Gig review: A melodic hard rock evening in Tokyo with Treat

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Nearly four decades into their career, the members of Swedish melodic hard rock band Treat return to Japan with a great new album and a killer setlist.

Robert Ernlund of Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Treat at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 4th October 2018

Following the band’s successful tour of Japan last year, Treat has produced a great new album (“Tunguska”, out via Frontiers Music internationally and King Records in Japan) and is now back on the road. Opening the Tokyo gig with “Skies of Mongolia” (from 2010’s comeback album “Coup de Grace”), Treat takes control of its loyal Japanese audience from the very first note of the show. The audience is with them and it is obvious that this will be an enjoyable evening of “hard rock with melodies” as founding band member Anders “Gary” Wikström likes to describe the band’s music. They continue the gig with “Nonstop Madness” from 2016’s “Ghost of Graceland” and we’re off to a great start.

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Treat’s current line-up is its best ever. It is the same line-up that they had at the end of the 1980s – Anders Wikström on guitar, Robert Ernlund on vocals, Patrick Appelgren on keyboards and former Talisman drummer Jamie Borger. The only new addition is bassist Pontus Egberg who joined Treat in 2016. Egberg, who is also the bassist in King Diamond and has a background in bands such as The Poodles and Lion’s Share, has added some spice to Treat’s musical casserole. He’s a world-class bassist, but also a great backup singer and, perhaps best of all, he performs some serious dance moves on stage. Robert Ernlund’s voice is intact. It has matured but it is still stunning. Musically, this band has never been better. When Wikström’s guitar malfunctions in the middle of the fantastic “Rose of Jericho”, the band carries on regardless. Absolute professionals. Appelgren on keyboards and Egberg’s groovy bass save the song. The show must go on.

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

The evening’s setlist is close to flawless. We obviously get some of the old classics, such as “Ready for the Taking”, “Party All Over”, “Conspiracy” and, of course, “World of Promises”. But a big part of the set list is made up of songs from the three most recent studio albums. The evening’s highlights for me include the strong opening with “Skies of Mongolia”, a powerful version of “Riptide” and, of course, “Ghost of Graceland”. The newer material is more mature and the sound has evolved. But it is still trademark Treat music and somehow the old and the new fit well together in the current live show. Having seen all of Treat’s Japan tours since they reunited, it is obvious that this great band is getting even greater. They are better than ever and they will no doubt be back in Japan soon again.

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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Gig review: Sweaty Tokyo audience royally crowned by The Crown and Origin

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A brutal and sweaty evening of exquisite extreme metal with The Crown and Origin in Shibuya. The Swedish death metal veterans The Crown have gone back to their brutal roots on their latest album and it shows on stage as well. Their American cousins in Origin are doing their best to upstage them.

Marko Tervonen of The Crown on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Crown, Origin, Descent and Primitive at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo, 14th September 2018

Descent’s frontman Anthony Oliver on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following short opening sets by two Australian bands, Primitive and Descent (where especially Descent’s frontman Anthony Oliver stands out with his hard-hitting performance), American band Origin walks on stage and delivers a musical punch in our faces.

Jason Keyser of Origin on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Like a neglected American stepchild of Napalm Death and Aborted, Origin gives us a fabulous gig full of chaos and brutality, but with a very technical foundation. This is fantastic and highly energetic extreme metal. I’d like to define it as tech death with grindcore touches. Frontman Jason Keyser knows how to get an audience going. He successfully encourages the audience to perform some serious stage diving, crowd surfing and even a wall of death going during the band’s set. The Japanese audience is up for it and soon a monitor accidentally gets kicked off the stage and microphone stands are pushed aside. It is a sweaty performance for both the band and its audience.

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

28 years into their career, the evening’s Swedish headliners The Crown now has a terrific line-up and a splendid new album out. To many fans’ delight, they have turned the clock back and taken its sound closer to the band’s early days but without sounding dated. Original members Johan Lindstrand (vocals), Marko Tervonen (guitar) and Magnus Olsfelt (bass) are still there and in the current line-up they are joined by Robin Sörqvist on lead guitar and drummer Henrik Axelsson. While two former The Crown members (Tomas Lindberg and Jonas Stålhammar) are now both in the mighty At The Gates, I think it is fair to say that The Crown has never had a better line-up than the one they have now. Having recorded 2015’s “Death Is Not Dead” album with guitarist Tervonen on drums, the band now has a proper foundation with Axelsson behind the drum kit. And Sörqvist is a phenomenal lead guitarist that takes The Crown’s music to a new level. Now, with the band’s third Japan tour happening, the band is tight, hungry and it feeds off its Japanese fans’ participation in the live show.

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

They open their set with “Destroyed by Madness” and continue with “Iron Crown”, both tracks from their latest album “Cobra Speed Venom”. In a 14-song set, we get no fewer than six songs from the latest album. That’s how good the new album is. But, of course, this evening we also get older favourites such as “Blitzkrieg Witchcraft”, “Iblis Bane”, “Crowned in Terror”, “Deathexplosion” and “Angels Die”. They finish a flawless set with the fabulous “Total Satan” from the “Deathrace King” album. Quite a finish to a long evening in the name of extreme metal.

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

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Gig review: Resurrected Michael Schenker attacks Tokyo in style

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker returns to Japan for another triumphant Michael Schenker Fest tour. This time with a fabulous mix of old classics and new songs.

Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit, Tokyo, 31st August 2018

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker comes on tour to Japan very often. Earlier with MSG, then with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and in more recent years with Michael Schenker Fest, a band consisting of reunited MSG members. Having seen Michael Schenker Fest’s previous tours of Japan (which have all been great), I wondered what they could do to make it different on this occasion. This time, in addition to the old MSG veterans – vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley as well as Steve Mann (keyboards and guitar), Chris Glen (bass) and Ted McKenna (drums) – Schenker brought along the former Temple of Rock vocalist Doogie White and put on a splendid show.

Doogie White on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As we did on the last couple of Japan tours, we get the MSG classics from the 1980s and they are as good as ever. But this time we also get some songs from the Michael Schenker Fest album “Resurrection” which was released earlier this year. Mixing the old classics with the new songs gives us a massive show that clocks in at two hours and forty minutes. It’s rock solid throughout. We also get some reminders of Schenker’s past with Scorpions (“Holiday”, “Coast to Coast”) and UFO (“Doctor, Doctor”, “Rock Bottom”, “Shoot Shoot”, “Natural Thing”, “Lights Out”).

Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show opens with a partial performance of “Holiday” with Michael himself on vocals and continues with “Doctor, Doctor” which introduces vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley to the audience. Then we get a Temple of Rock block of songs with Doogie behind the microphone. Doogie also performs the new track “Take Me to the Church”, from the “Resurrection” album, and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. This evening we thankfully get no fewer than five songs from the new album. As Schenker is such a frequent visitor to Japan, there is a danger of getting stuck in a “same old stuff” situation due to his vast and terrific back catalogue. Adding new songs into the set gives his loyal Japanese audience variation and excitement.

Robin McAuley and Michael Schenker on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the instrumental MSG classic “Into the Arena”, we get a section fronted by Robin McAuley which reminds us how strong the McAuley-Schenker Group version of MSG was with songs such as “Bad Boys”, “Save Yourself”, “Anytime” and “Love is Not a Game”.

Graham Bonnet on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet fronts a fantastic section consisting of “Dancer”, “Desert Song”, “Night Moods”, “Assault Attack” and “Searching for a Reason”. Then follows a Gary Barden-fronted section of the show featuring “Ready to Rock”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Rock My Nights Away”, “Messin’ Around” and “Armed and Ready”, before the terrific 30-song show closes with a four-song UFO section. Quite an ending to a fabulous show.

Gary Barden on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker, one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time, still got it and he is also wise enough to never let his guitar overshadow the songs. We get plenty of fantastic guitar solos, but they never overstay their welcome. With four world-class vocalists in his touring band, Schenker wisely lets them shine too. Michael Schenker Fest contains so much musical firepower that few bands in the world even get close.

Michael Schenker Fest on stage at Toyosu Pit in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Ace Frehley on fire in Roppongi

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ace Frehley sets Tokyo on fire with a smoking hot show at Billboard Live in Roppongi. “Ace is back and he told you so!”

