Album review: Lords of Black “Icons of the New Days”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black, the Spanish metal band fronted by Rainbow’s Chilean vocalist Ronnie Romero, is back with its third studio album.

Vocalist Ronnie Romero is a busy artist. Not only is he fronting Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and providing vocals for multiple projects (such as Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia), he also has a day job as frontman for Spanish metal band Lords of Black. While I enjoy pretty much everything Romero does, I hope that he will remain focused on Lords of Black. He co-founded the band with guitarist Tony Hernando and drummer Andy C (with bassist Dani Criado as a later addition). Here he gets to sing his own material and has also started a tradition of performing fantastic covers.

Lords of Black’s new studio album is as good as hoped. Since the band formed in 2014, they have produced three studio albums and toured the world, including two Japan visits. The music is top notch European melodic metal/power metal. Tony Hernando is quite a guitarist and when combined with Romero’s voice, it becomes fantastic.

“World Gone Mad” is a fabulous opener of the album. It has energy, a great melody and THAT voice. “The Way I’ll Remember” is a great track that immediately stands out. “Wait No Prayers for the Dying” is a splendid song which reminds me somewhat of Megadeth. While Lords of Black has established their signature sound, they are very capable of pushing the limits and play whatever music they feel like. The title track “Icons of the New Days” is also a favourite which will no doubt become a live favourite.

There is plenty of bonus material on the Japanese edition of the album. First of all, we get a great acoustic version of the track “Forevermore”, but we also get some very well-chosen cover songs. Lords of Black takes on tracks by Queen, Journey, Anthrax and Bruce Dickinson on a special bonus disc which also includes two previously unreleased original songs: “The Maker and the Storm” and “When Nothing was Wrong”. On the Queen track “Innuendo”, Romero shows us that he can not only fill the shoes of the legendary Rainbow vocalists that preceded him in the band, he can also take on Freddie Mercury and get away with it. He is not copying Mercury, but he adds is own personality to his take on the classic Queen song. The cover of Bruce Dickinson’s “Tears of the Dragon” is perhaps the best song on this release. A beautiful power ballad-type of song delivered flawlessly. The Anthrax track “Only” is phenomenal and proves once again that Lords of Black can play all kinds of music.

Overall “Icons of the New Days” is a fab album. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Lords of Black.

Ronnie Romero and Tony Hernando on stage with Lords of Black in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black’s album “Icons of the New Days” will be released on 9th May in Japan via Ward Records and on 11th May internationally via Frontiers Music.

Album review: Amorphis “Queen of Time”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mighty Finnish heavy metal band Amorphis is back with yet another terrific album combining heavy metal with beautiful melodies and a big chunk of folk-inspired music.

Santeri Kallio and Jan Rechberger of Amorphis backstage at Loud Park in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amorphis’ new album “Queen of Time” is based on the by now well-established Amorphis sound which combines heavy metal with great melodies, heavy guitar riffing with dreamy keyboard soundscapes and clean singing with growling.

The album opens where the last album, “Under the Red Cloud”, left off with “The Bee”. But this is no “Under the Red Cloud II”. They take their music further and we get a fair bit of folk-inspired parts on many songs, bordering on Pagan metal at times. It works very well. The Japanese bonus track “Honeyflow” is a splendid Pagan metal song with flutes and all.

One of the things that stand out is the effective and dramatic use of choirs on songs such as “Message in the Amber”. “Wrong Direction” is a killer track that immediately stands out. “Heart of the Giant” is, well, a giant song. It’s a terrific track featuring some fabulous keyboard work in addition to the band’s rock solid foundation of drums and guitars. On “We Accused” we again get some smashing keyboard wizardry by Santeri Kallio who really gets to shine on this album. On the track “Daughter of Hate” we get a visit by a saxophone and on other songs, we get flutes and other somewhat unexpected instruments. Amorphis certainly never shies away from adding new elements to its music or take new musical routes. There are so many new fantastic songs on this album it sort of feels like a greatest hits album.

Amorphis is a band that has both the songwriting skills and the performance skills. The band is solid with Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen on guitars, Santeri Kallio on keyboards, Jan Rechberger on drums and powerhouse vocalist Tomi Joutsen. Recently original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine returned to the band after a 17-year absence. “Queen of Time” is the band’s thirteenth studio album since its formation in 1990. At times, their death metal roots shine through, but they have evolved quite a lot over the years. Amorphis remains one of the Nordic region’s best metal acts, both live and in the studio. Their native Finland is still at the top of the heavy metal hill.

Amorphis’ new album “Queen of Time” will be released on 16th May Ward Records in Japan and on 18th May via Nuclear Blast internationally. The band will perform in Japan again in mid-June.

Single review: Demon Head “The Resistance”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bearded Danish smoky rockers Demon Head are back with a splendid new 7-inch single.

The diabolic retro-rockers in the Danish band Demon Head have established a fascinating sound that smells of the analogue recording sounds of the 60s and 70s. The recordings sound old but not old-fashioned. This is great stuff. It has that bearded, smoke-filled groove that we would have expected to hear in Copenhagen in the 70s. There’s doom, folk rock, stoner rock and much more in this terrific mix of good rock. On the surface, it is scaled-back storytelling kind of rock. As if Neil Young were drinking beer in Copenhagen and decided to cross the water to Sweden to record some songs with Hellsingland Underground in an old run-down caravan. Or The Hellacopters being robbed of all their money during a drunken night and thus forced to do some busking on a street corner in Soho to make some money to get home. But one quickly realises that there is some very talented and refined songwriting behind this single. Demon Head makes it sound simple and off the cuff, but it is actually very intricate music.Most importantly, it is great music.

Demon Head’s new 7-inch single contains two tracks, “Rivers of Mars” and “The Resistance”. Both songs are terrific and they are obvious 7-inch tracks. I much rather listen to a fabulous two-track vinyl single than an album with some fillers. This single is terrific with “Rivers of Mars” especially standing out like a song I take an immediate liking to.

Demon Head’s single “The Resistance” is out now via The Sign Records.

Album review: Kobra and the Lotus “Prevail II”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Canadian metal force Kobra Paige and her band Kobra and the Lotus are back with their fifth studio album.

Kobra and the Lotus formed in 2009 and “Prevail II” is the band’s fifth studio album. Vocalist Kobra Paige (who some of you may remember from her guest appearances on tour with Kamelot) is the band’s frontwoman and the only remaining original member of the band. As such she is at the centre of this Canadian metal ship conquering the world.

This is powerful and energetic melodic metal. It sounds modern and contemporary while still influenced by proper 80s and 90s metal. On fabulous tracks like “Human Empire” and “You’re Insane”, there are fantastic echoes of bands such as Judas Priest and Queensrÿche. Great heavy metal combining fab songwriting with musicianship and terrific vocals. On other tracks, such as “Heartache” and “White Water”, it is more melodic and calmer. Overall the album provides a great mix of styles with songs built around the strength of Paige’s voice. The band very elegantly manages to balance between heavy riffing and more mainstream rock. The music is heavy enough to keep people like me happy but also accessible enough to have mainstream appeal. They have already toured with KISS and Def Leppard and are well on their way to move up in the world of metal.

In addition to the album’s ten tracks, the Japanese version comes with two bonus versions of the track “Let Me Love You”; an acoustic version and a version sung in Japanese. Both bonus versions are terrific.

Kobra and the Lotus’ new album “Prevail II” is out on 25th April via Ward Records in Japan and on 27th April via Napalm Records internationally.

Album review: Don Airey “One Of A Kind” | Solo album from Deep Purple’s keyboardist

Don Airey

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Deep Purple’s Hammond master Don Airey has a new solo record coming out. It’s way better than anything Purple has released in recent times.

Don Airey joined Deep Purple as stand-in keyboardist in 2001 and subsequently as a permanent member the year after when Jon Lord retired from the band. But he has done so much more than just Purple in his career: he’s played with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Cozy Powell, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Brian May, Bruce Dickinson, Michael Schenker, Helix, Fastway, Graham Bonnet, Saxon and much more. This is a musician whose middle name is “Pedigree”.

