Album review: Savage Messiah “Demons”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Modern British metal band Savage Messiah returns with a new album combining the proud British heavy metal tradition with contemporary melodic touches.

Britain’s Savage Messiah has created an interesting sound based on the proud British heavy metal tradition. With hints of NWOBHM and elements of thrash and speed metal, Savage Messiah still manages to sound distinctly contemporary, not least because of its modern-sounding melodic touch which can be heard on “Demons”, the band’s fifth full-length studio album since its formation in 2007. Frontman David Silver has a voice made for this type of modern metal. Combining Silver with Mira Slama on bass, David Hruska on guitar and Charly Carreton on drums, we get a fresh take on melodic metal. They somehow manage to enter that tricky space that has the potential for mainstream appeal while at the same time has a quality to it that makes the music interesting to more diehard metalheads. 

The album production on “Demons” sounds as great as it should when you have heavyweights David Castillo as a producer and Jens Bogren to mix the album. For the recording sessions, the band made use of drummers Dan Wilding (Carcass, Aborted, Heaven Shall Burn) and Ali Richardson (Bleed From Within, Sylosis). Most of the material for the album was written in the studio. People who can write this kind of high-quality music on the fly clearly have some serious talent. I absolutely love the guitars on “Down and Out”. Savage Messiah is a guitar band and throughout the album, we get some rather tasty guitar work. “The Lights Are Going Out” is almost a power ballad but thankfully with some added heaviness. My two favourite tracks on the album, “Heretic in the Modern World” and “Rise Then Fall”, are fast and modern songs. There is also a well-made cover of Chris Stapleton’s “Parachute” among the album’s eleven tracks.

Savage Messiah’s album “Demons” will be released on 10th May by Trooper Entertainment in Japan and on 17th May via Century Media Record internationally.

Album review: Kampfar “Ofidians Manifest”

Kampfar. Photo: Sebastian Ludvigsen

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Kampfar, one of the best extreme metal bands to ever come out of Scandinavia, is back with an epic new album.

The Norwegians in Kampfar always have a terrific atmospheric feeling to their majestically dark and epic songs. There is a foundation here built on black metal with some very Nordic touches to it. There are so many details to be uncovered in their songs that it never gets boring listening to them. Their deep Norwegian roots are not only present in the Norwegian lyrics. They also shine through in their music. Kampfar lives in a cold, windswept Norwegian underworld. But this is achieved with authenticity and not some added layer of faux Nordic folk/Viking theme that we sometimes see from other bands who think it’s a good idea to add some Nordic touches to their image.

Kampfar was founded in Fredrikstad, Norway in 1994. “Ofidians Manifest” is the band’s eighth full-length studio album. A typical Kampfar song combines heaviness, speed and brutality but there is always beauty in there as well. They don’t shy away from using tempo changes, including calm piano and acoustic guitar parts to make their songs even more dramatic due to the sharp contrasts within the songs. There’s also effective use of choral parts on some of the songs. “Ofidians Manifest” is like a beautiful and melancholic soundtrack to the end of the world. The characteristic voice of frontman Dolk is part of what makes Kampfar’s music instantly recognisable. His cold, coarse and powerful voice has Nordic written all over it. It is such a great fit for the music.

“Ofidians Manifest” features seven smashing tracks where the closing track “Det Sorte” is one of my immediate favourites with its epic combination of brutality and beautiful melodies. “Eremitt” is another splendid track on this album which does not have a weak moment on it. But perhaps “Skamløs!” a proper bulldozer song is the winner here. Incredible is the one word that nicely sums up the epic new Kampfar album. 

Kampfar’s album “Ofidians Manifest” is out now via Indie Recordings.

Album review: Whitesnake “Flesh & Blood”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

David Coverdale returns with “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album. He has a bag full of new songs and Tommy Aldridge, Reb Beach, Joel Hoekstra, Michael Devin and Michele Luppi backing him up.

