Loud Park gig report: Michael Schenker Fest

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker brought Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley as well as their old MSG colleagues to Japan for another terrific trip down memory lane.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker has long been a crowd favourite in Japan. He frequently tours Japan and performs in front of sold-out venues. This time he is headlining a rock festival with his Michael Schenker Fest, a touring band made up of old colleagues from MSG.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In June 2015, Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time during a Japan tour of Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Graham Bonnet Band. In 2016 they returned to Japan and performed together again, this time with Michael Schenker Fest which also featured two other legendary MSG singers, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley. That resulted in great shows and a live DVD. In 2017, they are back in Japan and Michael Schenker Fest headlines the big Loud Park festival on 15th October. It is once again an MSG love fest.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In addition to the three former MSG vocalists and, of course, Michael himself, we also get Ted McKenna on drums, Steve Mann on guitar and keyboards and Chris Glen on bass. It is essentially the same show and mainly the same songs as we saw last year, but when it is this good, who cares? Michael Schenker Fest gives the Japanese audience what it wants. The execution is flawless. We get a bunch of veterans who seem to find joy in playing together again. No drama, no rivalry, only a bunch of great musicians having fun doing what they do in front of their loyal fans. I am sure there are long rehearsals and much planning behind this show, but it seems so effortless. Like a bunch of friends jamming it away. There is so much experience and pedigree in this group of musicians, not just from MSG, but also from artists such as Scorpions, UFO, Rainbow, Alcatrazz, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Ian Gillan, The Sweet, Gary Moore, Survivor, Lionheart and much more.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following tours around the globe this and last year, the former MSG gang is a well-oiled machine. The three vocalists all still got it. They have voices that can deliver and they do as the band pumps out classics from Schenker’s long career. The band is in top shape and Michael Schenker is so clearly enjoying himself up on stage. The constant sparkle in his eyes and the big smile on his face when he plays his guitar in front of his fans are priceless.

Graham Bonnet on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The bulk of the set is of course made up of MSG classics, including some of my personal favourites such as “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Assault Attack”, “Save Yourself” and “Bad Boys”. But we also get one Scorpions song (“Coast to Coast”) and the UFO songs “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor” finish another Japanese triumph for Michael Schenker. Splendid, inspirational.

Robin McAuley on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Opeth

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive rockers Opeth returned to Japan for another triumphant gig.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is the middle of a typical autumn day when people start gathering in front of the Big Rock Stage on Saturday 14th October to see the Swedish progressive masters Opeth’s gig at the Loud Park festival. The air becomes a little thick, yet very energetic as the on-stage screen displays the band’s name. Opening the night with the amazing “Sorceress” from their latest album, the riffs of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson take the crowd to another world with Mikael’s voice lightning the dark atmosphere of this song.

Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Continuing the show, they turn back 12 years in time with “Ghost of Perdition”. Heavy screams, violent drumming by Martin Axenrot and a good bass job by Martin Mendez are mixed with slow vocals and keyboards, showing why Opeth has been considered one of the best, if not the best, progressive death metal bands of all time.

Martin Mendez of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next comes “The Wilde Flowers”, also from the “Sorceress” album, bringing another set of beautiful vocals from Mikael and also the backing vocals of Joakim Svalberg, which make a great difference in the song together with the band’s technical yet very emotional performance.

 

After that, a brief pause is made for some interaction between Mikael and crowd, with some jokes and thanks and many “I love you” coming from the audience. Then Mikael announces a ballad, which he believes will be one of the few ones played during the two-day Loud Park festival. The ballad is “In My Time of Need” from “Damnation”, a controversial album at the time considered by some fans as being too soft, but I believe it was the beginning of a transition consolidated in the 2011 album “Heritage”. This song is very deep and emotional. The lyrics are about a lonely person who is in need of someone who is not there. Mikael really knows how to share the feelings of the song with people. When he sings, he puts his soul out for everyone to see it and cherish it. It is impossible, even for the die-hardest death metal fan, to not get moved by it.

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unfortunately while they are preparing to play “Cusp of Eternity”, a member of their crew comes and whispers something in Mikael’s ear and I can hear some words in Swedish before he announces that they only have 14 minutes to finish the show. Thus they will have to cut a song from the set and play “Deliverance”, the last one, which is 14 minutes long. Of course it isn’t the best news for the crowd, but it is a festival gig and we all know such things can happen. Starting with a heavy combination of all instruments and then Mikael’s violent screams, this song travels between dark and heavy moments to soft and light ones, showing all their abilities as musicians and giving the listener a delightful moment. As they don’t have enough time to say a proper goodbye, when they end the song Mikael thanks the fans and walks off stage, leaving their fans already longing for a headline tour as soon as possible. This was definitely one of the best performances I have seen in my life.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Overkill

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal veteran band Overkill delivers another Japanese knockout at Loud Park.

DD Verni of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal band Overkill has had a loyal following in Japan since the 1980s. Last time they played Japan in 2015, they conquered the Thrash Domination festival in Kawasaki with Exodus and Sodom. This time they are even better. With a fab new album out – “The Grinding Wheel”, their 18th studio album – the band is as good as ever. The energy is spilling over as they hit the stage at the Loud Park festival on 14th October.

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The core duo of vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist DD Verni are still steering this steady thrash metal ship. They write all the music and lead the band from the front. Long-serving guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer are by now firmly rooted in the band. They are good custodians of the Overkill legacy while at the same time helping create new classics. The newest addition, drummer Jason Bittner, is a vitamin injection for the band. He has honed his skills with bands like Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, Shadows Fall and Toxik. Being the drummer in an energetic band like Overkill is no walk in the park. Bittner is up to the job.

Dave Linsk of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s a short festival set but a great gig, one of the best of the two-day festival. They open frenetically with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” from their latest album “The Grinding Wheel”, which was released earlier this year.

Derek “The Skull” Tailer of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During the short set we get 80s classics “Rotten to the Core”, “Hello from the Gutter”, “In Union We Stand” and “Elimination”, but also the newer songs “Electric Rattlesnake” and “Ironbound”. The performance is flawless. The band is so fired up that you can touch the energy on stage. The audience loves it. This is how thrash metal should be done.

Overkill closes a fantastic gig with “Fuck You”, a terrific cover version of a The Subhumans song that Overkill has made its own and released on an EP back in 1987.

DD Verni and Jason Bittner of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Gene Simmons Band

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gene Simmons is still going strong at 68 as he performs KISS classics with his solo band.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As KISS seemingly is slowing down a little bit, its members have more time for their own projects. Gene Simmons has teamed up with a bunch of Nashville-based musicians to form the Gene Simmons Band. The band is great and when they’re not on tour with Simmons, they perform as Thee Rock N’ Roll Residency.

Gene Simmons Band opens this festival appearance at Loud Park on Sunday 15th October very strongly with “Deuce” followed by “Parasite” and Simmons’ showpiece number “I Love It Loud”.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Simmons is 68 years old, but he can still deliver on stage. His voice is intact and sounds as good as ever. At Loud Park he exclusively performs KISS songs. There is no time for any of his solo material. The set is dominated by KISS classics from the 1970s: “Cold Gin”, “Do You Love Me”, “Shout It Out Loud”, “Calling Dr. Love”, “Watching You”, “She” and “Let Me Go Rock ’N’ Roll”. We also get the fab “War Machine” from 1982’s KISS album “Creatures of the Night” and the perhaps less expected songs “Wall of Sound” from the 2012 KISS album “Monster” and “Got Love for Sale” from 1977’s KISS album “Love Gun”.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japan being one of the best markets for KISS throughout their long career, Simmons is performing in front of loyal fans at Loud Park and he makes the most of it. Twice he gets a crowd of local fans up on stage to party it out. The KISS anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite”, of course, closes a great gig by a veteran who can still deliver.

It’s been two and half years since KISS last toured in Japan, but this Gene Simmons gig certainly was a good treat for the fans. In January, Simmons’ KISS colleagues Paul Stanley and Eric Singer will perform 12 gigs in Japan with their Soul Station project and Simmons will be back in Japan in April as part of his Gene Simmons Vault Experience. It is not yet clear if he will do any performances during that visit.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With a great new album out and perhaps the best backing band ever, original shock rocker Alice Cooper took the stage at the Loud Park festival on Saturday 14th October.

Check Garric, Alice Cooper and Tommy Henriksen on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

No one is shocked by Alice Cooper any more. But his show is entertaining and backed up by great music performed by a top-notch band. Five decades into his career, Alice Cooper is in fine form and still delivering in the studio and on stage.

At Alice Cooper’s gig at the Loud Park festival at the Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo, we get some fake blood, we get a Frankenstein’s monster and we get the infamous beheading of Alice with a guillotine. But this is more good fun and tongue-in-cheek humour than a horror show.

Nita Strauss, Alice Cooper and Tommy Henriksen on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Alice is in top form and he is performing in front of a large crowd of loyal Japanese fans. It’s a festival gig and time is short, so Alice gives us a concentrated best-of show.

Alice and his band open with the terrific modern classic “Brutal Planet” and they continue with “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels”.

At this gig we get old-school Alice in “I’m Eighteen”, “I Love the Dead”, “Only Women Bleed” and “Halo of Flies” From the somewhat more polished late 80s/early 90s period we get “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein”. The different periods of Alice’s career blend nicely in a live setting.

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The terrific Alice Cooper band – Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen on guitars, Chuck Garrick on bass, Glen Sobel on drums – has been greatly topped up in recent years with the addition of third guitarist Nita Strauss. Wow! This is a guitar slinger who knows how to treat that guitar. She’s not only a phenomenal guitarist, she’s also got charisma and knows how to do all the stage moves an audience want from their guitar heroes. Because she has two other guitarists in the band, she’s freed up to deliver some terrific guitar wizardry that adds plenty to many of Alice’s old favourites.

Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss on stage with Alice Cooper at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What about the new album? Sadly at this shorter festival gig, we don’t get to hear any of the new songs from Alice’s latest solo album. Hopefully Alice will return to Japan for a full show where we get to hear the new songs live.

He finishes a great gig with a playful version of classic “School’s Out” with the band incorporating part of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” into the performance. Splendid!

Great show, great fun, a fantastic band and an Alice Cooper delivering. This is what festival gigs are all about.

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Korrupt “Preachers and Creatures”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Korrupt combines energetic Norwegian shout-along punk with hardcore on its debut album.

On Korrupt’s debut album we get a great mix of shout-along punk and hardcore. Very crowd friendly. This is the kind of music that makes an audience dance and jump up and down. Korrupt’s members grew up in Kristiansand in Norway’s Bible belt. Thus there is naturally some rebellion in this band’s music and lyrics and a bit of a backlash against the church and its influence in the local community. Korrupt is a very energetic band with some explosive raw power channelled via great punk melodies. It works great on this record, but I am sure this must be even more fantastic in a sweaty and intense live setting. “Capitalist”, “Revolt” and “Martyrs” are some of my clear favourite tracks on this album, while the title track “Preachers and Creatures” is fabulous hardcore. I absolutely love the attitude and the never-ending raw energy in this music. What a Scandinavian treat!

Korrupt’s “Preachers and Creatures” album will be released via Fysisk Format on 20th October.

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Album review: Ice Age “Breaking the Ice” | Gothenburg thrash metal band finally releases its debut album after three decades

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It took them three decades, but thrash metal band Ice Age from Gothenburg has finally released a splendid debut album filled with fab guitar riffing and Sabrina Kihlstrand’s commanding voice.

In the second half of the 1980s, Ice Age was one of leading underground bands on the Swedish heavy metal scene. Playing thrash metal rather than the melodic rock that dominated the Swedish metal scene at the time, they stood out and followed their own musical path. Following some line-up changes and disagreements with their management, they disbanded in 1990 and reformed in 2014.

Ice Age’s classic 80s line-up.

Back in the day, Ice Age released some great demos that were sold in cassette format at the band’s gigs. But they never released any proper album, until now. “Breaking the Ice”, the band’s debut studio album, comes some three decades after their original heyday.

On this album, Ice Age introduces the world to its signature sound based around vocalist Sabrina Kihlstrand’s voice. There are some great echoes of Megadeth here, but the band members have managed to clearly put their mark on their own version of thrash metal, which is somewhat less brutal and more built around great guitar riffs and melodies. The album has a straightforward, clean production with no fancy stuff but a crystal clear sound. It lets the music speak for itself. And the material and skills are more than good enough for that.

Kihlstrand’s voice is a perfect fit for this music. I love it. It commands attention – clear enough to make it accessible, but still with an angry attitude that tells you not to mess with this fierce lady. The band’s sound is essentially the same as it was in the 80s, but it has grown and matured. Five of the songs on the album (“Fleet Street”, “General Alert”, “Instant Justice”, “Mental Disorder” and “A Case of Cerebral Death”) are terrific re-recordings of some of the band’s classic 80s songs. On this album, the old songs have been joined by five new compositions: “Clever”, “Breaking the Ice”, “Total Collapse”, “Hell of Nothing” and “No Need to Bleed”.

The old and new songs are equally good and there are no obvious differences, proving that the band is capable of creating new music that equals its classics.

Ice Age in 2017.

Among the new songs, “Clever” is a clear favourite of mine. As if Megadeth came from Gothenburg. “Hell or Noting” is also great and will no doubt become a live favourite. But all the songs here are at a fab level. This is a very strong and even thrash metal album with a difference. As much as I love brutal and fast old-school thrash metal, Ice Age’s slightly different take on the genre is fabulous and refreshing.

Sabrina Kihlstrand on vocals and guitar and Viktoria Larsson on bass still make up the core of the band. They are joined in the current line-up by Linnea Landstedt (also in the great thrash metal band Tyranex) on lead guitar and André Holmqvist (Manimal) on drums.

What a great album! Ice Age is not stuck in the past. This is a band that is here and now and clearly one of the best Nordic metal bands at the moment. This is one of this year’s best albums so far. With those 80s demos still in my head, I had high hopes and expectations, but “Breaking the Ice” exceeds them all.

Ice Age’s “Breaking the Ice” album will be released on 20th October via GMR Music.

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Gig review: Serious Black brought the magic to Tokyo

Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

European melodic metal band Serious Black finished their “Magic” tour with a great gig in Tokyo on Friday 6th October.

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

Serious Black has often, somewhat incorrectly, been lumped in with European power metal bands. The power metal label has probably helped them win new fans, but their music is a bit broader than that. Some songs are certainly in the power metal space, but there is also more straightforward heavy metal as well as various kinds of melodic metal. Call it what you like, but this is metal with great melodies.

Christian Münzner and Mario Lochert of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Their latest album, “Magic”, was released in August and it is their best so far. Having released three studio albums in just over two and a half years, Serious Black, despite being a relative new band, already has a great body of work to choose from when they play live.

Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In its short time of existence, the band has seen some top-level members departing, including Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan), Thomen Stauch (Blind Guardian) and most recently Bob Katsionis (Firewind). But somehow the band manages to soldier on and this evening they sound stronger and better than ever. Vocalist Urban Breed is a fabulous frontman who has honed his skills in Swedish bands Tad Morose and Bloodbound before he joined Serious Black. He looks the part and he has a voice that fits the music well. He knows how to entertain a crowd and get their attention. The rest of the touring band also has both skills and pedigree: bassist Mario Lochert (Emergency Gate), guitarists Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge) and Christian Münzner (Obscura, Necrophagist, Alkaloid) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire, Avantasia, Blind Guardian). It’s quite a collection of European musicians. German guitarist Münzner only stepped into the band at the beginning of this tour, but he’s not showing any sign of that on stage. He’s a great fit for the band, despite having a background playing more extreme metal.

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

This evening in Tokyo they perform for their Japanese fans for the very first time. We get crowd favourites such as “I Can Do Magic”, “Serious Black Magic”, “This Machine Is Broken” and “Burn! Witches Burn!” This Friday evening gig is the final gig of the “Magic” tour which has taken the band on a club tour across Europe before this one-off show in Japan.

Christian Münzner and Urban Breed of Serious Black on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They finish their first-ever Japan gig with the splendid “High and Low”. This is a band that has all the ingredients for making it long-term in Japan. They have the songs, the musicians, the support from a local record label and they have the work ethic and friendliness to get lots of love from Japanese fans.

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

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