Album review: Attentat “Punkhjärta”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish punk rock veterans Attentat are back with a great new album. “Punkhjärta” continues a proud Swedish tradition of power pop-infused shout-along punk rock.

Veteran punk rock band Attentat formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1978 and released their debut album “Tatuerade tårar” in 1981. They were one of the leading bands in the original Swedish punk rock scene along with bands such as Ebba Grön, Asta Kask and KSMB. Vocalist Mats Jönsson, guitarist Magnus ”Paddan” Rydman and bassist Cristian ”Crippa” Odin have all been in the band since the late 70s. In the current line-up, they are joined by newer additions Patrik Kruse on guitar and Dennis “Larry” Staaf on drums. The new album “Punkhjärta” (Swedish for “punk heart”) is a terrific take on punk rock of the Swedish kind that was established in the late 70s and early 80s. It is somewhat angry punk rock but with plenty of pop influences and great melodic touches. It’s music with attitude made to sing along to, with lyrics based on everyday observations. The lyrics are all in Swedish as was almost always the case with the early Swedish punk bands. The band’s lyrics are quite simple but they work a treat as they are also very direct. On the new album, we get to hear the Attentat that we got to know and like back in the day. Sure, they are older, perhaps somewhat wiser, and they now sound a bit more mature. But that’s OK. They’re not teenagers any more and neither am I. The standout track for me is the terrifically weird and wonderful “Pissa på”. I love the contrasts and tempo changes and the terrific chorus. “Vad får jag” is another great, but more direct, track in the proud Swedish tradition of shout-along punk rock and power pop, while the emotional and depressing love song “Esmeralda” plays out with a supermarket as a backdrop. What a welcome surprise to see that Attentat is still a very relevant band and one that can still entertain us! 

Attentat’s new album “Punkhjärta” will be released on 23rd August via Busy Bee Production.

www.facebook.com/attentatgbg

www.attentat.nu

Album review: Destruction “Born to Perish”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

German thrash metal band Destruction is once again a quartet. 35 years after their first demo cassette they are as good as ever. “Born to Perish” is world-class thrash metal.

Destruction plays hard-hitting and punishing thrash metal of the German kind. This is world-class thrash metal with deep roots in the 1980s thrash metal scene but with a contemporary sound. The band is still fronted by Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer (bass and vocals) who co-founded the band in 1982. They released their first demo cassette “Bestial Invasion of Hell” in 1984 and their debut studio album “Infernal Overkill” in 1985. The band was early on firmly established as one of Germany’s leading thrash metal bands and they have remained at the forefront of German metal. So, what’s new this time? Terrific Canadian drummer Randy Black (Primal Fear, Annihilator, W.A.S.P.) joined the band during last year’s tour. He’s an animal on the drum stool and a perfect match for Destruction. The band is also no longer a trio – they’re once again a quartet since they added Swiss guitarist Damir Eskic. The new line-up is all we could ever hope for. It’s solid, punishing and tighter than tight.

Having seen Schmier and Mike perform live with Randy in Tokyo last year, my expectations on the new studio album were sky-high. The addition of a second guitarist got me even more excited. I am very glad that the band lives up to and even exceeds my expectations. The song titles are in line what we have come to expect from Destruction: “Born to Perish”, “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten”, “Filthy Wealth”, “Butchered for Life”, “Tyrants of the Netherworld”, “We Breed Evil”, “Fatal Flight 17” and “Ratcatcher”. Musical highlights on this new album include the terrific title track as well as “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten” and “Filthy Wealth”. Most of the songs are gloriously fast and furious. It seems that Black and Eskic have given their German friends an international vitamin injection. “Butchered for Life” is a bit different – starting off as a sinister kind of ballad before exploding into chaos, then calming down again for a guitar solo and then yoyoing back and forth between different styles. It’s a bit different but very good. Destruction delivers crushingly good stuff on this new album. Today’s Destruction is a terrific version of the band and the new songs are up there with the band’s classics.

Destruction’s album “Born to Perish” will be released on 9th August via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

www.facebook.com/destruction

www.destruction.de

Album review: HammerFall “Dominion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall is back with “Dominion”, its eleventh studio album. This band is still all about good-fun and bombastic shout-along melodic heavy metal.

“Dominion” is HammerFall’s eleventh studio album since the band was formed in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Guitarist Oscar Dronjak is the only original member left in the band. Early line-ups of the band featured members from In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Frontman Joacim Cans has been in the band for 23 years now and has sung on all of its albums. The current line-up also features Fredrik Larsson (Evergrey) on bass, Pontus Norgren (Talisman, The Poodles, Zan Clan, Great King Rat, Jeff Scott Soto) on guitar and David Wallin (Pain) on drums.

After all these years, HammerFall has a well-established signature sound which is melodic heavy metal with plenty of power metal and NWOBHM influences. HammerFall plays melodic, high-energy metal. At times it’s bombastic and often humorous. But this band is for real and they are on a heavy metal mission. The new “Dominion” album is more of the same music that we have heard before. They are not reinventing themselves here, but no one wants them to do that anyway. If you like your metal based on the classic 80s metal sound and with plenty of shout-along anthems and plenty of opportunities to play air guitar, this is for you. The track “We Make Sweden Rock” is both fun and terrific at the same time. This is good-fun metal with plenty of echoes of the 1980s but without sounding retro. This is a band that knows what its mission is and the band members are very good at what they do. “Second to One” is a great power ballad complete with emotional vocals, piano and a fine guitar solo. But it is with heavy metal songs such as “Scars of a Generation” and “Dead by Dawn” – with terrific metal guitar riffing – that HammerFall shows us its best side in my opinion. Song titles such as “Battleworn”, “Bloodline”, “Chain of Command”, “Dominion”, “One Against the World” and “Never Forgive, Never Forget” are part of a long and proud tradition of heavy metal lyrics. We Make Sweden Rock indeed. Japan too.

HammerFall’s new album “Dominion” will be released on 16th August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Napalm Records. On 15th September, they will perform in Tokyo.

www.hammerfall.net

www.facebook.com/hammerfall

Album review: Hellsingland Underground “A Hundred Years Is Nothing”

Hellsingland Underground. Photo: Emmy Åhström

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Hellsingland Underground is back with the band’s fifth studio album. This time with a more mature and bigger soundscape with lots and lots of keyboards and piano mixed in with the guitars and Charlie Granberg’s terrific storytelling. The end result is magic.

Known as a terrific and high-energy live band, Hellsingland Underground has always also delivered in the studio. They released their self-titled debut album in 2008 and all their five studio albums are great. Having started off with a combination of Swedish melancholic folk-rock and Southern Americana rock, the band’s sound has evolved on every album. Nowadays they seem to have few if any, musical limits. “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is the follow-up to 2016’s “Understanding Gravity” and here we can hear the band creating great music without worrying about fitting into any specific genre. The band’s current line-up consists of Charlie Granberg (vocals), Peter Henriksson (guitar), Jerry Ask (guitar), Thomas Pettersson (keyboards and piano), Martin Karlsson (bass) and Patrik Jansson (drums and percussion).

I could write about the band’s evolved soundscape where David Bowie now seems to have moved into Neil Young’s garage right next to John Belushi, Joey Ramone, Ray Manzarek and Jon Lord…and Scott Gorham’s guitars still standing there. 

I could write about the smart and beautiful use of various forms of piano, organs and keyboards by what is essentially a guitar band.

I could write about how frontman Charlie Granberg has lifted the band with his production of this set of exquisite new songs. It’s a very cool production where a more mature Hellsingland Underground emerges, with no musical limits. There is a great atmosphere to the songs that without being rushed get some space to breathe. Somehow, the songs still manage to retain that excellent raw energy that drives the band. The main focus remains on the songs that live in a wide musical range stretching from dusty rock via pop and bluesy country rock to I don’t know what. 

I could write about how the background vocals of new guitarist Jerry Ask have added a great dimension to the atmosphere of the songs. 

I could write about very diverse new songs such as “Carnival Beyond the Hills”, “Strangelands”, “Pig Farm”, “Elephant”, “Rainbow’s Gold”, “The Blessing and the Curse” and “Bloodlines”.

I could write about the splendid “Criminal Summer”, one of the most beautiful and best songs of the year so far (The piano! The guitars! The genius “tarararara-oolalalala-ratatatata” vocals!).

I could write about how I grew up in the same neighbourhood as frontman Charlie Granberg and how, in the 1980s, we played in the same rehearsal studio. (Well, “studio” might be too fancy a word to describe the shabby rehearsal space in the attic of the by-then closed-down Fenix cinema in Ljusdal, Hellsingland.) He was a heavy metal drummer back then, but It was always obvious to me that this was a driven man who would choose his own path and make a success of it.

But no. I am not going to do that. I am just going to sit here, with a big smile across my face and enjoy the masterpiece that “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is. The music speaks for itself. I love this band. You should too.

Hellsingland Underground’s new album “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” will be released on 30th August via Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution. 

www.facebook.com/hellsinglandunderground

www.hellsinglandunderground.com

Interview: Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund of Lucifer | “There’s quite a bit of ABBA in Sabbath!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

After a splendidly high-energy Lucifer gig in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sits down backstage with Lucifer’s drummer Nicke Andersson and guitarist Linus Björklund to talk about the evolution of the band, songwriting, tuned-down guitars, the poppy side to Black Sabbath and much more.

The European band, founded by German singer Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) in Berlin in 2014, has evolved a lot between its two albums. Gaz Jennings of British doom band Cathedral played an important part in the band’s early days but with his exit from the band, things have changed a bit musically. The current line-up of Lucifer consists of Sadonis on lead vocals, her Swedish husband Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric) on drums, Austrian Alexander Mayr on bass and Swedish guitarists Martin Nordin and Linus Björklund. Their latest album, “Lucifer II”, was released in 2018.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Welcome back to Japan! “Thanks!” says Nicke Andersson who has been here a few times over the years. “It’s the first time for me,” says Linus Björklund. 

It is hard to accurately describe Lucifer’s style of rock music, but Johanna Sadonis has made it clear that she’s not keen on being called a stoner rock band. “It’s difficult,” says Nicke. “I think the easiest way, a kind of shortcut, is to say it’s a mix between Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac. Done! There’s quite a lot between there. It’s obviously Black Sabbath-influenced, but also quite a lot more than that.” Linus adds: “As long as it’s not stoner rock! We do not want to be associated with that.”

Lucifer has become a new band with different members between its two albums. The band’s sound has also evolved as Gaz has been replaced by Nicke as Johanna’s songwriting partner. “When Johanna founded the band following The Oath’s much too early split, she had a vision for the band. But it became a bit different as she started writing songs with Gaz from Cathedral. When I heard the first Lucifer album, I thought: ‘Damn, this is like Cathedral but with a good singer!’ Haha! No disrespect to Lee. One can immediately hear that it is Gaz from Cathedral. He has a special sound and I like Cathedral, I’m a fan. I think that if Gaz were to write a KISS song, it would still sound like Cathedral!” explains Nicke.

Nicke continues to explain that he liked what early Lucifer sounded like but that he soon saw a chance to get closer to both Johanna (his future wife) and the band. “I really like the first album a lot. It’s a bit of a strange word, but Johanna and I started dating. I was really interested in how it is to write songs together with others. I write songs more or less on my own. When I’ve had help, it’s been with some lyrics, but I’ve never written music together with someone. I’ve had some draft texts with some blah blah and nonsense English and then Dolf or Kenny have written the lyrics,” explains Nicke with a reference to Dolf de Borst and Kenny Håkansson, his songwriting partners in Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters and Entombed respectively. “I was really interested in the songwriting process. I was also very interested in Johanna!” says Nicke with a big smile. “Yes, obviously!” says Linus. Nicke continues: “Then she called and said: ‘Do you know what happened?’ No. ‘Gaz is leaving.’ Oh! She was distraught. They wrote 50-50. During the call, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t so bad. Perhaps I can do something. She thought I was just trying to be nice. But then we said: OK, let’s try! We started sending drafts back and forth. The first song we got sorted was ‘Dreamer’. I immediately thought that this will be great. Melodies and music always come at the same time for me. It’s very rare for me to just come up with a riff. Johanna has told me that it wasn’t the case with Gaz.”

Lucifer’s Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“On some of the songs, the verse and the chorus have the same riff. That is quite unusual,” explains Linus about the old Lucifer songs. Nicke continues: “He thought: ‘Here’s a pile of riffs. Do something with them.’ That must’ve been harder. That’s how it is. Nowadays Johanna says that this is how she wanted to do it then as well, but perhaps she’s just saying that to be nice too… Even if I try to do a hundred riffs, it still turns into some kind of pop thing. I just can’t resist! Let’s go back to Sabbath: all of us in the band like Sabbath a lot. But I think that I, or all of us, like parts of Sabbath that these doom bands seem to have forgotten. I think there is a lot of ABBA in Sabbath!” “Absolutely!” adds Linus, before Nicke continues: “But they ignore that. They’re like – let’s take the heaviest Sabbath riff and make a whole career of it. But I want to catch, or steal, everything, even the poppier parts.”

“Born Again” remains Black Sabbath’s best-ever album. I am dead serious, but Linus laughs out loud before Nicke says: “No, it isn’t. But it is very good and really underappreciated. There are of course other bands than Sabbath, but Sabbath really has parts that people tend to forget about. They’re really poppy and that is why it becomes really heavy when it’s heavy.” 

The two of you were not in the band when the first album was made. Does this have any impact on things when you put together setlists for the gigs? Do you feel like you can skip the old material and focus on the newer songs? “Quite the opposite!” says Linus. “It’s more Johanna,” says Nicke. “We want to play more of the old songs than Johanna as she’s already done a world tour with them.” Linus continues: “We think it is fun to play those songs. She wants to do more new material and we want to keep the old stuff. The band is Lucifer. There are two albums.” Nicke adds: “Thus, we end up with some kind of compromise.” “It is also about respecting the band’s whole career,” says Linus. “The band was formed without us and thus we can’t come in and just… No!” says Nicke. “Apparently, that’s what Brian Robertson did when he joined Motörhead. He didn’t want to play ‘Ace of Spades’…”

You joined an already great band and made some material changes. Were you ever worried about how the fans would react? “We can only play the way we play,“ says Nicke. “I don’t think Johanna was worried. I thought about it. Here comes the pop guy and destroys the whole doom thing! There was more of the mysticism and hocus pocus on the first album. At the beginning when I and Johanna started writing songs, she was like: ‘Shall we skip tuning down?’ No! It has to be tuned down, I said. That’s how it should be.” Linus adds: “It’s important. It gives a whole different vibe to the songs and, once again, Black Sabbath tuned down. Haha!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A few days ago, you were on a large stage at a major summer festival in Sweden. Now you’re here doing a club gig in Tokyo. Do you approach different types of gigs and different audiences in the same way or do you somehow adjust what you do? “No, we only have the songs that we have. There’s no difference” says Nicke. Linus adds: “I believe that we think it is a bit more fun to play at a club because we get a bit closer on stage.” “There’s something special about when a festival is great too. The opportunity to win over a few new fans. But I think it is a bit safer at a club. Nothing bad about festivals, but…” says Nicke. “We have mainly played club gigs together,” says Linus. “I saw a picture from when Kris Kristofferson played Gröna Lund the other day. And that is quite a big stage. They all stood right next to each other, all of them. Because they wanted to keep it tight and they wanted to feel each other. I can relate to that a bit. Sometimes I feel as if we are too far apart from each other on stage.” Nicke adds: “I’ve noticed that at certain festivals where I am supposed to sit and play the drums on some big podium. ‘Hello? Can’t you come up here? I am so lonely up here!’ I think that we, in typical Swedish fashion, find that somewhere in the middle of the two extremes is best.” 

Both Nicke and Linus have other musical commitments outside of Lucifer. Linus plays with the band Vojd while Nicke has numerous bands and projects, including the reformed versions of Entombed and The Hellacopters as well as the splendid Imperial State Electric and much more. Getting it all to fit in logistically isn’t always easy. “The logistics are difficult. But where there’s a will, there’s a way to solve it somehow. But it is tricky,” says Nicke. Linus continues: “We have to plan far in advance. But sometimes we are not doing that and then it becomes hard. But we’re learning all the time!”

Have you been forced to take in fill-in musicians? “I started as a fill-in really“ explains Linus. “When a new line-up was forming, Robin Tidebrink was there. Martin joined at the same time. Martin couldn’t make the first few gigs and I was asked if I could do them. Yes, obviously I can do the gigs. Subsequently, I filled in for both of them for a while. Robin eventually quit the band as he became a father and such. Then I got the question if I could join permanently.” Nicke adds: “But since then we haven’t done it. Not yet…”

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

While you now have a strong line-up, the “Lucifer II” album was basically recorded as a trio. “That was mainly because we couldn’t find the time. We thought: Let’s do this now in order to finish the album“ says Nicke. “Otherwise it would’ve taken even longer. The idea was to get it done faster.” Linus adds: “It is hard to get an album done with a complete band. It is perhaps almost easier when you’re not that many people.” Nicke continues: “But now we’ve recorded bass and drums for a track for the next album and so we have started!” The new song is called “Ghost” and the band performed it live on stage in Tokyo. Playing new songs live before they are recorded in the studio can be a good way to test new music. “For the sake of an album, it would absolutely be best to have performed the album for a year. Isn’t that the way that Bear Quartet does it? It’s not very commercial, but it’s fun that they perform an album for a year, then they record it, release it and they never perform it any more. They then perform new material!” says Nicke. Linus continues: “It’s a weird way to go about it but kind of cool. The album must get better that way.” Nicke adds: “That is obvious!” before Linus continues: “They have played through everything and rehearsed so much and tested the songs and been able to make amendments along the way. That is a luxury!”

What’s next for Lucifer? A new album? It isn’t that long ago since you released your last album. “Much too long ago!” says Nicke. “I feel like it was so long ago. It should be like Creedence. Didn’t they release three albums in 1969? All hits! That’s how it is done! We are aiming for March next year. That’s when it should be released.” Linus adds: “That’s when it will be out. We will work on it this year in parallel with touring and festival gigs…and other bands.” Nicke continues: “We won’t be going into the studio for two weeks and then be done. Rather we’ll be doing bits and pieces here and there.” “We do have the luxury of having two studios in the band. I have one and he has one” says Linus with a nod to Nicke.

They do great studio albums, but Lucifer is also a phenomenal live band where the skills of the musicians are built around the obvious centre of attention, Johanna Sadonis. “We believe that it is very important to be great live. If you can’t deliver on stage you might want to consider not playing at all. It is impossible to not look at Johanna when she’s on stage,“ says Linus of his bandmate who combines a terrific voice with a world-class stage presence.

During August, Lucifer will tour North America. If you’re there, you should go and see them and spot the ABBA influences in Black Sabbath.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/luciferofficial

Interview: Graham Bonnet on new Alcatrazz album | “It will be released in 2020”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Graham Bonnet, one of the best and most iconic voices in rock, has been a frequent visitor to Japan. Recently he was back in Japan for an Alcatrazz tour as well as a guest appearance with Impellitteri. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a brief chat with Bonnet about the reformed Alcatrazz. 

More than five decades have passed since his first hit single. But in 2019, California-based Englishman Graham Bonnet is better than ever. Bonnet’s past includes having fronted Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne and much more during a long and varied career. At 71, he is still here, he’s still singing and he’s still very relevant. In recent years, he has reunited with several of his past bands, including Michael Schenker and Impellitteri. His main touring and recording activities are currently centred around Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Fest, both highly successful, not least in Japan.

This year you have reformed Alcatrazz. What triggered this after a couple of great albums and touring as Graham Bonnet Band? “Three things: The music of the Graham Bonnet Band sounded like it could be a continuation of the Alcatrazz music. We have Jimmy Waldo in the band. He is an original member as well. Also, new guitarist Joe Stump really helps make this band sound like classic Alcatrazz. Add to this the continued request to perform Alcatrazz music and it seemed like the logical thing to do.”

The reformed Alcatrazz performs quite a few Rainbow, Impellitteri, MSG, Graham Bonnet Band and your solo songs. Did you ever have second thoughts about doing this while performing under the Alcatrazz name? “Alcatrazz in the 1980s performed songs I did with Rainbow, MSG and solo. It’s the same thing, there is just more of it in the catalogue now.” 

The new boy: guitar wizard Joe Stump. What a find! How did he end up in the band? “Our manager Giles Lavery was aware of him and found him.”

Initial Alcatrazz gigs have mainly focused on material from “No Parole for Rock’n’Roll”. Will you perform more material from the other Alcatrazz albums at future shows? “I think some songs from ‘Disturbing The Peace’ will go into the set for sure. ‘Dangerous Games’ we did a couple from two years ago in Japan. It’s hard to play everything but we hope to get to it all eventually. We keep the setlist interesting from tour to tour.”

Will you record a new Alcatrazz album any time soon? “It will be released in 2020!”

Since you reunited with Michael Schenker on stage here in Japan in 2015, both your and Schenker’s careers have picked up. What led to that 2015 reunion where Graham Bonnet Band was supporting Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and you also guested his set? “An agreement between our manager Giles and the promoter that I would perform with Michael. Obviously, that got everyone thinking and it became Michael Schenker Fest. It all happened at the same time as we were doing the Graham Bonnet Band albums.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

www.alcatrazzofficial.com

Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Shibuya

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman and his guitars, a smashing Japanese backing band, a near-flawless setlist and a Rock Fujiyama reunion. Not bad for a Friday night in Shibuya.

Marty Friedman at Living Room Café & Dining, Shibuya, Tokyo on 5th July 2019

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

Billed as “Guitar Spirit of Unagi Night”, guitarist Marty Friedman once again offered his fans in Tokyo, his adopted home town, a very special evening in an intimate venue. At the end of the evening, this show has turned into the best Marty Friedman gig I have ever seen.

Rock Fujiyama reunion with Rolly, Kenny Guy and Marty Friedman. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening kicks off in an easygoing fashion with a half-hour Rock Fujiyama reunion. Rock Fujiyama was a TV Tokyo show broadcast in 2006-2007. The show’s hosts included Marty Friedman, Rolly and Kenny Guy and this evening the three men reunite for some storytelling, casual jamming of rock tunes such as “Hound Dog” and “Summer of 69” and plenty of banter. It’s a laidback and very fitting start to a great evening.

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

After a brief interval, Marty returns to the stage with his terrific Japanese backing band. Marty opens the set with “Devil Take Tomorrow” followed by “For a Friend”. The setlist is close to flawless. We get emotional Marty, we get funny Marty, we get rocking Marty and – most of all – we get ridiculously talented Marty. He is no doubt one of the best and most original guitarists in the world right now. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a ballad or rocking out, whether he’s playing an acoustic guitar (as he does on a splendid version of “Midnight in Paris”) or shredding away on an electric guitar. He’s still top dog, king of the hill, leader of the pack. His all-Japanese backing band consists of world-class musicians with not least bassist Kiyoshi showing us why she’s one of the best in the business. New drummer Senri Kawaguchi looks rather innocent but she’s a beast behind the drums.

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

The show is basically instrumental and the focus is more on ballads and calmer songs, although we do get some heavier music as well. Combining Marty’s guitar with a string section consisting of a cellist and a violinist creates magical music. There is so much beautiful emotion in many of the songs performed this evening. The absolute highlight of the evening for me is an exquisite and explosive version of “Whiteworm” from the 2017 album “Wall of Sound” where not only Marty but all the band members get to shine. Another standout moment is a perfect version of “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”. Music doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. Other terrific moments include “Lovesorrow”, “Tears of an Angel”, “I Love You”, “Undertow”, “Yuki no Hana” and “Thunder March”. We also get to hear the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song” and “Romance no Kamisama”. Among all the good stuff from Marty’s extensive solo catalogue, Rolly makes a reappearance at the end of the show to perform his recent glam-rock single “Eejanaika”. Marty and the band then close a fabulous show with Marty’s version of Sayuri Ishikawa’s classic enka song “Amagi Goe”.

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

The sold-out venue, a music, art and dining space in the middle of Shibuya, is excellent for this type of show. People come early and have a bite to eat and a few drinks before the show kicks off. The audience is seated and everyone present is up close and personal with Marty and the band. After the show, Marty joins his fans and spends a long time chatting and signing autographs. Marty knows how to treat his fans well. 

Marty Friedman never disappoints me on stage, but this evening goes beyond that. This is the best show I’ve seen with him. So far…

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

www.facebook.com/martyfriedman.official

www.martyfriedman.com

Gig review: Thunder marks 30th anniversary by showing Japan how British rock is done properly

Danny Bowes of Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British rockers Thunder celebrate three decades of rock with special Sit Down/Stand Up shows in Japan showcasing great songs, a great band and the exquisite voice of Danny Bowes.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 9th June 2019

Thunder has over the past three decades matured into one of the best-ever classic rock bands from England. I have seen them live numerous times, first in England 22 years ago and then multiple times here in Japan. This band always delivers. They seem incapable of having an off night. This Sunday evening in Kawasaki the band is as solid as ever with a rhythm section consisting of Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews and vocalist Danny Bowes. On this Japan visit, they have brought along keyboardist Sam Tanner who adds some flair with a great overlay of keyboard wizardry. The Japan shows are divided into two sets – first, a sit down semi-acoustic set which, after a brief interval, is followed by a full-on rock set. Thunder excels at both. 

During the Sit Down set we get treated to “Serpentine”, “River of Pain”, “Bigger Than Both of Us”, “Future Train”, “Blown Away”, “Girl’s Going Out of Her Head”, “A Better Man”, “Empty City” and “Stand Up”. It’s a great collection of bluesy, grown-up songs. It’s a nice and efficient way of getting this evening off to a lovely start. The scaled-back versions of the songs really show us how good the songs are and how good the band is.

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

When the band returns to stage for the Stand Up set, they are ready to rock. Luke Morley is sporting a Flying V-style guitar to show us that now it is indeed time to stand up. They kick off the second half with “Loser” and follow it with “Higher Ground”. This is how proper British rock is done. Danny Bowes is one of the absolute best British voices of rock. Every time he starts singing, I am in awe. That voice, that feeling he has in his voice, is a very rare talent. During a fantastic evening of Thunder music, the absolute highlight for me is “Love Walked In”. But there are many more great moments this evening, including “River of Pain”, “Resurrection Day”, “Black Water” and “Backstreet Symphony”. Basically, there are no dips in this terrific 22-song show. We get some rarely performed songs such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “On the Radio”. They finish a fab evening with an encore consisting of a playful version of Wild Cherry’s classic “Play That Funky Music” and, of course, “Dirty Love”. They may have been around for 30 years, but I hope this band will be with us for many years to come. 

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

www.facebook.com/thunderonline

www.thunderonline.com

Interview: Marco Mendoza in Tokyo with Viva La Rock | “I love to entertain!”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marco Mendoza is best known for his work as a bassist with bands such as Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and The Dead Daisies. But he’s also a very active solo artist. When he recently visited Japan with his “Viva La Rock” solo trio consisting of drummer Kyle Hughes and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Marco Mendoza at his hotel in Roppongi for a chat.

This is the third time within a year you’re visiting Japan – you did a The Dead Daisies Japan tour last year, a gig with Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia in January and now a couple of shows with your own trio. “Now I’m here with my thing and we are going to go to the moon, man. To the moon! I love Japan. I’ve been coming here since…1991, I’d say, maybe. So, it’s been part of my career for a long time. We definitely have a lot of friends here and we get a lot of support. A lot of love. Even though they are so far away and it’s a small island, there’s a lot of music lovers here, so it’s good to come back.” 

You have been here in Japan many times over the years with different bands, but this time it’s the first time for you as a solo artist. Does it feel different? “It’s always special when I’m doing my own music. I love it! I can’t wait to share my stuff with the folks. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think the sign of a true artist is somebody that’s constantly opening new doors of creativity and testing yourself. And you keep pushing yourself. I’m not one to be, my career would attest to it, I’m not one to settle down and enjoy the fruits of my labour, because there’s so much going on. There are so many directions you can go. I’m one of those guys who have dabbled in quite a few. When I get back, I am playing at the Big Potato with my jazz thing, a Latin jazz funk band. I love it, man. Music – you can say I’m addicted to it. Addicted to performing. I’m looking for the next best show, always trying to improve, always trying to reach a new high. When you’re fronting your own band, of course, for me it’s more rewarding. There can also be a little pressure, but I don’t let it. I’m very lucky that I have a lot of things going on. My career doesn’t have to depend on what happens with my solo stuff. My solo stuff is just a side thing that I do for the love of it. And if it flies and it’s well accepted – beautiful! And if it’s not, that’s OK too. I’ll try again whenever I get another chance.”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Drummer Kyle Hughes (of Bumblefoot fame) has been playing with you for some time, but these shows in Japan are the first-ever with guitarist Conrado Pesinato (Out Of The Woods, ex-Graham Bonnet Band, Alcatrazz, Hardly Dangerous). “I’m very lucky that I get to play with the best players I can possibly get my hands on. In the past with my solo project, I’ve used quite a few players. My friend from Italy, Nicola Costa. Micky McCrystal from Tygers of Pan Tang, I’ve used him for quite a while. But my main guitar player was Soren Andersen. I brought him to LA and I introduced him to the LA scene and a lot of people there, including Glenn Hughes. I told Glenn; ‘This is your cat, man. You’re gonna love this guy.’ He’s very talented. He’s a sweetheart, he’s a good guy. A lovely person to hang out with. An amazing talent – singer, songwriter, producer. I knew that was going to happen – so he’s gone, real busy with Glenn. So, Micky McCrystal came in. Again, the guys that I choose are guys that are busy, they’re in demand. They have other projects like I do. It becomes a bit of a juggling thing. On this last tour, we started March 20th, I believe, in Portugal, in Lisbon, and my main guy right now is Tommy Gentry from Gun. Tommy was tied up with this other project for a week. And the dates were coming in, so I either let them go and wait until Tommy is available, but I decided to go. The way I look at my project is this: if I sell me and my music, if I show up, then I’m fulfilling the contract. For me, the players matter a lot. For the promoters, as long as I show up, I play my music, they’re happy. So, I booked shows based on that. He came with me for a week, then he went back, Micky flew back, Tommy came out. And we did that twice, kind of flipping. When the opportunity came to play in Japan, neither of the guys were available. They’re both tied up. Tommy is right now working with this artist in Sweden. It was a prior commitment for a long time. And Michael is in the studio with Tygers of Pan Tang. So, Kyle introduced me to Conrado. They’re good friends. I looked him up and he’s an amazing player. He lives in LA, so I’m like opening another door because my next step was… Right now, I’m getting offers to do some gigs in the US. I’m hoping that everything is good and everything works well. He’s a sweetheart. He’s really dying to play. He loves the music. For me, that’s where it’s got to start. When we get together, we play the songs together and it gels, it sounds great and I see him enjoying himself, and he really loves what he’s doing, then it’s a go. Now that gives me another option in the US for future dates. I’m getting a bunch of offers for the US, South America, Australia. The other thing that has to be part of who I bring on stage, who I play music with, they have to sing. That’s one of the requirements. Kyle sings great. Micky McCrystal sang great. Tommy Gentry sang great. And now Conrado sings. I’m a big vocal guy. My recordings have a lot of background vocals. I love that colour. I’m looking forward to it. We are going to play, for the first time, tomorrow, at soundcheck. We’re gonna rehearse the set.”

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

The “Viva La Rock” album was released last year and you have done quite a few solo gigs since then. Did you expect it to turn out this way or is the success a pleasant surprise? “It’s a pleasant surprise. This is my third album. I think, with the first album, I realised I didn’t do any live gigs. I did not support that album until a year and a half later, two years later actually. I realised I can’t do that. I gotta make time. With ‘Casa Mendoza’, it came at a time when I was really tied up with Thin Lizzy and really tied up with The Dead Daisies, making that transition. Black Star Riders and all that stuff. I really didn’t have time to support that album. Out of the three, it’s not my favourite. Oops, I said it! But this one is very special. I can listen to it now and I dig it. It sounds pretentious of me to say that, but I think the writing is getting better. I think the production is getting better, the playing, the lyrics… Everything about it is growing, it’s maturing. I’m excited about it and I want to play it. The next album, I’m having the same expectations. I’m hoping we’re taking it to the next step. Me and Soren were talking yesterday actually, to get our schedules together to do that.”

With your setlist now, do you focus a lot on “Viva La Rock” or is it more a mixture of your albums? “It’s definitely a mixture. But the main focus, I’d say 70%, if not 80%, is ‘Viva’. Because, again, the songs played live really work well. To the point where, if you’ve never heard these songs, when you hear them live, there’s the energy there, there’s something going on there. You see the people bopping. We haven’t got a lot of radio support and we haven’t got a lot of promo and marketing. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. I’ve changed the set based on that – what works live? If I show up in front of, I don’t know, a couple hundred people that don’t know the music, and you play for the first time and you look at the reaction, you feel the reaction. You hold on to those songs. When you play some songs, you can tell when it’s clicking or not. You hold onto the ones that click and you kind of discard the other ones or have them on the back burner. One thing that I do insist on doing is not only just play the music. I love to entertain. I love to play with the audience. I’m a big believer in audience participation. I think that’s when it becomes special. When the audience becomes part of the performance in one way or another. So, people walk away with a smile on their face and they go: ‘Wow! We were snapping our fingers, we were singing, we were chanting, we were jumping!’ You know, it becomes a party.”

It seems you are already planning for the next studio solo album with producer Soren Andersen. “Yes. He’s an extremely busy cat. Not only playing wise, but he’s become, in the industry, a big name as a producer and as a mixer. Like big time. The projects that are going to him are unbelievable. So, we’re juggling things. I have this other project, Journey Through Time, so we’re looking at each other’s schedules and it’s looking like December right now. Things are changing as we speak, so him and I are going to stay in touch and I have been sketching out some songs. He’s been doing the same. He knows what works for me. We decided – and I hope we go that way – that we are going to strip things down even more and go smaller production and go for like the Faces sound, go for like the Free sound, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper… Go for the generic five-piece band, four-piece band.”

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

Will you record in Denmark again? “Yes, right now, that’s the plan. I told him I had a great time getting away from… As much as I love being home and my family, my wife, my kids, I like the idea of getting out of the scene and being out there in Copenhagen and being very focused. That’s what we did, the whole day – I would wake up, have breakfast, go to the studio and we would spend six, seven, eight hours every day. And the product was great, man! It was very productive. I think there are three or four songs left from that. We did everything in twelve days! I have, I shouldn’t say this, I have the ballad, man! Oh my gosh! I have the ballad that is a radio-friendly AOR, stab-me-in-the-heart kind of, what do we call them? Torch! The torch pop song! I have it! It’s ready to roll and I can’t wait to record it and put it out there. ‘Leah’, the one that I dedicated to my wife, that was given a great response, so much that we decided to do a video.” 

Do you still have recording deal with Target/Mighty Music? “Yes, we have an option. If both parties agree we move forward. We just have to iron out a couple of things, but I think that they did well. What’s good these days? I don’t know anymore. What’s left? What are the other labels that are left?”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Being involved in so many different things, how do you prioritise? Does The Dead Daisies always come first or is it more complicated than that? “No, it’s not. It’s very clear. The Daisies are my first priority. Absolutely! The reason why you see me working a lot now on other things is because we are taking a break until further notice. We will make an announcement of things to come for the future of The Dead Daisies. Some changes coming, but I think for the best. But it’s definitely my first priority until it’s not, you know what I mean? This is the music business, so I don’t know what to tell you. I move forward. I am very lucky, very blessed that I have so many options at any given moment. My solo thing right now is bopping. It’s just hot! I am getting invited everywhere.” 

You’ve been doing some things with Neal Schon in Journey Through Time which The Dead Daisies drummer Deen Castronovo is also part of. Will you do more things with them? “Yes. Right now, it is looking like the end of October, November into the first week of December. Deen is part of The Daisies too and I think that was part of the reason why The Daisies realised: ‘OK, let’s take a break. Let’s get something together for next year.’ But it’s good. I think we did everything we could. I think we covered a lot of ground. We’ve done a lot of shows. We went to, probably, everywhere we got invited to, including Japan. We’ve been here three times. Wow! Within four years, three times. That’s a lot. With a new album every time. We did four albums and one EP in five years. I think for projects like that, that big and at that level, you need to step back a little bit, let it breathe. Let it simmer if you will, and then come up. I’m like, alright, everything I had on the back burner comes up and I’m like, let’s do this and let’s do this.” 

How do you keep the energy levels up with such a punishing schedule? “I take a beating. Right now, you can tell, I’m a little down. I don’t know, man. I’m healthy, I guess. It’s just the thought of getting on stage here in Japan tomorrow, I’m excited! That gets me excited. You could say I’m addicted to music. I’m addicted to the next performance, the next album, the next recording. And I’m sober now, for 31 years. September will be 32 years of sobriety. I don’t do any drugs, I don’t do any alcohol, I don’t do any tobacco, I do a little bit of sugar. I take care of myself. I love what I do! It’s important.”

Marco Mendoza is taking part of the summer off to spend time with his family, but from August he’s busy again with gigs and other commitments in Europe and North America before it is time to get into the studio again. This hardworking cat is seemingly unstoppable.

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

www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial

www.facebook.com/marcomendozajapan

www.marcomendoza.com

Gig review: Girlschool and Venom Inc – a terrific celebration of NWOBHM

Kim McAuliffe and Denise Dufort of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British bands Girlschool and Venom Inc headline a splendid celebration of New Wave of British Heavy Metal in Tokyo. What a great Sunday in the name of heavy metal!

Girlschool, Venom Inc, Sabbat, Survive, Hell Freezes Over and The Babes at Club Seata, Kichijoji, Tokyo on 23rd June 2019

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

We all know what Sundays are for. That’s right – to rock. For those about to rock, we salute you! Metal we bleed! Japanese promoter UPP-tone Music decided to celebrate four decades of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) with a Sunday packed with great music from both yesteryear and here and now. With a six-band line-up combining two splendid veteran (but still very relevant) British bands with three Japanese bands and a great new band from Australia, this was a proper Sunday in the name of metal music. NWOBHM was always a very diverse scene with bands with very different sounds and based all over Britain – with London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Sheffield among the more prominently featured cities in the scene. Just like the original NWOBHM scene was rather diverse, so is the music this evening in Tokyo.

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

The Babes

Australian band The Babes kicks off the festivities with a high-energy set of what they call underdog rock. With a great EP already under its belt, the band will soon release its debut full-length album. Three of the band’s four members are siblings and they seem to bring that personal chemistry with them to the stage. Despite this being their first-ever Japan gig, they have the Japanese audience with them from the first song. The band looks pleasantly surprised at already having Japanese fans who even sing along. It is a short 30-minute set but it does the trick. What a way to introduce the band to Japan! The set gets this Sunday off to a great start.

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

Hell Freezes Over

Treble Gainer of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next up is young local thrash/speed metal band Hell Freezes Over. It is great seeing this young band continuing to grow up over the past few years. The foundation of their music is in thrash and speed metal of the 1980s and 90s. They retain the attractive roughness and rawness of, say, early Exodus, and perform their metal with great enthusiasm.

Tom Leaper of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Survive

Nemo of Survive on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive’s frontman Nemo is back in full force following having had to cancel some shows earlier this year due to a serious illness. Seeing Nemo back on stage is nothing short of fabulous. Survive currently one of the best metal bands in Japan is always great. But this evening they are more than great. The highlight of the set is no doubt the terrific “Immortal Warriors” which has now become a band anthem. The band’s new stage clothes and make up bring Behemoth to mind and the visuals add to the overall experience.

Sabbat

Gezol of Sabbat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Sabbat has some obvious Venom-style black metal influences in its music. Sabbat’s sound is very much uncompromising early 1980s old-school heavy metal. Time has stood still in the world of Sabbat and that is not a bad thing. Finishing their set by playing Venom classic “Lady Lust” with Tony Dolan on guest vocals is a very fitting finale.

Venom Inc

Jeff “Mantas” Dunn of Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc is back on stage in Japan for a second time on the ongoing world tour in support of 2017’s album “Avé”. It is, however, the first Japan show with new drummer Jeramie Kling, who adds some proper stability backing up Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan on bass and vocals. They open their set with what has now become a Venom Inc anthem – the terrific “Metal We Bleed”. This evening’s set combines classic Venom songs with newer Venom Inc material. We get four terrific songs from Venom Inc’s “Avé” album: “Forged in Hell”, “Metal We Bleed”, “Time to Die” and “War”. The rest of the set is made up of Venom classics such as “Rip Ride”, “Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)”, “Warhead”, “Don’t Burn the Witch”, “Lady Lust”, “Dead of the Night”, “Witching Hour”, “Black Metal”, “Bloodlust”, “Countess Bathory”, and, of course, “Welcome to Hell”. It’s fantastic. The band came to Japan straight from Hellfest in France without much sleep. They’re tired but when they walk onto the stage, they deliver like it’s nobody’s business. Japan loves them and they give us a show to remember. A new album is in the making and will hopefully be released in the spring of 2020. Can’t wait to hear what this trio of scholars and gentlemen in the name of heavy metal will treat us to on the new album.

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

Girlschool

Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Seeing Girlschool for the first time, my expectations are high. This is a legendary British band with a reputation for putting on great shows. This evening the band by far exceeds my expectations. They are on fire this as they open their set with “Demolition Boys” and, of course, “C’mon Let’s Go”. They have a great catalogue of songs: classic songs from the late 70s and early 80s, but also fabulous newer songs such as “Take It Like a Band” and “Guilty as Sin”. Returning bassist Tracey Lamb adds some great groove to the band. She also sings lead on “Watch Your Step” which gives lead vocalist and guitarist Kim McAuliffe a bit of a breather. In addition to McAuliffe, the band’s co-founder Denise Dufort is still behind the drum kit. Rounding out the current line-up is the “new girl”, lead guitarist Jackie Chambers, who’s now been a member for twenty years.

Jackie Chambers of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band chemistry is great and there are plenty of self-deprecating jokes and comments in the show. The banter never stops. It is part of the charm of this terrific band. When they play “Bomber” (a Motörhead classic that Girlschool recorded for the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” split EP with Motörhead in 1981), Tony Dolan appears on guest vocals. After a terrific Girlschool set (what a great live band!), they are joined on stage by Venom Inc and the two bands perform a playful version of ZZ Top’s “Tush” to close a very enjoyable evening.

Venom Inc and Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Concert promoter UPP-tone Music is really turning into a great niche promoter in Japan with fab shows with bands like Raven, Oliver Dawson Saxon and Anvil. They put on fabulous metal shows which (unlike the sterile shows that are often put on by the big corporations) all have a great community feeling to them with artists and fans hanging out together before, during and after the shows. I hope UPP-tone will continue to put on these great metal shows for many years to come.

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

http://upp-tone-music.com

www.girlschool.co.uk

www.venom-inc.com