Interview: Jake E of Cyhra | “We’ll enter the studio at the end of the summer”

Jake E in Tokyo in 2014. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jake E and Cyhra, the band he formed with former In Flames guitarist Jesper Strömblad, kicked off their summer festival season in Europe yesterday. Roppongi Rocks checked in with the former Amaranthe frontman to talk about the work on Cyhra’s next album.

Following the release of your terrific debut album “Letters to Myself” last year, you are now writing new material. Are you already working on a new album? “Thank you for those fantastic words. We’re working on new songs and will enter the studio at the end of the summer. But it probably won’t be released until spring 2019. Nowadays the lead times in this industry are long and you have to plan a year ahead.”

Since you released the album last October, you’ve gained a new member (guitarist Euge Valovirta) and lost one (bassist Peter Iwers). What impact on the band and the songwriting have these changes had? “Euge played on the debut album but it was originally not planned that he was going to be a permanent member. But since he is a fantastic guitarist and also a fantastic human being it was a no-brainer to include him as a permanent member. It is a pity that we lost Peter. He too is a great human being and the best bassist I’ve ever played with. However, time didn’t allow Peter to be 100% involved with Cyhra and thus he chose to step down. There’s absolutely no bad blood between us. We’re still great friends. It is I and Jesper who are the musical motor of the band, although Euge has contributed with many great ideas. It will be interesting to see where this leads. The new songs are a natural continuation of ‘Letters’. It is incredibly creative and fun to write album number two now that we know a bit more about how the fans react to our music when we play live. Cyhra is a fantastic live act and I feel that the new material is, even more, audience friendly”.

Jake E on stage in Tokyo with Amaranthe in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Are you planning to replace Peter Iwers in the band? “We will continue without a bassist for now. What we’ll do in the long term, we’ll see.”

Your drummer Alex Landenburg is currently drumming with Kamelot where he had to fill in on very short notice. Has Cyhra been forced to make any changes to accommodate Alex doing the Kamelot tour? “It proves what a great drummer he is. He had 48 hours to fly to the US to do a month-long tour. We didn’t want to stand in his way, so we flew in Adde Larsson who filled-in for a gig.” (Editor’s note: Adde Larsson is a Gothenburg-based session drummer who has played with bands such as Engel, M.A.N, Black Candy Store and Urbandux.)

Jake E on stage with Amaranthe in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You opened for Kreator and Sabaton on their North American tour. Do you have any plans for more tours or will it be more one-off gigs here and there? “We would like to tour all the time. Right now we’re fighting against the fact that we are a new band and thus it’s a lot of work to get to do the tours. But Sabaton took us with them and for that, we are eternally grateful. It was really fantastic. Yesterday we played at Metalfest in the Czech Republic. It was wonderful to play in front of 12,000 persons again. Then I really felt that we are here to stay!”

For readers in Europe, Cyhra will next be on stage at the mighty Sweden Rock Festival on Wednesday 6th June.

Elize Ryd on the new Amaranthe album: “We’re heavier!”

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish modern melodic metal band Amaranthe is working on its fifth studio album which will also be the first with new vocalist Nils Molin of Dynazty fame. Roppongi Rocks checked in with Elize Ryd, one of Amaranthe’s three vocalists, for a quick update on the new album.

You have just finished the recordings for the new album in Ribe, Denmark. Are you happy with what you’ve accomplished in the studio this time? “Yes. After two months of writing and two months of recording in Ribe with Jacob Hansen, we’re finally finished. It’s a record for us to write and record an album in four months. That says a lot. We had a lot of ideas and melodies that needed to get out. The completed master will be sent out across the world, including Japan, on Monday. Now the work continues with design, layout, translations of the lyrics and so forth.”

Elize Ryd and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Roppongi, Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Selfie by Elize Ryd

How would you describe the new album musically compared to your earlier albums? “Musically we’re heavier! For the sake of our Japanese fans, we have written the fastest song in Amaranthe history, tempo-wise. We have managed to make most of the songs contemporary sounding, which I think is what should be the biggest difference between the albums. You should be able to hear what year an album was written when you listen to it in the future. I think people will be somewhat shocked by the sound we’ve created this time, in a positive way!”

This is the first album with your new vocalist Nils Molin. How has he impacted the new album? “In the beginning, I was reacting to the ‘new’ voice and it felt a bit unusual. But when I listen to it now, his voice feels like a given in this context. We are very satisfied with Nils. He’s done an amazing job. It’s going to be extremely fun to be able to present him to the fans, not only live but also on record.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the last album, you had the track “That Song” which stood out and got people talking. Have you got any similar surprises on the new album? “That was the favourite song for the record label and also for many fans. I assume it was special enough that it was impossible for it to not get noticed. Regardless if you choose to worry too much about genres or the fact that my voice is quite similar to Rihanna’s at times, it was a well-written and great song that served its purpose. It needed to get out there. We wanted to show people that we are not ashamed over anything. Obviously there are serious thoughts behind every song that we write. I don’t get shocked by anything anymore. Thus I, unfortunately, have to reply ‘no’ to this question. Haha!! It feels a bit boring, but I can really say that we feel that this is musically our strongest album so far. The songs show a really serious side to the band, but also a friendly and humorous side. We’re using certain words we haven’t used before that may start a debate. We’ll see.”

When will the album be released? “I don’t know if it’s official yet, but it will be released this year, which we’re very happy about. Perhaps around my birthday as usual?”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview | Schmier of thrash metal veterans Destruction | “We’re not ready to start a blues band yet!”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When German thrash metal band Destruction returned to Japan to kick off their Asian and Australian tour with a show in Tokyo, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met with vocalist and bassist Schmier backstage before the gig.

Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Schmier (vocals and bass), who co-founded thrash metal band Destruction in Germany in 1982, recently lost their drummer Vaaver. Thus they turned up with hard-hitting German-based Canadian drummer Randy Black (ex-W.A.S.P., Annihilator, Primal Fear) as a fill-in drummer for this tour. Not a bad substitute.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

A day before the Tokyo gig, Destruction did a very exclusive fan event where they performed a full rehearsal show in a studio in Tokyo in front of a small group of dedicated fans who also got to hang out with their favourite band. A meet and greet deluxe! “The VIP thing is something that all promoters do nowadays,” says Schmier as we sit down in a basement backstage in Meguro in central Tokyo shortly before the band is due on stage in front of a sold-out venue. “I understand. It’s good for them to make a little extra money. They have a lot of risk with the shows. But for us and also for the fans sometimes, it is not very satisfying. I think the meet and greet we did yesterday was like a two-hour exclusive with the band in a small room. The fans could express their song wishes and could hear us fuck up and make funny jokes. We did like a meet and greet afterwards with autographs and taking pictures with my bass. It was very intimate. It was also for us quite fun because Japanese people are very well educated so they don’t behave like too crazy… It was very smooth and interesting for us. It’s more difficult to play in front of 20 people than in front of 2,000. Because people are so close to you and they stare at you. It’s a funny experience. We never did this before but I would do this again, any time. It was good value for money for the kids. Basically you get a full set of concert and some extra in a very private atmosphere. And the studios here in Japan are very good, so the sound is amazing in there.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Destruction’s latest album release was 2017’s “Thrash Anthems II”, a collection of re-recordings of some of the band’s classic songs. “Since the reunion, we always include one bonus track, like an old song that we have re-recorded. Since that time, people have started to ask for more songs like this. Then we did the ‘Thrash Anthems I’. For us as a band, it’s great because we can play the songs the way they are meant to be. Some of the old songs were recorded when we were 17 and young, and don’t sound so well, not so tight. Of course, they have the special spirit of the 80s, but as a band nowadays, of course, we can play those songs much better. We try to catch the original spirit and put the songs into the new century. A lot of the young fans actually like it a lot. Because with the old albums, they cannot relate to them so much sometimes, because you’ve had to have lived in the 80s to understand how it was back in the day. Everybody doesn’t like re-recordings, but we do what we want and it’s our songs. We can do whatever we want. Those people who don’t like it don’t have to buy the album! But in general, we have had a lot of good reactions to ‘Thrash Anthems II’ as well.”

With such a vast back catalogue, putting together set lists that will please everyone can’t be easy. “Of course, the classics have to be there. There are a certain number of songs that we cannot change because it’s what people want. When we kick out a song, we will see on the internet, two days later, people complain. When we play a show and we see that songs get great reactions, we keep them in. When we bring in new or old songs again that don’t have so much reaction, we take them out again. Over the years we’ve had a huge selection of songs that we could play. Sometimes we were asking people ‘What do you want to hear?’ Then we just rotated it. It’s something we can’t do now because of Randy. This is his first show, he had to learn 18 songs or so. That’s a lot of work. We will keep the set list a little bit open. This set now focuses a little bit on ‘Thrash Anthems’ and the classics of course. We always try to find the right mix of old and new. When I go and see the bands I like and they don’t play the classics, I am very sad. I saw Accept and they’re not playing ‘Fast as a Shark’. My life’s ruined! It was a fantastic show but they didn’t play ‘Fast as a Shark’! So, I know how the fans feel.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Randy Black, not only a fabulous drummer but also a very nice guy, is much more than just a normal fill-in drummer. How did he end up touring with Destruction? “A few years ago, we did this American tour with Sepultura and Randy filled in for Vaaver because he had a baby break. His wife was pregnant and then he wanted to be there for the birth. So, when we came to this moment now that we have to see how we go on with a new drummer, we called Randy and said: ‘Are you free? Are you interested?’ We knew he could play the songs alright and we know the guy since many years. He’s a very professional drummer. We said: ‘Let’s do this together!’ and he’s going to help us out for the summer with the festivals, also Sweden Rock, and maybe also do the September shows in Greece and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Until then we should know what’s going on. We will also audition two or three more guys that we have in our mind that could fit well. It’s not so easy. We need a guy that’s experienced. There are some great young drummers, but young drummers are too flaky. We need somebody stable. I hate to change drummers every five years or ten. Vaaver was in the band for eight years, but he has chosen to go with his family, which I totally understand. Randy is a great gut. Who knows? Maybe he is going to stay with us. We will see.”

When you write new music for Destruction, do you feel any restrictions? Do you feel that it has to fit in with what’s expected of the band? “When Mike and me put it together it sounds like Destruction anyway. And we’re not ready to start a blues band yet. I think that the definition of Destruction was always crazy riffs with speed and a little punk attitude. I think it just naturally comes out of us when we start writing. Of course, stuff changes a little bit over the years, but basically, we still write songs the same way. We just had a little fine tuning of the way we write and record nowadays. We still record very spontaneously. When we have new songs and ideas, we record them right away. I think we ignore what’s going on in the music world and just do what we like best. I have my other project, Panzer, where I do more heavy metal stuff so I can live in that world too. So, I don’t have to mess it up with Destruction.”

Destruction was formed as a trio, then had two guitarists for a while, before reforming as a trio again when Schmier came back into the band. Did the band ever have any thoughts on adding a second guitarist again? “A second guitarist is like a relationship with two women, you know? It’s quite fun for a little while, but then you start to have problems because everybody wants to write, everybody wants to put stuff in. And for Destruction, it was the end, basically, because I got kicked out of the band. So, two guitarists is something we thought about, should we have a second guitar player, because it is kind of interesting of course to have a second guitar. But on the other side, I have a lot of bad memories about the split of the band back in the day. Also, being a trio is kind of unique nowadays. It doesn’t happen that often anymore that you’re seeing a power trio playing this kind of music. We grew up with Motörhead and Venom and Triumph and Rush and all those bands being a three-piece. When you see us live, I don’t think you’ll really miss a second guitar.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

What drives you now, after all these years, to keep creating and performing music and to continue touring? “I’ve always loved being on the road. I’m in Japan now. I would never have come to Japan otherwise if it hadn’t been my job. I enjoy going to Singapore and Thailand and seeing those countries. Not everybody likes it, that’s why people stop playing music. I’m lucky that I have a tolerant girlfriend and I enjoy this. I really like going on tour. We don’t do so long tours, we do maximum four-five weeks and then we go home to be normal again and get energy. But we love to be on the road. Writing new music is, of course, a very creative process and, I am not a father, but it must be like having a child. A new album is something you work on hard, put a bit of love into it and in the end, it comes out and you’re excited and you’re proud. The whole process of writing an album gives you so much joy also. It’s why I still love this.”

Now you’re touring Asia and Australia, then you have some European touring. What’s coming up after that? Are there plans for a new album? “Yeah, we will start writing after the summer. Then decide, whenever we have the drummer, when to do the album. We talked to the label already that it’s possible to maybe release in the beginning of 2019. That should be possible. We can’t guarantee it right now because the drummer issue has not been solved. But I’m not worried about finding a drummer. There’s a lot of great drummers out there and now we have Randy also. I could totally imagine us playing the album with him. He’s a very tight drummer. It’s also a nice next level for us.”

The band is currently signed with German independent label Nuclear Blast and they are happy there. “I think we signed for life! At least the boss said that once when he was drunk. Haha!!! They’re the best. We’ve been on many different labels before. We left Nuclear Blast actually for several years when Nightwish and all those bands were getting so big on the label that I was like: ‘Oh my God, there’s too much!’ They are selling a couple of hundred thousand albums and you’re a little thrash band. It’s hard to get recognition. But on the outside it’s… I’m glad I came back. We came back after six years and they were like: “Ah, you wanna come back to us?’ Please take us back! They are the best people, also on a human level. They’re really great people and they are dedicated. The boss is a little crazy but he’s not a typical record-label asshole boss. He cares about the bands too and that’s fantastic! It’s a great having a boss like this and I hope he’s not gonna sell the label like everybody else did with Roadrunner and Century Media. They all sold the label to the industry and then the whole charm was gone. Hopefully that is not gonna happen to Nuclear Blast.”

Shortly after our chat, Schmier, Mike and Randy walk on stage and deliver one of the best gigs of the year in Tokyo. Proper German thrash metal delivered by a veteran band that still got it. What a show in front of a sweaty Tokyo crowd loving it. Thrash attack indeed!

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Squeeze Me, I’m Yours – an interview with Glenn Tilbrook

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Formed in London in 1974, British rock band Squeeze is still going strong. “We needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past,” explains Squeeze’s founder and frontman Glenn Tilbrook as he sits down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Roppongi.

“It’s good to be here. It’s really great to be here. One of my favourite countries in the world!” says Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze as we sit down in the band’s dressing room before the first of two shows at Billboard Live in Tokyo.

Tilbrook’s Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford is missing from this tour but the rest of the members of the latest line-up of Squeeze are here: Stephen Large (Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, Johnny Depp, Duffy) on keyboards, Simon Hanson (Death in Vegas, Hall and Oates, The Quireboys, The Dogs D’Amour, Rick Wakeman) on drums, percussionist Steve Smith (Dirty Vegas) and, the latest addition, bassist Yolanda Charles (Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, Aztec Camera, Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart). It’s a terrific version of the band.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Tilbrook has toured in Japan numerous times, sometimes with Squeeze and sometimes as a solo artist. “We didn’t come here until 1993 the first time. Difford and I came back once, I think -97. Since then I’ve come back… I’ve done a lot of solo work here. I really enjoy doing that but it’s lovely to be able to have the band too.”

Squeeze formed in Deptford in the southeast part of London in 1974. The band’s local DNA seems to have shaped the band’s look and sound as well as its song lyrics in the early days. “Yes, that is what shapes us. It was a very different time. It was economically quite depressed. Where I was growing up, there was still a lot of bomb sites around and they didn’t all disappear until late seventies, early eighties. It’s an atmosphere, let’s put it that way. I think that that time informed our writing a lot in the early days.”

Musically Squeeze is all over the place – rock, pop and much more. It’s a band that is hard to define. “I think that there was all sort of stuff that went into Squeeze. I mean certainly, for instance, my favourite guitarist and one of my favourite songwriters from that point will be Jimi Hendrix. Something not a lot of people would link with Squeeze, but I think he had a wonderful melodic sense and also the tone of his playing. His playing is just amazing. I still think he’s amazing. I think that Squeeze has always drawn on the different characters in the band and everyone’s different taste has always made it something different.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have a long-standing creative partnership with Chris Difford. Do you write together or separately and then send ideas to each other? “We always write separately. Since the band’s been back together, I’ve been more involved lyrically. I wasn’t involved lyrically at all previously. Normally I would start off with a lyric of Chris’s and I put a tune to it. It’s always lyric-driven.”

That’s a bit different from how many other songwriters work. “It is, I found out. But, you know, if you learn to use a knife and a fork a certain way and it turns out not to be the way everyone else does it, that’s just how you’re stuck. Well, it works for us.”

You’ve had other strong creatives and musicians in the band in the past, such as Jools Holland, Gilson Lavis (Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton) and Paul Carrack (Roxy Music, Roger Waters’ The Bleeding Heart Band, Mike and the Mechanics, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ringo Starr). How did that impact the creative dynamics for you and Chris? “They brought really fantastic things to the table. I still love what they did. Gilson, our original drummer, was an incredible drummer. But they couldn’t do what this band does today. The band has moved on and I believe that change is always good and necessary. When you hear the band, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a proper band, it has a force and a dynamism all of its own, that Squeeze has never had before. It’s been different and really brilliant, but it’s never been like this. It’s great to be in this band. I’m really proud of it, still.”

Squeeze’s newest member is splendid bassist Yolanda Charles who joined last year. Was she a deliberate choice to make Squeeze relevant, contemporary, groovier and funkier? “It really is down to her playing. The fact is, she can do anything. She has her roots in jazz, really. Although I am not a jazz player, I love jazz and some of my writing sometimes veers that way. To have that informing how we play stuff is amazing. For instance, we play ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, which is an old Squeeze song. Squeeze didn’t play on it, we just sang on it. But Yolanda’s bass playing really drives it along. It’s the best version we’ve ever done. We’ve been through a few changes. We weren’t gonna make them but just found out that we had to because people couldn’t be there. And then it’s worked out. It’s been really good.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018.

In recent years you’ve produced some great new music with Squeeze. Were you ever tempted to just keep touring with the old hits? What drove you to write new Squeeze material? “I think that we needed to write, we needed to prove ourselves. Certainly, to me, we needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past. I am immensely proud of our past. I love it. But if we were just doing that, I think we’d go stale.”

The new material is fab and fits in well with the classic songs. “It does work. The sets now feel like completely integrated between new and old. That’s the aim, to say: Look, we were there then and we are here now and it’s all good. That’s what’s so exciting about it. You can take the audience with you or, there have been a few times in the past where we’ve left them behind and that’s not a good thing to do. So, yeah, you have to find the balance and that always takes a while when you have a bunch of new songs to see how they integrate into everything.”

You have been doing gigs in Australia, Singapore and now Japan on this leg of your tour. What’s next for Squeeze? “We have some dates in the UK in summer, we’re doing some festivals, and then going back to the drawing board.”

So, will there be a new Squeeze album next year? “There could well be. I just don’t know until we sit down and chat about it.”

You’re 60 years old now. How do you deal with the pressure of life on tour? “I just have to look after myself and get plenty of rest, otherwise I can’t sing. My voice is in good shape and vocally, this Squeeze is such a strong line-up. Everyone can sing and it sounds fantastic.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: H.E.A.T | Into the great unknown soundscape

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic rock band H.E.A.T released its latest album “Into the Great Unknown” last September, they divided their fan base with a partly new musical direction. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with the band in Tokyo to discuss the thinking behind the album and the return of original guitarist Dave Dalone.

Following the 2015 “Live In London” live album, which featured quite a lot of rock’n’roll, H.E.A.T’s new album, “Into the Great Unknown”, the band’s fifth studio album, is more focused on melodic rock and even some pop. The new catchy side caught some fans by surprise.

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We were aware that there would come a reaction once we were finished with recording the album,“ says vocalist Erik Grönwall. “Personally, I don’t think we planned too much about the direction. It was more because we, during the break, all sat and wrote new music on our own. When we are around each other all the time and write music as we did with the previous albums, we inspire and influence each other. Now spending time with different groups of friends, we get introduced to new kinds of music, get new influences. Then we jointly put together the new album.”

Bassist Jimmy Jay continues: “You almost fight with yourself to not limit yourself. You don’t want to be boxed in. A fan should be wondering ‘What’s next?’. I think that is fun with this album.” Drummer Crash adds: “It’s boring to set limits. It’s fun to do whatever we want to do. I think we have done that.”

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I was the one who was the most sceptical towards this album. I was siding with the not-yet-convinced fans,’ says Grönwall. “When the reactions started to come in, I was like: I knew it! Then when the fans started to come round and like it and the reviews were great, I thought: It’s not that bad after all. Now I think this album’s great!”

Were the band members worried about how the new album would be perceived by the fans? “I’ve been worried ahead of all the album releases,” says Crash. “When we released ‘Time on Our Side’ as the first single from the album – it stood out a lot. That single probably set the tone for what impression people would have of the album. Had people heard ‘Bastard of Society’, the opening track on the album, then there may have been a smoother transition in some way. Now it was like a bomb going off. It is a fantastic song, it’s nothing we regret, but I can understand the initial reactions. But it feels great that we are engaging so many people.” Grönwall adds: “I still claim that ‘Time on Our Side’ is the best release we’ve done when it comes to its reach. It became a talking point.” Jimmy Jay continues: “A lot depends on how one chooses to package things. If you take ‘Time on Our Side’ as an example. At the demo stage that was more of a hard rock song. It had several different shapes before we chose to package it in the electronic style that we did on the album.”

H.E.A.T’s live set now contains more and more newer material. “Naturally we now play more from the three most recent albums with Erik. We’re playing fewer and fewer songs from the first two albums. We do play quite a lot from the latest album. It’s fun playing new stuff,” says Crash. “It’s becoming harder for every new album,” says Grönwall of choosing set lists.

What musical direction will the band take from here? “It’ll be a surprise. For us too!” says Crash, who then adds: “We have a rough sketch of a plan to get back into the studio and record already this year. We want to keep the tempo up. No more two-year breaks!” The latest album was recorded in Thailand and produced by Swedish producer Tobias “Tobbe” Lindell, best known for his work with bands such as Europe, Sister Sin and Hardcore Superstar. “The reason it was recorded in Thailand was that we had a great budget! Haha!!!” jokes Grönwall. Crash continues: “Tobbe, the producer, lives in Thailand and had some connections. It’s not that much more expensive and so it’s not as if we went out and wasted loads of money.”

Crash of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We also got quite a lot of time to let things settle in and we could continue to produce at home. It was more detailed,” adds Jimmy Jay about the production of the album. “It is in contrast to how ‘Tearing’ was. That album sounded very ‘live’. On that album, we tried to retain the live feeling. I can catch myself sometimes when I listen to ‘Live in London’. On, say, ‘Inferno’, it’s hard to know which version is studio and which one is live. It is a very similar sound,” says Crash.

With guitarist Eric Rivers exiting the band as they began the work on the new album, original guitarist Dave Dalone returned to the band after a few years of absence. “It just kind of happened,” says Dalone. “From our side, when there was a need for a guitarist, we went through what alternatives there were. We realised that Dave is the best!” says Jimmy Jay. Crash adds: “Keep it in the family! An hour after Rivers said he was leaving, I finally realised that he’s gone. Then the four of us sat down and the first thought that came up was Dave. Should we ask Dave back? That’s how we started to discuss.” Does Dalone see any difference with the band this second time around? “Yes, it feels a bit different now. Personally, I think I needed that break. It feels better now,” explains Dalone. Most of the material for the new album had already been written by the time Dalone was back in the band but he added his bits and pieces where he saw fit. “Someone writes the basic outline and then we all sit and create together in the studio. All of us are involved in songwriting all the way,’ explains Grönwall.

H.E.A.T will now continue to do more gigs during the spring and summer. “And we will perhaps go out on another tour in the autumn,” says Crash, before they start to properly work on the next album. Who knows what we’ll get next time? No doubt it will be quality, no matter what genres H.E.A.T decides to tackle.

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview | Venom Inc: “We can only be who we are”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc talks to Roppongi Rocks about an unplanned reunion, being cheeky, writing very long songs and staying relevant.

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

What a comeback! When the classic “Prime Evil” era line-up of VenomTony “Abaddon” Bray, Jeff “Mantas” Dunn and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan – reunited as Venom Inc a few years ago, I think many people saw it as a fun and nostalgic thing. Venom was founded 40 years ago in Newcastle in the north of England. It not only pioneered extreme metal, the whole black metal sub-genre was named after its second album. In August last year Venom Inc released the fantastic album “Avé” on Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan. It was one of 2017’s best albums and it became obvious that Venom Inc is much more than just a reunion and a celebration of the past. Venom Inc links the past, the present and the future. When Venom Inc recently returned to Japan for a second tour, I sat down with the band backstage before their Tokyo gig.

While a bleak Cronos-led version of Venom has been out there playing shows, the proper legacy of the band seemed to have died. But then guitarist Mantas and vocalist and bassist Dolan reunited in 2010 in the band M:Pire of Evil and that was the beginning of something which in 2015 led to a proper reunion of a vital Venom under the name Venom Inc.

“It was always a good version of the band,” says drummer Abaddon. “It wasn’t a short stint of the band. People tend to forget about that a little bit. Good albums, some good tours. We went to some places we hadn’t been to before. So, it was a good thing to reunite, it wasn’t a ‘let’s get some random guy back in the band and hope it works out’. It was a good version of the band to start building from. But it wasn’t meant to be a band. It was just meant to be a one-off thing for a festival in Germany. It was meant to be these guys playing as M:Pire of Evil and I was going to join for five songs, six songs.” Dolan adds: “Just to go ‘Surprise! There you go’.”

The Demolition Man backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Abaddon continues the story: “There were a lot of…I guess what you call hardcore Venom fans there anyway. It’s very central to where a lot of people live, handy for the French people, the Swiss people and obviously the Germans. So it was always going to be a hardcore group of people there. This just kind of added a bit of spice on that cake and it made it a bit more exciting for them. Right from the beginning, right from the first chords of the first song we played, you’re getting this wave happening… You only really get that with some of the bigger bands, like when Deep Purple getting someone back in or Black Sabbath getting Ozzy back in and you get that really big wave.”

“It felt unusual, not regular,” says Dolan and continues: “Not just another band. Even the signing. There was 20 minutes allotted for the signing and after like 35 minutes they were going: ‘You know you guys can stop now’. But there was still a line. I mean there was over a thousand people, I swear to God, lining the hall while the bands were still playing. And I said: ‘But there is all them.’ It was crazy. At 50 minutes they went: ‘Look, I think you guys should probably just…’ and I said: ‘Well, when they’re finished, if we can get to every fan.’ There were other bands signing their things and leaving and we were still there. That’s just how it is.”

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

What prompted the reunion of the “Prime Evil” era line-up? “There is a festival in our hometown Newcastle,” explains Abaddon. “Tony’s band Atomkraft was playing and he spoke to Jeff about getting to do some old tune in a very similar sort of way but in our hometown. I was there just watching what was going on as a fan of the music. I had been there maybe a couple of years in a row. I’m standing at the bar and a couple of these big German guys with ‘Black Metal’ on their backs, they turned and looked at me when these guys were on stage.”

As Mantas appeared on stage next to his old Venom bandmate Dolan, the Germans looked at Abaddon in the audience and said: “What the fuck! Why aren’t you doing this?” Abaddon was taken by surprise: “I was like: ‘I don’t know.’ It turned out that one of them was the promoter of the show. He does a few big festivals. The one in Newcastle I think was in February and the one these guys were going to do in Germany was in April, so it was a kind of a natural. ‘If I can make this happen, would you be up for it?’ Like I said it was ever meant to be that quick couple of songs.”

After the Newcastle festival the promoter approached Dolan: “He literally after the festival said: ‘That was really great to see all that and you got Mantas up and that was brilliant. Why don’t you get Abaddon and do some Venom stuff?’ and I was like: ‘Well, it wasn’t that kind of thing and I don’t know if that could happen’.” The promoter pushed on and got Abaddon to agree to turn up at the festival in Germany after being promised flights, a nice hotel and a bottle of whisky. “It was quite a shock. We all just had a giggle,” says Dolan about the one-off festival reunion in Germany. But by the next morning, says Dolan, “We had two or three management offers, we had four or five promoters worldwide go: ‘When can we book the band?’ We’re not a band, we just did that. ‘No, no, you guys should do this’.” Abaddon adds: “We got an offer for a live album, an offer for an album.” Dolan continues: “So we just said: Why not? But the misnomer is that we went out there to cash in and play the catalogue. It kind of wasn’t like that. We agreed to do a lot of stuff so the first thing was to go: ‘What would people like to hear?’ And they wanted to hear every single song that’s ever been done!” Abaddon adds: “Funny enough one of the first places we came to was Japan. We went to China and then Japan. The Japanese were some of the first people that saw this.”

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

Since the initial touring after the reunion, the band then went into the studio and created nothing short of a masterpiece. A new album with new terrific music. Did the band members know that they had such great new material in them? “There was no plan,” says Abaddon and Dolan adds: “No plan to do anything. We just went: ‘OK’. To make it legitimate, I personally felt we should go back to the first single and then come as fast through the catalogue of Venom because it’s such great songs that lots of people hadn’t actually heard. They never got a chance to see the band. Make our way right through to where we are.”

Abaddon continues to explain: “Me and Jeff were founding members of the band but Tony is a fan of the band. I think it’s fair for me and Jeff to say that we’re not particular fans of Venom’s music. You can enjoy playing it and enjoy writing it and enjoy taking it out on the road, but would I have bought ‘Black Metal’? I would have bought ‘Prime Evil’ after I heard it, but I don’t think I would’ve then gone back to the back catalogue necessarily. But to have somebody in the band who is a fan of the band and who gets the band, knows about the songs.” Dolan originally joined Venom as a replacement for Cronos in the late 1980s.

Venom Inc with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo.

Venom has a proud legacy with some classic songs, but the new Venom Inc album beats the whole back catalogue. “That’s a big thing to say. That means a lot,” says Abaddon. “The one thing that we discovered,” explains Dolan, “because I didn’t want to go towards an album, I really didn’t. The live album, we talked about it, people were asking about it. A live album though? Maybe later once we’ve done… But there’s no new music. Do you want to give that to the fans? The same songs but just in a different configuration. Is that not boring? But there are collectors and they want it. An album brings a whole load of stress. I don’t want to get into politics anymore. I don’t want to do that. And then selling it to who and getting the best deal and publishing… You think: ‘Oh my God!’ We were having so much fun just playing the music to fans who wanted to hear particular songs. That’s what I want to be able to do, to just play the music that is there. With the way we feel, there’s something special with it. The first three of them had something and we have something. I don’t know what it is, it’s just something. Let’s just have fun with this. We’re too old to get into all that bollocks again. But, they kept pushing, they kept pushing, they kept pushing. So it was like: ‘Well, what is the best thing about us? Apart from we’re good-looking of course, we’re sexy, we smell pretty good’. If we’re going to do it, how do we take who we are in a live situation and put that on an album without it being a live album?”

Abaddon continues: “The big thing that is different, I suppose, now is social media. The way that bands are perceived, the way bands can build something or change something. It’s different now. We didn’t grow up with that. We grew up with tape trading and phone calls and word of mouth. We weren’t very good players. The interest in the band grew outside of how good we were and what we did. We relied a little bit on… You learn all this with hindsight. We were allowed to grow into what we were supposed to be. By the time we got the band there, when Tony came in, we could actually play a little bit and we knew a bit about what we were supposed to be about. Don’t forget that it was fucking five, six albums in or something! You know bands have that tricky third album? We had to go to six before we could put a good record out!”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While working on the new album, did the band feel any constraints to fit in with the Venom legacy? “When Jeff was composing this stuff, he’s constantly writing stuff,” says Dolan. “He was sending things through that I had to be thinking about vocally. I see music in images. When I hear the piece, I see whatever it is. If I don’t see anything then it needs something else. I don’t know what it is. But, OK, we’ll think about that. But if I see it, there it is. Anything sent through I kind of saw.”

“I think that the one thing that we all kind of agreed on, how the album came together and how it was done, was that we weren’t gonna go back and say: what made ‘Bloodlust’ good? Let’s do another one!” says Abaddon and Dolan adds: “No plagiarism!”

Abaddon continues: “I think that’s fair to say, we all thought: Right! ‘Witching Hour’ was great. People love ‘Witching Hour’. Let’s do another one! That was never gonna happen. Whether it was going to sound sonically like ‘Black Metal’ or whatever, or played like ‘Prime Evil’, it was never gonna be: ‘Just take that because it worked’. That was never gonna happen!” Dolan adds: “Not on purpose. That was the key. Jeff was like: ‘Do you think I am going in the right direction?’ I went, this is the direction you need to go in: You were Jeff Mantas, you are Jeff Mantas and you will always be Jeff Mantas. And I and Tony are the same. That’s what we need to record. Us! You don’t have to be that guy, you don’t have to be anybody! We don’t have to try and be that other thing. We just have to be us, the way we are. That’s what’s working and that’s what should happen. For me I think that’s what happened. It’s honest because that’s who we are. When we play the tracks live, people have been saying the same thing. When we play the new tracks, on one of the shows we did not so long ago, a festival show, I’m singing ‘Avé’ and when I was singing the chorus it sounded funny. Something weird happening. I’m getting some kind of weird reverb. And then I realised, the audience were all singing it! They were all singing it back. Wow! It was amazing to do those new tracks. That was always a Venom thing, when people would be singing the lyrics as loud as they could while we’re doing it. That’s a testament I think. But that comes from the other thing: plagiarism would have been death to us. Trying to be something we aren’t. We can only be who we are. That’s what works!”

The cheeky side of the Venom Inc boys is always present which is evident when we discuss how much of the new material the band now typically plays in the current set list. “Eh… Jeff plays all of it, I play some of it,” says Dolan with a big smile across his face. Abaddon continues: “I play about two-thirds of it. Hahaha!!” And the banter goes on: “So, it depends on where you are in the audience. Haha!!” laughs Dolan and Abaddon adds: “If they’re at the back it’s a right fucking mess!”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On a more serious note, Abaddon explains: “It kind of depends on how long the sets are. You have to give a crowd-pleasing performance. As people want us to play the new stuff anyway, so it’s a kind of give and take and find what fits. There are certain songs on the new album that fit well in with a classic set. One of the things I used to love about band, the bands I was into, would change up songs when they played live. One of the big things that we’ve done, there are no actual changes in the song, in parts of the song, but the way we play parts, is ‘Warhead’. We used to play ‘Warhead’ all the time, you know with the other guy and it was always good and it was heavy. It was great. But somehow it’s become this thing which is central to the set, almost every night. It’s like you just get into a fucking groove and it really becomes massive. It’s a great song, there is nothing wrong with the song. We played it pretty much every time we played but it was always just a song.”

Dolan continues: “‘Sons of Satan’, it’s kind of become an anthem for the fans and us. When we play it, it’s like the punkiest punch in the face you’re ever gonna get. And it means something now. Before it was just another song, but it means something now. Like ‘Warhead’, stuff like that. We play with it. We want to put the new stuff in, but was is amazing is that a song you may have composed forty years after that song and we put them back to back and they sound like they could…all of the songs from ‘Live Like An Angel’, the B-side of the first single, to ‘War’ or ‘Bloodlust’ in the middle, they could all be on the same album. That’s amazing to have stuff like that. That shows great songs. That’s always something I’ve said about the legacy. Most bands might go out… If you went to see Europe, tell me five Europe songs! ‘The Final Countdown’…” Abaddon adds: “Ha! I couldn’t tell you two!” before Dolan makes his point: “’The Final Countdown’! Now if you went to see Europe and they didn’t play ‘The Final Countdown’, you’d be going: ‘Ah, I’m gutted!’ To be in a band where you have got more than one and you’ve got ten and we could play 30 songs over two hours, three hours and still people go: ‘You didn’t play my favourite song! Why didn’t you play that one?’ That’s that richness of the legacy and that’s what is really special about this and really wonderful. Every night is a different night. We have that flexibility because of experience and because of everything else. Each night is not the same night. A thousand years ago, if you came to see the first night of a 30-date tour, the guys on the last night didn’t know what was gonna happen. The reviews wouldn’t be coming out until later. They might see a photograph, but rarely. They might have had a friend who went to the show. These days, before we finish the set, everybody on the last date already knows because they have taken photographs of the set list, there’s video up. In a way it’s kind of like a spoiler to a movie. I’m dying to see this movie and then someone post it and tells you everything about it. No! So I’m trying to encourage people to wait a little bit so that people can enjoy that. But because of that it means that we have that movement so we don’t give you the same show. In Osaka it won’t be the same show as tonight so that people can feel it’s special.”

The Demolition Man backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the new “Avé” album there are some very long songs. Mantas, the main songwriter, explains: “There’s a couple of songs I actually had to strip back. They were even longer. ‘Forged in Hell’ was about a minute longer than it is on the album. I was listening to it and it was just… When I’m writing, I am all about hook lines and choruses and where can the audiences join in? And this particular song, to me it seemed it was taking too long to get to the ‘Forged in Hell’! It was taking too long to get to that, so it was about a minute cut out of that.” Dolan adds a cheeky: “And then you gave yourself a good talking to, didn’t you?” Mantas continues: “I did. But a track like ‘Avé’, that comes in at… even ‘Dein Fleisch’, that comes in at seven minutes. But the thing is, when I construct the songs, when I am listening back to them, the first time I have a song fully constructed, I press play and the stop watch and I see what it comes in at. Then once I have got all the parts together and it’s still the same length, even without vocals, if it’s not doing it without vocals, because the vocals are the key on every song. That’s it, that’s the storyline for it. But as an instrumental piece, if I’m sitting there going: ‘For fuck’s sake! Fucking hell, when is it going to end?’ But with both ‘Dein Fleisch’ and with ‘Avé’ and with ‘Blood Stained’ as well, it was like I didn’t notice that because I felt the arrangements and the parts were keeping the attention. Then I thought: once the vocals go on top and the story’s told, then you’re not gonna notice. Seven minutes is going to pass like that. We had to do an edit for ‘Dein Fleisch’ for some strip clubs in America. They wanted a three and half, four minute edit for pole dancers. So, I did that and then listening back to it, it actually sounded weird. It was ending too soon.”

“The thing about radio play,” explains Dolan, “‘Dein Fleisch’ was on radio constantly in America. Nobody was going: ‘It’s a bit long, isn’t it?’ They were just playing it. If it works, it just works and people don’t notice the length of it.” Mantas continues: “Purposely, that’s why the album ends with ‘Black N Roll’. Because you’re getting commentary on world, fucking shit that’s going on and you’re getting the usual stuff from Venom, you’re getting the song about metal and the fans and all that kind of stuff. And it is a pretty dark album at times. Some of the songs are long and then it just needed a good punch in the face to finish it off! With a bit of humour which we have always been known for. It was a tribute to everything we love really.”

Dolan makes a point about the cheekiness of the band: “I think that’s a highly important point as well. That humour thing is something – we always had that cheeky humour thing. Venom always had that. I think it lost itself somewhere. That is part of whole thing. To me having that cheeky side back in there, I guess was important. It’s part of the identity.”

Well, folks, the Venom Inc boys are here. They have a past, present and future together. They’re relevant and they’re better than ever before. Shortly after our chat they walk on stage and deliver a devastatingly terrific metal show. Metal we bleed indeed.

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Jonas Björler of The Haunted | “We’ve always had thrash elements in our music”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When the extreme metal band The Haunted from Sweden returned to Japan for some shows in support of their latest album, Roppongi Rocks had a chat in Tokyo with co-founder and bassist Jonas Björler.

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Jonas Björler, how do you feel being back in Japan with The Haunted? “It’s nice to be back in Japan. This is like the fourteenth time. I’m always looking forward to Japan,” says Jonas Björler with a big smile as we sit down at Liquidroom in Tokyo during soundcheck.

The Haunted has fantastic thrash metal-style guitars mixed in with your extreme metal. Would you say that it is the thrash guitars that define your signature sound? “We have always had our roots in thrash metal. You’d notice that on the first album. We have never really left thrash metal behind us. The album where you have the least amount of thrash probably is ‘One Kill Wonder’ and perhaps also ‘The Dead Eye’ when we started to experiment with more prog and heavier things. But we’ve always had thrash elements in our music.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The Haunted’s members are busy not only with this band but also many other bands and projects, including At The Gates and Witchery. How do handle all the commitments? “We try to have a shared calendar and make it work somehow. It’s first come, first served, kind of. If someone has something he really wants to do, then we let him do that and we plan everything else around that. We all have jobs back home, so it becomes a bit hard to plan things. That’s why we book things a year in advance. At the moment we’re booking January and February next year. We have to be ahead in order to plan things,” explains Björler who, together with drummer Adrian Erlandsson will return to Japan already in May for gigs with At The Gates.

With a fantastic new album, “Strength in Numbers”, released in August last year, it must be tricky to put together your set lists? “We will play four or five of the new songs. We try to mix all kinds of songs, trying to include something from every album. I don’t think we will play anything from ‘Versus’ today, but other than that we have things from all our nine albums. You can’t please everybody. We just play whatever we want. Play something from all albums, except one perhaps, but with emphasis on the new album.”

When you write music does it differ between the different bands? Do you compose for a specific band or do you just write new music and then use it where it fits? “I have just finished the new At The Gates album. I did all the music for that one and thus I kind of feel like I am out of ideas. Let’s see. Often when I sit at home riffing I normally hear that this is probably cooler for that band. My wife also has opinions: ‘That sounds like that band’ and so on. It can be a bit tricky. I am one person with my influences. I think that with both bands… Sometimes things overflow the borders between the bands. With At The Gates I try to make it a bit more death metal with a melodic atmosphere. With The Haunted it’s more thrashy. That’s kind of how I think about it.”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

For many years you played together with your twin brother Anders Björler in both The Haunted and At The Gates. But Anders is no longer a member of the bands. Do you miss him? “I am used to it as he left The Haunted in 2012. I’ve gotten used to it. I miss him on stage and playing together, but we see each other quite a lot privately. Perhaps we get less tired of each other now.”

Danish producer Tue Madsen has produced many of The Haunted’s albums, but the latest album was done by British producer Russ Russell who famously has worked with Napalm Death. Was he chosen because you wanted to make a really heavy album? “Yes. Tue has been great on the earlier albums, but we felt that Russ has even more of the sound that we want, the brutal kind. Yes, we wanted something new after Tue. He has done all of them really since ‘Revolver’. Thus we thought it was time for a change, to try to get some variation in the sound.”

Do you feel any constraints when you write music? Do you feel that what you write has to fit within certain parameters or external expectations? “No. We have never written music in that way. At least not me. I don’t start the work on a new song with ‘What will people think?’ or ‘How will they react to this?’ I can’t work like that. It’s better to just write freely and not have any ulterior motive. Otherwise I think one will hinder one’s creativity and get stuck. It’s better to do as we have done with The Haunted where we have at least tried to expand the sound and the ideas. With ‘Dead Eye’ and also on ‘Unseen’ we took a step to make it progressive and darker. Many people didn’t like that, but we did it anyway. We felt that we wanted to do it. Try it out.” You kind of did an Opeth! “Yes, but perhaps not completely, just a bit. We have been sniffing at a few things. I really think that ‘Dead Eye’ is one of our better ones, even if not everyone likes it. Music is about feelings, I think. If you’re not communicating something, a good feeling or something that makes people react, then there is no point in creating music. Even if you do grindcore and that kind of music, you have to deliver some kind of feeling.”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Apart from founders Jonas Björler and Patrik Jensen, The Haunted has had quite a few line-up changes with people coming and going and returning as well. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson and vocalist Marco Aro are both on their second stints in the band while Ola Englund joined in 2013 to replace Anders Björler. With these personnel changes, how do you maintain the band’s sound? “I’ve played with Adrian in At The Gates too and Marco has been in the band before. Because we know them and how they are as musicians too, it is kind of easy. Ola is a great guitarist too and that also makes it kind of easy to work with these people. It hasn’t been any problem.”

The Haunted has a great history with Japan. You’ve recorded a live album here (“Live Rounds in Tokyo”, recorded in 2000 when on tour in Japan with In Flames) and you’ve also had great success with At The Gates here. “We like coming here whenever we get the chance. We have been here with all the album releases with The Haunted, I think. Yes, we have and even one year I was here three times, two with The Haunted and one with At The Gates.”

The latest album was released in August last year and you have been out playing to promote it. What’s next for the band? “We played Sweden, Norway, Finland and now we’re here and then we’re doing Spain and Portugal. After that we have a few festival gigs in Germany and such. We take it as it comes. We don’t do any long tours as we have jobs back home. We’ll see what happens. We’ve had a few offers for the autumn, some bigger things as well such as support slots for tours.”

The Haunted is closely associated with the Swedish city of Gothenburg. That is where the band formed in 1996 and the band and its members have also to some degree been part of the legendary Gothenburg Sound scene. But nowadays the band has left Gothenburg. “No one actually lives in Gothenburg anymore. Before we all lived in Gothenburg, apart from Marco. I moved to Örebro. Adrian lives in London. Jensen has moved to Helsinki, Finland. Ola and Marco live in Stockholm. It’s a bit spread out now and thus we don’t rehearse much. Hahaha!! We have to rehearse at home and at soundcheck!”

Jonas Björler of The Haunted in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

As mentioned The Haunted’s Jonas Björler and Adrian Erlandsson will be back in Japan already in May to play with At The Gates. And no doubt they will return with The Haunted at some point.

Interview | Minoru Niihara of Loudness: “We can’t stop being creative”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal veterans Loudness have a terrific new album out, “Rise To Glory”. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently sat down for a quick chat with vocalist Minoru Niihara in Tokyo to talk about the new album.

“Rise To Glory” is Loudness’ 27th studio album since they debuted in 1981 with “The Birthday Eve” and it is the first album released by Japanese label Ward Records. “I’m very happy that the album is finally out. I’m very proud of this new one,” says Minoru Niihara as we meet in Tokyo.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Minoru Niihara of Loudness in Tokyo.

Niihara is Loudness’ original vocalist. He first became known as a member of the band Earthshaker, before his first stint with Loudness which lasted from 1981 until 1988. Loudness then brought in American singer Mike Vescera as a replacement for a few years before they were fronted by former EZO singer Masaki Yamada. In 2001, bandleader, guitar wizard and main songwriter Akira Takasaki reunited the original line-up with Niihara, bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Munetaka Higuchi. They have stayed together ever since, with new drummer Ampan Suzuki being the only change (he joined a decade ago as replacement for Higuchi who passed away from liver cancer).

“It’s been four years since the last album and Akira Takasaki had lots of ideas. After the original line-up got back together, it’s been 17 years and the band has made many albums. There have been really good ones and some experimental ones. On this new album, all the songs were carefully written, I feel good about it,” says Niihara.

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Niihara makes it clear that Loudness has no interest in being a mere nostalgia act touring around and just playing their hits from the 80s. Creating new music is very much part of today’s Loudness. “We started making the album last March. It’s in our nature that when we start making something new we are on fire. We can’t stop being creative. We enjoy the creativity. There was an explosion of creativity in the studio! Creativity is the most important part of the band. If we stop being creative we should split up.”

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In the past, metal bands would often spend months together in a studio somewhere in order to produce an album. Nowadays that has changed into many albums being created in the different members’ home studios. Loudness is originally from Osaka but nowadays all the members of the band, apart from Akira Takasaki, are based in Tokyo. “The way we recorded this time around was like a mixture of the past and the present. For the rhythm section, drums and bass, it was more convenient to record in a big studio. The vocal takes, because it is time consuming with doing things over and over again, it was easier for me to do it in a home studio. Akira’s guitar parts were done in his home studio in Osaka.”

Loudness famously used Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, 220 Volt, Y&T, Armored Saint, Megadeth) as a producer on a few albums when they were starting to make it internationally. This time around, Akira Takasaki produced the album himself. “Yeah, he did. We brought our own ideas to him and he produced it,” explains Niihara. Is there a big difference between having a band member like Takasaki producing the album rather than an external producer? “Ask him! Haha!! We were considering getting an external producer but decided not to. Maybe we will do it again, but this time Akira was a perfectionist working with the album. He could become demonic as a producer, but things worked out OK.”

Some international editions of the new “Rise To Glory” album come packaged with the bonus disc “Samsara Flight” which consists of re-recordings of old Loudness songs from the early years. These were re-recorded and released in Japan in 2016 to mark the 35th anniversary of the band. “Because we have released over 25 albums, we wondered which area should we recreate. We finally settled on the earlier albums which were recorded when I was 21 years old. Haha!! How would the songs sound when sung when I am 55 years old? Also, there are lots of Loudness fans around the world who are not aware of the earlier works. The younger generation of fans don’t know what the band sounded like when we debuted. That’s why we decided to recreate the early tracks. We didn’t rearrange the songs too much, we played them in the original keys. It’s being released in Europe and the States and I’m very excited!”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness has in recent years been busy touring around Japan and other parts of Asia as well as Europe and North America. Niihara, who turns 58 in March, says the band will continue to tour as much as they have. “Yeah, I think so! We will tour while we can, while we are still healthy and fit to do so. We haven’t toured South America yet, and we will tour all over the world to see the smiles on the fans’ faces.”

With 27 studio albums below their belts (“No kidding! Really? OK!” says Niihara when reminded of their huge back catalogue), they have an enormous number of songs to choose from when putting together set lists. “We’re fighting a lot! Haha!! No. We start by thinking of the concept of the tour and the shows. When we toured Europe last time, there were requests that we should perform more songs from the 80s, so that’s what we did. For the next tour in March, many of the songs will be from the new album.”

Over the past few years, Loudness has performed some special anniversary shows, such as “Thunder in the East” 30th anniversary shows and “Samsara Flight” 35th anniversary shows and even a “Solider of Fortune” reunion show with Mike Vescera. There may be some additional special shows coming up. “Maybe we will do a ‘Hurricane Eyes’ album show, maybe…There are so many albums! Every year there are album anniversaries. But still, we have a new album now. As long as the fans enjoy what we play, we will do different types of shows and keep them happy.”

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness fans do not have to fear that the band won’t continue to write new music and continue to tour. Other veteran Japanese metal bands such as Anthem, Outrage and Earthshaker are also still going strong, leaving less room for newer Japanese bands. Niihara keeps an eye (and two ears) out for newer Japanese bands. “Galneryus! But I can’t pronounce their name! Haha!! We’ve played with them at Loud Out festival. They are awesome! Incredible. Also, I enjoy ONE OK ROCK. I like his voice. I like his father’s voice as well. They’re cool,” says Niihara in reference to ONE OK ROCK’s singer Takahiro Moriuchi and his father, Shinichi Mori, a famous Japanese singer and one of Japan’s biggest-ever selling recording artists.

Loudness new album “Rise To Glory” is out now via Ward Records.

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Interview: What rattles Dirk Verbeuren’s cage when he’s not Megadething?

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

2018 marks 35 years of Megadeth. Roppongi Rocks decided to check in with our mate Dirk Verbeuren to see what he gets up to when he’s not behind the drum kit in Megadeth.

Recently you were a guest DJ at a club in California. How did that come about and how did it go? “A friend of mine named Jason Todd, singer for Spades & Blades, is the house DJ at the Slide Bar in Fullerton. He has a guest over once a month and in November I happened to be the lucky guy. It was a ton of fun, just a chill night, lots of drinks and loud as hell metal!”

Do you often do guest appearances as a DJ? “This was a first. I’d be happy to DJ on a more regular basis. When something new catches my attention I always feel this irresistible urge to play it for everyone and DJ’ing would definitely scratch that itch. I used to co-host an extreme metal radio show many years ago and that was a total blast.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo in 2017.

Do you ever spin any of your own records when you’re DJ’ing? “I spun a couple of Megadeth and Soilwork tracks because I figured people would expect me to. And I was right because I got requests for more. You can’t escape playing some classic tunes but hopefully those in attendance discovered new music as well. I know that’s what I would want.”

You’re well-known for your work in extreme metal. But I also know that you listen to many different kinds of music. How does your diverse music taste show in what you play as a DJ? “Well, this particular night was metal themed. I had to resist playing Run The Jewels or Autechre. My tastes are all across the board and tend to include a lot of weird stuff. A set spanning my collection would probably frustrate the hell out of some folks so I should totally go for that one day. Haha!”

Current favourite tracks that you like to spin? “Dodecahedron‘s album “Kwintessens” is my number one record of 2017. These guys are pushing the black metal envelope in a fascinating way. New Godflesh and Portal are high on my list too. There’s a Swedish band named Chronus which is killer on all fronts, and I’m not just saying that because my wife and I manage them. Other than that, let’s see… Dead Cross, Aevangelist, Ho99o9, Satyricon, JK Flesh… Those are just a few of the artists I’ve been hooked on this past year. I have an ever-growing list of new music to check out.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How do you deal with ridiculous requests from guests when you’re out DJ’ing? Do you sometimes feel forced to play some shite music you don’t like because you receive requests? “If I’m the DJ you’re not gonna hear anything lame. Shite requests will go right where they belong: down the crapper.”

Your wife Hannah Verbeuren is a talented photographer. I know she took some terrific photos for your Bent Sea records. How involved are you in each other’s work? “Thanks! Her work amazes me time and time again. She has an incredible eye and manipulates light as if it was the easiest thing in the world. We tend to do our own thing because it’s best to separate business and marriage. Every now and then we’ll collaborate such as for Bent Sea. I entirely trust her judgment and sense of composition. That goes for the layout of those records as well. Whenever I work with graphics or pictures, I always go to Hannah to make sure what I’m doing visually is cool.”

Apart from DJ’ing and doing session and guest appearances as a drummer with other artists, what keeps you busy when you’re not occupied with your day job in Megadeth? “I teach drums in person and online. It’s fun and keeps me on my toes. I also do drum clinics and workshops for Tama, Meinl and Roland. Outside of the musical realm, we have two dogs and two cats we spend a lot of time with. And with friends as well of course. I’ve been a video game fanatic ever since my folks got me a C64 back in 1982. It’s the perfect destresser for me. When there’s free time I’ll usually be toiling away at ‘Dark Souls’ or some other ridiculously intense game.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have always been involved with multiple projects and bands as well as teaching. In recent years you have been rather busy with Megadeth. Do you still have time for as many outside projects as in the past? “My focus is on Megadeth. I’m in the midst of assembling ideas for the follow-up to ‘Dystopia’. It’s very exciting to be a part of that whole process for the first time along with Dave, David and Kiko. It’ll be a great learning experience. My time for other projects has always been limited because Soilwork was super busy as well. But I always make it work. Speaking of which, there’s some new Bent Sea stuff on the way. There can never be enough music and drumming in my life!”

Dirk Verbeuren in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Cheers. Keep grinding. “Cheers Stefan, you can count on that!”

Interview: Epica’s Simone Simons talks about combining metal with anime

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dutch symphonic metal band Epica is a bunch of hardworking musicians. 2017 saw them release two EPs and tour the world in support of their “The Holographic Principle” album. “In 2017 we toured a lot. We toured our asses off!” says vocalist Simone Simons when she meets Roppongi Rocks in Tokyo.

Following on from last year’s first and very successful Epica tour in Japan, the band recently made a very shrewd move for the Japanese market: combining metal with Japanese anime. The “Epica vs Attack on Titan songs” EP, released in Japan on 20th December via Ward Records, features covers of the soundtrack to Hajime Isayama’s popular Japanese anime series “Attack on Titan”. The band recently followed that with a return to Japan for a one-off show in Tokyo where they, in addition to a best-of set, performed three of the four songs from the new EP.

Epica consists of guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye, bassist Rob van der Loo, keyboardist Coen Janssen and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek in addition to vocalist Simone Simons. Simone is in a good mood when we meet her and she is clearly very happy to be in Japan again. “Thank you very much. Arigato. I am very happy to be back here,” says the singer who is actually celebrating her 33rd birthday when she meets us.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

It took Epica some 15 years before their first Japan tour, but the Japanese fans did not have to wait long for the follow-up visit. The first Japan tour in 2017 made its mark on Simone. “We did three shows: Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo. I fell in love with Osaka. That’s where we had the most time to do sightseeing. The sunset was making the city look yellow and golden. It was amazing! I really liked the culture, the people, the food. We struggled to get to Japan. We had some offers from promoters and then we had to wait if it would all happen. We were always pulling the short straw, so to speak. Now we made it and shortly after we got the opportunity to cover the ‘Attack on Titan’ songs. So, I guess it was worth the waiting. It was 15 years. Because now we got back here in nine months and we got this amazing opportunity.”

Is this perhaps a start of frequent visits and an intense love relationship between Epica and the Japanese fans? “Hahaha! That would be nice, yeah. That would be appreciated. I can’t say how excited I am for tomorrow to actually play those songs live. It’s different from what we normally do with Epica. So it’s going to be something new. And I’m ready for it!”

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Epica’s new EP combines two lucrative cultures with strong and loyal fans: metal music and Japanese animation. The EP features four cover songs where Epica has recorded Epica-style versions of songs from the “Attack on Titan” soundtrack. “Our Japanese fans love it! The ‘Attack on Titan’ fans love it we’ve been told earlier, so we’re very relieved. It’s not an easy task to cover cult tracks like those. It’s so huge in Japan and a little bit scary! Dangerous territory. I guess that’s the greatest honour for us, that they are happy with how it sounds and that the fans of ‘Attack on Titan’ love it too. And people all over Europe have been asking us: ‘When is this EP being released in Europe?’ because Japan gets the first release. Some of our fans have the CD already because they have some friends in Japan that are willing to ship the CD to them.”

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

While Epica’s sound somewhat keeps evolving, they have established a signature Epica sound which combines symphonic and melodic metal with occasional growls and plenty of heavy guitar-based riffing. In addition, they have a world-class singer. Simone Simons is leagues above most competitors and that sets Epica apart from many other bands in the same genre. “Well, thank you for the compliment, first of all. I think the ‘Attack on Titan’ songs really do have the Epica… They are wearing the Epica dress, so to speak. But it was really new for us. We’ve never had any super-fast songs as these ‘Attack on Titan’ songs. We had to slow them down a little bit in order for us to play it and not have them computer programmed. It’s not a style we’ve worked with before, so that was the great thing about it. It was a challenge, like how can we fit all the pieces of the puzzle together? How does the original composer think about it? We’ve been given, really, a lot of freedom to make it our own. We recorded demos and we sent them to Japan. We had the lyrics in Japanese translated to English. It was quite one on one, so it didn’t work with the vocals anymore. So then Mark, Coen and I divided up the four songs and rewrote the lyrics. Everything went really smooth. I am myself a huge soundtrack fan, so this was a great opportunity to do something on my wish list. Still, I would like to work more in this field because I enjoyed it immensely.”

For the new EP, Epica once again recorded with producer Joost van den Broek, someone they seem to have developed a very close working relationship with. “Yeah, he’s now a little bit the seventh band member. He guides us through the whole process, from the beginning to the end. He is very organised, which is a great thing, because not all musicians are like that. He really makes sure that everything is really streamlined and that we don’t cross any deadlines, that we are all well prepared. We recorded professional demos – that almost sounded like they only had to be mixed and mastered and they could also be on the EP – for us to get the material in our bones, in our systems, so that when we recorded for real it would be really natural. We approached the whole writing and recording session exactly the same as we would do with normal Epica material.”

Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Epica seems to be a bit heavier live than on record. I love that extra heaviness we get from Epica on stage. “That’s the energy that gets out when we’re all together, I guess. When you’re in the studio, everybody is just on their own. Drums, bass, guitar, the choir and then the vocals come in the end, the arrangements. Then when you’re on stage there’s a different energy. I’ve been told that before that Epica sounds great on record but live it’s just a different experience. That’s why I always tell people to come and see our shows and not watch it on Youtube with crappy audio.”

Having released two EPs during 2017, when can we expect the next full-length album? “I cannot put a date on it because we are still touring until the end of the summer, August. Then, after, we are going to take our time, enjoy time at home and let creativity flow, whenever it hits us. And get together a couple of months after that and see how many songs we have, how are we going to plan the year. In 2017 we toured a lot. We toured our asses off. It’s a great thing for a musician, but it’s the only big thing or downside of being a musician is being away from your family. Some of us are parents, we all have partners, wives… I have a husband, I don’t have a wife! It’s hard to be away.”

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Simone’s husband is German musician Oliver Palotai. He’s a member of Kamelot and have also played with Doro, Uli Jon Roth, Circle II Circle, Blaze Bayley and others. The couple has a young son together. “Luckily he doesn’t tour like crazy. He’s going to tour now, in this year. But we make sure that our schedules are not blocking each other, so one of us is at home. There sometimes is an overlap of a couple of days, but we have great family that helps us with that. 2017 was a little bit too much for all of us. Not to sound ungrateful, but it got out of balance. We were all missing our families a little too much. We want to still appreciate what we do. We know it is very special and we want to live it as long as we can. That’s why we are going to take it a little bit easier, writing and recording a new album. Not putting a deadline on it, because we don’t want to become a music-writing machine. We want it to come organically. And spend some more time with family and friends as well.”

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

In addition to her main job fronting Epica, Simone has made many guest appearances with other artists, most recently with Exit Eden, Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project and Tarja. How does she manage to fit all this into a very busy schedule? “I don’t know! I must have more hours a day, I think sometimes. Exit Eden I recorded with Joost as well. We did that in one day. And Ayreon I recorded in Arjen’s studio in one day. So, that’s only two days basically. And for Tarja I recorded it at my husband’s studio in five minutes.”

Her past guest work has also included work for her husband’s Kamelot. He has also been a live member on an Epica tour. “I’ve sung on three Kamelot albums, I think five or six songs in total. I’ve sung with Leaves’ Eyes as well. I’ve sung on MaYaN also!” says an excited Simone about all the interesting studio work she’s done. But all these projects are basically studio-based. She doesn’t go on tour with any other artists. “That would be an exception if I were to do that because we’re touring so much with Epica. I have a second company that is my blog and photography website. Sometimes I go to events, but that is also hard to plan because Epica is often away. So I try to not be more away apart from touring with Epica and the occasional event I have to go to. So I get to spend some time with family.”

Epica’s Simone Simons in Tokyo in January 2018. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks /

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