EP review: Epica “The Solace System”

Simone Simons and Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica are back with a new six-track EP.

Epica’s new six-track EP “The Solace System” is, of course, dominated by their trademark symphonic metal. It is a natural continuation of last year’s “The Holographic Principle”. But we do get some interesting variations here as the band’s sound keeps evolving. It promises an interesting future for this band. If you like Epica, you’ll love this.

The title track “The Solace System” kicks it all off in that easily recognisable dramatic Epica way. Then things keep going in the same style with “Fight Your Demons” and “Architect of Light”. “Wheel of Destiny” kicks off with fast and aggressive guitars, but then calms down a bit when the keyboards and vocals manage to rein in the guitars. Dramatic tempo changes keep the song interesting throughout.

“Immortal melancholy” is Epica’s take on a ballad. No metal, not even rock, just a beautiful ballad based around Simone Simons’ voice. It’s almost like a lullaby that could be a lost scene from “Sound of Music”.

The final track, “Decoded Poetry”, is Epica in a nutshell. It is the EP’s showpiece track. On this track we get everything that Epica is about distilled into one song: a continuous duel between Simons’ powerful yet angelic voice and Mark Jansen’s deep grunts, bombastic choirs, a great mix of heavy guitar riffing and strong melodies and topped off with fab keyboard-based soundscapes to tie it all together. Brilliantly fabulous.

Epica’s “The Solace System” EP is out today in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast.

www.epica.nl / www.facebook.com/epica

Advertisements

Interview: Doug Aldrich – three decades of playing guitar for the Japanese fans

Doug Aldrich in Tokyo in July 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich recently sat down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo to talk about joining The Dead Daisies, his love for Japan, auditioning for KISS as a teenager, the new Revolution Saints album and an unreleased Dio demo.

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

Japanese fans love guitar heroes. Doug Aldrich is one of them. He made a name for himself playing guitar next to Ronnie James Dio in Dio and David Coverdale in Whitesnake and the recent Guns N’ Roses reunion saw him being offered a spot with The Dead Daisies last year. It seems to be a great fit for Aldrich who in The Dead Daisies play with David Lowy (guitar), Marco Mendoza (bass), Brian Tichy (drums) and John Corabi (vocals). With Aldrich joining the band last year, this project’s revolving doors stopped and it became a proper band. And what a band it is. “It definitely gels. It’s fun,” says Aldrich as I sit down with him and his beloved guitar in the offices of Ward Records in Tokyo. The Dead Daisies have just completed a successful tour of Japan which followed last October’s appearance at the Loud Park festival. The Daisies’ pedigree works for them but already the Japanese fans love this band for what it is now, not just for where the members came from.

It is the third time in a year and a half Aldrich is in Japan to perform. And before that he has been here many times since he first came here in 1987.

The “Live & Louder” live album

“The Dead Daisies does work a lot. We’re trying to build this thing,” says Aldrich about the hardworking band he is now a vital part of. It’s a great live act which recently released a terrific live album, “Live & Louder”, recorded during a European tour in 2016.

“It’s pretty easy actually with The Dead Daisies. You can have fun, still throw some shapes and it still sounds pretty good. For me, it took me a while to find my place live and feel comfortable. Even though the majority of the songs we’re playing, were stuff we wrote and recorded together, I need to find the right balance of everything, getting comfortable with endings, just the whole thing. It took about five or six, seven shows and then I started to feel good. But I noticed in the fall… We had done a bunch of shows and come to Japan and then we did the KISS Kruise and I noticed that we started even become tighter. It kind of was apparent to everybody that we were gonna be doing our full show, headline set, doing clubs and we started to really go for it. Then the management said ‘Why don’t we just record and see what we get?’”

“We recorded, I guess, between 12 and 15 shows. Some of them were in really small places. There were a couple of complete shows that were really good, like London was great, Paris was great. It’s always kind of like, and this sounds bad, but usually in those bigger cities you’re always up for it! Because you have a lot of friends there and there’s pressure and you’re just on your best behaviour. But we decided that maybe it would be more interesting for the fans to break it up and have it from various different shows. It made it a lot easier for editing purposes, because there are situations…if you listen to one show, sometimes there are tuning issues, sometimes there’s a mistake. Primarily with this recording, you can keep them all live because basically you’ve got 12 chances to get it right somewhere. So, it was pretty easy actually.”

Doug Aldrich in Tokyo in July 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The creative process

Having performed with Dio, Whitesnake and most recently with Glenn Hughes, Aldrich has been touring the world with shows where he, at least partly, has been playing someone else’s classics. “I felt like I did a good piece of rebuilding Whitesnake. I was playing live songs that I wrote with David. We published 30 songs together, me and him. Co-produced over those 12 years or whatever. So I felt I really put my stamp on the Whitesnake thing. Now I am just starting over with The Dead Daisies.”

Is it different writing as a band member of The Dead Daisies than writing for Dio or Whitesnake? “It’s the same when I am writing. The thing that is easier is that this is a real band situation where everybody’s together, working together on every idea. Each one we’re all putting our best effort towards. The thing with Whitesnake was that it was just me and David. So we were always writing everything. That’s what we did, that was our sound. This, The Dead Daisies sound, we’re still playing the same way, but now I’m playing some parts are mine, some parts are his and we’ve got a producer involved. He’s got a big hand in the way that the whole thing sounds and everything. It’s like if you and I wrote a song together, it’s gonna sound like me and you, versus if you just do it by yourself, then it just sounds like you. I feel like it’s easier with The Dead Daisies. I think there is great value in, after doing what I’ve been doing, to come into a situation like this with guys that I trust and like. We don’t put our egos up. We are basically just friends.” Aldrich played with both Mendoza and Tichy in Whitesnake and knows Corabi (ex-Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Union) well as a friend. “I’ve known John since we were kids. I met him in 1979. We never played together, we never wrote a song together, but we’ve been friends for all these years. It’s cool.”

Touring with Glenn Hughes and joining The Dead Daisies

Glenn Hughes, Pontus Engborg and Doug Aldrich on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In the year leading up to joining The Dead Daisies, Aldrich was touring Europe, South America and Japan with Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple, Trapeze, Black Sabbath) and Swedish drummer Pontus Engborg. In The Dead Daisies he replaced Richard Fortus who was invited back to tour with Guns N’ Roses.

“The Dead Daisies had asked me to fill-in on some dates because their guitarist had gotten injured. He had a motorcycle accident, Richard. I had already committed to Glenn to come to Japan.” The Dead Daisies management asked Aldrich if he could fill-in on tour around November-December 2015. “I can’t, I’ve got two shows in Japan. I can’t cancel, it’s not cool,” explained Aldrich his commitment to the Glenn Hughes tour. “The following year, in March, we were going to do the US. To be deadly honest with you, Glenn changes his mind all the time. One minute he was ‘I don’t know if I should do a record’, the next minute ‘We should do a record together, Doug’. I wasn’t really sure where he was going. I wasn’t against any idea, but there really wasn’t a set plan. Then I got the call that The Dead Daisies were looking for a guitar player, full-time, because Richard is going back on the road and they were gonna make a record. And I thought ‘Sounds like fun’. They’re my friends, great guys. They gave me the schedule and it clashed with the dates I had with Glenn in March. So I said ‘I can’t do that. I am committed to Glenn and I am not going to change it.’ They were very kind about it, The Dead Daisies. Everybody was involved, the producer… ‘It’s the only time we can do this!’ Everybody somehow made amends and moved it, so I was free to continue with Glenn in March. We didn’t know what the schedule was going to be after that, so I could’ve done more stuff with Glenn, but there was no commitment. But he cancelled the dates when he found out I was doing The Dead Daisies. It was always a ‘Glenn featuring Doug’. That was the deal. He had asked me to do it. I said ‘That’s alright as long as we play a Whitesnake song.’ That’s kind of where it started to go a little south. He goes ‘I’m not feeling that song’ and I say ‘Alright, I sing it’. It was in Tokyo. I felt like he wasn’t fair… Then he sang it and it was fine. But he was not happy with my doing The Dead Daisies and I’m like ‘What’s wrong with you? I’ve made these guys change their whole schedule for you, so that I can do the dates I promised I would do with you.’ Besides the fact we knew he was going into the Hall of Fame, so I said ‘Maybe at that point, Glenn, if you’re not sure what you should do, maybe you should really just focus on you and your solo situation and not worry about whatever baggage I got going.’ That’s one of the things we talked about, that he should focus on exploiting his fame more. Which is what he’s doing right now. I was prepared to carry on, but he didn’t want to. So, I was like ‘Cool. If that’s how you want it to be, I get it.’”

Doug Aldrich in Tokyo in July 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A 30-year love affair with Japan

Aldrich made a name for himself in Japan already back when he as a member of the band Lion in the 1980s. That band is perhaps best known for having songs included on the soundtracks for some of the “Friday the 13th“ and “Transformer” movies. “I love Japan. I’ve been coming here for 30 years now. My first time was in September ’87. It’s always been an honour, a huge privilege to be able to come to Japan because it’s so amazing. In Whitesnake we always had a saying; ‘Everything’s better in Japan!’ Because everything is better. The cars are better. The food’s better. The escalators are better. Everything is better! It’s just awesome. Everything is great, but the fans especially. The main thing is they’re so loyal to music and people that they like. It’s humbling, awesome! The people have been so supportive. I still see the same faces. We all got a little bit older, but for some reason I look more older than they do. They seem to look the same to me.”

The KISS audition in 1982 and the KISS tour in 2016

As Aldrich was just starting out as a guitarist, he auditioned to join Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Eric Carr as Ace Frehley’s replacement in KISS. “It was 1982. I had moved away from my parents’ home in ’81. I told them I was going to go to college and they gave me a budget. They were gonna help me get set up in an apartment and make sure I was OK. I went to the college one day and I decided it’s not for me anymore. I always had my guitar with me. I came to California because I knew that music was original in California. I was born in North Carolina but at the time I was living in Philadelphia and all the bands were playing cover music. I had a dream of the California lifestyle that I wanted. There was something about it that I just loved. I had visited a couple of times and I loved it. I was just a kid, so I drove up and I went to school one day and I quit. Then my parents said ‘OK, well then you’ve got two weeks to find a job.’ So I got a job and I started taking care of myself. Ever since I was focused on the guitar. I immediately got a band together, so within three or four months I was playing in the clubs, in some of the famous Hollywood clubs. A girl said that KISS was auditioning guitar players and that she thought I’d be good. I thought she was joking but a couple of weeks later, we played the same place and she brought Eric Carr with her, which was her boyfriend. It was weird because at that time you hadn’t seen these people’s faces. So, I was looking at him like ‘He’s got the exact same hair. It does look like him.’ Of course, it was him. He said ‘I want you to come down to the studio and meet the guys.’ At this time, I didn’t have a phone, so he called me at a music shop where I was working. My parents never told me about paying bills. One month goes by and my phone got shut off. So, he called me at the music shop and I went down and I met Gene and Paul. They were singing backgrounds. I was kind of test demoing some of their tracks in the studio and Gene said ‘It sounds really good, Doug. Do you ever use the major scale?’ And I said ‘Major scale? What is that?’ He goes ‘Oh, you know: Do Re Mi Fa So…’ I’m like ‘Oh! I know that! Yeah, I know that one.’ It clicked. I didn’t know anything about music. I knew how to play certain things but I didn’t know about music. It was a little embarrassing. But I did play it and I played well enough that he invited me to go to a rehearsal situation and play live. That was my first time playing through multiple Marshalls. There were four Marshall stacks just for me. It was in a huge airport hangar. We played three or four songs and then they called me back a few weeks later. I thought ‘Wow!’ To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest KISS fan. I was more a Led Zeppelin fan. But I was impressed and I thought I can make this work. I make it work to be in KISS! Haha!! But I go down to the second audition and I did play pretty good but I could tell they were kind of like ‘This guy’s too young.’ They were talking about actresses and going to parties. At that time, ramen noodles were really big in the US. You could buy ’em for ten cents a pack. I would just buy three dollars’ worth and that’s how I lived. Ramen noodles! So, I just couldn’t relate to their conversations.”

Doug Aldrich and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson

”I think, in hindsight, if I can give advice to any musician, one of the most important things is to be able to be comfortable hanging out with the guys that you’re working with. Because if you’re not comfortable, they’re not gonna want you around. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how good you sing or play, or how good you look. You really have to be comfortable being together.”

“So, I didn’t get the gig and Eric said ‘You did great! You were pretty close but I think you’re too young. We found a guy we think is going to work out.’ Which was Vinnie Vincent. But I had Gene’s number. Six months later, they are on tour, promoting their record and I told my friends ‘I’m gonna call Gene and get us tickets!’ All my friends were standing behind me and I got on the phone and I called his house. It was like a party situation. I go ‘Gene, this is Doug Aldrich. Do you remember me?’ He goes ‘Lose this number.’ Click! Haha!! I turn around to my friends and go ‘I don’t think we are gonna be able to go, guys. I’m sorry.’ It was like ‘Man, that’s not cool. He hung up on you!’ Later, Gene wanted me to join a band called House of Lords. I said ‘Gene, do you remember the last time we spoke?’ He was ‘Yeah, you called my house.’ I was like ‘Yeah, you hung up on me!’ He’s awesome. I love him. You know what, you listen to those old KISS songs and you’ve gotta give them credit, man. Those are some good tunes!”

“I think he’s done some great bass work. Listen to the bass part in ‘Detroit Rock City’. That’s pretty cool that part. They are amazing. And Paul, as you get older your voice changes and stuff, but he can still do good. He can still tour. You know this, because you’ve seen them. I had never seen KISS until we, The Dead Daisies, toured with them. To watch Paul Stanley, it’s like a lesson, in one minute you see 25 of the most classic rock moves. He is unbelievable! And he plays great. Pound for pound, that’s the best rock show I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot of really good shows, but that was like…somebody’s flying, somebody’s exploding, somebody’s guitar’s on fire. It’s awesome!”

Doug Aldrich in Tokyo in July 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Revolution Saints

One of Aldrich’s side projects is the band Revolution Saints, featuring Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) and Deen Castronovo (Journey, Ozzy Osbourne, Bad English, Cacophony). The band will release its second album, “Light in the Dark” in October. “The Daisies, of course, we are working a lot and there isn’t much time, but I have a couple of things that I do in my free time. One is a thing called Revolution Saints. There’s a new record that is gonna come out later this year. We never really did anything with the last record, but it did pretty well and got some good reviews. This one, to me, is even better. We had gotten some offers to do some gigs, maybe we’ll do a couple. Jack is definitely primarily in Night Ranger. He’s not gonna change that. So, he’s gonna be busy with that and I’m busy with Daisies. But I’m really proud of Deen. He’s doing great, he’s clean and sober and back in the relationship he was in. So it is all working for him now. A lot of people turned their back on him, I didn’t. I knew the guy inside was a sweet guy because I’ve spent time with him before. Originally it was going to be his solo record and he said ‘I want Doug’, because we’re friends, you know? Then he got in trouble, these things happen. At some point you gotta say ‘Hey, everyone deserves a second chance.’ I’m really proud of him. He’s singing great and playing great. He’s very happy.”

The unreleased Dio demo

Aldrich was a member of Dio during a number of years. Among other recordings and touring, he played on the fabulous song “Electra”, which would become the band’s last ever single, together with drummer Simon Wright, bassist Rudy Sarzo and keyboardist Scott Warren. As we finish off our chat in Tokyo, Aldrich reveals that there is an unreleased demo recording from that period.

“I have a demo of Ronnie, an unreleased song nobody’s ever heard. I offered it to Wendy and, I don’t know, maybe she forgot about it, but I said ‘I have this song. It’s really haunting.’ It was during that time… He wrote ‘Electra’. I just played on it. We were kind of bouncing around some of his ideas and working on some of them. Before we did ‘Electra’, he had this other one that he said ‘Can you put a solo on this?’ and he gave me the track. I had put a solo on it and then when I brought it to his house, he goes ‘No, no, no. I’ve got this new idea called ‘Electra’.’ We didn’t even listen to it. I don’t even think he ever heard the solo because we were so focused on trying to get one song done to promote the tour that we were gonna do. I was still a member of Whitesnake but I said to him ‘If you work it out with David, I would love to go out on the road with you.’ Because he had asked me to go. He worked it out and then he got sick. But there is this one track that is haunting, because the lyrics are… And he doubled his voice, it’s just really trippy. At some point it will have to come out. I got it. I got the mix. I actually have the recording session, which has got Ronnie playing bass, Ronnie playing rhythm guitar and vocals. And then a drum machine. One day.”

Ladies and gentlemen: Doug Aldrich. A great and busy guy travelling the world with his guitar. Three decades on and he is still playing his guitar for the Japanese fans.

www.facebook.com/dougaldrich.official

www.facebook.com/thedeaddaisies

Album review: Arch Enemy “Will To Power” | A new melodic death metal masterpiece

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mighty melodic death metal giants Arch Enemy are back with a great new album, their first with guitarist Jeff Loomis.

Arch Enemy mastermind Michael Amott has pulled it off again. Following the introduction of a new vocalist (the fierce Alissa White-Gluz) on the last album, he then recruited a new guitarist (Jeff Loomis) for the subsequent world tour. In the middle of all that, he orchestrated an ad-hoc reunion of the original Arch Enemy band with Johan Liiva on vocals for a Japan tour (under the moniker Black Earth) as well as keeping busy recording and touring with his other band, Spiritual Beggars. After all that, Amott took his fellow Arch Enemy band members into the studio and created another masterpiece: “Will To Power”.

Alissa White-Gluz on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The new “Will To Power” album naturally builds further on 2014’s excellent “War Eternal”. Since that album was released, phenomenal guitarist Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore) joined the band which also features bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson.

This is a guitar album with Amott and Loomis fighting a great twin guitar fight throughout (including on the epic song “Dreams of Retribution”). Loomis having toured with the band and performed its back catalogue since November 2014 seems to have been a great preparation for his contributions to this album.

While building on the foundation laid down by the “War Eternal” album, on this new album the band takes us further and offers us more musical variety, especially some atmospheric slower parts here and there and with some unexpected instrumentation. Vocalist White-Gluz also gives us much more variations in her singing styles, showing off that she is much more than just a growler.

Arch Enemy on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Reason To Believe” is sort of a power ballad, delivered Arch Enemy style of course. “My Shadow and I” is a fabulous trademark Arch Enemy track. The closing track, “A Fight I Must Win”, is nothing short of majestic.

This is a terrific album with just the right combination of brutality, guitar duels, tempo changes, bundles of energy and catchy melodies.

