Album review: Temple Balls “Pyromide”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Finnish rockers Temple Balls’ third album gives us melodic hard rock with balls.

Temple Balls is a melodic hard rock band from Finland. “Pyromide” is the band’s third full-length studio album since they debuted in 2017. The new album has been produced by H.E.A.T’s Jona Tee and we can certainly hear some echoes of the Swedish rockers’ melodies here. Like many of their fellow Nordic hard rock bands, Temple Balls is a band that has strong and catchy melodies. In “Pyromide”, Temple Balls – Arde Teronen on vocals, Jimi Välikangas on bass, Jiri Paavonaho and Niko Vuorela on guitars and Antti Hissa on drums – has put together a solid album. Compared to many other Nordic melodic hard rock bands, Temple Balls has a bit more grit and dirt to its music. It’s punchy. The music is somewhat less polished and that, boys and girls, is no bad thing. Squeaky clean can be very boring. The music isn’t exactly dangerous, but Temple Balls is a band with a certain attitude and they have the songs and skills to back that up. It’s like a Finnish Def Leppard with balls. The album is even and without any major dips. Standout tracks for me are “Thunder From The North”, “Long Ways, Log Lies”, “Bad, Bad, Bad”, “Unholy Night” (because of its fantastic guitar work), “You Better Run” and “Something To Die For”. Of course, there is also the obligatory power ballad, “If Only I Could”. The Japanese edition of the album comes with a bonus track in the form of an acoustic version of “You Better Run”. Temple Balls is a good band. Finland is a hard rock and heavy metal super power – across both extreme and melodic subgenres – and Temple Balls is a band that helps to support that position.

Temple Balls’ new album “Pyromide” is out now via Ward Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally.

Coming up: The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #4 – Venom – The Demolition Years

The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #4: Venom – The Demolition Years with Tony Dolan

Thursday 6th May at 8 pm Tokyo time / 12 noon London time

Tony Dolan in Tokyo in August 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In the next episode of the Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions on the Clubhouse audio app, we will be doing a deep dive into British metal legends Venom and their so-called Demolition Years. In the late 1980s, Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan, who had made a name for himself with Atomkraft, joined Venom as its new bassist and lead vocalist. Playing alongside founding members Mantas and Abaddon, Tony fronted the band for numerous tours and several releases: the studio albums “Prime Evil”, “Temples of Ice” and “The Waste Lands”, the EP “Tear Your Soul Apart” and the compilation album “Kissing the Beast”. In 2015, Tony, Mantas and Abaddon reunited as Venom Inc and in 2017 they released the fabulous album “Ave”. Now Venom’s Demolition Years are being celebrated with a range of special limited reissues of those releases in both vinyl and CD formats. In this special Clubhouse session, Tony will share stories from Venom’s Demolition years in the late 80s and early 90s. He will also discuss where the band is at with the next Venom Inc studio album featuring Tony, Mantas and drummer Jeramie Kling. Tony will be grilled by the usual Roppongi Rocks gang consisting of Stefan Nilsson, Kana Nagumo, Matt Ketchum and Mack Suzuki. It will be an intimate, unruly, uncensored and fun discussion. Join us for some sweaty rock talk on your iPhone. Live. Unedited. Raw.


Event details here:

Album review: Destinia “Tokyo Encounter”

 Destinia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura 

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Destinia’s “Metal Souls” line-up – uniting Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai with international rock stars Ronnie Romero, Marco Mendoza and Tommy Aldridge – performed for one night only in Tokyo in 2019. Now that evening is available for the world to hear on the new live release “Tokyo Encounter”.

On 21st January 2019, Destinia’s “Metal Souls” line-up performed live on stage for the first, and, so far, only time. The one-off gig at Tsutaya O-East in Shibuya, Tokyo was fabulous and great fun. It was a privilege for me to be at that very special gig. The combination of one of Japan’s best metal guitarists and an international band of seasoned rock musicians worked very well. Now that magic night is being served up for the whole world to experience on the new live release “Tokyo Encounter”. Guitarist Nozomu Wakai has in recent years made a name for himself as a exquisite guitar wizard here in Japan. Akira Takasaki of Loudness remains the undisputed king of Japanese metal guitar playing, but  Nozomu Wakai is certainly one of the best of the newer names to emerge in the Japanese metal scene. Wakai has done a few Destinia releases and he has also performed with Mari Hamada’s band and Paul Shortino Band (led by the legendary Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino). He has appeared as a guest on stage with a few international acts visiting Japan, including Lords of Black and Graham Bonnet and Alcatrazz. This winter evening in Tokyo, Destinia had the same line-up as on the fab studio album “Metal Souls” which was released in 2018. The line-up featured Nozomu Wakai, vocalist Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords of Black), drummer Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers Band, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy) and bassist Marco Mendoza (The Dead Daisies, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy, Black Star RidersBlue Murder). On the night, Destinia was also backed up by second guitarist Nobu Doi. The bulk of the new live release is made up of original Destinia material including terrific melodic metal songs such as “Metal Souls”, “Rain” and “Judgement Day”. We get a full Tommy Aldridge drum solo and that’s OK as he’s one of the few drummers capable of delivering a drum solo that doesn’t bore me. The tried and tested Mendoza-Aldridge rhythm section is, as expected, rock solid and when combined with Wakai’s guitar wizardry and the terrific voice of Ronnie Romero and great songs, the result is splendid. Highlights for me are “Promised Land”, “Raise Your Fist”, “Be a Hero” (on which Wakai really gets to shine with his guitar), “The End of Love” and “Ready for Rock”. The main CD has 14 tracks (including all the ten tracks from the “Metal Souls” album). There is also a four-track bonus CD which features the closing of the show that evening, four carefully chosen cover tracks: Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”, John Sykes’ “Please Don’t Leave Me”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Over the Mountain” and Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Loving”. What a treat it is to be able to relive this fantastic evening through this new live release. It brings back terrific memories, especially now with not many gigs happening. I hope that this live release will lead to more live shows with Destinia. Destinia has great songs and no doubt the ability to write more songs of the same calibre. There is so much potential in this project and hopefully we will get to hear more of Destinia.

Destinia’s live album “Tokyo Encounter” will be released on 21st April via Ward Records. There will also be DVD and Blu-ray editions released.

Report: The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #3: Black Sabbath

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Roppongi Rocks gang once again invaded your iPhone on Thursday 15th April for an episode focused on Black Sabbath with Diamond Head frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen as a special guest.

The third episode of The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions – sweaty rock talk on your iPhone – was good fun, casual, nerdy and full of love for Black Sabbath. This time the usual suspects – Mack Suzuki of UDO ArtistsTony Dolan of Venom IncMatt Ketchum of KaalaKana Nagumo and Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson – were joined by Diamond Head frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen. It was a lively and unruly discussion about Black Sabbath, the godfathers of heavy metal and the things they have influenced. A lot of ground was covered in this episode, including Sabbath’s influence on the NWOBHM movement and metal in general, how Diamond Head was inspired by Sabbath to build a signature sound around riffs, Sabbath’s Japan tours, the infamous Stonehenge stage set used during Sabbath’s 1983 “Born Again” European tour (with Diamond Head as opening act), Sabbath’s ten different vocalists (including Dave Walker of Fleetwood Mac) and much more. Sabbatonero, the all-star Black Sabbath tribute project which is Tony Dolan’s baby and where Rasmus Bom Andersen is one of the guest vocalists, was also discussed. In addition to stories around how the terrific “L’Uomo Di Ferro” album came about, there were also hints at possible Sabbatonero live dates or even a Sabbatonero festival being considered.

The Roppongi Rocks gang will be back on Clubhouse for more sweaty rock talk on your iPhone. Tune in or miss out!


EP review: Sea of Snakes “World on Fire”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sludge-tainted and doomy, heavy-but-slow-ish American haze rock from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, California-based quartet Sea of Snakes has made its first release and it is very promising. The five-track debut EP, “World on Fire”, is filled with great music. At times it has some terrific Monster Magnet vibes (not least on the track “Let the Fire Burn”) but this EP is a melting pot of different styles, including some Corrosion of Conformity echoes. On “Ride the Line” and on other parts of the EP, we get served up some cool The Doors-sounding parts among the heaviness. If you like your music served heavy as fuck but mostly slow-ish, this haze hard rock band should appeal to you. There is excellent guitar wizardry by Jim McCloskey among all the smoke and the raw power of Tracy Steiger’s voice is very fitting. A very promising debut by a band to keep an eye on.

Sea of Snakes’ debut EP “World on Fire” is out now via Metal Assault Records.

Album review: Sabbatonero “L’Uomo Di Ferro” | A Tribute to Black Sabbath

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc’s Tony Dolan has teamed up with Francesco Conte of Neromega to create Sabbatonero, an all-star charity project covering Black Sabbath songs. Great music by great artists for a great cause.

Tony Dolan and Tom Leaper of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo in 2018.
Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan told me some months back about Sabbatonero, his new Black Sabbath tribute project, I immediately knew that this was going to be special. It’s for a worthy cause (all funds raised go to Covid workers in Italy) and, as I suspected, the music on offer is world-class metal. The main Sabbatonero band consists of Tony Dolan (Venom Inc) on bass, Francesco Conte (Neromega, Spiritual Front) and Filippo Marcheggiani (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso) on guitars and Riccardo Spilli (Balletto di Bronzo) on drums. Sabbatonero’s album is filled with guest appearances by some of my favourite musicians in metal, including Marty Friedman, John Gallagher (Raven), Mantas (Venom Inc), Snowy Shaw (ex-Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Therion), Prika Amaral (Nervosa), Sonia Nusselder (Crypta) and Rasmus Bom Andersen (Diamond Head). The album’s title, “L’Uomo Di Ferro”, Italian for “Iron Man”, one of Sabbath’s best-known songs. But that song is not on this album. Apart from that, there are no real surprises when it comes to what songs have been chosen for this tribute album. My favourite tracks on the album are “Symptom of the Universe”, which beautifully combines a fab track with Rasmus Bom Andersen’s vocals and a splendid guitar solo by Marty Friedman, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (with Steve Sylvester of Death SS, Mantas and Snowy Shaw), “NIB” with Tony Dolan himself on exquisite lead vocals and doing an excellent bass intro and “Heaven and Hell” with fab vocals by Tony D’Alessio (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso) and a guitar solo by Ken Andrews (Obituary). Also fab is “Killing Yourself to Live” which combines the vocal talents of Maksymina Kuzianik (ex-Setheist) and Mayara Puertas (Torture Squad) with Prika Amaral’s terrific guitar. “Paranoid” is beyond a standout track with possessed vocals by Necrodeath’s Flegias and Sonia Nusselder’s phenomenal guitar work. John Gallagher’s vocals on “Children of the Grave” are also noteworthy. I could go on and on. The guest list is long and also includes current and former members of acts such as Sacred Reich, Satyricon, Suffocation, Death, Testament, Helstar and more. Let’s hope that Sabbatonero next does a second album focused on Black Sabbath deep cuts. Or why not a “Live at Colosseum – Sabbatonero is Born Again”, a reinterpretation of Sabbath’s 1983 album “Born Again” (the one with Ian Gillan on vocals)?

Sabbatonero’s album “L’Uomo Di Ferro” will soon be available for streaming. The vinyl version will be released on 20th June and there will be a CD version via Time To Kill Records (release date to be confirmed).

Tony Dolan and Rasmus Bom Andersen will talk about Sabbatonero in episode three of the Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions on the Clubhouse audio app on Thursday 15th April. Event details here:

Gig review: Marty Friedman back on stage in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Naoki Morioka on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A triumphant return to the Tokyo stage for guitar maestro Marty Friedman.

Marty Friedman at Cotton Club, Marunouchi, Tokyo on 9th April 2021

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

Oh, how we have missed our gigs! Marty Friedman’s Tokyo performance on Friday night was my first proper rock gig in about 14 months. 14 very long months. How great it felt to once again be in a music venue and be entertained. All the better that it was Marty Friedman that did the performing. He is an innovative and genre-bending musical genius that has never disappointed me with any of his live performances, no matter what he plays. It is always a joy to watch him perform. While his latest album, “Tokyo Jukebox 3”, is an album dominated by interpretations of J-pop songs, Marty has not forgotten his metal roots. He has most recently contributed a terrific guitar solo to the Black Sabbath tribute project Sabbatonero and he’s also done a solo on the debut single by the Singapore-based extreme metal band Adarrak. On Friday evening at Cotton Club in Tokyo, Marty rocked out with a terrific combination of many different genres, including metal and J-pop. It was Marty being Marty. He won’t restrict himself musically. With the global pandemic that has stopped most shows in the last year still going on, this gig was done in a Covid-compliant way. The audience was seated with adequate spacing between tables. All the staff and audience members had their temperatures checked as they arrived at the venue and masks were mandatory. The audience was asked to not shout between songs, only clap. This being Japan, everyone complied and it turned into a terrific evening. Music fans are craving for live music. This kind of compromise is a great way to actually be able to do gigs until the pandemic gets under control. The artists, venues, support staff and the fans need live gigs in these challenging times.

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

Marty Friedman is usually backed by a world-class band and this evening was no different in that respect. But, unlike many of Marty’s Japanese shows in recent years where he’s had bigger bands including keyboards and sometimes cello and violin, this was a scaled down band consisting of Toshiki Oomomo on bass, Naoki Morioka on guitar and the one and only Chargeeeeee on drums. It worked well where the focus was squarely on Marty’s guitar without other things getting in the way. It felt raw and gave the music an excellent less polished nerve. It’s a relatively short show of about 70 minutes (this was the second of two shows on the same night with slightly different setlists) and it was entirely instrumental. Style-wise it was all over the place. We got it all. And it was bloody good. Marty was visibly very happy to be able to perform in front of a supportive hometown audience once again. I recognised many faces in the audience. These were mainly super fans who are frequent attendees at Marty’s Japanese shows. With “Tokyo Jukebox 3” about to get its international release, Marty kicked off the show with three songs from it: “Kaze Ga Fuiteru” (an Ikimonogakari cover), “Makenaide” (a Zard cover) and “Gurenge” (a LiSA hit song that was the theme song for the anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”). Then he moved on to revisit two of the best songs from his 2017 “Wall of Sound” album, “Whiteworm” and “Self Pollution”. Later in the set we also got to hear the splendid song “For a Friend” from the same album. This evening we, of course, got the terrific “Dragon Mistress” from his first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” from 1988 and the wonderful “Undertow” from the “Inferno” album. There was a trio of songs from the first “Tokyo Jukebox” album”: “Yuki No Hana” (a Mika Nakashima cover), “Amagigoe” (a Sayuri Ishikawa cover) and “Kaeritaku Natta Yo” (another Ikimonogakari cover) to finish the set. Before that we got treated to a “Thunder March/Morioka Ocha/Barbie” medley.

After the show, Marty greeted fans and took pictures with them, although it was all done in a Covid-compliant way with face masks, no handshakes, pre-signed autographs and a transparent plastic sheet between Marty and the fans when taking pictures. A bit awkward but a great way for Marty to be able to interact with his fans. Better this than nothing for his loyal fans.

Marty not only gave us a smashing Friday evening. He also showed us that, with a few compromises, rock gigs can be done and you can interact with the fans. There is hope.

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

Coming up: The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #3 – A Black Sabbath Special

The Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse Sessions, Episode #3: A Black Sabbath Special with Diamond Head’s Rasmus Bom Andersen and Venom Inc’s Tony Dolan

Thursday 15th April at 8 pm Tokyo time / 12 noon London time

Rasmus Bom Andersen of Diamond Head

Roppongi Rocks is back on Clubhouse for more sweaty rock talk on your iPhone. Join us on the Clubhouse audio app for a lively and unruly discussion about Black Sabbath, the godfathers of heavy metal and the things they have influenced. This time Diamond Head frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen will join the usual Roppongi Rocks Clubhouse gang: British metal legend Tony Dolan of Venom Inc, Mack Suzuki of UDO Artists, Matt Ketchum of Kaala, music industry executive Kana Nagumo and Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson. Both Tony and Rasmus are currently involved in Sabbatonero, an international tribute to Black Sabbath. The proceeds from Sabbatonero’s all-star album “L’Uomo Di Ferro” will go to COVID workers in Italy.

Tony Dolan in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In this Clubhouse session we will get really nerdy and discuss facts and opinions as well as personal anecdotes about the mighty Black Sabbath. It will get out of control and be live and uncensored. Join us live or miss out on all the juicy stuff.


Event details here:

Album review: Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s world-leading position in melodic hard rock is showcased on a new Impera album featuring members from Europe, Nocturnal Rites, King Diamond and Lion’s Share.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera was founded by drummer Johan Kihlberg in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011. “Spirit of Alchemy” is the band’s sixth album. Johan – who has done session work in backing bands for Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick, John Corabi, Graham Bonnet and Brian Robertson – has gathered an impressive line-up of musicians to play with him on the album: Europe bassist John Levén, drummer Snowy Shaw (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Memento Mori, Therion, Dimmu Borgir, Dream Evil), vocalist Jonny Lindkvist (Nocturnal Rites) and guitarist Lars Chriss (Lion’s Share). There are also guest appearances by Kay Backlund (Lion’s Share) on keyboards, Mats Vassfjord (220 Volt) on bass and Pontus Egberg (King Diamond, Treat, Lion’s Share, The Poodles) on bass. Musically, this album lives somewhere in the valleys of 1980s Swedish melodic hard rock and power metal. It’s riff-happy but always melodic. “Lost Your Life to Rock’n’Roll” has echoes of Europe while “All About You” has some 220 Volt vibes. The song quality is very strong throughout the album and, obviously, with a band line-up like this, Impera delivers in the studio. Personal favourites on the album, in addition to the previously mentioned tracks, are “Read It and Weep”, “When Souls Collide” and “In Heaven”. All of them are melodic hard rock songs full of energy and heavy riffs. Johan Kihlberg has a passion for atmospheric film scores and we get treated to some of that on the instrumental track “Battle” and also on a “The Empire Strikes Back” medley which features as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album. Impera was scheduled as opening act for KISS in Sweden before the “End of the Road” tour came to a halt due to the global pandemic. Hopefully, Impera will get a second chance at opening for KISS once arena gigs will be possible again. This music needs to be performed live. In the meantime we will listen to this fab album of Swedish melodic hard rock.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy” will be released on 9th April via Rubicon Music in Japan and via Metalville internationally.

Album review: Evil Drive “Demons Within”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Another great metal album from Finland – Evil Drive releases its third studio album.

Founded in Finland in 2013, melodic death metal band Evil Drive debuted with the album “The Land of the Dead” in 2016. That was followed by the album “Ragemaker” in 2018 and now “Demons Within”, which is the band’s third album. Having had some line-up changes over the years, the Finnish band is now technically very skilled. I think that on this third album they have also evolved their song-writing skills and have created a great album. “In the End” is a slow ballad, but it is still heavy and with growls. However, most of the “Demons Within” album is classic melodic death metal with growls by Russian-Finnish vocalist Viktoria Viren. Viktoria’s husband Ville Viren co-founded the band with her and plays guitar. The rest of the current line-up consists of J-P Pusa (guitar), Matti Sorsa (bass) and Antti Tani (drums). Evil Drive reminds me of Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow-era (2000-2014). It is obvious that Arch Enemy has been a big influence on this band. But this is no copycat band. They may have a similar sound to Arch Enemy but they certainly are making something of their own, not least creating their own terrific songs. The album opens with the energetic “Payback” which sets the tone for the album. “We are One” is a standout track, the relentless “Bringer of Darkness” is crushing and so is the pummelling “Rising from the Revenge”. Love it.

Evil Drive’s album “Demons Within” will be released in Japan today via Spiritual Beast and internationally via Reaper Entertainment.