a great idea. It’s a one-shot. The girls who are in the video, they’re amazing dancers and it’s just all one take. I thought it was pretty impressive. I like the one-shot videos too. That was an idea he had. We liked that idea and then we liked the idea of him putting these three dancers as our video for a rock song. Usually, the music that dancers dance to is dance music. So, it was nice to juxtapose that as well.”

You did a festival here a few years ago, but this is your first headline tour in Australia in 15 years. “It’s not a tour. It’s three dates. We did Soundwave in 2015. Silverback Touring has really helped out us coming here and bringing us over here. They’ve done a great job. We’re happy about it. The first two of the three shows were respectably attended. If that will mean word will spread or give people at Silverback enough confidence to bring us back…”

When will we see you back in Japan? Any such plans? “We played Fuji Rock in ’04. Nobody wants to sign us or bring us over. I always wanted to come ever since we visited there. We’ve just never been able to go back because there’s been no offers, no label, no promoter wants to bring us over. You can’t exactly just knock on a club’s door in Tokyo and go: ‘Can we play tonight?’ That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand. People ask: ‘Why haven’t you come back and why aren’t you playing here?’ Well, no one in your city wants us there, no promoter. People think that we’re the ones who are looking at a map and just deciding on our own where to go and when we can show up. The world is at our feet! Hehe!”

Danko has collaborated with Tokyo-based Marty Friedman, both live and in the studio. “Marty’s done a great job of promoting us beyond having me sing on the album. He’s someone that I have been listening to since Cacophony. It’s really kind of mind-blowing that I was on the album with him and getting to know him over the years. He’s really a genuine music fan. He just likes music. It’s a lot of fun to work with Marty. Marty’s been on my podcast three times.”

Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson with Danko Jones in Sydney.

“We were talking about Japan at dinner tonight. I was saying that the time we played Fuji Rock, being in Tokyo was really one of the only times, past the first few tours, going abroad where I was a real tourist. I never leave the club or I never leave the compound where the gig is happening. Rarely, unless there is a record store two blocks away or a restaurant three blocks away. Tokyo is the only time when I spent the day off actually being a tourist and seeing the sites. I can spend a week there doing the same thing. I love everything Japan.

You have a lot of links with Sweden. You have written a column for Close-Up Magazine, you had a radio show in Sweden, you frequently perform in Sweden and so on. How did that all start? “Rock’n’roll really lives in Sweden. It’s such a vibrant rock scene with Backyard Babies, Hellacopters and then there’s a long list of other great Swedish rock bands. The Hives, Noise Conspiracy, Dead Lord. And I can name you ten other bands… The Night Flight Orchestra! There is a scene for a band like us. Whereas in Canada, it’s not the same. There’s not that long list of rock bands. There’s like four, five, for a country that is 20 times bigger than Sweden. The scene is pretty vibrant there and our management is based out of Sweden. Our booking agent is based out of Malmö. And a lot of the bands we ended up touring with, like Backyard Babies took us out in ’01 across Europe, not in Sweden, across Europe, because we played Malmö City Festival with them. Dregen saw us and two months later we got an offer for the European tour. Then we’ve played shows with The Hives, we’ve toured with Noise Conspiracy, we’ve played shows with The Hellacopters, here and there. For a country with nine, ten million people, there are so many bands that are exported internationally. So, you end up crossing paths with them if you play rock. We were also brought to Europe through a Swedish label called Bad Taste. It was through Sweden that we started touring abroad.”

You wrote and published a book recently and you’ve done some spoken-word performances. Are these non-music creative activities something you do when you have time? Does music always come first? “It’s all really based on music. The book is a collection of essays from various rock magazines, some of them are from Close-Up. I don’t really do anything non-musical. Even if I’m talking, I’m talking about music and I am writing about music. There’s really nothing that doesn’t have anything to do with music. For me personally, I don’t consider myself a musician. I think of myself more as a performer. There is a difference. I don’t know musical theory. Those guys do. They tell me ‘Go to G’. I don’t know. Or what a minor chord is or simple musical theory that a musician would know. I just go by feel. Whatever sounds good to me. I just go like as a fan would, as I always have. That’s what leads me to what I think is good music. It’s just your ears, not musical theory. So, I don’t consider myself a musician. But I do consider myself a performer and that is basically getting up in front of people and entertaining them.”

You’ve got a great album out and you’re touring. What’s next? More touring? “Yeah. It’s pretty much you put out a record and go on tour.”

Danko Jones is currently on a European tour with Volbeat and will do some shows in Canada in December before they will return to Europe in January and then the US in February. Danko Jones has gotta rock and he needs to roll because he’s in a band and he loves it.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Decadence “Six Tape”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band Decadence is back with another terrific thrash metal album. It’s full-on aggressive headbanging and air guitar mayhem!

Swedish band Decadence gives us proper thrash metal served just the way I like it with great guitar riffs, terrific melodies and Kitty Saric’s splendid voice on top of that. I love the relentless energy, the aggression and the attitude. The bulldozing track “In Natura” is an obvious favourite of mine. It has everything I love about thrash metal: speed, raw energy, mean riffs, fantastic melodies, aggressiveness, musical twists and a pissed-off vocalist which adds a touch of death metal to the mix. “Red Façade Hotel” is perhaps the album’s best track, but this is a rather even album with no fillers. Decadence’s core duo is Kitty Saric on vocals and Kenneth Lantz on guitar and bass. Session drums on the album are once again played by Lawrence Dinamarca of Nightrage fame. “Six Tape” is Decadence’s sixth full-length studio album since they formed in Stockholm, Sweden in 2003. On “Six Tape”, Decadence demonstrates to the listener that the band has that rare quality of being able to combine DIY, grassroots kind of thrash metal with a modern and professional metal sound. It is a great album and it is one of the better metal albums that I have heard this year. Awesome!

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Gig review: Candlemass opens the door to doom in Tokyo

Drummer Jan Lindh and bassist Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Candlemass opens the door to doom for the Japanese fans with a flawless heavy metal show in Tokyo.

Candlemass at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 13th November 2019

Johan Längqvist and Lars Johansson of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s 29 years since I saw Swedish doom metal masters Candlemass live for the first time when they were playing at a metal festival in an ice hockey arena in Sweden. I already liked their early albums but seeing them up on stage took the love for this band to another level. Having then, many years later, witnessed their first-ever Japan gig in 2016, my expectations on the band’s second Japan visit are sky high and they don’t disappoint. The setlist this evening in Tokyo is flawless. It’s sheer doom awesomeness from start to finish. The first half of the set consists of songs from the albums “Nightfall”, “Tales of Creation”, “Ancient Dreams” and the latest album “The Door to Doom”. The second half is all dedicated to Candlemass’ 1986 debut album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”. In the “Epicus” section, we get to hear “A Sorcerer’s Pledge”, “Demon’s Gate”, “Crystal Ball”, “Under the Oak” and “Solitude”. Magnificent!

Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of the band combines its most classic line-up from the late-80s/early 90s – Leif Edling on bass, Mats “Mappe” Björkman on rhythm guitar, Lars Johansson on lead guitar and Jan Lindh on drums – with the return of original vocalist Johan Längqvist. Längqvist departed the band following the release of the debut album and stayed away from the limelight until his return to the band last year. His voice is splendid and live in concert he commands the doom troops from centre stage. The only question on my mind is: what has he been doing for the 32 years he was away from the band? Whatever he’s been up to, his voice is in terrific shape.

Mats “Mappe” Björkman of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is difficult to pick out highlights in such a terrific show, but let’s try: The opening with “The Well of Souls” from “Nightfall” is world-class. The live version of “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” from “The Door to Doom” is magnificent, not least because of Lars Johansson’s exquisite guitar playing. The heaviness of “Bewitched” shakes the whole venue and, of course, ending the show with “Solitude” is how it should be done.

Epicus Doomicus Fantasticus!

Johan Längqvist of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI4”

Kiyoshi on stage in Tokyo in March 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese artist Kiyoshi became known to a wider audience through her membership of Marty Friedman’s band. But it is as a solo artist she really gets to shine. She’s now back with her fourth fabulous solo album, “KIYOSHI4”.

I still remember the day some years back when Marty Friedman asked me in a Tokyo rehearsal studio: “Do you know Kiyoshi?” Before that, I didn’t know Kiyoshi but I immediately looked her up and I have been a massive Kiyoshi fan ever since. Kiyoshi looks very innocent. But she is a monster of a bass player. The bass guitar seems to bring out her wild animalistic side. But Kiyoshi is much more than a mere kick-ass bassist. She is also a great songwriter and she has a characteristic voice that I just love. When you combine those three things you get magic.

Kiyoshi with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2018.

The production of this new Kiyoshi album has a raw touch to it. It sounds as if it has been recorded live in the studio, which may well be the case. In true Kiyoshi-style, the album basically consists of Kiyoshi on vocals and bass and she’s simply backed up by a lone drummer. Musically, bits and pieces of this reminds me of other Japanese artists such as GO!GO!7188 and Anna Tsuchiya (not least in the J-pop meets punk attitude), but the prominent part that the bass guitar plays in Kiyoshi’s music makes this different. Most of all this is very Kiyoshi. This is Kiyoshi and no artist is quite like Kiyoshi. While the song titles, again in trademark Kiyoshi-style, are in English and mostly have single-word titles such as “Pride”, “Hurt” and “Frustration”, the lyrics are sung in Japanese. The emotional song “Pride” is one of the tracks that immediately stand out for me. Kiyoshi’s at times vulnerable voice is beautifully combined with an edgy bass. The album’s opening song, the splendid “Warning”, is one of the rawest and edgiest songs on the album with a serious bass assault hitting the listener. “Little King” lets Kiyoshi the bass player shine. But the terrific song “Roots”, which closes the album, is probably my favourite. It’s the best kind of J-pop song. Not the soulless superficial kind. This is a song with real emotion and depth but camouflaged as easygoing J-pop. As far as bass work goes, the song “Go For It” is terrific with an unapologetic bass demanding attention. On the track “Melody” there is a fine bass solo, but on this, and many of the album’s tracks, the devil is in the detail. Kiyoshi puts in many small bass quirks and twists and turns. Most of them are very subtle and hidden in the background, but they add depth and make these songs great.

Genre wise Kiyoshi lives somewhere in a back alley between J-pop and alternative rock. Kiyoshi does Kiyoshi music. Trends and expectations don’t come into her mind. She creates the music that she wants to create. The result of that is pure magic. Kiyoshi is one of the most interesting artists in Japan today. She remains an important part of Marty Friedman’s band, but as a solo artist, she gets to be in the limelight and shine like the star she is. Thank you, Marty Friedman, for bringing this fab artist to my attention.

Kiyoshi’s album “KIYOSHI4” is out now.

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Album review: Cyhra “No Halos in Hell”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Modern European melodic metal band Cyhra returns with its second album “No Halos in Hell”.

Cyhra consists of vocalist Jake E, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Euge Valovirta and drummer Alex Landenburg. That the members have played with bands such as In Flames, Amaranthe and Kamelot does not come as a surprise as Cyhra’s music kind of lives in the same musical neighbourhood as those bands. With a second album now below their belts, Jake E and his fellow band members have firmly established a Cyhra signature sound. It is a contemporary melodic metal sound with plenty of pop hooks. But within that signature style, there’s actually quite a bit of variation which is why this works very well. “No Halos in Hell” is the follow up to Cyhra’s 2017 debut album “Letters to Myself”. The new album is a natural next step for the band. It’s partly more of the same modern melodic metal with pop hooks, plenty of keyboards and guitar riffs that we heard on the debut album. But, additionally, we get a somewhat more mature band that explores some new musical areas. Cyhra’s contemporary soundscape and never-ending catchiness bring a freshness to the listeners’ ears that I really like. They are not creating something truly new here, but they are doing great radio-friendly poppy melodic metal. I have always liked Jake E’s voice and his songwriting. On this second Cyhra album,  the band and its fans benefit from the album being more of a band effort than the first album, although Jake remains the principal songwriter. There are some very strong songs on this album, including the power ballad “Lost in Time” and tracks such as “Out of My Life”, “I Am the One”, “Blood Brothers”, “Kings and Queens” and the title track “No Halos in Hell”. The special Japanese edition of the album features no fewer than 18 tracks, including some special bonus material. I particularly like the scaled-down acoustic versions of some of the songs where we really get to hear how good a vocalist Jake E is. The acoustic version of “I Am the One” is exceptional! Here we get a splendid vocal performance combined with some terrific acoustic guitar work. It is the standout track on this album for me.

Cyhra’s second album “No Halos in Hell” will be released on 22nd November via Ward Records in Japan and on 15th November via Nuclear Blast internationally.

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Interview – Bloodbound: the Dragon Empire takes on Japan

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish power metal band Bloodbound recently played in Japan for the first time in the band’s 15-year career, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band’s co-founder and keyboardist Fredrik Bergh and vocalist Patrik Selleby for a backstage chat.

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We start the interview sitting on the balcony at the venue for the evening’s Bloodbound gig at Evoken Fest. But after a few minutes, the volume of the ongoing soundcheck makes it impossible to hear anything and the three of us decide to continue the discussion in the backstage toilet. It doesn’t exactly smell of roses, but at least it is a bit less noisy.

Bloodbound was founded in 2004 and released its debut studio album “Nosferatu” in 2005. Earlier this year the band released “Rise of the Dragon Empire”, its eighth studio album.

You two are the keyboard player and the lead vocalist in the band. When you’re composing new songs, do you try to add some extra keyboard or vocal parts in the songs as a way of sticking it to the band’s songwriting guitarist and co-founder Tomas Olsson? Do you have fights in the band over this? “It is the songs that are the most important. No one is trying to make themselves or their instrument more prominent. The songs and the melodies are absolutely the most important things,” says Fredrik Bergh. Patrik Selleby continues: “The sound has become what it is naturally. No big discussions. Sure, we can sometimes discuss if the guitars should be louder in the mix, but then it is something that all of us agree on. But there’s never been any fight about what should be more prominent in the mix.” Fredrik adds: “Whatever the songs need. Whatever makes the songs the best.”

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fredrik is an experienced songwriter who in addition to writing for Bloodbound also has written for and recorded with artists such as Joe Lynn Turner, Bonfire, Revolution Saints, Phenomena, Anette Olzon, Steve Augeri and many more. Do you approach things differently when you write songs for others? “I have to adjust things to how they sound. I have to be a bit like a chameleon! I have to write things their way. You have an idea of what kind of song it should be. It’s not a coincidence.” Patrik adds: “I don’t write for others, but I write music all the time. A lot of it I realise won’t fit in with Bloodbound. I have a lot of songs piled up high and so we’ll see if I will use them. You quickly realise what fits: ‘This feels like a Bloodbound song!’”

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Do you feel that you have to write songs that fit within what people expect of Bloodbound or can you create music more freely? “Often you know how we should sound,“ explains Fredrik. “You try to write such songs from the start. And if it doesn’t fit, then you reject it, if it isn’t good enough. You have an idea and then you reach a point where you realise that this doesn’t work and then you discard it. I’ve got a big folder of rubbish at home!” Patrik continues: “I feel that it isn’t that boxed in. We’re not as boxed in as perhaps many other bands are. We felt that we found our sound with the ‘Stormborn’ album. Since then it’s been a given that we have a certain sound. You have written a song perhaps that can be tweaked a bit by adding some keyboards in order to make it a Bloodbound song. We’re exchanging ideas a lot. You have a basic song idea. Perhaps I send it to Fredrik or he sends one to me. What do we think? Can we make a Bloodbound song from this? Then we continue from there.” Fredrik adds: “It’s not really limited as we have a rather wide spectrum. It’s not limited by the vocals. Sometimes when Tomas writes it’s very… Like on ‘Dragons are Forever’. If we had a more limited vocalist it wouldn’t be possible at all. Patrik can manage to sing across a broad range. When it comes to melodies, we do not limit ourselves. A song can take off in any direction.”

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

Since the band was formed in 2004 by Fredrik and guitarist Tomas Olsson, there have been quite a few line-up changes. The current version of the band also features Henrik Olsson on rhythm guitar, Anders Broman on bass and Daniel Sjögren on drums. Have the changing line-ups had an impact on the band’s sound? “We have had more or less the same line-up for the past eight years now. It’s working great. Both on a personal level and how we work together. It was mainly in the early days when it was a bit chaotic before we found Patrik, I’d say,” explains Fredrik. Patrik joined the band in 2010, taking the frontman position previously occupied by Urban Breed (Serious Black, Tad Morose) and Michael Bormann (Jaded Heart, Bonfire).

Bloodbound had already released three studio albums before Patrik took over as lead vocalist, but he doesn’t have a problem performing songs from before his time. “No, I absolutely don’t have anything against that at all. I myself was a fan of Bloodbound before I started to sing with them. I love the old songs too. There’s no pride preventing anything there.” Fredrik adds: “We only play one old song!” before Patrik continues: “Yes, now we do, but we have played more songs during my years in the band. The newer songs, we feel, are better and work really well live. It has nothing to do with which album they’re from. We just try to select the best songs that we have.”

FredrikBergh of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Bloodbound released its first album in 2005, you established an interesting contrast where the band name and some of the visuals used were very dark and somewhat evil, whereas the music is melodic and good-natured power metal. Was it a deliberate contrast? What was the thinking here? “Yes!” says Fredrik. “When we started the band and we were going to take some photos for the first album, we felt that we needed to do something that stands out. We can’t just stand there like every other band. Perhaps we made it too extreme with corpse paint and everything!” Patrik adds: “As a fan, as a power metal fan in general, I thought it was really cool!” Fredrik continues: “It got a lot of people talking” before Patrik adds: “The contrast was amusing as the music was so damn happy and then they stood there in corpse paint!” Fredrik brings up German power metal band Powerwolf as a comparison. “If you look at Powerwolf today – they’re massive – and they do sort of the same thing that we did in the beginning. Thus, I think it was wrong for us to stop that. I think that we should’ve continued with it. But certain people in the band didn’t want to and that’s why we stopped it, around the time of the second album, I’d say. It was a bit weird. Some people said: ‘They can’t have corpse paint because they play power metal!’ There was a lot of talk like: ‘Have you seen this new band?’ We got a lot of great publicity.” Patrik continues: “It was ahead of its time, to do that kind of thing. Then Powerwolf came along and it was the right time. Then nobody thought it was weird.” The two band members seem to have somewhat different recollections of who did what and when. “But they started around the same time as us, I believe,” says Fredrik. “But they didn’t have the face paintings and such then,” answers Patrik. “Didn’t they?” asks Fredrik somewhat surprised. “No,” says Patrik.

“We were a bit dumb, but now we’ve got the dragon mask,” says Fredrik excitedly with a reference to the fact that Patrik is nowadays wearing a dragon mask and a horn while performing on stage. “We have to bring back some of those crazy things!” Patrik elaborates: “We look at it this way: since I started to wear the dragon mask and the horn, people will now remember that. If we play at a festival ‘Oh, yes, that was that guy with the horn!’ Rather than just standing there dressed in jeans and t-shirts. We should stand out in different ways.”

2019 has seen you release a fab new album and you’ve toured internationally, including coming here to Japan for the very first time. What’s next for Bloodbound? “We have a few winter festivals in Europe that we will do before Christmas,” says Patrik. “We have recently changed booking agents and so we are kind of between the two firms now. Thus, we don’t have too many fixed plans right now, but a new album won’t happen until 2021. We’ll probably do some gigs ahead of that and also perhaps summer festivals next year.” Fredrik continues: “We have already some gigs booked, including a major festival next year. We did our own headline tour last spring with Dynazty and Manimal as opening acts and that went very well.”

A few hours after our chat, Bloodbound appears on stage in Japan for the very first time and they delight their Japanese fans with a brilliant but short festival set.

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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