Epica is the gold standard of symphonic metal. The new album is delightfully dramatic, bombastic and melodic yet at times very heavy. Exquisite!
Epica’s eighth full-length studio album, “Omega”, is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s simply, well, epic! Epica’s superiority comes from the contrasts between Mark Jansen’s growls and Simone Simon’s angelic and powerful voice as well as the combination of the heavy guitars and the dreamy keyboards. Epica is the gold standard of symphonic metal. In addition to the terrific musical performances of all the band members, they write better songs than the other bands in the genre. They also have better arrangements and production. On this new album, the band’s first full-length studio album in five years, we get to hear Epica’s trademark sound and, as always with this band, there is some added complexity. For example, there are some terrific Middle Eastern touches incorporated into the songs “Seal of Solomon” and “Code of Life”. Epica’s soundscape is busy, there are always things going on in this multi-layered music with constant twists and turns. They are also absolute scholars and royals when it comes to the use of choirs and orchestras. At times, Epica’s music sounds like a film score. As we are used to when it comes to Epica, many of the songs are diverse with frequent tempo and style changes. But there are also some more straightforward songs, like the dreamy and beautiful ballad “Rivers”. Epica has a long-established and rock-solid line-up: vocalist Simone Simons and guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen are joined by Isaac Delahaye (guitar), Coen Janssen (keyboards and piano), Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) and Rob van der Loo (bass). Joost van den Broek’s production is flawless. He has worked closely with the band for many years and he manages to get the best out of them. The epic piece “Kingdom of Heaven Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe” clocks in at almost thirteen and a half minutes. During that time, Epica takes us on one helluva ride. It’s a standout track for sure, but this album is so good that all the tracks are terrific. “The Skeleton Key” is perhaps my favourite track with its dramatic intro with piano and choirs, before we get the guitar riffs and, of course, Simone. Other bands don’t have Simone.
Epica’s “Omega” will be released on 26th February in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.
Belgian band Bark is a rabid dog barking at us on its glorious new album. Intense and wonderfully aggressive music!
Founded in Antwerp, Belgium in 2014, the band name Bark was inspired by the short rabid songs the band plays. They debuted in 2016 with the album “Voice of Dog” and followed that with 2017’s “Like Humans Do”. “Written in Stone” is the band’s third full-length studio album and it is a terrific album filled with intense and sweaty music. The band consists of Ron Bruynseels (vocals), Martin Furia (guitar), Toon Huet (guitar), Jorn Van der Straeten (bass) and Ward Van der Straeten (drums). It’s heavy music with terrific melodies. The guitar riffs are fantastic throughout the album. To me, it sounds as if California’s crossover thrash/punk cult band Suicidal Tendencies has been crossbred with Belgian extreme metal band Aborted, with a tiny bit of Rage Against The Machine seasoning as well, although Bark is a much heavier band. The band has managed to create a distinct and easily recognisable trademark Bark sound. It is such intense and wonderfully aggressive music! Bark’s Argentinian-born guitarist Martin Furia has produced the album which has a flawless production. The whole soundscape has Furia’s fingerprints on it. He is an artist that has a clear vision of what he wants to create and he has the talent and experience to make it happen. Furia is a terrific live and studio audio engineer and producer who has worked with bands such as Nervosa, Destruction, Flotsam & Jetsam, Evil Invaders, Aborted and many more. That experience has served him well in shaping Bark’s sound. Some of my favourite tracks on this solid album are the hard-hitting “I’m a Wreck”, “Hitman”, “Mass Lobotomy” and the furiously fast “The Spirit of the Streets”. “They Are All Dead” is the absolute highlight where I get some splendid At The Gates vibes. “Written in Stone” is a fierce and fantastic album by a great band.
The Lightbringer of Sweden returns with a power ballad. “Farewell” shows us what a terrific songwriter Lars Eng is and Avantasia’s Herbie Langhans puts in another splendid vocal performance.
Swedish musician Lars Eng and his band The Lightbringer of Sweden, who released a phenomenal debut album last summer, are back in the studio. A new riff-happy and heavy album is in the works which will hopefully be released later this year. In the meantime, the band shows us a different side with “Farewell”, a massive power ballad which will be released as a stand-alone single. Lightbringer is Lars Eng’s baby. He is the songwriter, producer, guitar player and brain behind this. On “Farewell” we can again hear the terrific voice of Germany’s Herbie Langhans (of Avantasia and Firewind fame) and drummer Tobbe Jonsson (from Swedish melodic hard rockers Angeline). On this song, we also get to hear Jonsson’s Angeline band mate Ulf Nilsson on bass. “Farewell” is an emotional power ballad of the best kind. It gives me flashbacks to the 1980s when all metal bands included big power ballads on their albums to get their videos played on MTV (ask your parents, kids) and, subsequently, sell singles and LPs (again, ask your parents to explain). I love it. As much as I dig the heavier side of Lightbringer – the debut album “Rise of the Beast” was filled with heavy metal with power metal influences – it is nice to see that this band is not a one-trick pony. Now I am starting to dream of having The Lightbringer of Sweden as the opening act on a future Japan tour by Avantasia. Wouldn’t that be something?
The Lightbringer of Sweden’s single “Farewell” will be released on 22nd January.
It’s back to the future on the new MSG album as Michael Schenker celebrates five decades as an artist.
Michael Schenker never stands still. He keeps moving as a musician and artist. Throughout his long career, he has moved back and forth, in and out of bands. He often revisits old bands, albums and line-ups but always with a twist of some kind. Now, after some very successful years touring and releasing albums with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Michael Schenker Fest and to mark his 50th anniversary as an artist, he has moved on – back to the future, if you will – to do another Michael Schenker Group album. “Immortal” is an album that manages to squeeze in many different styles. What I particularly like about Michael Schenker’s performance on this album is that, despite being one of the biggest, best and most innovative guitarists in the history of rock, he never lets his guitar overshadow the music or the songs. He shows off his terrific guitar skills but without too many extended guitar solos or over-the-top technical outings. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of guitar wizardry from the master on the album, but it doesn’t scare away listeners.
In this latest version of MSG, Schenker has brought back some MSG alumni in the form of Steve Mann on keyboards, Barry Sparks on bass and drummers Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips. A new face is Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol, Foreigner, The Dead Daisies) on drums. On this new MSG album, Schenker is making use of several vocalists, including no fewer than three Rainbow vocalists! Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear fame lends his powerful voice to “Devil’s Daughter” and “Drilled to Kill”, a track which gives us a fine keyboard-guitar duel between Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Black Country Communion, Sons of Apollo, KISS) and Schenker. The album is quite varied, both because of the various musical styles and the different vocalists and musicians featured. My favourites include “Drilled to Kill” and “Sail the Darkness” which, with Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords of Black) on vocals, has some Dio vibes about it. “Come On Over” and “Knight of the Dead”, both with Romero on vocals, are also great tunes. The oddest song on the album is “The Queen of Thorns and Roses”. It’s essentially a lightweight pop song with Michael Voss on vocals. It seems a tad bit out of place, but it isn’t a bad song at all. Voss is also singing lead on “After the Rain”, a bit of a power ballad. Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple) puts in terrific vocal performances on “Don’t Die on Me Now” and “Sangria Morte”. The ten-track album closes with what is perhaps its finest moment, “In Search of Peace of Mind”, a track Schenker wrote when he was 15 years old. The song was originally featured on Scorpions’ debut album “Lonesome Crow”. Here we get it in a terrific extended version featuring vocalists Gary Barden, Ronnie Romero, Doogie White and Robin McAuley. It ends with an exquisite guitar solo that shows us who’s boss. I can only bow in respect to the guitar master Michael Schenker. A masterpiece by a master craftsman.
Michael Schenker Group ‘s new album “Immortal” will be released on 29th January in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.
Sweden’s Tribulation’s fifth studio album is beautifully gloomy, doomy and melancholic – and absolutely terrific!
Tribulation from Sweden is a terrific band that has been very hard to define in recent years. I saw them live here in Tokyo in 2015 when they were performing alongside several black metal bands. Sure, that worked well. But Tribulation is very different. They keep evolving and moving further away from conventional metal. The band formed in Arvika, Sweden in 2005 and was essentially a death metal band at that stage. By the time they released their third studio album, “The Children of the Night”, they had moved on, matured perhaps. In recent years, they have become more of a hybrid haze/goth/prog hard rock act with ever-present darkness and sadness to it. Bits and pieces of their music are still heavy metal and even death metal, but there is so much more here. Much of the music is heavy in a doomy kind of way, but not fast. Tribulation comes with plenty of depth and sorrow. The music and many of the lyrics are gloomy and melancholic. Perhaps it is something born out of the band’s roots in the mythical deep forests of rural Sweden, not far from the Norwegian border. The new album, very fittingly named “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”, is the band’s fifth studio album. It kicks off with a terrific trio of songs – “In Remembrance” (which briefly starts with lyrics sung in Swedish before English takes over), “Hour of the Wolf” and “Leviathans” – and the listener just knows that this album is a solid one from such a strong opening. “Daughter of the Djinn” is an immediate favourite track with its drive and energy. “Funeral Pyre” is another standout track with its heavy metal guitars while the slow and sombre song “Dirge of a Dying Soul” is a magical piece of sadness. The band is not afraid of going outside of genre-imposed limits, something evident on the beautiful instrumental track “Lethe” which solely consists of a piano. Many of the songs on the album contain small details in the soundscape that makes the album one that the listeners discover new things on every time they listen to it. Following the completion of the recording of the album, guitarist Jonathan Hultén left the band he co-founded to focus on his solo career. He has been replaced by Joseph Tholl, who like the band’s other guitarist Adam Zaars has a background in the heavy metal band Enforcer. The two bands have shared several band members over the years, but musically they are very different. Tribulation’s current line-up also includes Johannes Andersson (bass, vocals – whose haunting voice keeps the link to the band’s death metal roots) and drummer Oscar Leander. The Japanese edition of the album comes with a bonus track in the form of a cool demo version of the fantastic track “Hour of the Wolf”.
Tribulation’s new album “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound” will be released on 29th January in Japan via Ward Records. A US edition will be released via Metal Blade Records and an international edition via Century Media Records.
Glenn Hughes dominates The Dead Daisies’ terrific new album. He was a brilliant, but risky, addition to a fabulous rock band. He and the band pull it off as the new studio album demonstrates.
The Dead Daisies are back with its fifth studio album, “Holy Ground”. Since the last album and tour, vocalist John Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza have left the band. They have been replaced by Glenn Hughes on both lead vocals and bass. That is a major change and it shows. The Dead Daisies has evolved as a band and moved on in a new direction. The new album is terrific. But, it is very different from the Corabi/Mendoza era of the band. Glenn Hughes takes up a lot of space and this sounds like a terrific Glenn Hughes album rather than what we in the past would consider a Daisies album. If you, like me, are both a Daisies and a Glenn fan, this is a smorgasbord of exquisite music. When Glenn last toured Japan, in 2015, he had Doug Aldrich (ex-Dio, Whitesnake) on lead guitar. After that tour, Doug joined the Daisies and now the two gentlemen have reunited in the new line-up of the Daisies which also features Deen Castronovo (ex-Journey, Bad English) on drums and band founder and rhythm guitarist David Lowy. Lowy took a gamble and made a very ballsy move when he invited such a legendary rock star to join the band. Adding someone like Glenn to a band line-up isn’t the same thing as adding some other replacement musician. Glenn Hughes requires space. When he walks into anything, he takes centre stage. Don’t forget that this is a man who walked into both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and commanded attention and respect and got it. Thus, it was a risky move adding him to this band. But, so far, the gamble seems to have been the right one. Losing the band’s frontman could’ve been the end of this story. Now there is a yet another chapter being written in the Daisies story. While the arrival of Glenn in the band grabs the spotlight, the other band members are delivering terrific work on this album too – not least the phenomenal guitarist Doug who is delivering one of his best-ever studio performances on this album. This version of the band is a solid rock collective of seasoned veterans. Rather than trying to fit Glenn Hughes into The Dead Daisies, Lowy and the band wisely opted to evolve and create music that is built to incorporate Glenn and his talents. The result is stunning.
The album kicks off with the heavy and catchy “Holy Ground (Shake the Memory)”. The song has Glenn all over it, but it also contains an insane Doug Aldrich guitar solo. It’s a statement that this is a band that has evolved and here’s what you can expect from this new album. It’s a punch in the face and I want more. I get it, immediately, with the next song, “Like No Other (Bassline)”. More energy, heaviness, catchiness, insane guitar work and plenty of groove in the music. I have time to think “Blimey, this is brilliant hard rock!” before Glenn goes off with a bass solo in the middle of the song. I bow my head in respect. The album just continues from there and never eases its grip of the listeners’ ears, brain, heart and balls with terrific songs such as “Bustle and Flow”, “Chosen and Justified”, “Unspoken”, “Saving Grace” and “Righteous Days”. Swagger hard rock? Yeah, perhaps, but this quartet can back up the claim. They deliver on every song. The combination of heaviness and catchiness is very appealing and will serve this band well. Rumours say that Castronovo will sing lead on Corabi-era Daisies songs when his new line-up will perform live. That can make a lot of sense in order to keep the Daisies relevant as a band with a proud legacy and not turn into a Glenn Hughes backing band. I love, love, love Glenn Hughes. He’s a terrific artist who brought soul and groove to hard rock with his golden voice and splendid bass guitar. At 69, he’s still got it. His early work with Trapeze and then Deep Purple in the 70s and later Black Sabbath, Hughes/Thrall, Phenomena and John Norum, have shaped my musical tastes more than I ever realised. He continues to have that tremendous impact on me with this new album. The new version of The Dead Daisies is oozing with terrific songwriters and musicians. The new line-up and evolved sound will leave some old fans missing Corabi and Mendoza, but it will surely appeal to many old fans and create many new fans. I dig this new version of the Daisies as much as I dig the earlier versions. Corabi and Mendoza are missed, but they will keep doing music elsewhere for us to enjoy. Lowy made the correct decision to take the Daisies in a somewhat new direction rather than trying to continue doing what the old line-up did. There are, however, some hints of the old Daisies on this album, such as on the track “30 Days in the Hole” (a Humble Pie cover) and also on the terrific Japanese bonus track, “Inside and Above”. The Dead Daisies are dead. Long live the new The Dead Daisies. Now we’re looking forward to seeing what this new version of the band can do live on stage with both the new and old songs.
The Dead Daisies’ new album “Holy Ground” will be released on 22nd January via Ward Records in Japan and internationally via SPV.
Therion’s new album “Leviathan” is filled with epic, bombastic and beautiful symphonic metal.
Therion has built a solid and quite large cult following around the world. The band’s leader and guitarist Christofer Johnsson, who founded the band in Sweden in 1987, doesn’t care about trends or commercial opportunities. Over the years he has built a fantastic mythical Therion world of music. In the early days, Therion played death metal, then moved into what at times sounded like doom territory, only to arrive at symphonic metal in 1996. Today the band’s music still has its foundation in dramatic and epic symphonic metal. It is often bombastic and there are progressive parts and folk influences. It’s Therion and it works very well. Much of the music is beautiful, not least because of the use of terrific choirs, fantastic instrumentation and elaborate orchestration. Therion has the advantage of having several vocalists, both female and male, and can thus take different turns and go wherever creativity leads a song. The “Leviathan” album is a terrific journey through a magic wonderland. This new Therion album is a melting pot of various styles of melodic symphonic metal. It has that rock opera/concept album feel to it and plenty of West End musical touches. Trendy? No. Street-cred worthy? No. But it is good, very good. It’s like a musical equivalent to the “Star Wars” movie crossbred with “Omen”, “Braveheart“ and “The Never Ending Story”. The epic “Psalm of Retribution” is my personal stand-out track on an overall great and rather varied album. The beautiful song “Die Wellen der Zeit” is a close second. Therion has always been a band where line-ups change between albums and tours. Fortunately, Christofer Johnsson is very good at attracting new talent. On this album, we can still hear the terrific voice of former Candlemass vocalist Thomas Vikström who has been performing with Therion since 2007. We also get to experience the fantastic pipes of the American opera singer and soprano Lori Lewis, who has been performing with the band on and off for many years. The album’s eleven tracks are complemented by five bonus tracks in the form of an alternative vocals version of “Eye of Algol” and no fewer than four alternative versions of the phenomenal track “Tuonela”, which features a powerful guest appearance by Nightwish’s Marko Hietala. On the new “Leviathan” album we truly get to hear Therion at its bombastic best!
Therion’s “Leviathan” will be released on 22nd January in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.
Following the recent Japan release of his new album “Tokyo Jukebox 3”, Marty Friedman has a special New Year’s Day live-streamed show and a Japan tour coming up. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a quick chat with Marty to find out more.
Congratulations on a fantastic new album! The pandemic forced you to put touring on hold this year. Was it because of this you decided it was time for the third instalment of “Tokyo Jukebox”? “No. ‘Tokyo Jukebox 3’ started in December of 2019. I was planning for a release around the Tokyo Marathon. The pandemic gave me more time to live with the songs and do countless updates and for that, I’m very thankful, as it came out much better for it. As they say in Japanese: 不幸中の幸い.” (Editor’s note: “Fuko chu no sawai” is similar to “Silver lining of a dark cloud”).
You have some very cool song choices on the album, from various musical styles. How do you choose what songs to include on this kind of album which primarily consists of covers of famous Japanese pop and rock songs? “I had to choose songs that I can really make come alive with my guitar taking the place of a lead vocalist. No matter how much I may like a song, you never really know if I can add anything to it until I actually get in the trenches and start destroying it. For every song I chose, I had to discard two or three others that didn’t work as well.”
You have done a few virtual jams and collaborations both online and on Japanese TV this year. Which of these new collaborations are you most proud to have done? “It’s all fun, I like them all. People need to be entertained. Musicians need to make music. The pandemic has forced some unique musical things to happen and I like being paired up with unlikely musical partners.”
In January, you will be doing a “Tokyo Jukebox 3” Japan tour, including two sets at the Cotton Club in Tokyo on 21st January and shows in Fukuoka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Osaka. You will be performing with your terrific Japanese band. What can you tell us about its members? “Chargeee has toured with me for 10 years and he steals the show, every night. Toshiki Oomomo played bass on my ‘Inferno’ album as well as my ‘B: The Beginning THE IMAGE ALBUM’, and he is a monster. Naoki Morioka toured with me in India, Australia and all over Asia. He is an up-and-coming guitar hero and is way too good to be as young as he is.”
It’s still too early to know if you can tour internationally in 2021, but what plans – or hopes – do you have for the coming year? “’Tokyo Jukebox 3’ comes out worldwide in April and I already have touring offers, but I have yet to confirm them. I want to play everywhere, but I want it to be safe for everyone involved before I OK anything.”
Tell us about the special online New Year’s Day live gig you will do! “This will be the most adventurous, ambitious and sweaty live stream performance I can imagine. I think my fans will be surprised at how futuristic and imaginative the staging and performance will be. It is very new territory for me and my band. My staff is going beyond what any of us have done before, to make big and awesome piece of guitar-based entertainment out of this new and very fresh medium.”
Brazilian guitarist Prika Amaral returns with a new international version of thrash metal band Nervosa. The result is magnificently fast and furious thrash metal!
It was my mates Tony Dolan of Venom Inc and Bark’s Martin Furia who got Brazilian thrash metal band Nervosa on my radar a few years ago. I quickly fell in love with this terrific Brazilian thrash metal band with anthems like “Into Moshpit” and “Kill the Silence” (isn’t that the ultimate thrash metal song title?). In early 2020 they came to play Japan and what a terrific live act they were too! Then within weeks of the band leaving Japan, the band seemed to be over and done. When a band suddenly loses two of its three members, that can very easily be the end. In the case of Nervosa, one of the more interesting bands of recent years in my humble opinion, band leader Prika Amaral swiftly held auditions and put a new international line-up together. The new line-up of Nervosa immediately wrote and recorded a new studio album. The result? A terrific album filled with fast, heavy and angry thrash metal. In the new line-up of the band, Brazilian guitarist Prika is joined by Italian bassist Mia Wallace (Abbath, Tom G. Warrior’s Triumph of Death, Niryth, The True Endless, Skoll), Greek drummer Eleni Nota (Lightfold, Mask of Prospero) and Spanish vocalist Diva Satanica (Bloodhunter). I don’t know how Prika pulled this off, but she did. The new members are terrific and each of them adds their own touches to this metal witch brew while Prika has ensured that the band has kept its well-established Nervosa foundation of fast and furious thrash metal. The album has 13 great songs and the Japanese edition has a bonus track in the form of the terrifically fast “Exija”. What a splendid album! There’s not a weak second on it. My favourite tracks include the furious opening track “Venomous”, the angry “Until the Very End” (with splendid guitar solo parts by Prika), the relentless “Time to Fight” and the very cool “Rebel Soul”, where new vocalist Diva Satanica gets to shine and show her metal power. This album is filled with high-energy, riff-happy heavy and dark music. It’s like a runaway coal freight-train chasing you down a mountain. It’s sheer awesomeness! The new chapter of Nervosa is a great one. Well done, Prika. I can’t wait to hear this new version of the band live on stage.
Nervosa’s new album “Perpetual Chaos” will be out on 22nd January in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Napalm Records.
Accept is back with another great riff-happy metal album and no fewer than three guitarists in the band. Wolf Hoffmann and his men are still relevant and vital.
Accept has always been about those guitar attacks. Ever since the band was founded in Germany in the 1970s, this has been a guitar-based heavy metal band with a talent for writing splendid melodies. In the current German-American line-up of the band, still led by band founder and guitarist Wolf Hoffmann, there are three guitarists. It is a smart move as it means the band can play around with the soundscape and combine creative guitar solos and guitar licks while the band’s signature heavy metal guitar riffing is still there. The title track “Too Mean To Die” is a perfect example of how these capabilities are deployed to create terrific metal music that both recognises the band’s past and is very much here and now. Vocalist Mark Tornillo has a voice that is a very good fit for the band’s music. This being his fifth studio album with the band since he joined in 2009, he is a firmly rooted part of the modern Accept sound. The rest of the band – guitarists Uwe Lulis (Grave Digger) and Philip Shouse (Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley), drummer Christopher Williams (Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley) and bassist Martin Motnik (Uli Jon Roth) – are more recent recruits. They are pros and, musically, they fit in nicely. It is such a joy for fans like me to hear that Accept can stay relevant and vital after all these years. Wolf Hoffmann has seen people come and go, and come again and leave again, but he has managed to keep the Accept spirit alive and intact. On this new album, we get a great combination of classic Accept music combined with some newer influences. This successful combination can probably be traced back to the fact that some of the newer members of the band have contributed to the songwriting, helping to keep Accept relevant and vital. “The Undertaker” is one of the songs that are somewhat removed from the classic Accept sound. It has something of a theatrical touch to it – almost as if it were a song in an Avantasia show. The power ballad “The Best Is Yet To Come” is also quite far away from traditional Accept territory, but it is a great song. On an album like this, it is refreshing that they have mixed things up and are not just trying to do the same old thing. The balance between old and new on this album is just about right. The album has been produced by the very capable Andy Sneap who in recent years has made a name for himself not just as a fab producer but also as a live guitarist for Judas Priest (perhaps this is where the Judas Priest vibes on the track “Zombie Apocalypse” come from?). On the track “Symphony of Pain”, we get to hear the bombastic side of Accept. It’s a playful song by a band that is not afraid of mixing things up and having some fun while performing. “How Do We Sleep” is one of my favourite tracks as it is one of those songs that very neatly manages to make full use of having three guitarists in the line-up and combining that with a cool melody and Mark Tornillo’s strong voice. The instrumental “Samson and Delilah”, which closes the album, is a great jam that demonstrates how good these musicians are. Accept has been one of my favourite bands since “Balls To The Wall”. It is still one of my favourite bands. Thank you, Wolf, for keeping the Accept flame burning.
Accept’s new album “Too Mean To Die” will be released on 15th January in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.