The only constant in Whitesnake is the founder and frontman David Coverdale, who founded the band in 1978 after he left Deep Purple. Since then, he has had a lot of musicians come and go as members of Whitesnake. Among the more well-known former members are Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Don Airey, Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, Adrian Vandenberg, John Sykes, Vivian Campbell, Neil Murray, Steve Vai, Doug Aldrich, Marco Mendoza and Rudy Sarzo. But they are all part of Whitesnake’s rich history. Make no mistake about it, Whitesnake is still very much alive. In the current line-up, we find legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, Blue Murder, Ted Nugent), who first joined the band in the 1980s, as well as guitarists Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken, Alice Cooper) and Joel Hoekstra (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Night Ranger, Cher), bassist Michael Devin (Lynch Mob) and keyboardist Michele Luppi (Secret Sphere, Vision Divine). Coverdale knows how to attract world-class musicians that can back up his Whitesnake vision. The current line-up is no exception. As was the case with some of the earlier line-ups, Coverdale has taken advantage of his band members’ songwriting skills. Great songs and a great band topped off with Coverdale’s voice which is still very much intact.

Style wise we get a bit of everything on “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album and its 13 original tracks – from blues-rock reminding us of the band’s early days, via the kind of melodic hair metal and power ballads that we heard on the “1987” album, to more mature rock. “Flesh & Blood” is essentially a radio-friendly grown-up rock album.

The album opens with “Good To See You Again”, a typical Whitesnake take on melodic hard rock. “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is good fun and the song is backed up by a recently released video with some hints of the classic Whitesnake videos from the MTV era of the late 80s. Blues rocker “Trouble is Your Middle Name” is a standout track and so is another bluesy hard rock song called “Get Up”. The title track “Flesh & Blood” is another great one which has some serious groove. “Heart of Stone”, which has Coverdale almost talking his way through the verses, is a splendid song. “Well I Never” is a modern take on Whitesnake’s classic sound – but with quite a different approach to the song delivery – and it works great. The ballad “After All” is a terrific singer-songwriter type of song with some Beatles vibes and quite different from the music that Whitesnake would normally do. The massive rocker “Sands of Time” is my favourite track on the album, not least because of the fine guitar work. Some editions of the album also include the fabulous bonus tracks “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” and “If I Can’t Have You”, two tracks that fans should not miss. The Japanese edition comes with an alternative mix of “After All” as a bonus track. 

Whitesnake’s album “Flesh & Blood” will be released on 10th May via Ward Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally.

Album review: Enforcer “Zenith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band Enforcer is back a fabulous melodic heavy metal album which is a bit more varied than its earlier efforts. 

I love pretty much everything about Swedish metal band Enforcer. The band is a terrific modern take on classic 1980s heavy metal – fast guitars, great melodies and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Now they are back with their fifth full-length studio album, “Zenith”. With song titles such as “Die for the Devil”, “One Thousand Years of Darkness”, “Thunder and Hell”, “Forever We Worship the Dark” and “Ode to Death”, Enforcer walks in a well-established heavy metal tradition. But make no mistake about it, this is more Mötley Crüe, Raven, W.A.S.P. and Anvil than the more sinister corners of the heavy metal world. There is nothing scary about Enforcer. Enforcer’s frontman Olof Wikstrand has a great way of borrowing from the past, mainly from 80s metal, and using that foundation to create terrific new music. The result is stunning. Some people lazily refer to this as “retro”. Nonsense! Olof is using a foundation built on the past, but his focus is on creating timeless heavy metal. On this new album, we do see Enforcer walk into some new territories., something which will no doubt see some old fans question the direction. So what? “Zenith” is a smashing metal album. I love everything about it. We get the established Enforcer sound on many of the songs (such as “Searching for You” and “The End of the Universe”), but we also get some new twists and turns with some real diversity in musical style. “Regrets” is an exquisite piano ballad, Enforcer’s answer to Mötley’s “Home Sweet Home”. “Ode to Death” kicks off with an acoustic guitar and, stylistically, it has a few hints of Metallica’s “One”. “Sail On” has a foundation that sounds more 1970s than 1980s. “Breaker of the Chains” and “Thunder and Hell” might be the best songs on this terrific eleven-track album.

Enforcer’s “Zenith” is out today via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

Album review: Zephyra “Fall. Rise. Conquer.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Zephyra serves up a mix of melodic and brutal metal on a new album which also gives us a couple of songs in Swedish and a brave Metallica cover.

Swedish band Zephyra is back with a new album called ”Fall. Rise. Conquer.” The band released its debut album, “Mental Absolution”, in 2014. When they released their second album, “As The World Collapses”, in 2016, I wrote in my review that “Some of what Zephyra does reminds me of Battle Beast and other things remind me somewhat of Amaranthe, although this album is much less polished. Zephyra is perhaps Amaranthe’s unwashed cousins from the countryside.” That still holds true today. But with this new album, they have become more personal, more unique and much more diverse. The opening track, “Dreams Denied”, sets the tone for the new album, the band’s third full-length studio album. It is a great showcase for all that this band is about. They continue to play modern, melodic yet hard-hitting metal with liberal use of keyboards. Kind of a cross-breed of melodic death metal and industrial influences and a few nods to pop as well. Vocalist Åsa Netterbrant‘s voice is at the centre of the band’s sound and her mix of clean singing with some brutal growls fits the band’s music well. Two of the best songs on the album are sung in the band’s native Swedish. The Swedish songs – “Fånge i Frihet” and “Svart Smärta” – are terrific with their perfect balance between brutality, great melodies in the proud Swedish pop music tradition and the added novelty of the Swedish lyrics. There’s also a cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. That is a very risky move, but Zephyra pulls it off. They manage to stay respectfully true to the original song while at the same time making it a track that fits nicely in with the Zephyra sound. 

Zephyra’s album “Fall. Rise. Conquer.” Is out now. 

Interview: Elize Ryd of Amaranthe

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd caught up with Roppongi Rocks over an early morning coffee and talked about the “Helix” world tour, the current state of the band, how happy she’s with the band’s new manager Angela Gossow, possible side projects and what Japan means to the band.

The morning after Amaranthe’s gig at the Download Japan festival, I meet frontwoman Elize Ryd for an early morning coffee. It’s 7:30am but the hotel lobby is full of metal fans who want to get glimpses of Amaranthe and Anthrax members who are staying at the hotel. Elize smiles and greets all her fans and then sits down for a cappuccino and a chat before she will head to the airport with the rest of the band. Following the most recent leg of the “Helix” world tour – a Russian headline tour and a festival gig in Japan – the Swedish band gets a well-deserved two-and-a-half-month break from touring.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The world tour kicked off last autumn in conjunction with the release of the band’s fifth studio album, “Helix”. It’s the first album featuring Nils Molin from Dynazty as one of the band’s three vocalists. The band also features Olof Mörck on guitar and keyboards, bassist Johan Andreassen, drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen and singer Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson. “We started the tour as support for Powerwolf. It’s been going great. This new album really feels like us. It’s nice for Nils to tour an album he’s singing on. Not that it should really matter, but, still, it is a feeling of completeness for the band. Earlier, there was a kind of interim period that was tough for all of us. Now we have emerged from that. We’re having a lot of fun. We’re all feeling much better, all of us.”

Nils initially came in as one of several stand-in vocalists, before becoming a permanent member of the band. They have also had a few other stand-in musicians over the years in order to keep the band rolling. “Yes, that was a bit cumbersome. It feels like we have stabilised ourselves now. It feels like we have proven to ourselves and others that we are synced live. But the foundation of the band, it has always been Olof and me writing music together. If someone can’t make it, then it’s not the end of the world if we have to change that member. I know how sensitive it can be, especially when it comes to a voice. If people realise that we write music and use different instruments – and that a voice is one of those instruments – then it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We have become more mature and open after this process that we have gone through that was very tough. It felt as if many fans may give up on us and that we would never again get to come back to Japan! We were really worried. We felt really bad. Everything became a bit strange and wasn’t handled properly. Psychologically it wasn’t a great situation. Now the ball’s back in our hands properly, without having to deal with all of that other stuff.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe, famous for having three lead vocalists, has seen two of its three original vocalists depart the band. “It was just the other two singers that didn’t think it was enjoyable any longer. We are still four founding members. That shouldn’t be forgotten,” explains Elize. “I’ve listened to Nightwish, for example, and they have changed vocalists. When a band has decided on something new it feels as if people accept their decision. It’s nice to be able to still hear the songs and the band avoiding being forced to disband. That would be tragic.”

Another major change for Amaranthe is new management. They now work with the mighty Angela Gossow as manager. Angela, the former lead singer of Arch Enemy, manages Arch Enemy and some of the band members’ solo work and side projects. So far, Amaranthe is the only “outside” client she has taken on. “It works great with Angela. She has really been the person who has got the band together properly. I really have to give her cred for that. Without her, I don’t… Then everything would have been much harder. She came in as an immense power and asked who’s who, what do you do, what do you want to do, what should we do? She’s really professional and I have the highest respect for her. It’s fun working with her.”

Can we expect a joint tour with Amaranthe and Arch Enemy in the future? “Yes, we hope so! It now feels like we are getting to know each other more and more. Having been independent for many years, we never understood how all other bands could know each other so well and have fun together, while we didn’t know anyone! Now we get it. If you’re under the same management you automatically become a family in a different way than just being on the same label.” Elize is clearly very happy with Angela Gossow as Amaranthe’s manager (“She’s fantastic!”). Elize knew Arch Enemy’s current vocalist Alissa White-Gluz from their time together as back-up singers in Kamelot. “I have always been speaking with Alissa and she has always been so pleased with her management. I remember I asked her who her manager is and she said: ‘It’s Angela.’ Oh, yeah. One thing that’s really cool is that she knows everything about the music business. I notice that myself now that I have been in this industry for ten years. I understand how everything is connected. But I don’t have any education like Angela has. She got a marketing education even before she joined the band. She has a lot of knowledge and the ability to speak with people. She’s not exactly shy. These really are skills a manager should have. She is on the band’s side because she’s been an artist herself. Many managers have never been artists and that’s why they easily make the wrong decisions. Their artists get overworked. They sit in their offices and have never really properly experienced tour life themselves. I think it is really, really important for all artists to work with someone that understands what it means when you book a flight at five in the morning, via Russia, and you have a gig at eleven at night. If you keep doing that for a couple of weeks, you’ll become ill. I was totally overworked and I almost thought I would die. I thought that my body would give up. It’s because it’s been planned by someone who doesn’t really understand the lifestyle. That’s how it is – your manager is basically planning your life.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I asked around if there were any managers. I know it is hard to find good managers. There are many managers or people who call themselves that. Managers, the ones who can manage for real, they’re normally busy and not available. Also, I wanted to get another woman into the group. Not that it should really matter, but… I have always felt really lonely as a girl. It’s fantastic to have someone that has toured, knows what it entails, who even don’t see certain things as strange. Perhaps things one needs in life but that I have never found any understanding for in the past. Now that I have perhaps ten years left – or more, I would hope – then you want it to feel good. Otherwise, what’s the point? It has to be fun!”

Elize has been very busy with Amaranthe for a decade now. Does she still have time for side projects, such as the guest spot she had with Gus G on his 2017 Japan tour? “That’s the thing. I want to do things but never really had the time. But now that we have a manager you can talk to, then I can say, let’s put aside some time to do other stuff because it would be fun. That’s what Alissa does. But now we have so many cool things with the band. It’s easy to get stuck with band stuff because that’s where it’s at. Side projects are for the sake of my own creativity. It would be fun to work with others. There are so many great people that it would be fun to share something creative with. Something that would be my own album but with other musicians. After ten years it feels as if it would be something fun to do. The thought is at the back of my head, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Writing songs, that’s what is fun. What takes time is recording things properly.”

All Amaranthe’s five studio albums have been recorded at Jacob Hansen’s studio in Denmark. “Yes, we have recorded all of them there. Should I do something on my own, I assume that I would do what many other artists are nowadays doing: sending around tracks that the musicians then add their respective bits to. Gus G, for example, has promised to play on my solo project. He has to, damn it!”

Japan has been supporting the band since the start, with Amaranthe performing in Tokyo for the first time in 2011, shortly after the debut album was released. “Yes, I know. I was very moved yesterday because it really felt like we got a great reception. It was really fun. I also think that perhaps there were a few new fans that have discovered the band recently, people we haven’t had a chance yet to meet since we released the previous album.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s been about two and a half years since Amaranthe last toured Japan, as the opening act on Helloween’s Japan tour in 2016, before they now came back for a set at the Download Japan festival. “Yes, a lot of things can have happened since then. We thought it was great and the fans’ support has been absolutely wonderful. We felt that we need to come back ASAP because we love Japan! It’s great that we still get the chance to come and play here. I think we got a bit of an upswing now that we played this festival. I remember we played Loud Park, for example, and then we got to do a headline tour after that. Then we also did another not so great set at Loud Park, unfortunately, when there were a lot of problems with the crew and technical issues. Now it’s Angela that is in charge of the crew and thus there are no mishaps. Haha! Now everything is done properly, that’s really how it is. It’s fantastic! We don’t need to stress over things now. Now we can perhaps return and just be artists and focus on that and not focus on all the other things like we had to in the past. If we get the opportunity to be here, then we will grab it! We are so grateful, really. Download was really fun. It was magical! It went well and the support was great. I was positively surprised, really. Especially at eleven in the morning. People were awake and dancing. We played a 40-minute set. If we come back here soon, if we get to do that, we will then perform more songs from the latest album. We played a bit of a best-of set and some new things. We managed to play ‘Helix’, at least, and ‘GG6’. What else did we play? We obviously want to play longer sets. In 40 minutes, you can’t fit in much.”

As Elize departs Japan for this time, she has a chance to catch up on some sleep at home in Gothenburg, Sweden before the summer festival season kicks off. She might need it as well as a visit to a dentist. “I cracked my tooth in Russia. With the microphone! When I sang yesterday, I could feel the pulse in the tooth. Some nerve has been damaged. I went to a Russian dentist to do a filling. But that is just temporary so that the roots can start to heal. I can’t eat properly.” Well, Elize Ryd is not an artist that can be stopped by a cracked tooth. Soon she will be back on stage as the “Helix” world tour continues with European summer festival appearances.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Inculter “Fatal Visions”


By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Norwegian band Inculter gives us a classic-sounding 1980s thrash metal assault on their terrific new studio album.

On the new album “Fatal Visions”, Norwegian band Inculter has created a perfect 1980s thrash metal sound, managing to remind us of both the American Bay Area school of thrash and the classic German take on thrash. The result is a terrific eight-track album. While paying tribute to those who walked before them on the thrash metal path, Inculter has taken the foundation offered to them and built their own music. The “Fatal Visions” album follows the 2013 EP “Stygian Deluge” and their debut full-length album “Persisting Devolution” from 2015. “Impending Doom” is an immediate favourite track of mine with its fast guitars and its pounding drums. The relentless pummelling on songs like “Endtime Winds”, “Towards the Unknown” and “Final Darkness” puts a smile on my face. Inculter’s music is brutal and raw and terrific but still with some great melodies. There is a glorious aggressiveness here which makes this fantastic. The music is dark with some blackened death metal influences as an overlay on the classic thrash metal. No doubt this song material will work a treat live on stage. This is some seriously tasty Scandinavian thrash metal. 

Inculter’s “Fatal Visions” is out now via Edged Circle Productions.

Gig review: Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel in Tokyo

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Legendary guitar wizard Jake E Lee makes a triumphant return to Tokyo with a show featuring Red Dragon Cartel, Badlands and Ozzy Osbourne songs.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th April 2019 

Guitarist Jake E Lee has been loved by Japanese fans since the 1980s when he made a name for himself, first playing with Ozzy Osbourne and then with Badlands. The American guitarist’s Japanese ancestry probably explains part of it, but Japan loves mind-blowingly talented guitar heroes playing rock music.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Returning once again to Japan with his current band, Red Dragon Cartel, Lee has the crowd with him as soon as he walks onto the stage. The evening kicks off with “Wasted”, a great rocker from Red Dragon Cartel’s self-titled debut album from 2014, which is followed by “Havana” and “Punchclown” from the band’s second album, 2018’s “Patina”. The Cartel’s music is very much built on Jake E Lee’s pedigree of playing great blues-based hard rock. Jake not only shows us that his guitar magic is still there. He also shows us some fine dance moves throughout the show. Jake is, of course, the undisputed star. But he manages to shine without ever overdoing it. He’s not overshadowing the songs or his bandmates. The Cartel’s line-up consists of bassist Anthony Esposito (Ace Frehley, Lynch Mob), drummer Phil Varone (Saigon Kick, Skid Row, Vince Neil) and vocalist Darren James Smith (Harem Scarem).

The bulk of the set is made up of songs from the “Patina” album, with the song “Ink and Water” being the highlight. The amount of music in the show from the new album reminds us how good this album is. But there are also other goodies from earlier years: for the Badlands fans, the band offers us “3 Day Funk” and “High Wire” and for the Ozzy Osbourne fans there is “Spiders in the Night”. The band closes the show with the terrific “Feeder”. It is a very fitting end to the show as “Feeder” also has the best guitar solo of the night. It’s quite a finale to a great show.

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Tronos “Celestial Mechanics”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Tronos, three of our absolute favourite people in the music industry – Shane Embury, Russ Russell and Dirk Verbeuren – offer us something very different and splendidly gorgeous. The result is atmospheric epicness! 

Tronos is perhaps giving us a glimpse of the dark, murky and warped world inside the brains of the two Brits Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Venomous Concept, Bent Sea, Lock Up, Brujeria) and Russ Russell (whose production credits include Napalm Death, Lock Up, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir, At the Gates and much more). It’s like “Alice in Wonderland” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Freddy Krueger chasing poor Alice and killing the Mad Hatter in the process. It’s a twisted and dark mystical tour of an underworld under your skin or a space journey to a galaxy far, far away. Embury and Russell have worked together on many albums over the years, and in Tronos they have also brought in another brother who they know well, Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren. 

The album opener, “Walking Among the Dead Things”, sets the tone for the album. It’s an epic piece of rather complex music clocking in at almost eight minutes. We get plenty of variations in the musical styles on the album’s ten tracks, but somehow they all fit in nicely together. Despite the many various musical influences used to create Tronos, there is not a weak moment on this album. I never get bored. With Embury, Russell and Verbeuren involved, obviously my expectations are sky high, but I didn’t expect this. It’s terrific and so different. Love it! Embury and Russell have spent years putting this album together. The wait has been worth it – the end result is stunning! Tronos’ music is multi-layered dreamy, doomy and epic ambient music. There are some hints of the band members’ more brutal and extreme musical roots, such as on parts of the great track “Birth Womb”. But this is very different and, for the most part, it is not brutal. There are so many variations and twists and turns here that the listener can make new discoveries every time the music is played. In Tronos, Embury is not playing bass, but rather opting to sing lead and play guitar. It shows a different side to this fantastic artist. The dreamy song “Voyeurs of Nature’s Tragedy” is a favourite of mine and the hauntingly doomy “Judas Cradle” is simply exquisite. On one of the album’s best tracks, “Premonition”, we get a fantastic guest appearance by Voivod vocalist Snake. Erica Nockalls (The Wonder Stuff, The Proclaimers) adds both terrific vocals and violin to some of the songs and other guest musicians appearing on the album are Billy Gould (Faith No More), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Venomous Concept). The closing track on the album, Black Sabbath cover “Johnny Blade”, is one of its absolute highlights. This album is simply terrific! This is a beautiful avant-garde masterpiece!

Tronos’ album “Celestial Mechanics” will be released on 12th April via Century Media Records.

Tronos: Dirk Verbeuren, Shane Embury and Russ Russell. Photo: Gobinder Jhitta

Interview: Uriah Heep | “It’s all about the songs”

Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During classic British rockers Uriah Heep’s recent Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a chat with band members Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer backstage at Billboard Live in Roppongi, Tokyo.

50 years after its foundation in England in 1969, British rock band Uriah Heep is at the top of its game: still very actively touring the world and with a splendid new album, “Living the Dream”, released in 2018. The terrific current line-up of the band consists of founding guitarist Mick Box, vocalist Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bassist Davey Rimmer.

Heep’s return to Japan took the form of six special gigs at the two Billboard Live venues in Osaka and Tokyo, with the band performing sets at around 70 minutes each and doing two shows per night in front of a seated audience. “That’s the problem with Heep. It’s like 25 albums, so many songs, so many good songs and trying to keep everyone happy is always a nightmare. We try, but we would have to play for like four hours to keep everyone happy. 25 studio albums and 50 years of rock music, all the different eras of Heep,“ says bassist Davey Rimmer as we sit down backstage between two of the band’s sets at Billboard Live in Roppongi, Tokyo.

Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rimmer is the newest member of Heep. “Yeah, it’s about six years now. I auditioned for Heep. At the time, Trevor Bolder, the amazing Trevor Bolder – The Spiders from Mars and Uriah Heep – amazing bass player, at the time he wasn’t too well. We found out that he sadly had cancer. As he went for treatment, Heep they just wanted a stand-in, because they had lots of gigs. Initially, I came in as a fill-in. As the months went by, very sadly Trevor passed away. For me, I just wanted to meet him, because I was hoping I would play with the band and then I get to have a jam with him. He’s an amazing player. I met his family, but sadly I never got to actually meet Trevor. That’s the thing with Heep, there are so many great bass players they’ve had. I always try to do justice to the… I don’t want to change them classic lines. I always try to keep close to what they played. It’s an honour for me to play in Trevor’s legacy of great bass playing, great songs. He was a great songwriter. He had everything. He was a great singer. The new album is called ‘Living the Dream’ and, for me, I am! Because I used to play all them songs in bars and my bedroom. I was a big rock fan when I was a kid!” says Rimmer with a big smile, clearly very happy to be a member of the veteran rock band he listened to when he grew up.

Phil Lanzon of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Keyboardist Phil Lanzon, who has been in the band since 1986, notes the difference between this Japan tour – with relatively short sets at around 70 minutes with a seated audience eating dinner – and the shows the band normally does. “It’s a very, very big difference. It’s very alien to us. We’re playing normally to standing audiences and festivals so you could imagine that there’s a complete contrast. But it’s really good because it’s something different. I really enjoy it and it’s fun!”

With a terrific new album out, do you ever feel like – sod all the old stuff, let’s just play the great new material? “The band is so established and playing the old classic Heep songs… Every time you play that song, somebody different in the audience, it’s a new face hearing that song and their communication to us, that is immediate. That’s the buzz! You play those old songs and you enjoy playing them because the feedback is incredible. That’s the reason for it. So, you can’t dismiss those songs, because everything would fall apart. You have to have a combination,” explains Lanzon and adds: “We did well to get three or four in there” as a reference to the ten-song setlist for the gig they had just finished which featured four new tracks.

Uriah Heep founder Mick Box and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson backstage in Tokyo.

Rimmer continues: “We do try to mix it up, because I know it’s such a catalogue of songs. 25 albums, 50 years. We do try to keep everyone happy. It’s difficult. We’d be playing for four hours to keep everyone happy. But we do wanna play the classic stuff and we wanna play new stuff as well. We try to play it with enthusiasm and power and energy because that’s what we want off the crowd.” Uriah Heep now has a great and what seems like a stable line-up. In Heep’s early years there was turmoil with changing line-ups. “There was turmoil before, yeah,” says Lanzon and continues: “I think so. This is what we enjoy doing. You have to remember this is what we love doing and when you see those faces, that’s it!”

The band will mark reaching the 50-year mark since the band formed in England in 1969. One special show in Europe with three former band members joining the current line-up has already been announced and there will be more good stuff for the fans. Lanzon explains: “It’s an event we’re doing in the latter half of this year, with other members of the band. It’s a special one-off event. We’re planning on various touring in 2020 for the big 50 years launch if you like. There will be festivals, there will be tours, all celebrating the 50 years throughout next year. It hasn’t been planned yet, but we’re working on it.” And perhaps a 19th live album? “Maybe!” says Lanzon. Rimmer adds: “We did ‘Live at Koko’, about five years ago. So, we’re probably due for a new one!”

The band’s great recent material works very well live. “It does,” agrees Lanzon. “It does, because, we kind of look at… When we are writing new albums, we tend to look at what’s gone before as a blueprint for the next album. Not to copy, but to have the same energy, the same melodic kind of structure, lyrical structure and to make sure we can see it fit in with the old songs. It’s not like we’re deliberately making it like the old songs, we have that in mind. So, when you’re building something like that, and the song is working as a song, separate, then you know it’s going to work.”

I would describe the classic Heep sound as classic hard rock with a lot of keyboards and vocal harmonies. “That’s basically it, really, It is energy and power from all of the above, mixed together and that’s what you get! Haha!” says Lanzon and continues: “You have to look back to the past, even the late 60s into the early 70s, when all prog music was being born from all the influences that were happening in music. A feeling grew out of that into the rock that we have today. The roots are actually there of the music that various bands like ourselves are fitted into. That’s the genre that we seem to have been drawn to and that’s the way we have gone down.” Rimmer adds: “The massive Hammond, guitar, bass and drums and then you’ve got this powerful melody on top. At the end of the day, it’s all about the songs. The emotion of the lyrics and the song. For me, that’s what Heep is. You’ve got that powerful sound, but it’s all about the songs!” Lanzon continues: “I think you can almost pinpoint an era, again in the late 60s, which was Vanilla Fudge, who had that different power. It was the organ, the guitar and the vocals like you say. It was just like: Ah, I like the sound of that!”

Uriah Heep may have been going for 50 years, but it doesn’t seem they are about to retire anytime soon.

Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks