Interview: Girlschool “We just go straight through the amps!”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

According to Alice Cooper, school has been out for summer for many students. But one British school has not had the summer off: veteran British rockers Girlschool toured Japan and Australia this summer. Roppongi Rocks caught up with the band backstage in Tokyo.

Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Founded in London in 1978, Girlschool has two remaining founding members: Kim McAuliffe on guitar and vocals and drummer Denise Dufort. Both have turned 60, but are still at the top of their game. Legendary guitarist Kelly Johnson passed away in 2007 and the other member of the classic Girlschool line-up, Enid Williams, left the band, once again, at the beginning of this year. Kim and Denise are joined in the current line-up of the band by lead guitarist Jackie Chambers and bassist Tracey Lamb. Tracey, a founding member of the band Rock Goddess, is back in Girlschool for her third (or fourth stint, really), having first played with the band in 1983.

Sitting in a small room backstage with the four members of Girlschool, there’s endless banter and self-deprecating jokes. It never stops. They’re the same on stage a few hours later. They’re a lovely bunch of ladies and their British humour resonates well with me as I, too, spent a big part of my life living in London. 

It’s now been 41 years since the band was formed. What motivates you to keep going after all these years? “We’re stupid!” says Denise Dufort with a big grin across her face. “Stupidity!” screams Kim McAuliffe and continues: “But also, the fact is, it doesn’t seem like it. It just goes so quick. Anyway, when we first started, if you would’ve told us then that we would still be going now…” Denise jumps in again: “No way!” before Kim says: “It just happened.” Jackie Chambers explains that the band is still going because “We don’t have any other friends!” before Denise screams: “It’s true!”

Girlschool toured here Japan for the first time in 1982. What do you remember from that tour? “The first time you come here, it’s so different,” explains Kim. Denise adds: “Culture shock!” Kim continues: “I remember, when we went on stage, there was so much screaming, we thought we were in The Beatles. What the hell’s going on here? The other funny thing I do remember is that where we’re playing because it was a big theatre, they won’t allow smoke machines. So, there was all this little crew, running in, literally, filling up bags of smoke outside the doors and ran into the stage!”

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

Lemmy and Motörhead have had a constant presence in the Girlschool story. What has his support meant for Girlschool? “I think what happened was that they gave us more of an identity,” says Kim. “Obviously, we were touring way before we met Motörhead. We sort of had the same thing as Motörhead, the crossover thing. We played punk clubs – they’d think we were heavy rock. And when we played heavy rock clubs, they thought that we were punk. When we did that first tour with Motörhead, people went ‘Ah! That’s what they are! Whatever it is, whatever that may be.’ The crossover thing, you know.” Tracey Lamb adds: “Similar sound. When I was in Goddess in the early years, Jody and me went out and bought all the Girlschool albums and Motörhead albums and there was a similarity in the style, with the crossover punk and metal thing.”

How do you balance playing old classics versus newer material? Do you ever think: Screw the old stuff, let’s just play newer songs? “We’d like to,” says Kim. “But the thing is, I always think, what would I like to hear if I came to see a band? I wanna hear the songs that I know, the classics. Everybody does.” Tracey adds: “It’s good to have a mixture, isn’t it?” Jackie continues: “We put new ones in. We try to put them in, because people who’ve found us only a few years ago, and then there’s some young people only just coming into the band now, so we have to put something new in.” Kim takes over: “But having said that, since Tracey joined, we are playing four new ones, to us, in a sense, that we never usually play.”

Girlschool backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson.

Jackie explains: “We put ‘Bomber’ in for the first time ever.” Kim continues: “We’ve never played ‘Bomber’ live ever. But we do now! And also ‘Action’, which is a relatively new one. Tracey was on that album.” Tracey quickly says: “1988!” before Jackie adds: “New in 1988! Haha!” Kim continues: “We play two new ones, ‘Guilty as Sin’ and ‘Take It Like a Band’, from the last album.” Jackie feels the urge to explain that “When we say ‘new’, it is always like ten years ago!”

Your latest studio album, “Guilty as Sin”, came out in 2015. Can we expect a new studio album anytime soon? “People are saying ‘get a new one together’ and we’re thinking now when Tracey’s back in, we should do something next year,” says Jackie. 

Tracey Lamb is back in the band yet again as Enid Williams left. Was this an obvious choice? Is it a temporary or a permanent solution? “She’s under initiation test,” says Jackie before Tracey proudly says: “I passed. I’m in!” Denise explains: “I wanted Tracey back in the band. Because she’s a great bass player. Me and her always play well together, so I wanted her back!” Kim continues: “This is her third time now. We’ve known each other for 40 years.”

Tracey Lamb of Girlschool backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“It’s fantastic being back,” says Tracey. “I love it! I’m back to stay, I’m back for good. I’ve been away for about 19 years and now I’m back.” Kim screams: “19 years? Bloody hell! Where’s that gone?” before Tracey continues: “It’s great! Because I left Goddess and then a few months later I got a call from Denise: ‘Can you help us out first of all and see how it goes?’ And we had such a great time in Spain and then we played Belgium, didn’t we? It gelled musically.”

Will Rock Goddess continue without you? “Yeah, they have got a new bass player now. They replaced me with a younger model. Haha! She’s only 28!” says Tracey.

Jackie Chambers, who joined Girlschool in 1999, is referred to as “the new girl” by the others. “20 years! New girl?!” says Jackie. “We keep saying the new girl,“ admits Kim. “It’s a bit like Ronnie Wood. He’s the new bloke in the Rolling Stones!” 

Jackie Chambers of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jackie, you joined a legendary band more than two decades after it was founded. Now, some 20 years later – you have a major role in the band as lead guitarist and songwriter. Was that tough to achieve? “I didn’t see it like that because they were mates,” answers Jackie. “I’d met them all in 1995. Even though we were mates, I never saw myself in the band. Kelly wanted to leave. I never even thought about joining Girlschool. Me and Kim were doing a project, writing together at my house. No, actually we were just getting drunk, weren’t we? Pretending to write songs! When Kelly at one point just had enough, because I didn’t play lead guitar at all. I was in like punk stuff and played rhythm and riffs. She goes: ‘Look, if I help you…’ Cris Bonacci lived two streets away. She’s like ‘I’ll teach you the songs!’ And I thought: ‘Alright then!’ I joined a cover band to get my playing up to speed because I had never played lead guitar. They taught me the songs, I just went away and practised, thinking nothing will ever come of it. And then one day they said: ‘We’ve got some gigs, a London gig and Wacken, which was Kelly’s last gig. They wanted me to do Wacken and I went: ‘Not a chance in hell is that gonna be my first gig!’ in 1999. So, I said: ‘OK, Kelly, you do this as your last gig and I’ll take over there.’ And it just happened. Then Enid came back. The first gigs we did was 2000. So, 1999 I officially joined. I just like writing music. I wanted to be a songwriter, not a guitar player. What went wrong? I get to do both now. I enjoy it. I don’t write all the songs. I like to write music. We just work together, don’t we, really? I jam with Denise to write songs and me and Kim swap ideas on the phone. It’s really high-tech this band, whistling down the phone, an idea!”

Let’s talk about the classic Girlschool sound. Throughout the years, you’ve had many different constellations when it comes to guitars and bass and how the lead vocals have been handled. This year you have again had a shift with Enid leaving the band and Kim being, more or less, the sole lead singer. How have you managed to keep it sounding Girlschool through all these changes? “I’m a bit worried about these gigs now,” says Kim, “because we have like six in a row or something. I’m not used to singing all the songs. I need a bit of a break.” She’s pleading with Jackie and Tracey to take on some of the lead vocals. “I’m going to try one!” says Tracey who then a few hours later sings lead on “Watch Your Step”. “I think it’s just the Girlschool sound, isn’t it?” says Jackie. “We don’t use effects, you see. We just go straight through the amps. I think most bands use effects, pedals and things like that. Because we’re straight through Marshall, that is the sound. So, whoever joins, I mean, obviously I’m sort of similar to Kelly in style anyway, so as soon as she starts playing, that’s the sound, straight through a Marshall. That’s it.” Kim rounds it off: “We plug straight in! And I still use leads. People can’t believe it. ‘Where’s your wireless?’” laughs Kim while shaking her head. A few hours later the band is on stage and killing it. What a fab band and a great bunch of Brits.

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

www.girlschool.co.uk

www.facebook.com/girlschoolofficial

Gig review: Crazy Lixx in Tokyo – Swedish melodic hard rock is alive and well

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Swedish melodic hard rockers Crazy Lixx finally made it to Japan, they crushed it. Their signature mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal is part of a proud Swedish tradition that the Japanese fans love.

Crazy Lixx at Club Quattro, Shibuya on 25th September 2019 

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Japan’s love for melodic hard rock from Sweden goes back to 1983 when they discovered Joey Tempest and Europe. Since then, a long row of Swedish bands have sold a lot of records and toured in Japan. Crazy Lixx, founded in 2002, has had a following in Japan since they released their debut album in 2007. But they never toured Japan until now. The advantage of them making having their first Japan gigs with six studio albums below their belts is that we get a killer setlist. It’s all hits and no fillers. We get a big serving of the best songs from the band’s latest album, “Forever Wild”, which was released earlier this year, as well as all the earlier hits from the band’s career. It’s quite a treasure trove of rock’n’roll. Crazy Lixx’s signature sound is a terrific mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal with dashes of AOR, glam, sleaze and, yes, hair metal. It boils down to feelgood party rock.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

They open the show with the terrific song “Wicked” from the “Forever Wild” album and follow it with “Blame It on Love”. The crowd is with them from the second they walk on stage. We get a long set and some of the highlights include “Hell Raising Women”, “Lock Up Your Daughter”, “Children of the Cross”, “XIII” and “21 Til I Die”.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Founding members Danny Rexon (vocals) and Joel Cirera (drums) form the backbone of the band together with bassist Jens Sjöholm (who joined the band in 2012). The newest additions to the band, guitarists Jens Lundgren (formerly of Bai Bang) and Chrisse Olsson (Dirty Passion), both fit in very well. There’s chemistry between them and they add something to the band that was perhaps missing in the past. Now there seems to be more unity in the band that shines through in the music.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Vocalist Danny Rexon gives the rest of the band a break when he brings out an acoustic guitar and gives us a solo performance of the songs “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Make Ends Meet”. The scaled-down versions are beautiful and show that Rexon is more than just a standard rock singer. Here he shows us he has some serious emotional quality to his vocals that are not always obvious in the more fast and loud songs.

The band closes a terrific night of melodic hard rock with “Never Die (Forever Wild)”. Crazy Lixx is a band whose members don’t take themselves too seriously, but they are a great band who play excellent melodic hard rock very well.

www.facebook.com/crazylixx

www.crazylixx.com

Review: Evoken Fest with Alestorm, Grave Digger, Bloodbound, Epidemia and Victorius

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

What a splendid night in the name of metal we got at Evoken Fest. Three power metal bands, an old-school true German metal band and a bunch of good-fun Scottish rockers proved to be a great mix of music that kept the audience entertained.

Evoken Fest with Alestorm, Grave Digger, Bloodbound, Epidemia and Victorius at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo on 30th August 2019 

Victorius

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

German power metal band Victorius open this evening of Evoken Fest with a great set. Their take on European-style power metal is good and it works well to get this party going. Their latest album, 2018’s “Dinosaur Warfare – Legend of the Power Saurus”, is European power metal in a nutshell: tongue-in-cheek fantasy/folklore/fairytale themes delivered by a great bunch of musicians.

Epidemia

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

Ever since I saw the splendid Russian band Kruiz perform on Swedish TV in the mid-80s, there is something exotic and appealing about Russian heavy metal bands. You just gotta love that combination of trying to look like a cross of Manowar and Judas Priest, straightforward and melodic metal and lyrics sung in Russian. Epidemia is a great power metal band with good musicians and songs. But it is vocalist Evgeny Egorov that makes them stand out from the pack. What a voice and stage presence! Brilliant stuff! I want to see and hear more of this terrific band.

Bloodbound

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

Their set is only seven songs plus an intro, but the members of Swedish power metal band Bloodbound make the most of it. It is power metal at its best. Plenty of guitar riffing, keyboard soundscapes and melodic metal songs. Vocalist Patrik Selleby is terrific. He has a voice made to sing this kind of material and he also knows how to put on a show. His dragon mask and horn make him stand out as much visually as his voice does musically. But behind him, there is also a terrific band of musicians and songwriters led by co-founders Fredrik Bergh on keyboards and lead guitarist Tomas Olsson. They open strongly with “Battle in the Sky”, manage to squeeze in favourites such as “In the Name of Metal” and “Dragons are Forever” before they finish a flawless set with the splendid “Nosferatu”, a song that would not be out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Bloodbound was founded in 2004 and the band has since released eight studio albums, most recently “Rise of the Dragon Empire” earlier this year. But this is their very first Japan visit. Hopefully, we will see them return for some headline gigs with a full-length show.

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

Grave Digger

Grave Digger on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German heavy metal veterans Grave Digger are still going. Original frontman Chris Boltendahl’s long hair has turned white with age, but his voice is as good as it ever was. The current line-up of the band is terrific, where especially lead guitarist Axel Ritt stands out. Germany has a proud metal tradition and while less known to the masses than bands such as Accept, Scorpions and Helloween, quality-wise Grave Digger is right there in the leading pack. They put on a great heavy metal show at Evoken Fest. We get straightforward proper heavy metal and the band proves that there is clearly still a present and a future for this veteran band, something evident in the band’s setlist which this evening only contains one song from the 1980s, “Heavy Metal Breakdown”.

Alestorm

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

Evoken Fest headliners Alestorm are different from most things out there. Despite all the gimmicks with a giant inflatable duck, kilts, sandals and all the other crazy stuff this band wears and does, they are great musicians with great songs. They are entertainers and they’re great at what they do. Between songs, we get crude and boozy jokes and colourful comments by frontman Christopher Bowes. They entertain us with their very own brand of melodic metal with folk metal touches. Jokey kind of bands are perhaps not my thing (it really isn’t), but these jolly men are very good and they certainly know how to entertain a crowd. Their tour shirts say “We came to drink your beer” and that sums it up quite nicely.

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

www.facebook.com/evpro.asia

www.ev-pro.asia

Album review: Michael Schenker Fest “Revelation”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Michael Schenker Fest returns with its second studio album of new material plus some special Japanese bonus tracks.

Michael Schenker Fest was born out of the onstage reunion of Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet in Japan in 2015. In the early 1980s, Bonnet briefly, very briefly, fronted MSG. It lasted for one album and a small part of a gig. When Schenker in 2015 did a tour of Japan with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, he had the newly formed Graham Bonnet Band as support act. The two former colleagues reunited for the first time ever for a couple of songs during Schenker’s set. It was a huge success and led to the formation of Michael Schenker Fest which sees Schenker reunited with a whole heap of his old MSG bandmates as well as Doogie White from Temple of Rock.

The new band has toured around the globe ever since, including several successful Japan tours. MSF performs classics from throughout Schenker’s career with MSG, UFO and Scorpions. They released a studio album, “Resurrection”, in 2018 and now they are back with a new studio album called “Revelation”. It’s more of the same of what we have been getting from Schenker and his Fest colleagues. The one notable change is the absence of drummer Ted McKenna who sadly passed away unexpectedly in January during a routine operation. He has been replaced in MSF by two other former MSG drummers, Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips.

The album, obviously, features some fine guitar work by the revolutionary guitarist Schenker, but also the voices of the legendary vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. There’s also a guest appearance by current Rainbow singer Ronnie Romero on the track “We Are the Voice” (one of the album’s best tracks). The backbone of MSF still consists of MSG alumni Steve Mann on keyboards and guitar and Chris Glen on bass. Musically, MSF continues in the footsteps of MSG. It is melodic classic rock delivered by some of the most legendary names in the rock business. Everybody misses the great Ted McKenna, but the show must go on. His replacements do not only have the same MSG pedigree, but they are also still able to deliver at the top level. Just like the first MSF album, this one has a few new tracks that will fit in nicely with the old Schenker classics in the live set, such as perhaps “Under a Blood Red Sky”, a great rock song sung by Robin McAuley. “Sleeping with the Light On”, “Leading You Astray” and “Headed for the Sun” are also great tunes.

The Japanese edition of the album comes with a few bonus tracks: “Doctor Doctor” and “Assault Attack” (the album’s highlight for me), both recorded live in Japan in 2017 (with McKenna on drums!) and an alternative version of the track “The Beast in the Shadows” with Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki as a guest. 

Michael Schenker Fest’s new album “Revelation” will be released on 20th September by Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally. Michael Schenker Fest will tour Japan once again in March 2020.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/michaelschenkerrocks

www.michaelschenkerhimself.com

Album review: Liv Sin “Burning Sermons”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Liv Sin is back with a terrific hard-hitting yet melodic metal album.

Liv Sin’s frontwoman Liv Jagrell (ex-Sister Sin) has one of those voices meant to sing heavy metal. It is powerful and it comes with plenty of attitude. She’s at the centre of Liv Sin’s music and she leads from the front. Shortly after her former band Sister Sin disbanded in 2015, Liv formed Liv Sin and released the band’s debut album “Follow Me” in 2017. Much of Liv Sin’s music is rooted in proper 1980s heavy metal but it has a modern touch to it as well which means it doesn’t sound dated. “Chapter of the Witch” is a great song. It contains so much good stuff and twists and turns that it puts a big smile on my face. It has terrific energy and the guitars here are fantastic. “War Antidote” is an anthem, a glorious and pompous (in a good way) call to arms of the misfits. “Ghost in the Dark” is the best track on the album and it is Liv Sin’s version of what 80s power ballads were back in the day. On the fab song “Hope Begins to Fade”, Björn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra fame appears on guest vocals. “At the Gates of the Abyss” is the album’s other highlight for me, again with fantastic guitars. It’s great hard-hitting and chest-pounding heavy metal which is also very melodic. It is Liv Sin at its best.

Liv Sin’s new album “Burning Sermons” is out now via Despotz Records. 

www.facebook.com/livsinofficial

www.livsinofficial.com

Gig review: Danko Jones at Crowbar in Sydney

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Canadian rocker Danko Jones made a triumphant return to Australia with his trio. Every song in the setlist is a hit. One of the greatest live rock shows this year. Punky rock’n’roll at its best.

Danko Jones, Black Heart Breakers and Screaming Eagle at Crowbar, Sydney, Australia on 7th September 2019 

Crowbar is a great music venue in the Sydney suburb Leichhardt. It is focused on serving beer and putting on heavy metal and hard rock performances. The Metallica and AC/DC pinball machines in the bar area set the tone for what kind of place this is. Local promoter Silverback Touring has become an important part of the Australian live scene as they keep bringing great international rock acts down under.

This evening, talented local Aussie bands Screaming Eagle and Black Heart Breakers did a great job of warming up the beer-fuelled Sydney audience at the Crowbar. The venue slowly filled up and by the time the evening’s headline act Danko Jones walked on stage, the place was packed. It’s been fifteen years since Danko’s last headline tour in Australia. The wait was worth it. We got a proper lesson on how a rock show should be done.

Danko Jones and his trio – consisting of John Calabrese on bass, Rich Knox on drums and Danko Jones himself on guitar and vocals – were dressed all in black. They performed in front of a backdrop with just the Danko Jones logo. Visually there’s nothing fancy here, but bloody ‘ell, they did put on one helluva sweaty and fabulous rock show! Every song is a hit. I don’t think Danko is capable of writing bad songs. At least there are none in the live show. They opened the show with the splendid “I Gotta Rock” from 2017’s “Wild Cat” album. The bulk of the show was focused on newer material, including songs from Danko’s latest album, “A Rock Supreme”, which was released earlier this year. This evening most songs were played back-to-back. There was non-stop energy from the band. They were sweating buckets, but they never tired. They just kept going. On the few occasions when Danko spoke between songs, it was mainly a humorous and self-deprecating monologue. He looked rather aggressive and spoke angrily, but behind all that, he’s a great artist who feeds off the love and admiration of his audience. He’s in a band and he loves it as he sings in the autobiographical tune “I’m in a Band”. Other highlights in what turned into a flawless rock show, included “First Date”, “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Burn in Hell”. The show had everything I had hoped for. I couldn’t possibly have put together a better setlist than what the band delivered this evening. At the end of the night, this had turned into one of the best shows I have seen this year. This is punky rock’n’roll at its best. Now let’s get working on bringing Danko Jones back to Japan. It’s been way too long since this explosive Canadian trio played in Japan.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.dankojones.com

www.facebook.com/dankojones

Album review: Frantic Amber “Bellatrix”

Frantic Amber

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band Frantic Amber returns with a smashing new studio album filled with aggressive vocals and plenty of speedy guitar riffs.

Perhaps this should be classified as melodic death metal, but I’d like to describe it as dark and hard-hitting thrashy metal with both speed and melody. The harsh vocals mix well with the guitar melodies. It’s angry music with great melodies. Frantic Amber is a Swedish band but the current line-up is quite international: rhythm guitarist Milla Olsson and bassist Madeleine Gullberg Husberg are indeed Swedish, but lead guitarist Mio Jäger (formerly of Swedish thrash metal band Ice Age) is Japanese, vocalist Elizabeth Andrews is Danish and drummer Mac Dalmanner is from Colombia. “Bellatrix” is the band’s second full-length studio album following the band’s debut album, “Burning Insight”, which was released in 2015. It’s a great album by a great band where Elizabeth Andrews, who has some serious aggressiveness in her vocals, and Mio Jäger’s guitars stand out. The terrific song “Lagertha” kicks off with the line “I am a Viking!” How can I not like that? I do. It’s one of the best tracks on a very solid album. Sometimes Frantic Amber’s music feels uncompromisingly old-school (not a bad thing in my book), but there are also other influences here, such as when the band makes use of some traditional Japanese instrumentation on the splendid track ”Joshitai”. This is great stuff. A proper metal album to bang one’s head to.

Frantic Amber’s “Bellatrix” is out now via GMR Music.

www.facebook.com/franticamber

www.franticamber.com

Album review: Opeth “In Cauda Venenum”

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Opeth returns with the new studio album “In Cauda Venenum”, a progressive rock masterpiece.

Opeth, as expected, delivers a terrific album that is full of progressive rock music with “In Cauda Venenum”, the band’s 13th studio album. Opeth was originally formed as a death metal band in 1989 and there are still some elements of that in Opeth’s music, but the band’s music has evolved a lot since then. Vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt and his current bandmates seem to be able to create music that often is far removed from their metal roots. Nowadays they create a dreamy soundscape filled with storytelling. I want to live in this weird and wonderful Opeth world. The song material is world-class and so are the musicians. When that is combined with excellent arrangements (not least the use of piano, beefy organs and acoustic guitars) and crisp production, we get pretty close to perfection. The “In Cauda Venenum” album is a beautiful masterpiece, but there are also hints of an evil and sinister soul lurking inside this music. It all adds up to exquisite and intense music.

Some of the music is of the slower kind, but it is very dramatic and it grooves. There are some jazzy elements to a few of the songs as well as folk music touches here and there. The fantastic tracks “Next of Kin” and “Charlatan” are progressive rock heaven with twists and turns around every corner. “The Garroter” kicks off with a flamenco-style guitar and a simple piano before moving into some kind of jazz-rock territory. On ”Continuum” we get some timely explosions of wah-wah guitars. The phenomenal guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (of Talisman, Krux, Arch Enemy, Tiamat, John Norum and Southpaw fame) is in the current line-up of the band together with Martin Mendez (Vinterkrig) on bass, Martin Axenrot (Witchery, Bloodbath, Nifelheim) on drums and Joakim Svalberg (Yngwie Malmsteen) on keyboards and piano.

Wow! What an album. It has it all. Love, love, love it! 

Opeth’s album “In Cauda Venenum” will be released on 27th September via Ward Records in Japan and internationally via Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast. There will be two versions of the album, one in English and one in Swedish. Opeth will tour Japan in December.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.opeth.com

www.facebook.com/opeth

Interview: The Babes – entertaining underdog rock from Australia

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Aussie rockers The Babes recently toured Japan for the first time. Roppongi Rocks met the band after their first show in Tokyo to have a chat about being a family band, touring internationally and their forthcoming studio album “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”.

Donna Dimasi of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Australian band The Babes’ terrific EP “It Ain’t Easy” arrived at Roppongi Rocks headquarters, it was obvious that there’s still hope for Australian rock. I immediately took a liking to this great rock’n’roll gang. This summer they toured Japan for the very first time, kicking off the tour with an opening slot for Girlschool and Venom Inc in Tokyo. Shortly after they have finished their high-energy opening set at Club Seata in Tokyo, I sit down with sisters Moni Lashes (drums) and Donna Dimasi (guitar) in Girlschool’s dressing room. 

How do you feel being on your first-ever Japan tour? “It’s an absolute dream!” says Moni. Donna adds: “It’s incredible. We love Japan!” The sisters are on a high after a successful debut show in Japan. “I’m sure we’re gonna wake up tomorrow in our homes in Adelaide: Yeah, that was a dream. It didn’t happen!” says Moni. Donna continues: “It’s just so beautiful. Obviously, we’re from Australia. Australia is beautiful too, but totally different.” Moni adds: “A different kind of beautiful. A city and more industrial buildings, to me, appeal so much more. And the people, they’re so respectful and friendly. Everyone is courteous and stays in their lane and that’s why this is such a great country. People respect each other and love rock’n’roll!”

We call it common sense here in Japan. “It’s so foreign to see it as widespread because common sense is just rare in other places,” explains Moni. “I think the crowd in Japan just wants to have a really good time,” says Donna. “They’re here for a reason. They’re actually here for rock’n’roll!” comments Moni. Donna continues: “I think that sometimes in Australia, people get a bit worried about what other people think of them.” 

The Babes is a band, formed in Adelaide in 2011, but it’s also a family – with three siblings in the same band. The sisters’ baby brother Corey Stone is the band’s bassist. Only singer JD Ryan is not a blood relative. “He’s adopted whether he likes it or not,” says Moni. “He’s a good singer and a fun guy on and off stage. Whether we’re related or not, we are genuinely like a family, as lame and cliché as it is. We know that we’ve got each other’s backs. We all want the same thing, which is what the most important part is, to stay long term.”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Moni explains that the family band in the early days was also managed by their dad. ”He was our manager for most of the early establishing years. He got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis so took a bit of a back seat. I kind of stepped forward and taking over, getting some advice from him. He’s a drummer. I started drumming lessons from him. Our family is very musical. Mum loves music too, but dad used to be in bands in the 80s.” 

You are a family and a band. Do you get caught up in sibling rivalry and other family dramas? “No!” says Donna quickly with a big smile across her face. Moni continues: “We are a very close bunch of siblings. Donna and I, even though we are not twins, we can look at each other and know what the other is thinking. We can read each other really well. If there’s something on someone’s mind, we can get it out of the way so it doesn’t fester like other bands when you’re not siblings. Just say it and get it over and done with. You can’t do that with strangers, because everyone’s got, you know, feelings!”

You have released a great EP, “It Ain’t Easy”. When will we see a full-length album from The Babes? “We’re aiming to release it in Australia in mid-August,” says Moni proudly. “We have a national tour lined-up in Australia for it. We’re in talks right now to do a Japanese special release with a bonus track and do, maybe a promo tour over here. But it’s in very early stages of that with a local Japanese label and also a tour manager to book some shows to promote it as well as do some media stuff when we’re here next. It’s very early stages but we want to do that. When we get back, we will work on the bonus track because the rest of the album’s done now. I’m just so impatient to release it. We’re really proud of it. It’s a 12-track CD and the bonus Japanese track – so it’s a full value for money album!”

The Babes is a very hands-on band, not afraid of working hard, while at the same time being a bunch of nice people who get help when needed. “Everyone we have met so far has been so helpful. This can’t be real!” says Donna. Moni explains: “We’ve always been a do-it-yourself band from the very start. We do our own artwork, we do our own videos. Obviously, the CD gets produced and engineered by the same people that actually know what they’re doing, because we don’t know that. But when it comes to promotion in Japan, we’re so lucky to have the backing of people who know what they’re doing, because we are not in our element here.”

JD Ryan and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You describe your music as “underdog rock” and “music for the working class”. I hear meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll meant to entertain. It’s dirty rock with some echoes of AC/DC, a bit of Motörhead with a dash of Girlschool. But you have hair-metal ballads in the mix as well. It shows that you’re more than just one thing. “Haha!!” laughs Donna before Moni attempts to explain: “We have so many different influences. JD, our singer, he loves early Pantera. He’s influenced hugely by that. Even just like the cock rock like Bon Jovi – we were listening to heaps of their ballads at the time we wrote that one. So, you go from Judas Priest to Bon Jovi. And Donna listens to 50s and 60s bebop and girl groups. I’m glad that you mentioned Girlschool because I love Girlschool.” 

You’ve already toured at home in Australia, you’ve in America and now you’re here in Japan. As a newer band, how do manage to get so many gigs booked? Do you work harder than other up-and-coming bands? “I think it is just working smarter and not harder,” says Moni. “I think we work hard, but… I don’t know how to describe it. I think we are more direct. When we know what we want, we just figure out how to get it and go and get it. We wanted to tour America so… We actually got approached for America, so that was like: OK, well, if we’ve got two shows there, we can’t go there for two shows, it’s a very long trip. So, then, where else do you wanna go? You wanna go to Vegas? OK, let’s try to get a show in Vegas. Where else you wanna go? Play LA? OK, let’s see if we can get some shows in LA. We wanted to do Japan for a very long time, but American opportunities came up first, so we had to do that. We had to – it was like a dream come true! When we know what we want and we’re on the same page, there’s nothing that’s going to stop us! It’s lame but it’s true! I know how we can get where we want to get. Then we need some help, like in Japan where these people that have offered us help with label stuff, that’s 100% welcome to me, because it’s not my element. I play drums. I write songs. But I’m not a Japanese promoter.” Donna continues: “I think it is every band’s dream to get out there and play to as many different demographics as you can. So far, it’s been such a journey. Obviously, playing in America compared to an Australian crowd was totally different.”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Japanese fans seem to have made an immediate impact on the band. “I’m still on a buzz from playing here. Oh my God! They were so nice! They were smiling at us!” says Donna. Moni adds: “That’s true rock’n’roll. That’s what rock’n’roll was in Australia a long time ago, but it still is here. And that’s just normal to them! Unbelievable! We’ve almost sold out on our merch and our CDs. I was like: That will last us for the whole tour. Oh no, we have nothing for the other two shows. But it is a good problem to have!”

Following a very successful Japan tour, the band is now touring in Australia and has other exciting things being planned in addition to the release of the full-length studio album, “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”. “We’re playing with Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P.,” says Donna. “We also got approached by the defence force back home. They deploy entertainers out to the troops, to the war zones.” Moni continues: “They fly us in the actual defence force plane and we get accommodation in the barracks. It’s full-on! We’re really excited about that.” 

This band is winning. They’ve got the talent, the energy, the work ethic and they are also bloody nice people. Soon enough they will have to drop the “underdog rock” tag line. We hope to see them back here in Japan soon.

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/thebabesrock

www.thebabesrock.com