Amott and Erlandsson have co-produced the album which was mixed and mastered by industry legend Jens Bogren (Kreator, Sepultura, Enslaved, Candlemass, Babymetal, Soilwork, At The Gates, Marty Friedman, Amon Amarth, Opeth, Paradise Lost, and much, much more).

Arch Enemy’s album “Will To Power” is out on 8th September via Century Media Records and on 1st September in Japan via Trooper Entertainment.

www.facebook.com/archenemyofficial

www.archenemy.net

Album review: Grande Royale “Breaking News”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish rockers Grande Royale are back with a new Nicke Andersson-produced album.

“Breaking News” is the band’s third album since Grande Royale formed in Sweden in 2013. The new album certainly has a feel of 70s American rock, with plenty of pop influences in the mix and delivered with great electric guitars. It gives us good, catchy rock tunes with pop hooks, performed by band members that know what they’re doing. The band says that Lynyrd Skynyrd was a heavy influence when they created this album. Sure, there is a fair bit of that, but Grande Royale sounds a tad different – more energetic – and with a modern touch, while still having a sound grounding in the classic rock of the 70s.

Listening to the record, it comes as no surprise to learn it has been recorded in the Honk Palace in Sweden with its owner Nicke Andersson (Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters, Entombed) as engineer and producer. This is no copycat band, but there is a clear hint of Imperial State Electric on this album. Not the same, but it is likely to appeal to the same audience. Perhaps a joint tour can make a lot of sense? Or Grande Royale and Imperial State Electric opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd? There are also traces here and there of the less wild side of Nicke Andersson’s other band, The Hellacopters.

“Brake Light” is a pop-tastic rocker. “Devil’s Place” smells of Nicke Andersson and is one of the best tracks on the album. “Got To Move” makes me want to dance. This is feelgood rock music to get parties started.

Grande Royale’s “Breaking News” is out today via The Sign Records.

www.facebook.com/gr.sweden

 

 

Album review: The Haunted “Strength in Numbers”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish extreme metal band The Haunted, featuring members from At The Gates and Witchery, is back with a new album and, of course, it is as good as you’d expect.

The Haunted formed in Sweden in 1996 by a group of metalheads, including two At The Gates members, bassist Jonas Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1998. Since then the band has released some great records (including the live album “Live Rounds in Tokyo” in 2001) and also seen some line-up changes.

Today the band consists of Björler and Erlandsson, who left the band but returned a few years ago, together with founding member Patrik Jensen (also in Witchery) on guitar as well as returning Finnish vocalist Marco Aro (Face Down, The Resistance) and Ola Englund (Feared, Six Feet Under, Scarpoint) on lead guitar.

What we get on “Strength in Numbers” is extreme heavy metal that lives somewhere on the border between thrash metal and melodic death metal. It’s a great mix and it’s executed very well. Thrashy melodic death metal is probably what I’d like to call this.

The Haunted plays music created according to the band members’ own preferences. No fads, no compromises. There’s nothing trendy here and that is why this is so good. For those of us who like quality extreme metal without any bells or whistles, this is a great feast.

“Fill the Darkness with Black” is a great little opener for the album, before the mayhem kicks off with “Brute Force”. It continues from there. On the fabulous track “Preachers of Death” we get to hear drummer Erlandsson at his best. Fearless! There is also splendid guitar work on this song which is perhaps the best track on the album. The title track is also a strong contender for the title with its runaway bulldozer energy. “Tighten the Noose” has even more raw energy. Bloody hell! I get exhausted just from listening to it.

The album’s full of fab music: quality metal the way I like it. “The Fall” and “Means to an End” are all about relentless metal riffing. Great stuff. Producer Russ Russell is an excellent choice who has done work with Napalm Death and Dimmu Borgir. His impact on the studio production of this album is very tangible.

What makes this stand out from the crowd is that it is obvious we have a bunch of pro musicians here, metal veterans who can deliver even on a bad day. Also, the thrash metal guitars make some of the more death metal-focused songs somewhat different and better.

The Haunted’s “Strength in Numbers” is out now via Century Media Records.

www.facebook.com/hauntedofficial

www.the-haunted.com

Interview: Marco Mendoza – a travelling bassist breaking new ground in the name of rock’n’roll

Marco Mendoza in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza is better than ever in his current role as rhythm master in The Dead Daisies. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently sat down with Mendoza in Tokyo for a chat about his career and his current success with The Dead Daisies.

Bassist Marco Mendoza has had a long career as a session musician for many famous artists and a member of major bands such as Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake. In recent years he has found success with The Dead Daisies, a star-studded band with great songs and a terrific live show.

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

“In the beginning, when I got to LA, first what happened was I got sober. I finally stopped dicking around, goofing around with life and my career. I had a chance to get sober and took a look at how privileged we are to do music. I got serious. I got to LA very focused. Within two-three years, I became somewhat of a session guy,” says Mendoza as we sit down for a chat in Tokyo. Some of his early work included playing with original Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward and in Blue Murder with John Sykes of Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy fame.

As the bassist in already established bands like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, Mendoza had to step into someone else’s shoes and play their classic songs. “When David Coverdale calls, you say yes! Haha!” explains Mendoza how he reacted when Coverdale wanted him to join Whitesnake. “I don’t look at whose shoes I am filling. I just: OK, there’s some music that is established. I am a bass player, so I am going to do it justice and do my part and bring that to the table. When you play bass parts that Neil Murray recorded, that are very well-known… When you play bass parts that Phil Lynott recorded and they are established parts of classic rock’n’roll songs, you learn so much if you open your mind. So for me it was going to school. To learn to take what the essential part was and then, at the same time, you have to own it. You have to add a little bit without compromising the thing. It is a little grey area and I learned how to do that. When it comes to doing your own vibe, your own music, you let yourself speak but you’re channelling what you’ve learned before. Because it’s all in you. There is a little bit of freedom to express yourself as a bass player and a songwriter, but I always try to remember I’m a bass player. My main objective is to support the song and the soloists and that’s it. I hear from a lot of people that I have my own style and all that and I’m going ‘OK, thank you’. But I am just re-emulating what’s been done before and then, at the same time, you’ve gotta own it in the performance.”

Marco Mendoza in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of his many Thin Lizzy tours led him to his current role with The Dead Daisies, founded by Australian guitarist David Lowy. “I was touring in Australia with Thin Lizzy with the Mötley CrüeKISS tour and David Lowy was playing there with his band. He was the opening band. So, I started hearing these songs with this band that he had. It was really cool. We started to talk and before the tour ended, he and his manager say: ‘Marco, we did an album but we don’t have a band. We’re considering putting a bunch of guys together and playing some shows and see what happens.’ Just like that, real casual. ‘Would you be interested in collaborating and participating?’ I’m always looking to do some cool stuff. They sent some songs and I immediately, within listening to two or three songs, this is speaking very loudly to me. Wow! This is just up my street!” Mendoza accepted the invitation to join the band which in its early years also featured two Guns N’ Roses members: Richard Fortus and Dizzy Reed.

“The first commitment was seven shows. Opening up for Aerosmith. When I heard that, I moved my schedule around. I was working with Neal Schon in the studio and Dolores O’Riordan. They are both my friends,” explains Mendoza. His friends had no problem in moving things around to allow Mendoza to do the Aerosmith tour with The Dead Daisies.

Marco Mendoza in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The new band was a great fit for Mendoza. “Within the second day of rehearsal, we’re all looking at each other going: ‘This is really cool!’” The good start led to the band’s management offering Mendoza and the others to do more shows.

“It’s funny how things are in this business. The Dead Daisies then was starting to get established, getting a bit of momentum, ended up opening up for Thin Lizzy in the UK, ten shows. I was starting to really fall in love with The Dead Daisies and what we were doing with that camp. With all due respect to the Lizzy camp, we were still representing things that had been done already. The Dead Daisies was like new territory, breaking new ground! For me, always, I’ll be that guy. As much as I love classic rock’n’roll and everything, I’m always the guy that: Sign me up to break new ground and try new shit! I am the risk taker.”

Thin Lizzy’s mainman Scott Gorham didn’t seem too keen on Mendoza pulling double duty on the Thin Lizzy/The Dead Daisies tour. “Out of respect to him and the Thin Lizzy camp”, Mendoza stuck with Thin Lizzy on this tour and Darryl Jones of The Rolling Stones temporarily stepped in as bassist for The Dead Daisies.

“From that point on, I’m digging this so much, I’m going to move everything else. It’s hard to explain, when you find something you really dig, you feel at home. Everything else takes second place. It feels good. It’s got gasoline, man! It’s got a good engine,” says Mendoza of his love for the new opportunity that The Dead Daisies presented him with.

While the band has only been around for a few years, there is already a string of former members. From the outside it has looked like there’s been somewhat of a revolving door until former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich joined in 2016. “It started very casual. This business is very fickle. People who are working, who constantly work, who are pros, are the guys who fulfil their commitments. Because if you flake out on things, the word gets around and you have a reputation. You don’t want to do that.”

Marco Mendoza in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Now, the chemistry is there, Richard and Dizzy got busy with Guns N’ Roses. They got that call. We all get it,” explains Mendoza the impact the Guns N’ Roses reunion had on The Dead Daisies line-up. “We’re lucky that Doug was interested.” In addition to Mendoza, Lowy and Aldrich, the band currently consists of vocalist John Corabi (ex-Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Union) and drummer Brian Tichy (ex-Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake). It seems like a solid line-up with a bunch of professionals who get along on and off stage.

“Yeah, you can sense it. Even with the fans. It’s been well received and people dig it. We’re trying to find our thing. This next album that’s coming is going to define it even more, I think. We’re very happy with the line-up, we are very happy with the response, we’re happy with Ward Records and SPV. We’ve got killer management and we’ve got a killer social media team. It’s a family.”

The Dead Daisies now has no less than three former Whitesnake musicians in its line-up. David Coverdale and his Whitesnake has meant a lot to this band.

Marco Mendoza in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“For me, it was definitely a highlight in my career working with David Coverdale. I’m only the bass player, but when you work with cats like that, that inspire you, that you’ve held up on a pedestal at some point in your career. And you finally end up working with them, they’re teachers. For me, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned to be very meticulous, the image thing is very important, it is. I learned so much from him. The rehearsals, when things are not sounding right, let’s work it out. Find out why it’s not working out. OK, let’s fix it. Boom! He is very meticulous, which is why he is very successful. He started way back. Rock’n’roll royalty!”

Despite having a great time in Whitesnake, in 2005, Mendoza made the difficult choice to leave the band. “When I made a conscious decision to move forward, it was because David had reached a point in his career when he was taking pauses. I was just starting to move and I took it upon myself to say: ‘He’s going to take a year off, I have, let’s see, Ted Nugent’s calling, Thin Lizzy is calling, Neal Schon to do the Soul SirkUS thing, I’ve got Dolores here and I can’t sit around and wait and not knowing when the next thing is. I’m gonna waste another year or another two years.’ He wanted more of a commitment. He didn’t want his players to be moving around so much. I can’t do that.”

Years later, The Dead Daisies and Whitesnake happened to be working in the same studio complex and Marco Mendoza took the chance to say hi and asked Coverdale to take his new band out on tour as Whitesnake’s opening act. “It was a great tour for a lot of reasons, mainly because the established Whitesnake fan base was there. He opened the door for us that allowed us to become more established with that fan base. David was really happy with the combo. It was working well, the tickets were moving, there was a buzz. Then Richard left and we got Doug and then…. It’s like Whitesnake Light opening up for Whitesnake! Haha!” Three former Whitesnake musicians was one too many for an opening band on a Whitesnake tour. “But he was very cool, very supportive. I can’t thank him enough. He’s a great guy, David.”

Marco Mendoza of The Dead Daisies and Stefan Nilsson of Roppongi Rocks in Tokyo in July 2017.

Despite some great original material, The Dead Daisies frequently performs covers of rock classics. “The main reason we decided to do this was we had an album of songs that were good but nobody knew. So, we’re opening for Aerosmith and we’re like ‘Guys, we got to play some stuff here that kick some butt, that people recognise and let’s pepper our songs around the set.’ So, that’s what we did. We did some great stuff: some Faces, some Free. Now it’s become a tradition. The fans love it. And at the end of the day, Stefan, it’s about the show! It’s about the fans. Yes, we have a mission to play our own music, but you give them what they want. They have a good time and then they open their hearts and minds and then: here’s our stuff, guys.” So far they have stayed away from playing songs by any of the band members’ previous bands. “I think we are never gonna cross that bridge…unless we do! Never say never again. You never know. What I think we do with the covers is tipping our hat, giving credit, saying hello and thank you to the bands that we listened to growing up.”

While best known for his work in the hard rock genre, Mendoza also plays many other kinds of music. When time allows, he is working on other projects and continues to do session work. Despite a busy The Dead Daisies schedule, he still makes some time for other things, including fronting his own jazz fusion trio. “It’s fun when it happens. It’s very challenging for me to play with these cats. I gotta get ready and I love that. When I stop doing that, when I stop growing, it will be the beginning of the end of my career. I need to keep doing it.”

The Dead Daisies recently released a fab live album and they continue to tour in Europe, Asia, South and North America. Shortly after their Japan visit, they went to Poland for a special one-off gig with the Gorzów Philharmonic Orchestra. “That’s what’s cool about The Daisies: constantly moving, constantly embarking on new episodes, new chapters. Always trying to check things out,” says Mendoza with a massive smile on his face. He is so clearly enjoying himself.

www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial

www.facebook.com/thedeaddaisies

Album review: Fleurety “Inquietum”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Norway’s extreme metal band Fleurety offers us a career-spanning and genre-bending collection of rather avant-garde songs on “Inquietum”.

Norwegian band Fleurety plays experimental black metal with a focus on experimental and avant-garde music. Their catalogue of songs takes us to places where many other black metal bands would never go. It combines old-school black metal with some fantastic technical extreme metal, avant-garde influences from all sorts of musical genres and atmospheric soundscapes.

“Inquietum” is a CD collection of songs from throughout the band’s career, previously released as four separate seven-inch EPs, which partly explains the many variations between the different songs. Formed in Norway in 1991, Fleurety is led by guitarist Alexander Nordgaren (ex-I Left the Planet and also a former live member of Mayhem) and drummer and vocalist Svein Egil Hatlevik (Zweizz, Umoral, ex-Dodheimsgard).

The album opens with “Descent into Darkness” and that sets the scene for this collection of songs. Some of the songs can be traced back to the band’s early demo recordings from the 1990s, but presented here in newer versions. While varied, the music is always dark in one way or another. Some of this music is tormented and twisted, while other parts are beautifully atmospheric, yet still dark, haunting and damp. This band is not afraid of going wherever they feel like with their music. That takes some of these songs into unexpected territories.

“Absence” is a fantastically extreme metal track presented in a primitive demo-sounding format that has a great groove to it, not least provided by guest bassist Plenum (Virus, Audiopain). On “Summon the Beasts”, we get a very different Fleurety, here reunited with fabulous female vocalist Ayna B. Johansen (I Left The Planet). This is the album’s best track. Many other prominent guests appear on some of the songs, most notably legendary Mayhem members Necrobutcher and Hellhammer on the track “Descent into Darkness”.

This is a very interesting album which tracks the band’s evolution and different musical styles as well as reminding us of Norwegian black metal’s rich history and deep roots.

Fleurety’s album “Inquietum” is out now on Aesthetic Death Records.

www.facebook.com/thetruefleurety

Single review: Old Man Wizard “Innocent Hands”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

California’s progressive heavy rockers Old Man Wizard have got an addictive new 7-inch single coming out.

I don’t know what it is, but Old Man Wizard’s new single has me hooked. This music is some kind of witch brew from southern California. It’s catchy and riff heavy. Like good old, dirty and dusty psych rock. They call it progressive heavy rock and I guess that kind of explains what this is. Southern California also says something about where this music comes from.

The title track “Innocent Hands” kicks off with some serious metal assault, but with a weird mix of psych rock. Some of this is a bit like melodic black metal, but not really. Perhaps if Monster Magnet and The Doors formed a super group and played melodic progressive black metal mixed with some desert rock… Nah, that’s silly. Never mind, whatever this is, it’s bloody good. I am hooked. The B-side’s “The Blind Prince” is even better. Very energetic and with a funky but dusty groove. More 60s psych rock than metal. I’m confused but I really like this. It’s addictive.

Old Man Wizard consists of Francis Roberts on guitar and vocals, Kris Calabio on drums and Andre Beller on bass.

Old Man Wizard’s two-track 7-inch single “Innocent Hands” will be released on 25th August. The band is currently on tour in the US.

www.facebook.com/old.man.wizard

www.oldmanwizard.com

Album review: Venom Inc. “Avé” | Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back in action

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom’s Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back as Venom Inc. with fab new material on new album.

When old bands reunite and produce new music, you never really know what to expect. Often the result is not great. So, what is the result when British extreme metal pioneers Venom get its line-up from 1989-92 back together again? A fantastic album of great heavy metal by an explosive trio of veterans who manage to combine their past glories with a modern sound and terrific new material.

In Venom Inc. founding Venom members Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on drums have again teamed up with vocalist and bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (who fronted Venom during the 1989-92 period when the albums “Prime Evil”, “Temples of Ice” and “The Waste Lands” were released). What a great trio of heaviness. Two years after they reunited in 2015, they have now created a comeback album that beats all expectations.

There are some great, heavy riffs and a dark groove throughout the album. Best of all, there are great songs. The album brings back memories of the classic Venom days back in the 80s and early 90s, but this is much more than that. With “Avé”, Venom Inc. shows us that this trio is still relevant. This is very much a contemporary band, here and now, not some has-beens stuck in the past.

The opener, “Avé Satanas”, is very strong and announces that this is a band that will claim back its spot in the heavy metal race. There’s great energy on tracks such as “Metal We Bleed”, “The Evil Dead” and “War”. “Dein Fleisch” has a sinister vibe to it, both musically and lyric-wise. “Time to Die” is fantastic. “Preacher Man” is one of the stand-out tracks on the album and it has a bit of a Judas Priest flavour. “I Kneel to No God” is simply epic. Many of the songs are a bit longer than your average metal song and that allows Venom Inc. to really live out their musical ambitions to the full and without compromises. There are no dips on this album. A bloody great album closes with “Black N Roll” and, yes, the title is fitting. It has a touch of Motörhead to it.

This is a fantastic album straight through. Venom Inc. has truly arrived with this album. Die-hard Venom fans may not want to admit it, but Venom Inc. is actually far better than anything that Venom has ever done (OK, maybe I’ll make an exception for “Countess Bathory”).

Venom Inc.’s album “Avé” is out now via Nuclear Blast.

www.facebook.com/venomIncofficial

www.venom-inc.com