Album review: Aborted “TerrorVision”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Belgian extreme metal masters Aborted are back with a brutal new album and, as expected, it is sheer brilliance.

It seems that Aborted can do no wrong. Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is as good as expected. The band’s tenth studio album is everything anyone could have hoped for. Aborted is an extreme metal band living somewhere between Death Metal Valley and Grindcoreland. Aborted always, always deliver. Since I saw them live on stage in Tokyo in 2015, I have loved this band. It is something about the special combination of a technically gifted metal band and a completely insane frontman that appeals to me. The band also has more energy in its music than most other artists.

Aborted is always a punch in the face. It is relentless carnage, musical mayhem and it is always brilliant. Aborted is a band that never ever has disappointed me, not in the studio and not on stage. Vocalist Sven de Caluwé is nuts. But he is also a very talented artist that always gives his audience what they want and more. In Aborted he is backed up by a great band with not only technical skills, but they are also great songwriters. Don’t let the brutality fool you. This is very sophisticated music. There are many layers and nuances in Aborted’s music. It is technical extreme metal but Aborted’s members never get too carried away. They always manage to put in both aggression and passion into their terrific delivery.

My favourite songs on the new album include “Squalor Opera”, “Visceral Despondency” and “Exquisite Covinous Drama”. Having said that, there isn’t a weak song on this album, not even a weak minute. “The Final Absolution” is splendid and quite possibly the finest moment of Aborted’s career so far. It has a kind of atmospheric black metal quality to some parts of the song but they are coupled with Aborted’s typical grindcore energy and brutality to create one massive piece of music.

Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is out on 21st September via Century Media Records.

Interview: Lechery – genuine heavy metal from Sweden

Lechery backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish heavy metal band Lechery recently did their first Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with the band backstage in Tokyo before the first gig for a talk about how proper heavy metal should be done. “We are genuine. When I sing heavy metal, I mean it,” says frontman Martin Bengtsson.

Sweden’s Lechery is a terrific heavy metal band that is fronted by Martin Bengtsson, formerly bass player in Swedish death metal bands Arch Enemy and Armageddon. Timeless might be a way to describe Lechery’s take on heavy metal which combines great twin guitars with shout-along choruses and plenty of energy. The band debuted with the album “Violator” in 2008 and its most recent album, “We Are All Born Evil”, was released earlier this year. In Japan, the band is backed by record label Spiritual Beast.

Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lechery currently consists of Martin Bengtsson on vocals and guitar, Fredrik Nordstrandh on guitar, Martin Karlsson on bass and Kristian Wallman on drums. It is a solid band built around Bengtsson’s strong metal songs and his fitting vocal style.

Lechery’s musical style is quite different from the melodic death metal of Arch Enemy and Armageddon. It is more classic heavy metal with nods to the 1980s but without sounding too retro. Is Lechery perhaps a deliberate step away from death metal? “It was more like going from heavy metal to death metal and then back to heavy metal. Death metal is not something that I particularly like,” explains Martin Bengtsson as we sit down backstage after the soundcheck. “We write the kind of music that we enjoy ourselves. That’s our starting point,” says drummer Kristian Wallman. Guitarist Fredrik Nordstrandh continues: “We don’t deliberately try to sound a specific way. It is just us being genuine. This is how it is. Martin writes most of the songs and this is how he writes and when we play these songs together, this is the way it sounds.” Bengtsson adds: “I have played together with Fredrik for a long time. A song that we played together 20 years ago, can easily be used on one of our records today because nothing has happened. We don’t fake it to try to catch some current trend. Some other bands do that.” Nordstrandh continues: “We have played in the same way, when we play together, since way back. It is difficult to change that. It wouldn’t feel genuine to change things. I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.”

Fredrik Nordstrandh on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Part of your signature sound is the fantastic shout-along choruses you have on many of your songs. Do you always bear in mind when you compose that it needs to be catchy and melodic, or can you also create heavier material? “I write music that allows the audience to participate,” says Bengtsson. “It shouldn’t be too complicated. When I go to a concert it’s more fun if I can take part. But, with, say, ten songs or whatever it is on an album and you shout ‘heavy metal’ in all the songs – then, perhaps, it becomes less interesting. You have to do it here and there, not all the time. There’s a relatively wide area of things that we can do. If you play certain musical styles within heavy metal, you can only do that. But for us, we can include a clean guitar and stuff. That’s how it remains fun.” Nordstrandh takes over: “What do we think is good? What is it that we like? You want to entertain yourself. If I listen to a band I want to be entertained. That happens when I can sing along to some interesting chorus or listen to a good melody or a great riff. It doesn’t necessarily have to be extravagantly technical.”

Bengtsson steps in with a classic Lechery statement: “We are genuine. When I sing heavy metal, I mean it. Many artists get dressed up and sing about it, but it’s noticeable if it’s not for real. I often say that I can walk out on stage in my underwear and still be harder than the pretenders. You notice it. It’s from the heart.” He looks me in the eye as if to really emphasise that he is dead serious. “It shines through if it isn’t for real. If you don’t actually mean it,” adds Nordstrandh before Bengtsson shouts: “And it should be fun!”

Martin Karlsson and Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Lechery, Martin Bengtsson is the creative motor when it comes to songwriting. “Yes, but we have to do it together in the end or else there is nothing,” explains Bengtsson. “Martin writes all the foundations to the songs, then the rest of us step in and add some spice. We have to do it together,” adds Nordstrandh.

Your latest album, “We Are All Born Evil”, has been received very well by critics across the board. Did the great reviews come as a surprise to you? “We felt that it was a really great album from the beginning,” says  Nordstrandh. “But we were somewhat surprised by the fantastic response we got in the album reviews in the press.” Bengtsson continues: “It’s a bit hard to take it in. I like playing heavy metal and it is only a bonus if others also like what we do. If no one had liked it, we’d still be standing here and playing.”

Kristian Wallman on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unlike many other metal bands, Lechery has had a very stable line-up. Drummer Kristian Wallman, who joined in 2011, is the only new member since the band was founded in 2004. “Some bands play together for half a year, then when they don’t get a record deal they call it quits,” says Bengtsson. “We just play together and have fun doing it. I think that over time it works. We play what we play and if we do it long enough, hopefully at some point we become good at it. Many bands keep jumping between different musical styles in order to find something – but that doesn’t work. I can’t just write a nu-metal song, at least not immediately. One has to practice the craft.” Nordstrandh adds: “Things didn’t happen overnight for us. We fought hard for quite a long time. Before ‘Violator’ was released, we were at it for quite a few years. It’s been a long road.”

Lechery backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Kristian Wallman explains how he came into the band: “Bassist Martin Karlsson and I have known each other for many years. We have played together since the dawn of time. I felt very welcomed and well taken care of.” Bengtsson adds: “The personal chemistry works very well,” before Wallman continues: “It’s imperative that the personal chemistry works in order to have fun and hang out.” Bengtsson quickly adds: “And to be bored together as well!” with a reference to the fact that life on the road is not always rosy. Nordstrandh continues: “There are no big fights or scandals, but we don’t always have the same opinion. At times there are people that are upset.”

Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lechery is an exquisite band name. Where did this come from? “There was a documentary about Alexander the Great where there was a lot of sinful lechery going on,” explains Bengtsson. “Lechery is an old word for lust. There were a lot of grapes and bed-hopping going on then. It sounded great. Nowadays we are also extending the concept to album covers and such. It’s fun to tease people. Iron Maiden and Metallica were names that were already taken. Now it’s too late to change.”

While Bengtsson’s earlier bands Arch Enemy and Armageddon have a history in Japan, this tour is Lechery’s first in Japan. What expectations do you have on Japan? “I have no big expectations,” says Martin Karlsson. “I am just very happy to be able to be here. I think we as a band can fit in well here. We hope that we can come back.” Nordstrandh continues: “We are very grateful for the opportunity to come here. We’ve been working hard for this. We’ve been in touch with the record label Spiritual Beast since the first album was released. We’ve tried, but it’s not easy. It is very costly to do a Japan tour for a Swedish band. It takes time to build up a fan base and connections. So, it feels great being here!”

What’s next for Lechery? “We’ll do a European tour in September. We’ll bring Solitude to Sweden. They will tour with us in Sweden, Germany and such. After that, we’re due to start working on a new album. That’s the plan,” says Wallman before it is time for the band to get ready for its first-ever Japan gig.

Lechery backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Sir Reg “The Underdogs” | Celtic rock from Sweden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Celtic rock from Sweden? Yes. And it works. Sir Reg is back with a feckin’ good album.

The Celtic-sounding rock band Sir Reg is actually from Sweden. However, the band’s frontman Brendan Sheehy is Irish, which helps to explain why this sounds so good and authentic. “The Underdogs”, the band’s fifth studio album since forming in Sweden in 2009, is a solid album which kicks off in style with the title track and is followed by “Conor McGregor”, two of the album’s best songs, both of them bursting with energy. Strong melodies, fine musicianship and smart lyrics are at the centre of this album. Sheehy’s voice is exactly what you’d expect from a decent Celtic rock band and the Swedish musicians backing him are first class. They include Mattias Söderlund, formerly of Swedish cult punk band Charta 77.

Sir Reg is a modern, faster, better and more alert version of The Pogues and The Dubliners. Sir Reg has the same foundation, but the end result is more high-energy rock. They don’t sound dated at all. They are also musically more advanced and thus can really marry the Irish folk music of yesteryear with modern rock. This is a band full of energy, musical talent and punk attitude. They also have some seriously great songs. “Sinner of the Century” is a beautiful song which is one of my favourites. It is more The Waterboys than The Dubliners. “Stereotypical Drunken Feckin’ Irish Song”, however, is a comical take on The Dubliners and Irish stereotypes (it includes the line “Stick a shamrock up your arse”). While there is some obvious melancholy in some of the lyrical themes on this album, overall this is feel-good music. It makes me want to dance on a table in an Irish pub with a pint in my hand.

Sir Reg’s album “The Underdogs” is out on 21st September via Despotz Records.

Gig review: Sweaty Tokyo audience royally crowned by The Crown and Origin

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A brutal and sweaty evening of exquisite extreme metal with The Crown and Origin in Shibuya. The Swedish death metal veterans The Crown have gone back to their brutal roots on their latest album and it shows on stage as well. Their American cousins in Origin are doing their best to upstage them.

Marko Tervonen of The Crown on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Crown, Origin, Descent and Primitive at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo, 14th September 2018

Descent’s frontman Anthony Oliver on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following short opening sets by two Australian bands, Primitive and Descent (where especially Descent’s frontman Anthony Oliver stands out with his hard-hitting performance), American band Origin walks on stage and delivers a musical punch in our faces.

Jason Keyser of Origin on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Like a neglected American stepchild of Napalm Death and Aborted, Origin gives us a fabulous gig full of chaos and brutality, but with a very technical foundation. This is fantastic and highly energetic extreme metal. I’d like to define it as tech death with grindcore touches. Frontman Jason Keyser knows how to get an audience going. He successfully encourages the audience to perform some serious stage diving, crowd surfing and even a wall of death going during the band’s set. The Japanese audience is up for it and soon a monitor accidentally gets kicked off the stage and microphone stands are pushed aside. It is a sweaty performance for both the band and its audience.

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

28 years into their career, the evening’s Swedish headliners The Crown now has a terrific line-up and a splendid new album out. To many fans’ delight, they have turned the clock back and taken its sound closer to the band’s early days but without sounding dated. Original members Johan Lindstrand (vocals), Marko Tervonen (guitar) and Magnus Olsfelt (bass) are still there and in the current line-up they are joined by Robin Sörqvist on lead guitar and drummer Henrik Axelsson. While two former The Crown members (Tomas Lindberg and Jonas Stålhammar) are now both in the mighty At The Gates, I think it is fair to say that The Crown has never had a better line-up than the one they have now. Having recorded 2015’s “Death Is Not Dead” album with guitarist Tervonen on drums, the band now has a proper foundation with Axelsson behind the drum kit. And Sörqvist is a phenomenal lead guitarist that takes The Crown’s music to a new level. Now, with the band’s third Japan tour happening, the band is tight, hungry and it feeds off its Japanese fans’ participation in the live show.

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

They open their set with “Destroyed by Madness” and continue with “Iron Crown”, both tracks from their latest album “Cobra Speed Venom”. In a 14-song set, we get no fewer than six songs from the latest album. That’s how good the new album is. But, of course, this evening we also get older favourites such as “Blitzkrieg Witchcraft”, “Iblis Bane”, “Crowned in Terror”, “Deathexplosion” and “Angels Die”. They finish a flawless set with the fabulous “Total Satan” from the “Deathrace King” album. Quite a finish to a long evening in the name of extreme metal.

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

Album review: Toy Called God “#Socialvangelism”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Patrick Donovan and his men in the Toy Called God army are back with a new studio album of groovy but radio-friendly modern American metal.

Toy Called God plays modern melodic metal with an obvious American sound to it. It’s quality and slightly gritty radio rock with an edge and plenty of groove. The new album, “#Socialvangelism”, is the Bay Area-based hard rock band’s fourth studio album. The band’s current line-up consists of Marcus D. Lance on vocals, Patrick Donovan on guitar, Damian Lewin on bass and Jacob Baptista on drums.

The album kicks off with “United Corporations of America”, a modern rocker which sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the album. We get it all on this track: catchy metal, power vocals, great melodies, variation and guitar wankery. Just the way we like it. “Punch Life in the Face” is an Alter Bridge-sounding track and it’s one of the best songs on this 11-track album. But most of all, Toy Called God has managed to develop a contemporary sound that is borrowing from some of the greats but without trying to copy them. “Miss Me” is aggressive but not brutal, melodic yet hard-hitting with guitars that chug along. It’s the album’s highlight for me. “Take a Bullet Not a Selfie” is a terrific social commentary set to a catchy tune. It will no doubt be a live favourite. “She” is a bit different. It’s almost a power ballad. The album also features a terrific cover of The Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s a brave move but Toy Called God pulls it off. Somehow they manage to both stay relatively true to the original song and inject some of the band’s modern metal attitude into the song. The title track “#Socialvangelism” closes the album. It kicks off in a hazy stoner kind of fashion (hello Monster Magnet influences!) and then adds some power rock in the chorus to wake up the listener before we get a splendid guitar solo.

Toy Called God’s album “#Socialvangelism” is out on 18th September via Sliptrick Records.

Album review: Survive “Immortal Warriors”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive celebrates two decades of musical brutality with a smashing new album.

There is currently a wave of great Japanese metal bands who start to make names for themselves internationally. One of the bands is Survive. They have toured internationally quite a few times over the years. Earlier this year they did a European tour together with Venom Inc. and here in Japan, they have this year opened for the likes of At The Gates, Municipal Waste and Venom Inc. Formed in 1998, this is the band’s tenth studio album. Survive currently consists of the core trio of Nemo (vocals and guitar), Sinjlow (bass) and Gaku (guitar). The album has been recorded with session drummers and on some of the recent live shows, United drummer Akira Tominaga has filled in behind the drum kit.

Survive is frequently called a thrash metal band. While that is part of the story, this band is so much more than just conventional thrash metal. Survive plays terrific modern thrashy and dark metal. It’s a great blend of brutal and melodic metal – with dashes of thrash, speed, death and black metal in the mix. There is a crushing brutality to many of the songs and also quite a few atmospheric parts on many of the songs. We also get a few contemporary sounding parts, some of them reminding me a bit of Trivium’s sound. But for the most part, the music on this album is more on the brutal side. Survive also has great melodies and a bag full of splendid guitar solos. But the thrash metal foundation is of course there. The guitars on “Wrath” are insane! The same goes for the title track, “Immortal Warriors” and several of the other tracks on this solid album. My favourite tracks on the album include “Control the Darkness” (which opens with a terrific atmospheric soundscape built on haunted guitars) and the angry and hard-hitting “Blood and Sacrifice”. This is a terrific album by a great Japanese metal band.

Survive’s “Immortal Warriors” will be released on 12th September via Rebel Recordings. You can catch them live at Club Asia in Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th September.

Album review: Angeline “Shadowlands”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic rockers Angeline are back with a fab new AOR album with some twists.

I have followed Swedish melodic rockers Angeline for more than three decades now. I saw many of the band’s first gigs in 1987-88 and the following years. I immediately liked them. Ever since their first demo cassette, “The Legend” in 1988, they have lived in the melodic rock world. Sometimes they are very much AOR, sometimes a bit heavier, but always melodic. Angeline’s current line-up consists of Jocke Nilsson (vocals, guitar), Janne Arkegren (guitar), Uffe Nilsson (bass) and Tobbe Jonsson (drums). They are all founding members of the band which was formed in 1987. The band released its debut album “Don’t Settle For Second Best” in 1990. In 1995, Angeline’s original vocalist Sigge Sigvardsson passed away at age 29. The band soldiered on but split up in 2001. In 2007, the remaining original members reunited and in 2010 they released the comeback album “Confessions”. They have been active since then with some studio releases and gigs. Now they have a new 11-track studio album out and in 2018, Angeline’s music is, unsurprisingly, melodic rock for grown-ups. The album opens strongly with the rather catchy rocker “I Wanna Know” which is followed by another strong track with some fine guitar work, “Slow Down”. “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It somehow manages to combine melodic rock with parts that almost sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers. In “The Devil You Know” we get a bit of blues-tinged hard rock as if Angeline were a rock band from Nashville and not Ljusdal in the deep forests of Sweden. In “Enemy Within” we get a more modern rock, not too far from the sound of Alter Bridge. In “Believe” and “I’m Here For You” we get the obligatory ballad-type songs that we expect on an AOR album. But most of this album is well-crafted middle-of-the-road AOR music as can be heard on songs like “Live Life Like You Mean It”, “Higher Than Love” and “Better Than The Real Thing”. I might have called it radio-friendly rock if anyone still listened to the radio.

Angeline’s album “Shadowlands” is out now via Blow Your Fez Off Music.

Gig review: Resurrected Michael Schenker attacks Tokyo in style

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker returns to Japan for another triumphant Michael Schenker Fest tour. This time with a fabulous mix of old classics and new songs.

Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit, Tokyo, 31st August 2018

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker comes on tour to Japan very often. Earlier with MSG, then with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and in more recent years with Michael Schenker Fest, a band consisting of reunited MSG members. Having seen Michael Schenker Fest’s previous tours of Japan (which have all been great), I wondered what they could do to make it different on this occasion. This time, in addition to the old MSG veterans – vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley as well as Steve Mann (keyboards and guitar), Chris Glen (bass) and Ted McKenna (drums) – Schenker brought along the former Temple of Rock vocalist Doogie White and put on a splendid show.

Doogie White on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As we did on the last couple of Japan tours, we get the MSG classics from the 1980s and they are as good as ever. But this time we also get some songs from the Michael Schenker Fest album “Resurrection” which was released earlier this year. Mixing the old classics with the new songs gives us a massive show that clocks in at two hours and forty minutes. It’s rock solid throughout. We also get some reminders of Schenker’s past with Scorpions (“Holiday”, “Coast to Coast”) and UFO (“Doctor, Doctor”, “Rock Bottom”, “Shoot Shoot”, “Natural Thing”, “Lights Out”).

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show opens with a partial performance of “Holiday” with Michael himself on vocals and continues with “Doctor, Doctor” which introduces vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley to the audience. Then we get a Temple of Rock block of songs with Doogie behind the microphone. Doogie also performs the new track “Take Me to the Church”, from the “Resurrection” album, and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. This evening we thankfully get no fewer than five songs from the new album. As Schenker is such a frequent visitor to Japan, there is a danger of getting stuck in a “same old stuff” situation due to his vast and terrific back catalogue. Adding new songs into the set gives his loyal Japanese audience variation and excitement.

Robin McAuley and Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the instrumental MSG classic “Into the Arena”, we get a section fronted by Robin McAuley which reminds us how strong the McAuley-Schenker Group version of MSG was with songs such as “Bad Boys”, “Save Yourself”, “Anytime” and “Love is Not a Game”.

Graham Bonnet on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet fronts a fantastic section consisting of “Dancer”, “Desert Song”, “Night Moods”, “Assault Attack” and “Searching for a Reason”. Then follows a Gary Barden-fronted section of the show featuring “Ready to Rock”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Rock My Nights Away”, “Messin’ Around” and “Armed and Ready”, before the terrific 30-song show closes with a four-song UFO section. Quite an ending to a fabulous show.

Gary Barden on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker, one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time, still got it and he is also wise enough to never let his guitar overshadow the songs. We get plenty of fantastic guitar solos, but they never overstay their welcome. With four world-class vocalists in his touring band, Schenker wisely lets them shine too. Michael Schenker Fest contains so much musical firepower that few bands in the world even get close.

Michael Schenker Fest on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Ace Frehley on fire in Roppongi

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ace Frehley sets Tokyo on fire with a smoking hot show at Billboard Live in Roppongi. “Ace is back and he told you so!”

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Ace Frehley at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo, 5th September 2018

As legendary KISS guitarist Ace Frehley sings in his anthem “Rock Soldiers”: “Ace is back and he told you so!”. He’s back indeed. I have never seen him better. Ace is on top form this evening with splendid guitar work, a bunch of exquisite guitar solos and good vocals. He also looks the part with shades and leather boots as well as his trademark lightning bolt guitar strap and Gibson guitars. That combined with a flawless set list consisting of fan favourites make this evening perfect. For this run of eight shows in Japan, Ace is backed by the terrific Gene Simmons Band, minus Gene Simmons. The great guitarists Ryan Spencer Cook and Jeremy Asbrock and bassist Philip Shouse are anchored by none other than terrific Accept drummer Christopher Williams. As you can imagine this is a step or two above your normal backing band. With all four of them also good vocalists, they help Ace in making the show into a home run.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

They open in style with “Rip It Out” from Ace’s first solo album from 1978. They then move on with KISS classic “Hard Times” from 1979’s “Dynasty” album and the KISS cover version of Rolling Stones’ “2,000 Man” from the same album.

The set this evening is dominated by KISS classics (such as “Parasite”, “Cold Gin”, “Love Gun”, “Shock Me” and “Detroit Rock City”) but we also get the Frehley’s Comet anthem “Rock Soldiers” and “Emerald”, a Thin Lizzy cover from Ace’s recent “Origins Vol. 1” album. Another cover, the Russ Ballard-written “New York Groove” (originally recorded by Hello) is closely associated with Ace since it was included on his first solo album and also featured in the KISS live set back in the day.

Ace sings lead on most songs, but the whole band contributes with vocals on various songs. On “Strange Ways” (from KISS’ 1974 album “Hotter Than Hell”), we get to hear drummer Christopher Williams take on lead vocals and it sounds fantastic! Yet another fab drummer who can sing like it’s nobody’s business.

During the obligatory guitar solo we, of course, get to see smoke coming out from Ace’s Gibson guitar, just like it did during the big KISS shows in the 1970s. In the middle of his extended guitar solo, he changes guitars and then says: “I’m back!”. Indeed he is and how great it is to see this 67-year-old rock star still deliver at a world-class level.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Ace and his band finish the fabulous set with a high-energy version of “Deuce”. This is it! The combination of the one and only Ace Frehley on form, great songs and a band that is better than most. This is how it’s supposed to be done. As a life-long KISS fan, it is hard not to be overexcited by an Ace Frehley gig, but this evening in Tokyo, Ace exceeds all expectations. Thank you, Ace, for such a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Gig review: The Agonist, Cellar Darling and Vulture Industries

Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian metal band The Agonist returned to Japan after a long absence and showed their Japanese fans that they still got it.

The Agonist, Cellar Darling, Vulture Industries, Icarus Lives and Cancer at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo, 25th August 2018

Vulture Industries

Vulture Industries on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Following the two Australian opening acts, as the stage curtain is raised once again, five Norwegian guys dressed in a very peculiar way become visible, with vocalist Bjørnar Erevik Nilsen raising his hands for the audience to follow him. Vulture Industries starts playing the high-energy “Tales of Woe” from their latest album “Stranger Times”. While all the band members do a great job, with much passion and dedication, it is impossible to not feel mesmerised by Bjørnar’s psychedelic performance. His body is led by the beat of the songs, while his voice just comes from the bottom of his soul, paralysing the ones in front and beside him. Guitarists Øyvind Madsen and Eivind Huse are very connected with their riffs, but it is when they also assume the vocals that things get even more intense. To close its first ever Japanese show, the band chooses to do a cover of Devil Doll’s “Blood Don’t Eliogabalus”. During the song, Bjørnar comes down from the stage, dancing in circles among the people and choosing two fans that are pulled closer to him while he is singing with his dark voice very close to their faces. I guess they were a little frightened. The venue may not be huge, but Vulture Industries is definitely the kind of band that gives everything to an audience of 10 or 10,000 people, and that is what makes a show unforgettable in the end.

Cellar Darling

Anna Murphy of Cellar Darling on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The Swiss trio Cellar Darling, formed by Anna Murphy, Ivo Henzi and Merlin Sutter, comes with folk metal roots from their time in the band Eluveitie. It is not an exaggeration to say that when the new group was announced I was expecting excellence – and that is what we get this evening. Opening the show with “Black Moon”, Anna Murphy brings deep emotion in her voice from the first to the last note. It has been a while since a band thrilled me this way. The atmosphere created by the connection between band and audience brings tears to some eyes, including mine. Even when her hurdy-gurdy instrument stops working, Anna continues to lead the show amazingly, even making some jokes about it. Guitarist Ivo Henzi has a fine personal touch in every riff and solo he plays. The chemistry in the band is incredibly beautiful. The highlight of the band’s set is “Avalanche”, the opening song of the “This Is The Sound” album and also the band’s debut single. With the audience singing every word, Anna lets them lead the final chorus, letting people scream their hearts out while showing the band their love and respect. As the problem with the hurdy-gurdy gets solved, the band starts to play “Redemption”, a beautiful song starting with only vocals and hurdy-gurdy that keeps growing until the final verse. They finish their much too short set with “Challenge”. This was definitely one of the best shows I have seen so far this year. A mixture of emotions and storytelling was present from the first to the last song. Doubtlessly Cellar Darling has much more to offer to their audience. The Japanese fans will surely see them again soon.

The Agonist

The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The evening’s headline act, Canadian metal band The Agonist, is back in Japan after a six-year absence. Starting their set with the aggressive “My Witness, Your Victim” from 2015’s “Eye of Providence” album, singer Vicky Psarakis shows us why she was the one chosen to give voice to the band’s lyrics. As the fans have been waiting to see The Agonist for a long time, soon the audience goes crazy, banging their heads and, following Chris Kells’ command, the first circle pit of the night appears. “A Necessary Evil” and “Thank You Pain” keep the flame alive, while Vicky does an awesome job combining screams and clean vocals. With her powerful-yet-sweet clean voice, it is difficult to decide which I prefer. When a performance is so intense, some brief pauses are needed for both band and audience to breathe. Continuing with “The Tempest”, considered by many fans as the band’s anthem, guitarists Danny Marino and Pascal Jobin give us a lesson in heavy riffs and fast solos, while Vicky and Chris share the vocals and leading the audience to madness. It is a short set, but it is long enough for the band to show that after some time of changes and conflicts, they have found their place and have stood their ground in the metal scene.

Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks