Gig review: Shadows over Tokyo as Dark Funeral and Naglfar return to Japan

Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Funeral and Naglfar prove that Swedish extreme metal still rules with a triumphant return to Japan to spread darkness.

Dark Funeral, Naglfar, Ethereal Sin and Nox Vorago at Shimokitazawa Garden, Tokyo, 16th June 2018

Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius of Naglfar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2016, Swedish black metal band Dark Funeral released their latest album, “Where Shadows Forever Reign”, and they last performed in Japan that same year. They are still touring that album as they now mark their 25th anniversary as a band. This time they have fellow Swedish black metal veterans Naglfar with them as a double headliner for the Japan gigs. What a treat! Two of Sweden’s best extreme metal bands together on stage in Japan.

Nox Vorago

J.N Uduun of Nox Vorago on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening kicks off with Swedish hopefuls Nox Vorago as the opening act. Their stage clothes and masks make them kind of look like Ghost’s Nameless Ghouls. But Nox Vorago is much better than that. This is no pop act. This is quality extreme metal from Gothenburg. And, unlike Ghost, Nox Vorago’s members take off their masks and reveal their faces at the end of the set. Their short set is exemplary. They hit the stage, giving us their all with a quality execution of great material and it’s all finished before anyone gets bored. This band has a bright future and no doubt they will be back in Japan.

Ethereal Sin

Yama Darkblaze of Ethereal Sin on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The second support act of the evening is Ethereal Sin, a Japanese band combining avant-garde black metal with folk metal, some big Cradle of Filth influences and other bits and pieces. They’re different to most things out there and they put on a good show. The frontman Yama Darkblaze, who founded the band back in 1997, is a character and he knows how to handle and entertain his audience.

Naglfar

Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius of Naglfar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish band Naglfar, perhaps best described as a hard-hitting but melodic black metal band, formed in 1992. Despite having been around for many years and having released some terrific albums, they have never toured much. Founding member Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius leads the solid current line-up of the band. Having originally been the band’s bassist, he is nowadays its lead singer. A very smart move as he is a great frontman. He is hardworking and sweating buckets as he gives it his all on stage. At times he’s so into the music and the performance that he appears possessed. That’s not a bad thing when you’re fronting a black metal band. Bass duties are now handled by Alex “Impaler Friberg of Firespawn and Necrophobic fame. Naglfar hasn’t released an album since 2012’s “Téras” (on which current Megadeth man Dirk Verbeuren played the drums) but the band has a great catalogue of brutal music. They open the set this evening with “Feeding Moloch” from 2007’s “Harvest” album (a song that has only been performed live a couple of times over the years) and continue with the magnificent “Black God Aftermath”. During this splendid show, we get to hear a few more rare numbers in the form of “The Mirrors of My Soul” and “And the World Shall Be Your Grave”, in addition to expected favourites such as “A Swarm of Plagues” and “The Perpetual Horrors”. A very strong set is finished off with the magnificent “I am Vengeance” and “The Brimstone Gate”. What a return by a great band!

Alex “Impaler” Friberg of Naglfar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Funeral

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

Flawless is how I would describe the terrific Dark Funeral set in Tokyo this evening. Dark Funeral’s music is dark, dark and darker, yet often very melodic. They know what their strengths are and they focus on them. This evening we get to hear some of their early output but also a fair bit of the newer material from their most recent album, 2016’s “Where Shadows Forever Reign”.

Adra Melek of Dark Funeral on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Since they last played Japan in 2016, they have two new members on stage. But despite the many changes in the Dark Funeral line-up over the years, founding guitarist Lord Ahriman always manage to deliver, both on stage and in the studio. His long-time guitar partner Chaq Mol and fierce frontman Heljarmadr make this more than good, while new drummer Jalomaah and bassist Adra Melek are rock solid. This version of the band is fantastic. Let’s hope that we now will see some stability with this line-up.

Heljarmadr of Dark Funeral on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

They open with “Unchain My Soul” from the latest album and continue with “The Arrival of Satan’s Empire” and “Vobiscum Satanas”. As expected, we get a career-spanning set of songs from 1996’s debut album “The Secrets of the Black Arts” up until the latest album “Where Shadows Forever Reign”. The strength of the latest album is evident as we get quite a few songs from it this evening. They close a great evening of darkness with the title track from the latest album. What a showcase of splendid extreme and dark music! Thank you to the fantastic team at Evoken de Valhall Production for continuing to bring so many great bands to Japan.

Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: At The Gates kicks off world tour in style with fab Tokyo show

Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At The Gates kicks off the “To Drink From the Night Itself” world tour with a splendid show in Tokyo. World-class death metal served up by the Gothenburg Sound masters.

At The Gates, Hellchild and Survive at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, 29th May 2018

Jonas Björler of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At The Gates wisely chose to kick off their new world tour in Tokyo. Here they have a long history and a loyal audience ready to give the band the support and love the Gothenburg Sound masters deserve and crave.

Two seasoned local bands, thrash metal band Survive and death metal/grindcore band Hellchild, warm up the audience before At The Gates, the masters of Swedish melodic death metal, enter the stage and bring the whole venue to boiling point.

Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They open with “To Drink From the Night Itself”, the ttle track from the new album and immediately follow that with the classic “Slaughter of the Soul” before they deliver “At War With Reality”. What an opening! This sets the tone for the evening. We get a killer set list, including the live premiere of four songs from the new album: “A Stare Bound in Stone”, “Daggers of Black Haze”, “The Chasm” and “The Mirror Black”. The new songs fit very well with the classics. The sound has evolved, with some progressive elements added to the band’s music, but without going too far away from the band’s melodic death metal roots. One of the highlights of the set is, without doubt, the splendid “Death and the Labyrinth”. That song is one of the six songs performed this evening from 2014’s very strong comeback album, “At War with Reality”.

This is the third time I am seeing At The Gates perform in Japan and they are as great as expected. This band never underestimates its audience, it always delivers a world-class death metal knockout in Japan. Frontman Tomas Lindberg is a phenomenal leader on stage. He rarely stands still more than a few seconds. He’s all over the place and he combines his on-stage presence with terrific death metal vocals.

Adrian Erlandsson of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band’s current line-up – Tomas Lindberg (vocals), Jonas Björler (bass), Adrian Erlandsson (drums), Martin Larsson (rhythm guitar) and Jonas Stålhammar (lead guitar) – basically can’t be bettered in my view. They have the ultimate band line-up and they fit very well together as a unit. New member Jonas Stålhammar is a great addition. The God Macabre, The Crown, Bombs of Hades and The Lurking Fear man is such an obvious choice to replace co-founder Anders Björler who left the band last year. Stålhammar shows on stage that he deserves the spot.

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At The Gates finishes the evening’s massive 20-song set with “The Night Eternal”. The new world tour is off to a splendid start for the Gothenburg veterans who are still very much relevant. A show dominated by material from the last two albums shows that this band is no mere nostalgia act. Of course, they pay respect to their impressive heritage, but they are not stuck in the past. We do get classic 90s songs such as “Slaughter of the Soul”, “Cold”, “”Under a Serpent Sun”, “The Swarm”, “Raped by the Light of Christ”, ”Nausea”, “Suicide Nation”, “Blinded by Fear” and “Kingdom Gone”, but they’re outnumbered by the newer material. We get the best of both worlds in a show with no room for any fillers.

Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Sepultura bulldozes Tokyo as the Machine Messiah rolls into town

Andreas Kisser of Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Brazilian metal masters Sepultura returned to Japan for an explosive Tokyo gig. The Machine Messiah crushed Tokyo!

Sepultura and United at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo, 23rd May 2018

When Sepultura returns to Japan after a 17-year absence, the expectations are high, very high. Can they meet and even exceed those expectations? Yes, they can and they do!

United on stage. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Japanese veteran thrash metal band United, who will release the new album “Absurdity” in July, does a fine job of getting the audience warmed up. As an opening act, we get a short set made up of fan favourites such as “Cross Over the Line”, “Mosh Crew”, “Violence Jack” and “Sniper”. Now I am really looking forward to hearing the band’s new album.

When Sepultura then enters the stage, the energy is there and so is the excitement. The band opens the show with a knockout trio of songs: “I am the Enemy”, “Phantom Self” and “Kairos”. Bloody hell! Sepultura is not only great, the band is perhaps better now than ever before. Yes, they sound that good. They’re also not stuck in the past. The show is built on a foundation of newer material and it’s brutally awesome.

Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

This evening we get what must be close to a perfect set list with the best songs from the band’s latest album, 2017’s splendid “Machine Messiah”, as well as favourites from throughout the band’s career. Old-school Sepultura fans get their treats in the form of “Territory”, “Desperate Cry”, “Inner Self”, “Refuse/Resist” and “Arise”. Highlights for me this evening include fierce versions of “Sworn Oath”, “Against” and the terrific cover of Titãs’ “Policia” (originally released as a B-side on the “Territory” single). Long-term members Andreas Kisser on guitar and Paulo Jr. on bass are still in fine form after more than three decades in the band. The Brazilian band’s American vocalist Derrick Green is a world-class frontman. He’s got it all: he looks the part, he has the stage presence, the never-ending energy and a voice that was made to sing Sepultura songs. The band’s latest addition, drummer Eloy Casagrande, who joined in 2011, is a fierce musician that drives Sepultura’s music along at speed and with glorious heaviness. He’s quite a find and a must in order to deliver Sepultura’s heavy music live. In the instrumental piece “Iceberg Dances”, Green gets a break while the rest of the band gets to shine. As an encore, we get the classic “Slave New World” before the band invites United singer Masatoshi Yuasa to help them perform the song “Ultraseven no Uta” for the very first time. The band recorded a cover of this old Japanese anime theme song as a bonus track for their latest album. We then get the phenomenal “Resistant Parasites” before they close the set with “Ratamahatta” and “Roots Bloody Roots”. What a full-on high-energy knockout show by a terrific metal band that is more relevant and able than ever. Let’s hope it won’t take them another 17 years before they return to Japan.

Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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Gig review: Classic Bay Area thrash metal attack in Tokyo by Death Angel

Mark Osegueda and Rob Cavestany of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel slays Tokyo with a fine evening of classic Bay Area thrash metal.

Mark Osegueda of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel, Neuroticos, Pornostate at Unit, Daikanyama, Tokyo, 9th May 2018

This was a lesson in how it’s done. Death Angel not only knows how to do it, the band gets on with it and delivers a splendid evening of world-class thrash metal. I had high expectations of this fine band, but the band’s show in Tokyo exceeds them.

Following warm-up sets by opening acts Pornostate and Neuroticos, the Tokyo audience was fired up and ready to thrash. Neuroticos is a Japanese-Brazilian death metal band which is a reliable act to warm up an audience eager to crowd surf and mosh. I have previously seen Neuroticos open for Krisiun and Venom Inc and they always deliver the goods. This evening is no exception.

Mark Osegueda and Ted Aguilar of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How do you like your metal cooked? When it comes to thrash metal, I want it uncooked, raw. Well, this evening in Tokyo, the gentlemen in Death Angel serve up a raw feast of Bay Area thrash metal of the best kind. Formed in 1982, Death Angel was a vital part of the early Bay Area thrash metal scene which also included bands such as Exodus, Testament and Trauma as well as Metallica whose members relocated to the Bay Area before hitting it big after recruiting Cliff Burton from Trauma and Kirk Hammett from Exodus. Hammett was also the producer of the first Death Angel demo in 1985. From the first notes to the very end of this evening’s gig, Death Angel delivers flawlessly. This is a band in such fine form it is remarkable. They arrived in Japan the same day as the gig, but if they are tired or jetlagged, they’re certainly not showing it. There is so much energy on stage that it spills over to the audience who feeds on and recycles that energy right back to the band.

Ted Aguilar and Mark Osegueda of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They kick off the set in style with “Father of Lies” from their latest studio album (2016’s “The Evil Divide”) and proceed with giving Tokyo a lesson in how thrash metal is done. We get the classics – such as “Seemingly Endless Time”, “Voracious Souls” “The Ultra-Violence”, “Mistress of Pain” and “3rd Floor” – but also a lot of newer material, including “The Dream Calls for Blood”, “Caster of Shame” “The Moth”, “Breakaway” and “Lost”. The band proves that it can still create terrific new music. Actually, as much as I like the old-school thrash of the 80s, I think that Death Angel’s newer material beats the crap out of its earlier songs.

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

The current line-up of Death Angel – which features founding member Rob Cavestany on guitar and legendary vocalist Mark Osegueda as well as newer additions Ted Aguilar on guitar, Damien Sisson on bass and Will Carroll on drums – is ridiculously good. They’re in such fine form and so full of energy that it reminds me of a volcano eruption. The band has a fine back catalogue of music which they clearly love to perform. They are loved by the Japanese fans and will no doubt be back. Thrash metal and Japan has a long tradition of friendship and love.

Will Carroll and Damien Sisson of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel finishes its gig with an encore consisting of two favourites from “Ultra-Violence”, the band’s 1987 debut album; “Evil Priest” and “Kill as One”. What an enjoyable evening in the name of thrash metal. Thank you for the music and entertainment, Death Angel.

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

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Gig review: Squeeze at Billboard Live in Roppongi

Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

44 years after the band was founded in London, British rockers Squeeze are still at it. They have better songs than most other bands and they are still very much relevant. Glenn Tilbrook leads a fab current version of the band to success in Japan.

Squeeze at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo, 6th May 2018

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

It is very hard to define what musical genre Squeeze belongs to. Since they formed in Deptford in Southeast London in 1974 they have done many different musical styles. With their roots in the part of the British punk movement that centred around legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, they quickly evolved into rock and pop and became part of the new wave genre. Throughout their career, they have continued to go in and out of genres and styles and been very good at it.

Live on stage the band rocks. They’re tight, they’re playful and they are so clearly enjoying performing for their Japanese fans. Leader and frontman Glenn Tilbrook is not only a great singer and songwriter, he’s also a phenomenal guitarist. At this show in Tokyo, he gives us some splendid guitar solos.

Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Squeeze opens the show in style with “Please Be Upstanding” a song from the band’s latest studio album, 2017’s “The Knowledge”. They continue with classic “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)” from 1980’s “Argybargy” album before they return to their latest album with “Innocence in Paradise”. Squeeze puts on a terrific show and to me there are several parts making this great: 1) The material – they have better songs than most other bands; 2) 44 years after founding the band, Tilbrook’s voice has matured but it is as good as ever; and 3) The musical skills of the current line-up of the band are world class.

On this tour, Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford is missing but Tilbrook is backed up by a fantastic band: Stephen Large (Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, Johnny Depp, Duffy) is a demon on keyboards. Simon Hanson (Death in Vegas, Hall and Oates, The Quireboys, The Dogs D’Amour, Rick Wakeman) is an unstoppable drummer. The latest addition to the band is bassist Yolanda Charles (Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, Aztec Camera, Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart). What a catch! She adds both groove and funk to Squeeze’s songs. And when it’s time for the old favourite “Cool for Cats”, percussionist Steve Smith steps up, puts on a guitar and sings lead. In addition to his current role with Squeeze, he’s the lead singer for Dirty Vegas and is a great entertainer.

Yolanda Charles of Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

During the set, we get some of the obvious classics, such as “Take Me I’m Yours”, “Tempted”, “Another Nail in My Heart” and “Up the Junction”. What a treasure trove of great songs this band has! Highlights among the newer material include “Cradle to the Grave” and “Rough Ride”. The new material stands up very well to the old favourites. The band has evolved and its sounds and musical styles change by the song. The current version of the band makes the back catalogue sound modern (or is that timeless?) and still relevant. They also prove that this band has a future and a loyal audience, no matter what musical styles the band throw at them.

Squeeze is a fabulous band with terrific songs, performing at a splendid venue for loyal fans. Quite a combination which creates a great live experience at Billboard Live in Roppongi.

Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

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Gig review: CTA featuring ex-Chicago members Danny Seraphine, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus

CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A fine evening of grown-up rock at Billboard Live with former Chicago members Danny Seraphine, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus reunited in CTA.

Danny Seraphine of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

CTA at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo, 19th April 2018

American rock band Chicago’s original band name was Chicago Transit Authority. When original drummer Danny Seraphine created a new band he paid tribute to his legacy by naming the band CTA – California Transit Authority. In CTA, Seraphine (who was Chicago’s drummer from 1967 until 1990) has reunited with two of his former Chicago band members, Bill Champlin and Donnie Dacus. Champlin sang and played guitars and keyboards with Chicago between 1981 and 2009, while Dacus had a shorter stint as a guitarist and vocalist with the band in 1978-79. In addition to his stint with Chicago, Dacus famously starred in the 1979 movie “Hair” and was a member of Badfinger.

Bill Champlin of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

In addition to the three former Chicago men, CTA features some serious firepower and musical pedigree in the form of guitarist Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson, Glenn Hughes), keyboardist and pianist Edward Roth (Glenn Hughes, Sebastian Bach, Rob Halford, Impellitteri), bassist Travis Davis (Keith Emerson) and vocalist Tony Grant. They are complemented by a fabulous three-person Japanese brass section dubbed the Banzai Brass.

Just like Chicago was at its best, CTA is a terrific grown-up classic rock band with elements of jazz, blues, soul and funk weaved into the mix and with an elaborate use of the brass section as well as keyboards and piano. With a ten-member band, we get no fewer than four people singing lead vocals on various songs, providing great variety in musical style. This evening we obviously get some classics from the Chicago back catalogue, such as “Saturday in the Park”, “You’re the Inspiration”, “Look Away”, “Take Me Back to Chicago” and “25 or 6 to 4”. The highlight of the evening is no doubt the rocker “Turn Back the Pages” with Donnie Dacus on fire on the guitar and also providing lead vocals. This is a song Dacus originally wrote and recorded with Stephen Stills and then also performed with Chicago. Fabulous!

Donnie Dacus of CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

But it is not all Chicago, we also get things such as “Turn Your Love Around”, a song co-written by Champlin for George Benson, here turned into a great jazz-rock jam by the band. Champlin’s voice is intact and sounds as good now as it did in the 80s while Seraphine shows us that he is still a world-class drummer. “We’re 70 and still rocking!” he says between a couple of songs and he is right. These veterans are still relevant and they sound great. What a fine evening of grown-up rock music.

Billboard Live is a terrific intimate venue where the artists have to walk through the audience in order to get up on stage. With tiered seating, everybody in the audience has a great view and the sound quality is superb.

CTA on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

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Gig review: Destruction destroys Tokyo with a thrash metal attack in Meguro

Schmier and Mike Sifringer of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thrash Anthems Live: German thrash metal veterans Destruction kick off their Asia-Pacific tour in style in Tokyo.

Destruction at Rockmaykan, Meguro, Tokyo, 16th April 2018

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

Destruction walks on stage and completely destroys Tokyo on this fine evening in Meguro. They are on fire for this first gig on their Asia-Pacific tour. Thrash metal in general and specifically German thrash is popular in Japan. Destruction is at the top of the German heap together with Kreator and Sodom. Like their American Bay Area cousins, Destruction serves up world-class thrash metal and once again prove that they are one of the genre’s best bands.

This evening in Tokyo we get a killer set list that is almost flawless and near perfection. They open with 80s favourite “Curse the Gods”. They immediately follow that with the more recent “Armageddonizer” before they return to the 80s back catalogue with “Tormentor”. One of the evening’s obvious highlights is of course “Nailed to the Cross” when the whole audience goes wild and shouts “Nailed to the fucking cross!”. The anthem “Mad Butcher” follows. The evening continues like that with a mixture of old classics and newer material. All of it is bleeding terrific.

The band’s co-founders Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Schmier (bass and vocals) are as good as they ever were since they founded the band in 1982. They are tight and they deliver. Even the early classics sound better now than they did back in the day as the band members are now much better musicians.

Randy Black of Destruction on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Tokyo gig is not only the first gig on the Asia-Pacific tour, it also marks the first time that powerhouse drummer Randy Black plays a full set with the band (a few years ago he toured with the band as a fill-in when Destruction performed a shorter set). The former Annihilator, Primal Fear and W.A.S.P. drummer is an animal behind the drum kit and he brings the songs up a level with his energy, power and finesse. Let’s hope that he becomes a permanent member of the band. The Canada-born drummer is already based in Germany and he’s a great fit for the band.

A great thrash metal attack gig is topped off with an encore featuring “Thrash Till Death”, a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia” and, of course, “Bestial Invasion”. Total thrash metal awesomeness. Thrash at its best. The rowdy crowd of Japanese Destruction lovers helps the band from the first note until well after the band has rushed off to the airport to make the Bangkok flight. This was one of the best gigs in Tokyo this year (so far). A big thank you to local organiser Metal Justice Tokyo for bringing Destruction back to Japan. It is great to see this kind of grassroots organisation made up of fans bringing their favourite artists to Japan independently.

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

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Gig review: Melodic hard rock knockout in Tokyo by The Poodles

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A 35-year tradition of Swedish melodic hard rock triumphs in Japan now continues with The Poodles doing their first-ever Japan tour.

The Poodles at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 4th April 2018

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

Sweden has a proud tradition of producing great melodic hard rock bands that become loved by Japanese fans. Since Europe first got noticed by Japanese fans in 1983, there has been a never-ending stream of quality Swedish bands selling both records and concert tickets in Japan and winning hearts along the way. The Poodles, which formed in 2006, took 12 years to get to Japan, but now they’re here and their first-ever show in Tokyo is a success.

28 years ago – in April 1990 – I last saw Jake Samuel perform on stage. At that time he was a young drummer in Talisman, sitting behind Jeff Scott Soto, Marcel Jacob and Jason Bieler. In The Poodles he’s the frontman, the centre of attention, the mainman who commands your attention. With seven The Poodles studio albums below his belt, he’s an accomplished vocalist and a frontman who knows how to entertain an audience. Original drummer Christian “Kicken” Lundqvist is still the anchor in the band and he is joined in the current touring line-up by Argentinian bassist Germain Leth (ex-Blackcept, Watchmen) and stand-in guitarist Rob Marcello. Marcello is best known as a member of Danger Danger but he’s also played with House of Lords and Shotgun, the partial Shotgun Messiah reunion. He’s an amazing guitarist who brings something extra to The Poodles. A terrific addition to the band, even if it may only be for this tour.

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

This evening in Shibuya they open their set with their brilliant cover version of The Osmonds hit ”Crazy Horses” and follow with “Night of Passion”, their breakthrough hit from 2006. What follows is a high-energy, melodic hard rock show. Most of the set is made up of the band’s most famous hits. But there is the odd surprise in the set list, such as the rarely heard track “Band of Brothers” from their second album, 2007’s “Sweet Trade”. We also get a couple of more covers (from The Poodles’ latest album “Prisma” which is a covers album): Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” – classic songs given a The Poodles treatment.

Highlights of the night include “Thunderball” and “Crack in the Wall” as well as the band’s anthem “Metal Will Stand Tall” where the audience sings along like there’s no tomorrow. Speaking of which, “Like No Tomorrow” finishes the set before the band returns for an encore consisting of “Rockstar” and “Seven Seas”.

The love affair between Japanese fans and Swedish melodic hard rock continues. The Poodles is Japan’s latest glammed-up mistress of rock.

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

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Gig review: An evening with Marty Friedman and his guitars

Marty Friedman on stage in Harajuku. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A special evening with Marty Friedman billed as “passionate guitar” turns out exactly like that: A musician, his guitars and plenty of passion.

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo, 23rd March 2018

Soon after guitarist Marty Friedman left Megadeth he relocated from his native USA and made Tokyo, Japan his home some 15 years ago. He is still here and he keeps doing a lot of interesting work across many different genres, some of it primarily focused on the domestic Japanese market. Not least because of his many TV appearances, Marty is a now a household name in Japan. Last year he released “Wall of Sound” (Ward Records), a terrific genre-bending solo album where he experimented with many different styles. A few weeks ago, an album called “B: The Beginning – The Image Album” was released. Marty produced the album, wrote all the music and played all guitar parts. He is about to embark on a tour of South America and Mexico and as a warm-up he put on a very special show at a small restaurant in Tokyo for a seated audience where everyone is within a few metres of Marty and his band. What a treat! He does all his talking during the show in Japanese. This is his adopted hometown and here he has a loyal following of fans open to whatever genres Marty decides to play.

Marty obviously has a solid background as a metal guitarist with first Cacophony and then a decade in Megadeth. But nowadays he never lets musical genres limit the music he creates. “I don’t really have any kind of genre that I’m shooting to make sure I fit into,” Marty said in an interview with Roppongi Rocks last summer. This evening he does everything from his more orchestral songs to his recent material. He is in fine form and in a great mood. The fact that “B: The Beginning” is topping several Japanese charts has most likely given him a well-deserved boost.

Marty Friedman and Kiyoshi on stage in Harajuku. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty has with him a fantastic Japanese band where the standout musician for me is the fierce bassist Kiyoshi. Just like her bandleader, Kiyoshi is an artist who transcends genres and is equally at home with metal mayhem as she is with J-pop. They do it all this evening, and, yes, they occasionally thrash it out with some serious shredding. Very pleasing for a Megadeth man like myself. In addition to his backing band, at this gig Marty is joined by a string section consisting of a cellist and a violinist. While the evening is mainly instrumental, Japan-based American vocalist Jon Underdown joins Marty on stage to sing two songs with the band, including the terrific “The Perfect World” from the “B: The Beginning” album. The evening’s highlight for me is “Whiteworm” from the “Wall of Sound” album. Marty is on fire here and Kiyoshi offers us some insane slap bass. Another standout moment is a fab version of “Yuki no Hana”, a cover of Mika Nakashima that Marty recorded for the 2009 album “Tokyo Jukebox”. During the encore we even get to hear Marty sing as the band starts jamming around with “Hound Dog”. We also get “Amazing Grace” in a twisted and great Marty version.

What a great evening for music lovers. Up close and personal with a master musician and his terrific band. I really enjoy seeing great musicians and artists who are not afraid to go outside their musical roots and disregard expectations. Marty Friedman is a master at that.

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Gig review: Riot celebrates 30 years of “Thundersteel” at Club Citta

Riot on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American hard rock veterans Riot celebrate the band’s past, present and future with a special weekend of performances at Club Citta.

Riot at Club Citta, Kawasaki, 10th March 2018

In March 1988, American hard rock band Riot released the album “Thundersteel”. 30 years later they mark the anniversary with two very special evenings in Japan.

Riot, or Riot V as this latest line-up of the classic hard rock band is officially known as, has no original members left in the band which was founded in New York in 1975. But that doesn’t seem to bother any of the Japanese fans. The key thing here is that Riot has had a loyal following of Japanese fans for decades and the current line-up delivers. They are worthy of the name. Today’s Riot is built around long-term members Don Van Stavern (bass) and Mike Flyntz (guitar), who both first joined Riot in the 1980s. They are joined by more recent additions Nick Lee (guitar), Frank Gilchriest (drums) and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. Hall as a vocalist is such a great fit for this band. The man has pipes that equal those of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. He can sing Riot’s back catalogue as well as the fab new material. He is without a doubt one of the best vocalists in metal today.

This evening, the first of two nights of performances in Kawasaki, the band performs two sets: first a one-hour “normal” set of classics and newer material which is then followed by a second set consisting of the 1988 album “Thundersteel”. We get the album in its entirety, nine songs. Then the band tops it all when they close the evening with classics “Road Racin’”, “Swords and Tequila” and “Warrior”.

Riot on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

The 23-song gig gives us so much good stuff and it clearly showcases the strengths of the current Riot: it still does justice to the classic material while at the same time producing new material which is among its best work. Everyone loves to hear the classics, but the newer material really is top notch. New members, new material, but it still has that same old Riot feeling and quality. One of the highlights of the evening for me is a great version of “Black Leather and Glittering Steel” from 1990’s “The Privilege of Power”. What a terrific metal song! “Fall from the Sky”, a more recent favourite, gives us a fantastic and relentless twin guitar attack. We also get a special treat in the form of “Land of the Rising Sun”, a song inspired by Japan which the band so far has never performed in any other country than Japan.

Riot will release its new studio album on 25th April via Ward Records in Japan and on 27th April internationally via Nuclear Blast. We do get to hear two great tracks from it in the set, the title track as well as “Messiah”.

Riot is a great hard rock band with a proud history, great present and bright future. This evening in Kawasaki we got to experience all three. Cheers!

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