Don Airey’s “One Of A Kind” is an album living somewhere between American classic rock and British blues-based hard rock. His backing band is made up of musicians Airey has played with in other bands: Nazareth’s current singer Carl Sentance (who Airey played together with in the band Persian Risk and on a solo album by Sentance), bassist Laurence Cottle (who played with Airey in the Gary Moore band) and drummer Jon Finnegan and guitarist Simon McBride (who both played in Ian Gillan’s solo band with Airey). And speaking of Ian Gillan, some of the music on this album – such as the splendid “Victim of Pain” – reminds me of the sound of Gillan, Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan’s solo band in the early 80s. Great stuff.

“Children of the Sun” is terrific and so is “Respect”. The title track “One Of A Kind” is a good-fun rocker with phenomenal orchestration. Airey allows himself to shine on many of the songs by adding a keyboard solo here and there. It is his album after all and he does his showing off in a tasteful and proportional manner. Welshman Carl Sentance is such an underrated singer. In addition to Persian Risk, he has also sung with Krokus, Geezer Butler and Nazareth. He is doing a stellar job in Nazareth, but there he is always compared to his retired predecessor Dan McCafferty. With Don Airey he has a better chance to get his due recognition because he hasn’t replaced anyone and he is singing new material that he has co-written with Airey. What a pair! They can write and perform together and deliver the goods on this album.

Don Airey’s album “One Of A Kind” will be released on 25th May via earMUSIC internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Dimmu Borgir “Eonian” | A symphonic black metal masterpiece

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Norwegian symphonic black metal masters Dimmu Borgir are back with their first studio album since 2010. It’s bombastically brilliant.

Norwegian symphonic black metal masters Dimmu Borgir have got a new album ready, the band’s first studio album in eight years. It is massive. It is everything I had hoped for and more. It’s sensationally good. It is Dimmu Borgir at its best with its trademark dark and bombastic melodic metal, combining sinister guitars with splendid choirs and prominent use of keyboards to create a fantastic soundscape. At times, as is the case with the tracks “Alpha Aeon Omega”, “I am Sovereign” and “Rite of Passage”, it sounds like a soundtrack to an epic movie. There are majestic choral arrangements here that could come straight out of “The Omen” movie.

Dimmu Borgir formed in Oslo, Norway in 1993. The band is fittingly enough named after an Icelandic volcano: this band is a Nordic force of nature. In its early days, the band had a rawer sound closer to other early Norwegian and Swedish black metal bands. Over time, Dimmu Borgir has evolved and created its own signature sound that is still best described as symphonic black metal. While they established their signature sound, they still offer quite a lot of variety within those parameters. On the splendid track “Interdimensional Summit” they manage to combine a lot of things, even managing to sound like “Floodland”-era Sisters of Mercy. Fantastic! Dimmu Borgir never lets any genre limit is creative output. Another immediate favourite is “Council of Wolves and Snakes” with its gloomy and haunting soundscape and what sounds like chanting by some sort of indigenous people. The album is rock solid with absolutely no weak spots. If you like dark symphonic melodic metal, this is a masterpiece you need in your record collection.

Dimmu Borgir’s album “Eonian” will be released on 4th May via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Gig review: CTA featuring ex-Chicago members Danny Seraphine, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus

CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A fine evening of grown-up rock at Billboard Live with former Chicago members Danny Seraphine, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus reunited in CTA.

Danny Seraphine of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

CTA at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo, 19th April 2018

American rock band Chicago’s original band name was Chicago Transit Authority. When original drummer Danny Seraphine created a new band he paid tribute to his legacy by naming the band CTA – California Transit Authority. In CTA, Seraphine (who was Chicago’s drummer from 1967 until 1990) has reunited with two of his former Chicago band members, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus. Champlin sang and played guitars and keyboards with Chicago between 1981 and 2009, while Dacus had a shorter stint as a guitarist and vocalist with the band in 1978-79. In addition to his stint with Chicago, Dacus famously starred in the 1979 movie “Hair” and was a member of Badfinger.

Bill Champlin of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

In addition to the three former Chicago men, CTA features some serious firepower and musical pedigree in the form of guitarist Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson, Glenn Hughes), keyboardist and pianist Edward Roth (Glenn Hughes, Sebastian Bach, Rob Halford, Impellitteri), bassist Travis Davis (Keith Emerson) and vocalist Tony Grant. They are complemented by a fabulous three-person Japanese brass section dubbed the Banzai Brass.

Just like Chicago was at its best, CTA is a terrific grown-up classic rock band with elements of jazz, blues, soul and funk weaved into the mix and with an elaborate use of the brass section as well as keyboards and piano. With a ten-member band, we get no fewer than four people singing lead vocals on various songs, providing great variety in musical style. This evening we obviously get some classics from the Chicago back catalogue, such as “Saturday in the Park”, “You’re the Inspiration”, “Look Away”, “Take Me Back to Chicago” and “25 or 6 to 4”. The highlight of the evening is no doubt the rocker “Turn Back the Pages” with Donnie Dacus on fire on the guitar and also providing lead vocals. This is a song Dacus originally wrote and recorded with Stephen Stills and then also performed with Chicago. Fabulous!

Donnie Dacus of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

But it is not all Chicago, we also get things such as “Turn Your Love Around”, a song co-written by Champlin for George Benson, here turned into a great jazz-rock jam by the band. Champlin’s voice is intact and sounds as good now as it did in the 80s while Seraphine shows us that he is still a world-class drummer. “We’re 70 and still rocking!” he says between a couple of songs and he is right. These veterans are still relevant and they sound great. What a fine evening of grown-up rock music.

Billboard Live is a terrific intimate venue where the artists have to walk through the audience in order to get up on stage. With tiered seating, everybody in the audience has a great view and the sound quality is superb.

CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Gig review: Destruction destroys Tokyo with a thrash metal attack in Meguro

Schmier and Mike Sifringer of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thrash Anthems Live: German thrash metal veterans Destruction kick off their Asia-Pacific tour in style in Tokyo.

Destruction at Rockmaykan, Meguro, Tokyo, 16th April 2018

Schmier of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Destruction walks on stage and completely destroys Tokyo on this fine evening in Meguro. They are on fire for this first gig on their Asia-Pacific tour. Thrash metal in general and specifically German thrash is popular in Japan. Destruction is at the top of the German heap together with Kreator and Sodom. Like their American Bay Area cousins, Destruction serves up world-class thrash metal and once again prove that they are one of the genre’s best bands.

This evening in Tokyo we get a killer set list that is almost flawless and near perfection. They open with 80s favourite “Curse the Gods”. They immediately follow that with the more recent “Armageddonizer” before they return to the 80s back catalogue with “Tormentor”. One of the evening’s obvious highlights is of course “Nailed to the Cross” when the whole audience goes wild and shouts “Nailed to the fucking cross!”. The anthem “Mad Butcher” follows. The evening continues like that with a mixture of old classics and newer material. All of it is bleeding terrific.

The band’s co-founders Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Schmier (bass and vocals) are as good as they ever were since they founded the band in 1982. They are tight and they deliver. Even the early classics sound better now than they did back in the day as the band members are now much better musicians.

Randy Black of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Tokyo gig is not only the first gig on the Asia-Pacific tour, it also marks the first time that powerhouse drummer Randy Black plays a full set with the band (a few years ago he toured with the band as a fill-in when Destruction performed a shorter set). The former Annihilator, Primal Fear and W.A.S.P. drummer is an animal behind the drum kit and he brings the songs up a level with his energy, power and finesse. Let’s hope that he becomes a permanent member of the band. The Canada-born drummer is already based in Germany and he’s a great fit for the band.

A great thrash metal attack gig is topped off with an encore featuring “Thrash Till Death”, a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia” and, of course, “Bestial Invasion”. Total thrash metal awesomeness. Thrash at its best. The rowdy crowd of Japanese Destruction lovers helps the band from the first note until well after the band has rushed off to the airport to make the Bangkok flight. This was one of the best gigs in Tokyo this year (so far). A big thank you to local organiser Metal Justice Tokyo for bringing Destruction back to Japan. It is great to see this kind of grassroots organisation made up of fans bringing their favourite artists to Japan independently.

Schmier of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Gus G “Fearless”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek guitar wizard Gus G is back with a new solo album.

Greek guitarist Gus G first made a name for himself in bands such as Nightrage, Dream Evil and Firewind and even played in Arch Enemy for a short while. But it is as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist he became known to the masses. With Zakk Wylde now back in Ozzy’s band, Gus G has more freedom to get on with his own musical projects, now mainly focusing on his band Firewind and his solo career.

A year ago he did some terrific solo shows here in Japan and now he’s back with a new solo album, “Fearless”. The album kicks off in style with the energetic track “Letting Go” and it is followed by “Mr Manson”, one of the album’s standout tracks where we – obviously – get some guitar thunderbolts but also a catchy, modern rock song. “Don’t Tread on Me” is another contemporary sounding rocker of a song. The instrumental title track “Fearless” sounds a lot like something that could have been done by Marty Friedman. It is my favourite track on this album. “Nothing to Say” is an AOR-type melodic rock ballad. The album continues to mix musical styles, instrumental pieces and tracks with locals throughout its ten tracks. Gus G’s amazing guitar wizardry remains at the centre of it all but without crossing the border to guitar wankery country.

One of the instrumental tracks, “Thrill of the Chase”, is a wonderful showcase for what Gus can do with his guitar. Dire Straits’ monster hit “Money for Nothing” gets the Gus G treatment. If one is going to do a cover song, one has to do something different, adding something to not make it pointless. Gus G does that here. The classic 1985 Mark Knopfler song gets a modern makeover that works very well. On this album, Gus is backed up by vocalist/bassist Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic) and drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence, Black Label Society). The trio delivers on every song. “Fearless” is a solid and accessible melodic album showcasing Gus G’s guitar skills.

Gus G’s “Fearless” album will be released on 20th April via AFM Records.

Gus G backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Live album/DVD review: Anthrax “Kings Among Scotland”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American thrashers Anthrax on top form in Scotland as they mark the 30th anniversary of “Among The Living” with a live release.

American thrashers Anthrax are always great live. I first saw them live in 1990 when they opened for Iron Maiden and most recently last year when they opened for Megadeth. Always full of energy, attitude and ready to entertain their audience. On the new live CD/vinyl/DVD “Kings Among Scotland” we get exactly that. Anthrax has released some brilliant studio albums over the years, but it is live on stage, in front of their fans, that these American thrashers really become kings of Scotland and the rest of the world. The sweat, the headbanging, the singalongs, the air guitar duels, the circle pits and the metal horns in the air take this to another level.

The two-disc release “Kings Among Scotland”, recorded in Glasgow on 15th February 2017, is split into one best-of disc and one where Anthrax plays their 1987 album “Among The Living” in its entirety to celebrate its 30th anniversary. On the first disc of “Kings Among Scotland” we get all the good stuff we would expect from an Anthrax gig: “A.I.R.”, “Madhouse”, “Evil Twin”, “Medusa”, “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can”, “Blood Eagle Wings” and more. Anthrax is in great form and the current line-up is killer. Charlie Benante (drums), Scott Ian (rhythm guitar), Frank Bello (bass), Joey Belladonna (vocals) and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais are on fire here. Only guitarist Dan Spitz is missing from the line-up that recorded the original “Among The Living” studio album.

On the second disc, the band gets challenged as they don’t usually play some of the tracks from “Among The Living” in their live set. But they pull it off big time. What a treat! One of the best thrash metal albums of all time performed live in front of a sold out rowdy crowd of Scots at Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. “Caught In A Mosh”, “I Am The Law”, “A Skeleton In The Closet”, “Indians”, “”Efilnikufesin” and all the good stuff served up as a thrash metal feast. The band finishes with “Antisocial”, a cover of a song by French hard rockers Trust that Anthrax has made into its own over the years.

The production is fabulous as it has managed to capture the energy and rawness of Anthrax live. The album cover art is a terrific tribute to the classic KISS album cover “Rock And Roll Over”. Buy the vinyl version and frame it.

Anthrax’s “Kings Among Scotland” will be released on 27th April in Japan via Ward Records in Japan and Megaforce internationally.

Scott Ian of Anthrax on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks