Gig review: Europe in Kawasaki | A masterclass in melodic hard rock

Joey Tempest of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Europe gives its Japanese fans a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

Europe at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 27th April 2019

40 years after its foundation in a Stockholm suburb in 1979, rock band Europe is better than ever. I have seen this band live many times since I first saw them perform in their native Sweden in the 1980s. They always deliver. However, this evening is above what I have seen before, not least because they are playing some rarely performed songs. The evening turns into a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

John Norum of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

They open with the title track from the latest album, “Walk the Earth” and follow it with “The Siege” from the same album. They are off to a fabulous start and then give us old 80s favourite “Rock the Night” to really get the crowd going. The band is in rude health and they sound fantastic. The rhythm section – consisting of Ian Haugland on drums and bassist John Levén – is reliably rock-solid. Keyboardist Mic Michaeli gets to shine like a Swedish Jon Lord with some elaborate keyboard intros to several of the songs (not least with the splendid intro to “Sign of the Times”). The synth-pop keyboards of the 80s have matured into some proper organ playing. Guitarist John Norum is a quiet man but he communicates through his guitars. His guitar solos are terrific and more varied and emotional than before. We know he can play fast, but with age, it seems he now has realised it is not all about speed. Frontman Joey Tempest remains one of the best in the business. His voice has matured and become a bit huskier. It fits the current version of Europe perfectly. 

The setlist this evening is fabulous. Each of the band’s three evenings at Club Citta, they perform a different setlist. This evening we get some goodies from the band’s self-titled 1983 debut album and the 2004 comeback album “Start from the Dark” in addition to the big hits and some of the newer songs. It’s an evening dedicated to some special songs, some of them deep cuts not often performed by the band. From the debut album, we get to hear “In the Future to Come”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “The King Will Return”, “Paradize Bay” and “Memories”. From the comeback album, we get “Got to Have Faith”, “Start from the Dark”, “Hero”, “Wake Up Call” and “Spirit of the Underdog”. In the 21-song setlist (plus a drum solo) there are also some other goodies, such as “Ninja”, “Carrie” and “Ready or Not”. 

The evening’s musical highlights for me are “Sign of the Times”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “Start from the Dark” and “Wake Up Call”. The encore is predictable but no less world-class with “Superstitious”, “Cherokee” and, of course, “The Final Countdown”.

Europe, thank you for the lesson in how melodic hard rock should be done. Flawless.

Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

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Album review: Corrosive Sweden “Blood and Panic”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Corrosive Sweden has released a smashing new album filled with a modern Scandinavian mix of aggressive and melodic metal.

Corrosive Sweden’s music is a modern mix of many things – some classic Megadeth-sounding riffing, a touch of The Haunted’s aggression, a pinch of Amorphis’ melodic heaviness as well as melodic parts in the proud Swedish tradition. This melting pot of musical influences has resulted in an interesting signature sound for the band. There’s plenty of angst in Johan Bengtsson’s angry vocals. His voice fits the music very well. Formed in Hudiksvall, Sweden in 1997, the band’s debut album “Wanted” was released in 2006. Since then they have released a number of albums, but it is with this new album they are taking things to a new level. Lead guitarist Christer Ulander, who joined in 2000, seems to be a driving force for the band’s evolving and guitar-happy sound. The new album opens with the fantastic “Fire from a Gun”, which sets the tone and expectations for the whole album. The modern metal track “Parasite” shows that this is an ambitious band with some great songwriting skills. “Speed” and “Angry Me” are smashing tracks that show the potential of this band. They are clearly trying to do their own thing without worrying too much about how things are “supposed” to sound in order to fit into a specific sub-category.

Corrosive Sweden’s album “Blood and Panic” is out now via BMP Records. 

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Interview: Shane Embury, Napalm Death | “I can’t imagine doing anything else!”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently met with English music legend Shane Embury in Tokyo to talk about his 32 years in Napalm Death, the new Tronos album and family life in Birmingham with his Japanese wife and two young kids. His Napalm Death colleague Barney Greenway also sat in and added some thoughts to the conversation.

While his day job as the bassist and the longest-serving member of British grindcore legends Napalm Death keeps him busy, Shane Embury somehow finds time for a wide range of other bands and projects, including Tronos, Brujeria, Venomous Concept, Bent Sea, Lock Up and much more. Shane Embury seems to be a songwriter and artist who can’t sit still. He’s always working on something new.

Shane Embury and Barney of Napalm Death backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of Napalm Death – consisting of Barney Greenway on vocals, Shane Embury on bass, Danny Herrera on drums and live member John Cooke on guitar – is as busy as ever with seemingly relentless touring around the world. While not an original member (there are none left in the band – the last founding member left in 1986), it is now 32 years since Shane joined Napalm Death. “Well, probably. It is actually. 32 years, yeah, you’re right,” says Shane as we sit down in Napalm’s dressing room in Tokyo during their recent Japan tour. Do you ever get tired? “You get tired, but we’ve done it for so long, it’s what I’ve wanted to do. It becomes part of your everyday thinking in a way, which is good and bad, I suppose. I should ask my wife that question and see what she says about it. It becomes part of your DNA for want of a better word. I can’t imagine doing anything else! I love playing music, I love writing music. I joined because I used to hang with the guys anyway. It obviously goes onto other things. Because you meet other people and you create a network of friends around the world. There’s a lot of people I would never have been able to meet without being in the band. That’s very encouraging as well.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Napalm Death never seems to stop touring. “We enjoy it. It does get tough like anything else. We all have lives outside of the band. It would be stupid to say, but of course, we make a living from it, but it’s not our sole goal. That’s just part of what we do. In the early days, it was never like that.” Napalm Death frontman Barney adds: “You’d be surprised, it’s actually structured pretty well. It looks as if we’re out all the time, but actually, it’s really well organised, so we get a lot of time that everybody needs. But we also put the work in.” The impression I have is that when Napalm goes on tour, there are gigs every day. “It looks like it, but it’s actually pretty reasonable,” says Barney while Shane adds: “It is intense. Some years have been pretty relentless.”

Shane has many musical projects and he has his own record label as well as many other commitments. Does Napalm Death always come first and the other things have to fit in around Napalm? “Napalm comes first!“ says Shane without hesitation. “I do things outside because I’m just obsessive, I suppose. Danny always said when I first met Buzz from Melvins and became good friends with him, because Buzz is quite an obsessive character: ‘You just keep busy because Buzz keeps you busy.’ Not necessarily. I like his ethic. I like the fact that he’s doing different things musically and I sort of like to do that too. And you meet people that you share a common thing with. But Napalm comes first. Sometimes things do clash, but very rarely. I try to keep on top of things with Marc at MAD who is our manager back in Europe. When I first started doing some of the other bands or they became, like Brujeria started to tour more, sometimes they would clash occasionally. But now with Brujeria things are a lot better because they can do stuff that doesn’t necessarily require me.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

There was a tour a few years ago where Shane played in three of the four bands on the bill – Napalm Death, Brujeria and Lock Up. “That was kind of a freakish occurrence. That really came about because we were trying to structure one tour with another band, didn’t happen, and I was talking with the booking agent and they said we will try Brujeria as an idea. And it just so happened that the Lock Up album was coming out. So, it was like: should I, or shouldn’t I? I said yes. To me, it seemed logical, but at the same time, it’s a lot to do. That’s not something you want to do all the time.”

The last Napalm Death studio album, “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”, came out in 2015 and “Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs”, a terrific hour-and-a-half compilation album of rare bonus tracks and deep cuts, was released in 2018. Can we expect a new Napalm Death album anytime soon? “It’s in the works. Music and vocals are being recorded. Not sure when that will come out. It’s pretty much there as such. It needs a few sprinkles here and there. I don’t think it will come out this year. It might do, I don’t know. Probably next year, I’d imagine,“ says Shane. Barney adds: “Probably next year, I would’ve thought. But it could be this year. A lot of it depends on me. I just fucking need to get it finished, which I will do.” Shane remarks that “There’s no rush in a way,” before Barney continues: “The thing is, as you just mentioned with the compilation album, that was exactly the purpose of it, to give a stop gap, whilst we sort of… Although, of course, it’s valid in its own right. But it also serves as a bit of breathing space. People know there’s a new album coming out at some point, but it’s not stopped anybody from wanting to book the band. They’re booking us on the current album.”

The compilation album proved to be a real treat for many fans. “Unless you’re a diehard fan, you wouldn’t have heard a lot of those songs,“ says Shane. “When we were compiling it, it was interesting. We always like to do lots of songs. We always have done. We always put a lot of effort into the songs we do, they’re not like fillers. That’s why it gets really hard to choose. It’s interesting compiling cuts for the record, it’s almost like a new album because you’d forgotten some of it.” Barney adds: “I didn’t remember half the stuff that was on there.” Shane continues: “Vague recollection! That’s a good thing. A few people have said when they listen to it, it’s got that feel of it.”

Shane Embury and Barney backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson. Photo: Aaron Hill, Eyehategod

Barney has some strong feelings about bands putting out compilations. “I’ve seen it from a lot of metal bands and this is really fucking annoying. They put like a compilation album out of songs that are not really hard to get and it’s like ten songs. Really? You’re really putting that out? Fuckin’ hell! Show some fuckin’ application! What we said when we went to do it, if we’re gonna do it, it’s gotta be fuckin’ worth it, you know? There’s no sense in doing that. When I saw the tracklist, I was like: where did all this stuff come from? Then it started to be worthwhile. And I think it’s such great artwork. I didn’t think we could top ‘Apex’, but this one is just as good in terms of being confrontational.” Shane adds: “You don’t get confrontational artwork so much anymore, I think,” before Barney continues: “I think you have to. We’re a confrontational band, so why wouldn’t your artwork be confrontational?”

Shane is a very productive songwriter who writes music for several bands and projects. Do you write music specifically for Napalm or do you just write music and then use it wherever it fits? “You write specifically for Napalm. Over the years, some of the slower, more experimental tracks were for nothing particular, but they came into Napalm as we were all looking in a similar direction, I guess. But overall, the mindset I tend to have musically for Napalm… Lock Up would be more death metal whereas Napalm, even though it’s experimental, it has a punkier core element, more bar core element. There might be some death metal, but there’s more a core thing going on with Napalm for me, Lock Up will be a bit more not like that and other things that I do… Venomous Concept tends to be more old-school punk, I suppose.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of Shane’s most exciting recent projects is “Celestial Mechanics”, the debut album of Tronos, a terrific dark ambient project where Shane has worked with Russ Russell (whose production credits include Napalm Death, Lock Up, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir, At the Gates and much more) and Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Cadaver, Bent Sea). The album has guest appearances by the likes of Snake from Voivod, Faith No More’s Billy Gould and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders. While still dark and at times extreme, Tronos is very different from what we are used to hearing from Shane. It also stands out as Shane is not playing bass but rather playing guitar and singing. “The whole album is different. Every track is very different. It’s a small spark in me really. It took like seven years for us to put it together. Originally, what it was, me and Russ, we always talked about putting this thing together. Russ has been working with us for like 20 years now, live and producing. We share a lot of love for heavy stuff and mellow stuff. I always wanted to see if it would be possible to bring ultra-heaviness together with ultra-ambience. When we eventually did start, I thought it was going to become a bit more industrial, but Russell, he’s obsessed with Tom G. Warrior as I have been. We were starting doing riffs at first. It was a series of riffs. We sat there and I recorded it. Right, OK, let’s use this riff. Where do we might go next? And we built it and it grew from there. I didn’t want to play bass, because I was playing guitar. So, then Billy came in and did a couple and Troy came in. It kind of grew from there. We tried to find a vocalist for quite a while and they all said ‘Yeah, I’ll try some vocals’ and they never did. Then I ended up singing which is good. It’s a good experience really. It’s quite a varied album. It’s not one thing. It goes off in loads of different tangents. Erica Nockalls who plays in the band called The Wonder Stuff, she came in. Of course, Snake did come in and did a couple of vocal recordings. That was really good. That’s quite a big thing for me to do something on the same record as him. I’m over the moon with it really.”

Will Tronos ever perform live? “If we ever did anything live it would be something like a festival. We shall see. A touring thing would be impossible because of all the people involved. Russ and me also would like there to be visuals. Russ does a lot of graphic stuff. He’s also a tattoo artist now as well. He does projections. It would be quite a visual experience. The whole point would be to do something quite out there, really, once in a while. If people are interested at all. I don’t know, people might not like it. We’re very happy with it. We’ve started working on some new stuff. If we do another one, it will probably not take seven years, because now we’ve established a kind of formula.”

This year you remain busy touring with Napalm and other commitments. “Napalm is pretty busy, up until about the end of September, I believe. Brujeria and Venomous Concept are going on tour in May in Europe for three weeks. So, it’s pretty much busy up until September. After that, I am not quite sure what is happening.”

When he is not on tour, Shane spends time with his Japanese wife and two young kids at home in England. “Me and my wife just had a baby boy. So, that’s kind of the big thing really. More energy is consumed there. It’s all hands on deck now. I live in Birmingham. We thought about moving at one point, and that may still happen at one point, I don’t know. Now, after many, many years, she’s got a network of friends and Japanese women who are married to English people in the Midlands. She found out there are a few Japanese schools on weekends. Through that, she started to… Now she feels a lot happier because obviously, she has a network of friends. That really helps. It’s OK. I am not there half the time. We’re always away. She holds the fort pretty well. She grew up in the States, so her command of English is extremely good. She probably speaks better English than me. She’s always correcting me.”

Family and friends are clearly important parts of the Napalm Death story and Napalm are clearly very happy with its Japanese partners such as Hirokazu Nambu of tour promoter Smash and Tetsu Miyamoto at record label Trooper Entertainment. “Most people that work for us, started as friends,” explains Barney. “A lot of the stuff that is out there in the regular music industry was just fuckin’ chancers, just trying to swim in the pool. So, it’s good to be able to get people that you can trust. Trust is a big thing. A guy like Nambu, the Smash West guy, we’ve worked with Nambu since fuckin’ hell, since… Consistently we’ve worked with him, because when you find somebody and it’s going well… Yeah, OK, someone else may come along and offer you the fuckin’ world on a plate, but that’s not the point. The point is, you want sustainability, you want people that can, because without these people, in some countries, you’ve got no chance. They actually helped to keep you where you are. That’s part of the reason why Napalm comes to Japan every other year, it’s because of people like Nambu, Tetsu and even the techs. The guys work with us all the time. It’s trust. You can go to bed at night and not have to worry about if something is going to fuck you.”

Napalm Death remains quite possibly the best band in the world.

Shane Embury backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Grand Magus “Wolf God”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal trio Grand Magus’ ninth album is filled with muscle rock built on thunderous drums, doomy riffs and JB Christoffersson’s voice.

The Swedish metal band Grand Magus debuted in 2001 with a self-titled album. “Wolf God” is the band’s ninth full-length studio album and on it, the band continues to give us songs built on the band’s established formula of powerful and riff-happy heavy metal. Frontman JB Christoffersson is perhaps best known as the former singer for Spiritual Beggars and in Grand Magus, we also find Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt and Fox Skinner on bass.

Lyrically, with song titles such as “Glory to the Brave”, “To Live and Die in Solitude”, “Dawn of Fire” and “Brother of the Storm”, the band roams in the same hunting grounds as Manowar and fellow Swedes Amon Amarth and Hammerfall. Musically those bands are also not miles away from Grand Magus, although Magus thankfully does not have the somewhat comical Viking/warrior image of those bands and there’s a tad bit more groove in this music. There are some doom influences here as well as old-school 70s hard rock. Thundering drums and doomy guitar riffs are topped off with JB’s voice. This is a hard rock trio with both muscles and brains playing battle music. The majestic “Spear Thrower” is the album’s highlight – kicking off with some fast guitars before JB’s voice takes control and leads from the front. “To Live and Die in Solitude” is a close second and “A Hall Clad in Gold” is also a contender. This is rather masculine music performed with power and skill. 

Grand Magus’ album “Wolf God” is out now via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

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Album review: Savage Messiah “Demons”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Modern British metal band Savage Messiah returns with a new album combining the proud British heavy metal tradition with contemporary melodic touches.

Britain’s Savage Messiah has created an interesting sound based on the proud British heavy metal tradition. With hints of NWOBHM and elements of thrash and speed metal, Savage Messiah still manages to sound distinctly contemporary, not least because of its modern-sounding melodic touch which can be heard on “Demons”, the band’s fifth full-length studio album since its formation in 2007. Frontman David Silver has a voice made for this type of modern metal. Combining Silver with Mira Slama on bass, David Hruska on guitar and Charly Carreton on drums, we get a fresh take on melodic metal. They somehow manage to enter that tricky space that has the potential for mainstream appeal while at the same time has a quality to it that makes the music interesting to more diehard metalheads. 

The album production on “Demons” sounds as great as it should when you have heavyweights David Castillo as a producer and Jens Bogren to mix the album. For the recording sessions, the band made use of drummers Dan Wilding (Carcass, Aborted, Heaven Shall Burn) and Ali Richardson (Bleed From Within, Sylosis). Most of the material for the album was written in the studio. People who can write this kind of high-quality music on the fly clearly have some serious talent. I absolutely love the guitars on “Down and Out”. Savage Messiah is a guitar band and throughout the album, we get some rather tasty guitar work. “The Lights Are Going Out” is almost a power ballad but thankfully with some added heaviness. My two favourite tracks on the album, “Heretic in the Modern World” and “Rise Then Fall”, are fast and modern songs. There is also a well-made cover of Chris Stapleton’s “Parachute” among the album’s eleven tracks.

Savage Messiah’s album “Demons” will be released on 10th May by Trooper Entertainment in Japan and on 17th May via Century Media Record internationally. 

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Album review: Kampfar “Ofidians Manifest”

Kampfar. Photo: Sebastian Ludvigsen

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Kampfar, one of the best extreme metal bands to ever come out of Scandinavia, is back with an epic new album.

The Norwegians in Kampfar always have a terrific atmospheric feeling to their majestically dark and epic songs. There is a foundation here built on black metal with some very Nordic touches to it. There are so many details to be uncovered in their songs that it never gets boring listening to them. Their deep Norwegian roots are not only present in the Norwegian lyrics. They also shine through in their music. Kampfar lives in a cold, windswept Norwegian underworld. But this is achieved with authenticity and not some added layer of faux Nordic folk/Viking theme that we sometimes see from other bands who think it’s a good idea to add some Nordic touches to their image.

Kampfar was founded in Fredrikstad, Norway in 1994. “Ofidians Manifest” is the band’s eighth full-length studio album. A typical Kampfar song combines heaviness, speed and brutality but there is always beauty in there as well. They don’t shy away from using tempo changes, including calm piano and acoustic guitar parts to make their songs even more dramatic due to the sharp contrasts within the songs. There’s also effective use of choral parts on some of the songs. “Ofidians Manifest” is like a beautiful and melancholic soundtrack to the end of the world. The characteristic voice of frontman Dolk is part of what makes Kampfar’s music instantly recognisable. His cold, coarse and powerful voice has Nordic written all over it. It is such a great fit for the music.

“Ofidians Manifest” features seven smashing tracks where the closing track “Det Sorte” is one of my immediate favourites with its epic combination of brutality and beautiful melodies. “Eremitt” is another splendid track on this album which does not have a weak moment on it. But perhaps “Skamløs!” a proper bulldozer song is the winner here. Incredible is the one word that nicely sums up the epic new Kampfar album. 

Kampfar’s album “Ofidians Manifest” is out now via Indie Recordings.

www.kampfar.com

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Album review: Whitesnake “Flesh & Blood”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

David Coverdale returns with “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album. He has a bag full of new songs and Tommy Aldridge, Reb Beach, Joel Hoekstra, Michael Devin and Michele Luppi backing him up.

The only constant in Whitesnake is the founder and frontman David Coverdale, who founded the band in 1978 after he left Deep Purple. Since then, he has had a lot of musicians come and go as members of Whitesnake. Among the more well-known former members are Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Don Airey, Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, Adrian Vandenberg, John Sykes, Vivian Campbell, Neil Murray, Steve Vai, Doug Aldrich, Marco Mendoza and Rudy Sarzo. But they are all part of Whitesnake’s rich history. Make no mistake about it, Whitesnake is still very much alive. In the current line-up, we find legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, Blue Murder, Ted Nugent), who first joined the band in the 1980s, as well as guitarists Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken, Alice Cooper) and Joel Hoekstra (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Night Ranger, Cher), bassist Michael Devin (Lynch Mob) and keyboardist Michele Luppi (Secret Sphere, Vision Divine). Coverdale knows how to attract world-class musicians that can back up his Whitesnake vision. The current line-up is no exception. As was the case with some of the earlier line-ups, Coverdale has taken advantage of his band members’ songwriting skills. Great songs and a great band topped off with Coverdale’s voice which is still very much intact.

Style wise we get a bit of everything on “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album and its 13 original tracks – from blues-rock reminding us of the band’s early days, via the kind of melodic hair metal and power ballads that we heard on the “1987” album, to more mature rock. “Flesh & Blood” is essentially a radio-friendly grown-up rock album.

The album opens with “Good To See You Again”, a typical Whitesnake take on melodic hard rock. “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is good fun and the song is backed up by a recently released video with some hints of the classic Whitesnake videos from the MTV era of the late 80s. Blues rocker “Trouble is Your Middle Name” is a standout track and so is another bluesy hard rock song called “Get Up”. The title track “Flesh & Blood” is another great one which has some serious groove. “Heart of Stone”, which has Coverdale almost talking his way through the verses, is a splendid song. “Well I Never” is a modern take on Whitesnake’s classic sound – but with quite a different approach to the song delivery – and it works great. The ballad “After All” is a terrific singer-songwriter type of song with some Beatles vibes and quite different from the music that Whitesnake would normally do. The massive rocker “Sands of Time” is my favourite track on the album, not least because of the fine guitar work. Some editions of the album also include the fabulous bonus tracks “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” and “If I Can’t Have You”, two tracks that fans should not miss. The Japanese edition comes with an alternative mix of “After All” as a bonus track. 

Whitesnake’s album “Flesh & Blood” will be released on 10th May via Ward Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally. 

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Album review: Enforcer “Zenith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band Enforcer is back a fabulous melodic heavy metal album which is a bit more varied than its earlier efforts. 

I love pretty much everything about Swedish metal band Enforcer. The band is a terrific modern take on classic 1980s heavy metal – fast guitars, great melodies and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Now they are back with their fifth full-length studio album, “Zenith”. With song titles such as “Die for the Devil”, “One Thousand Years of Darkness”, “Thunder and Hell”, “Forever We Worship the Dark” and “Ode to Death”, Enforcer walks in a well-established heavy metal tradition. But make no mistake about it, this is more Mötley Crüe, Raven, W.A.S.P. and Anvil than the more sinister corners of the heavy metal world. There is nothing scary about Enforcer. Enforcer’s frontman Olof Wikstrand has a great way of borrowing from the past, mainly from 80s metal, and using that foundation to create terrific new music. The result is stunning. Some people lazily refer to this as “retro”. Nonsense! Olof is using a foundation built on the past, but his focus is on creating timeless heavy metal. On this new album, we do see Enforcer walk into some new territories., something which will no doubt see some old fans question the direction. So what? “Zenith” is a smashing metal album. I love everything about it. We get the established Enforcer sound on many of the songs (such as “Searching for You” and “The End of the Universe”), but we also get some new twists and turns with some real diversity in musical style. “Regrets” is an exquisite piano ballad, Enforcer’s answer to Mötley’s “Home Sweet Home”. “Ode to Death” kicks off with an acoustic guitar and, stylistically, it has a few hints of Metallica’s “One”. “Sail On” has a foundation that sounds more 1970s than 1980s. “Breaker of the Chains” and “Thunder and Hell” might be the best songs on this terrific eleven-track album.

Enforcer’s “Zenith” is out today via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally. 

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Album review: Zephyra “Fall. Rise. Conquer.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Zephyra serves up a mix of melodic and brutal metal on a new album which also gives us a couple of songs in Swedish and a brave Metallica cover.

Swedish band Zephyra is back with a new album called ”Fall. Rise. Conquer.” The band released its debut album, “Mental Absolution”, in 2014. When they released their second album, “As The World Collapses”, in 2016, I wrote in my review that “Some of what Zephyra does reminds me of Battle Beast and other things remind me somewhat of Amaranthe, although this album is much less polished. Zephyra is perhaps Amaranthe’s unwashed cousins from the countryside.” That still holds true today. But with this new album, they have become more personal, more unique and much more diverse. The opening track, “Dreams Denied”, sets the tone for the new album, the band’s third full-length studio album. It is a great showcase for all that this band is about. They continue to play modern, melodic yet hard-hitting metal with liberal use of keyboards. Kind of a cross-breed of melodic death metal and industrial influences and a few nods to pop as well. Vocalist Åsa Netterbrant‘s voice is at the centre of the band’s sound and her mix of clean singing with some brutal growls fits the band’s music well. Two of the best songs on the album are sung in the band’s native Swedish. The Swedish songs – “Fånge i Frihet” and “Svart Smärta” – are terrific with their perfect balance between brutality, great melodies in the proud Swedish pop music tradition and the added novelty of the Swedish lyrics. There’s also a cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. That is a very risky move, but Zephyra pulls it off. They manage to stay respectfully true to the original song while at the same time making it a track that fits nicely in with the Zephyra sound. 

Zephyra’s album “Fall. Rise. Conquer.” Is out now. 

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Interview: Elize Ryd of Amaranthe

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd caught up with Roppongi Rocks over an early morning coffee and talked about the “Helix” world tour, the current state of the band, how happy she’s with the band’s new manager Angela Gossow, possible side projects and what Japan means to the band.

The morning after Amaranthe’s gig at the Download Japan festival, I meet frontwoman Elize Ryd for an early morning coffee. It’s 7:30am but the hotel lobby is full of metal fans who want to get glimpses of Amaranthe and Anthrax members who are staying at the hotel. Elize smiles and greets all her fans and then sits down for a cappuccino and a chat before she will head to the airport with the rest of the band. Following the most recent leg of the “Helix” world tour – a Russian headline tour and a festival gig in Japan – the Swedish band gets a well-deserved two-and-a-half-month break from touring.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The world tour kicked off last autumn in conjunction with the release of the band’s fifth studio album, “Helix”. It’s the first album featuring Nils Molin from Dynazty as one of the band’s three vocalists. The band also features Olof Mörck on guitar and keyboards, bassist Johan Andreassen, drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen and singer Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson. “We started the tour as support for Powerwolf. It’s been going great. This new album really feels like us. It’s nice for Nils to tour an album he’s singing on. Not that it should really matter, but, still, it is a feeling of completeness for the band. Earlier, there was a kind of interim period that was tough for all of us. Now we have emerged from that. We’re having a lot of fun. We’re all feeling much better, all of us.”

Nils initially came in as one of several stand-in vocalists, before becoming a permanent member of the band. They have also had a few other stand-in musicians over the years in order to keep the band rolling. “Yes, that was a bit cumbersome. It feels like we have stabilised ourselves now. It feels like we have proven to ourselves and others that we are synced live. But the foundation of the band, it has always been Olof and me writing music together. If someone can’t make it, then it’s not the end of the world if we have to change that member. I know how sensitive it can be, especially when it comes to a voice. If people realise that we write music and use different instruments – and that a voice is one of those instruments – then it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We have become more mature and open after this process that we have gone through that was very tough. It felt as if many fans may give up on us and that we would never again get to come back to Japan! We were really worried. We felt really bad. Everything became a bit strange and wasn’t handled properly. Psychologically it wasn’t a great situation. Now the ball’s back in our hands properly, without having to deal with all of that other stuff.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe, famous for having three lead vocalists, has seen two of its three original vocalists depart the band. “It was just the other two singers that didn’t think it was enjoyable any longer. We are still four founding members. That shouldn’t be forgotten,” explains Elize. “I’ve listened to Nightwish, for example, and they have changed vocalists. When a band has decided on something new it feels as if people accept their decision. It’s nice to be able to still hear the songs and the band avoiding being forced to disband. That would be tragic.”

Another major change for Amaranthe is new management. They now work with the mighty Angela Gossow as manager. Angela, the former lead singer of Arch Enemy, manages Arch Enemy and some of the band members’ solo work and side projects. So far, Amaranthe is the only “outside” client she has taken on. “It works great with Angela. She has really been the person who has got the band together properly. I really have to give her cred for that. Without her, I don’t… Then everything would have been much harder. She came in as an immense power and asked who’s who, what do you do, what do you want to do, what should we do? She’s really professional and I have the highest respect for her. It’s fun working with her.”

Can we expect a joint tour with Amaranthe and Arch Enemy in the future? “Yes, we hope so! It now feels like we are getting to know each other more and more. Having been independent for many years, we never understood how all other bands could know each other so well and have fun together, while we didn’t know anyone! Now we get it. If you’re under the same management you automatically become a family in a different way than just being on the same label.” Elize is clearly very happy with Angela Gossow as Amaranthe’s manager (“She’s fantastic!”). Elize knew Arch Enemy’s current vocalist Alissa White-Gluz from their time together as back-up singers in Kamelot. “I have always been speaking with Alissa and she has always been so pleased with her management. I remember I asked her who her manager is and she said: ‘It’s Angela.’ Oh, yeah. One thing that’s really cool is that she knows everything about the music business. I notice that myself now that I have been in this industry for ten years. I understand how everything is connected. But I don’t have any education like Angela has. She got a marketing education even before she joined the band. She has a lot of knowledge and the ability to speak with people. She’s not exactly shy. These really are skills a manager should have. She is on the band’s side because she’s been an artist herself. Many managers have never been artists and that’s why they easily make the wrong decisions. Their artists get overworked. They sit in their offices and have never really properly experienced tour life themselves. I think it is really, really important for all artists to work with someone that understands what it means when you book a flight at five in the morning, via Russia, and you have a gig at eleven at night. If you keep doing that for a couple of weeks, you’ll become ill. I was totally overworked and I almost thought I would die. I thought that my body would give up. It’s because it’s been planned by someone who doesn’t really understand the lifestyle. That’s how it is – your manager is basically planning your life.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I asked around if there were any managers. I know it is hard to find good managers. There are many managers or people who call themselves that. Managers, the ones who can manage for real, they’re normally busy and not available. Also, I wanted to get another woman into the group. Not that it should really matter, but… I have always felt really lonely as a girl. It’s fantastic to have someone that has toured, knows what it entails, who even don’t see certain things as strange. Perhaps things one needs in life but that I have never found any understanding for in the past. Now that I have perhaps ten years left – or more, I would hope – then you want it to feel good. Otherwise, what’s the point? It has to be fun!”

Elize has been very busy with Amaranthe for a decade now. Does she still have time for side projects, such as the guest spot she had with Gus G on his 2017 Japan tour? “That’s the thing. I want to do things but never really had the time. But now that we have a manager you can talk to, then I can say, let’s put aside some time to do other stuff because it would be fun. That’s what Alissa does. But now we have so many cool things with the band. It’s easy to get stuck with band stuff because that’s where it’s at. Side projects are for the sake of my own creativity. It would be fun to work with others. There are so many great people that it would be fun to share something creative with. Something that would be my own album but with other musicians. After ten years it feels as if it would be something fun to do. The thought is at the back of my head, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Writing songs, that’s what is fun. What takes time is recording things properly.”

All Amaranthe’s five studio albums have been recorded at Jacob Hansen’s studio in Denmark. “Yes, we have recorded all of them there. Should I do something on my own, I assume that I would do what many other artists are nowadays doing: sending around tracks that the musicians then add their respective bits to. Gus G, for example, has promised to play on my solo project. He has to, damn it!”

Japan has been supporting the band since the start, with Amaranthe performing in Tokyo for the first time in 2011, shortly after the debut album was released. “Yes, I know. I was very moved yesterday because it really felt like we got a great reception. It was really fun. I also think that perhaps there were a few new fans that have discovered the band recently, people we haven’t had a chance yet to meet since we released the previous album.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s been about two and a half years since Amaranthe last toured Japan, as the opening act on Helloween’s Japan tour in 2016, before they now came back for a set at the Download Japan festival. “Yes, a lot of things can have happened since then. We thought it was great and the fans’ support has been absolutely wonderful. We felt that we need to come back ASAP because we love Japan! It’s great that we still get the chance to come and play here. I think we got a bit of an upswing now that we played this festival. I remember we played Loud Park, for example, and then we got to do a headline tour after that. Then we also did another not so great set at Loud Park, unfortunately, when there were a lot of problems with the crew and technical issues. Now it’s Angela that is in charge of the crew and thus there are no mishaps. Haha! Now everything is done properly, that’s really how it is. It’s fantastic! We don’t need to stress over things now. Now we can perhaps return and just be artists and focus on that and not focus on all the other things like we had to in the past. If we get the opportunity to be here, then we will grab it! We are so grateful, really. Download was really fun. It was magical! It went well and the support was great. I was positively surprised, really. Especially at eleven in the morning. People were awake and dancing. We played a 40-minute set. If we come back here soon, if we get to do that, we will then perform more songs from the latest album. We played a bit of a best-of set and some new things. We managed to play ‘Helix’, at least, and ‘GG6’. What else did we play? We obviously want to play longer sets. In 40 minutes, you can’t fit in much.”

As Elize departs Japan for this time, she has a chance to catch up on some sleep at home in Gothenburg, Sweden before the summer festival season kicks off. She might need it as well as a visit to a dentist. “I cracked my tooth in Russia. With the microphone! When I sang yesterday, I could feel the pulse in the tooth. Some nerve has been damaged. I went to a Russian dentist to do a filling. But that is just temporary so that the roots can start to heal. I can’t eat properly.” Well, Elize Ryd is not an artist that can be stopped by a cracked tooth. Soon she will be back on stage as the “Helix” world tour continues with European summer festival appearances.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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