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Ace Frehley at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo, 5th September 2018

As legendary KISS guitarist Ace Frehley sings in his anthem “Rock Soldiers”: “Ace is back and he told you so!”. He’s back indeed. I have never seen him better. Ace is on top form this evening with splendid guitar work, a bunch of exquisite guitar solos and good vocals. He also looks the part with shades and leather boots as well as his trademark lightning bolt guitar strap and Gibson guitars. That combined with a flawless set list consisting of fan favourites make this evening perfect. For this run of eight shows in Japan, Ace is backed by the terrific Gene Simmons Band, minus Gene Simmons. The great guitarists Ryan Spencer Cook and Jeremy Asbrock and bassist Philip Shouse are anchored by none other than terrific Accept drummer Christopher Williams. As you can imagine this is a step or two above your normal backing band. With all four of them also good vocalists, they help Ace in making the show into a home run.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

They open in style with “Rip It Out” from Ace’s first solo album from 1978. They then move on with KISS classic “Hard Times” from 1979’s “Dynasty” album and the KISS cover version of Rolling Stones’ “2,000 Man” from the same album.

The set this evening is dominated by KISS classics (such as “Parasite”, “Cold Gin”, “Love Gun”, “Shock Me” and “Detroit Rock City”) but we also get the Frehley’s Comet anthem “Rock Soldiers” and “Emerald”, a Thin Lizzy cover from Ace’s recent “Origins Vol. 1” album. Another cover, the Russ Ballard-written “New York Groove” (originally recorded by Hello) is closely associated with Ace since it was included on his first solo album and also featured in the KISS live set back in the day.

Ace sings lead on most songs, but the whole band contributes with vocals on various songs. On “Strange Ways” (from KISS’ 1974 album “Hotter Than Hell”), we get to hear drummer Christopher Williams take on lead vocals and it sounds fantastic! Yet another fab drummer who can sing like it’s nobody’s business.

During the obligatory guitar solo we, of course, get to see smoke coming out from Ace’s Gibson guitar, just like it did during the big KISS shows in the 1970s. In the middle of his extended guitar solo, he changes guitars and then says: “I’m back!”. Indeed he is and how great it is to see this 67-year-old rock star still deliver at a world-class level.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Ace and his band finish the fabulous set with a high-energy version of “Deuce”. This is it! The combination of the one and only Ace Frehley on form, great songs and a band that is better than most. This is how it’s supposed to be done. As a life-long KISS fan, it is hard not to be overexcited by an Ace Frehley gig, but this evening in Tokyo, Ace exceeds all expectations. Thank you, Ace, for such a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Ace Frehley on stage at Billboard Live in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

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Gig review: The Agonist, Cellar Darling and Vulture Industries

Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian metal band The Agonist returned to Japan after a long absence and showed their Japanese fans that they still got it.

The Agonist, Cellar Darling, Vulture Industries, Icarus Lives and Cancer at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo, 25th August 2018

Vulture Industries

Vulture Industries on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Following the two Australian opening acts, as the stage curtain is raised once again, five Norwegian guys dressed in a very peculiar way become visible, with vocalist Bjørnar Erevik Nilsen raising his hands for the audience to follow him. Vulture Industries starts playing the high-energy “Tales of Woe” from their latest album “Stranger Times”. While all the band members do a great job, with much passion and dedication, it is impossible to not feel mesmerised by Bjørnar’s psychedelic performance. His body is led by the beat of the songs, while his voice just comes from the bottom of his soul, paralysing the ones in front and beside him. Guitarists Øyvind Madsen and Eivind Huse are very connected with their riffs, but it is when they also assume the vocals that things get even more intense. To close its first ever Japanese show, the band chooses to do a cover of Devil Doll’s “Blood Don’t Eliogabalus”. During the song, Bjørnar comes down from the stage, dancing in circles among the people and choosing two fans that are pulled closer to him while he is singing with his dark voice very close to their faces. I guess they were a little frightened. The venue may not be huge, but Vulture Industries is definitely the kind of band that gives everything to an audience of 10 or 10,000 people, and that is what makes a show unforgettable in the end.

Cellar Darling

Anna Murphy of Cellar Darling on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The Swiss trio Cellar Darling, formed by Anna Murphy, Ivo Henzi and Merlin Sutter, comes with folk metal roots from their time in the band Eluveitie. It is not an exaggeration to say that when the new group was announced I was expecting excellence – and that is what we get this evening. Opening the show with “Black Moon”, Anna Murphy brings deep emotion in her voice from the first to the last note. It has been a while since a band thrilled me this way. The atmosphere created by the connection between band and audience brings tears to some eyes, including mine. Even when her hurdy-gurdy instrument stops working, Anna continues to lead the show amazingly, even making some jokes about it. Guitarist Ivo Henzi has a fine personal touch in every riff and solo he plays. The chemistry in the band is incredibly beautiful. The highlight of the band’s set is “Avalanche”, the opening song of the “This Is The Sound” album and also the band’s debut single. With the audience singing every word, Anna lets them lead the final chorus, letting people scream their hearts out while showing the band their love and respect. As the problem with the hurdy-gurdy gets solved, the band starts to play “Redemption”, a beautiful song starting with only vocals and hurdy-gurdy that keeps growing until the final verse. They finish their much too short set with “Challenge”. This was definitely one of the best shows I have seen so far this year. A mixture of emotions and storytelling was present from the first to the last song. Doubtlessly Cellar Darling has much more to offer to their audience. The Japanese fans will surely see them again soon.

The Agonist

The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The evening’s headline act, Canadian metal band The Agonist, is back in Japan after a six-year absence. Starting their set with the aggressive “My Witness, Your Victim” from 2015’s “Eye of Providence” album, singer Vicky Psarakis shows us why she was the one chosen to give voice to the band’s lyrics. As the fans have been waiting to see The Agonist for a long time, soon the audience goes crazy, banging their heads and, following Chris Kells’ command, the first circle pit of the night appears. “A Necessary Evil” and “Thank You Pain” keep the flame alive, while Vicky does an awesome job combining screams and clean vocals. With her powerful-yet-sweet clean voice, it is difficult to decide which I prefer. When a performance is so intense, some brief pauses are needed for both band and audience to breathe. Continuing with “The Tempest”, considered by many fans as the band’s anthem, guitarists Danny Marino and Pascal Jobin give us a lesson in heavy riffs and fast solos, while Vicky and Chris share the vocals and leading the audience to madness. It is a short set, but it is long enough for the band to show that after some time of changes and conflicts, they have found their place and have stood their ground in the metal scene.

Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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A Japanese jam session with Tony Dolan of Venom Inc

Tony Dolan, Sinjilow, Mirai Kawashima and Akira Tominaga. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan spent a weekend in Tokyo before kicking off another North American tour with Venom Inc. Roppongi Rocks was there to witness the madness.

Nemo and Gaku of Survive. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan made himself a name with Atomkraft in the 1980s before he took over as the frontman of Venom. He continued his career with M-Pire of Evil before he created Venom Inc in 2015 with Venom co-founders Jeff “Mantas” Dunn and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray. Venom Inc has been a success with a great album of new music as well as successful tours around the world. Earlier this year, Venom Inc toured Japan again and sounded fantastic. Shortly thereafter Mantas had a heart attack which forced the band to postpone some of its touring commitments while Mantas recovered. Thus, Dolan had an opportunity to come back to Japan to spend time with his Japanese metal friends.

Tony Dolan and Reezi Godkiller jamming in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In front of a select group of very lucky fans, on Saturday 25th August, Tony Dolan jammed in a tiny Tokyo basement club with a terrific line-up of Japanese rock and metal stars: Nemo, Sinjilow and Gaku of Survive, drummer Akira Tominaga of United and guitarists Daisuke “Hamadie” Hamate (Alice in Hell), Hiroaki “Hiro” Saito (Head Phones President) and Rie a.k.a. Suzaku.

Mirai Kawashima, Akira Tominaga and Rie a.k.a. Suzaku jamming. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This afternoon Dolan shared vocal duties with two underground black metal legends: Mirai Kawashima of Sigh and Reezi Godkiller of Apologist. The star-studded line-up performed Venom classics such as “Welcome to Hell”, “Black Metal” and “One Thousand Days in Sodom”. We also got a brutal and chaotic version of Motörhead‘s “Ace of Spades”. Lots of fun with some classic metal music performed by a bunch of friends having a laugh together.

Tony Dolan, Akira Tominaga and Daisuke “Hamadie” Hamate jamming. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of the nicest men in metal, The Demolition Man is also a terrific frontman. He clearly loves performing and getting the opportunity to jam with some of his Japanese metal friends was a great way to get ready for a new tour with Venom Inc.

Tony Dolan, Akira Tominaga and Hiro Saito. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During his weekend in Tokyo, hosted by Yasukazu Takahashi and Hiromi Sugou of UPP-tone Music, Dolan also managed to fit in a bass clinic and guesting a heavy metal DJ party. Not a bad way to warm up for a new tour.

Tony Dolan with his bass. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Shinjuku heavy metal invasion by Lechery, Solitude and Hell Freezes Over

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish heavy metal band Lechery made its Japanese live debut in Tokyo, they were joined by Japanese acts Solitude and Hell Freezes Over for a fantastic evening dedicated to quality metal.

Lechery, Solitude and Hell Freezes Over at Zirco, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 27th July 2018

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

Japanese record label and concert promoter Spiritual Beast always manages to put together shows in Japan featuring great combinations of international and Japanese metal bands. In addition to its annual Japanese Assault Fest in November, it also puts on gigs and tours for the artists on its label. It’s a great way to introduce international acts to Japan while at the same time provide opportunities for Japanese acts to perform on stage. This Friday evening at a club in Shinjuku, we get a few hours of splendid heavy metal. What a night of riffing and metal horns! Three great heavy metal acts who all deliver terrific performances.

Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hell Freezes Over

Hell Freezes Over gives us a short and energetic opening set filled with thrash and speed metal. The young band has just released a great debut EP (“Speed Metal Assault”) and live they add even more energy to the performance of the band’s music which is NWOBHM-influenced old-school speed and thrash metal. They formed in Tokyo five years ago and since I saw some of their early gigs they have changed vocalists. The new frontman, Treble “Gainer” Aidysho, is a perfect fit for the band. He can sing thrash and he has the stage moves to match. These lads are still young but they are off to a great start with a very strong EP out and plenty of gigs in Japan happening.

Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lechery

Martin Bengtsson of Lechery on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Lechery is a terrific heavy metal band that is fronted by vocalist and guitarist Martin Bengtsson, formerly bass player in Arch Enemy and Armageddon. Timeless might be a way to describe this form of heavy metal which combines great twin guitars with shout-along choruses and plenty of energy. “This is heavy metal for real,” says Bengtsson to me backstage before the gig as a way of explaining how Lechery manages to perform music based on a foundation of classic heavy metal but without sounding too much retro. “We’re not faking it like some other bands,” he adds. While Bengtsson has been in Japan before, this tour, which takes the band to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, is Lechery’s first time performing in Japan.

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

Fredrik Nordstrandh on guitar, Martin Karlsson on bass and Kristian Wallman on drums make this a very solid band built around Bengtsson’s strong metal songs and his fitting vocal style. On the opening night of the tour, we get a selection of splendid songs from the band’s three albums, including favourites such as “Heart of a Metal Virgin”, “Mechanical Beast”, “In Fire” and “Rise With Me”. We also get some newer songs like “Even A Hero Must Die” and the title track from the band’s latest fabulous album “We Are All Born Evil”. The delivery is terrific. The band’s love for performing live on stage in front of its Japanese fans is very obvious. They are feeding on the fans’ appreciation. What a live debut in Japan for a smashingly great Swedish heavy metal band.

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

Solitude

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

Japanese metal veteran band Solitude is fronted by record label Spiritual Beast founder Akira Sugiuchi. Like their younger friends in Hell Freezes Over, Solitude plays metal that lives somewhere between thrash metal and NWOBHM. Sugiuchi is a terrific frontman in a band anchored by former Anthem drummer Takamasa Ohuchi. Toru Nishida on bass and Shingo Ida on guitar complete the line-up of this rock solid metal quartet that delivers every time. These guys are four professionals with fantastic songs and flawless delivery. The Tokyo band will soon tour Europe again together with Lechery and hopefully, that will win them more international fans. They deserve it. Japan is full of great metal and the rest of the world needs to hear these bands.

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

What a great showcase of heavy metal this evening turns out to be. Thank you Spiritual Beast for always flying the flag of heavy metal. We salute you!

Martin Bengtsson of Lechery on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: A sweaty and heavy evening with Machine Head in Tokyo

Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Machine Head returns to Tokyo with a sweaty and hard-hitting modern heavy metal show.

Machine Head at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, 2nd July 2018

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Three years ago, Californian metal band Machine Head did a terrific gig in Tokyo in front of a crazy crowd of metalheads. Could they possibly top that when they are now back in Japan? Yes, of course. Machine Head always delivers and here in Japan, the band has a very loyal crowd which is with them every step of the way.

This sweaty evening in Tokyo, the crowd is more than ready for the return of Machine Head. Within seconds of the house lights going out, there is a circle pit going on and for the next two hours and forty-five minutes, the craziness doesn’t stop. The crowd screams “Machine Fucking Head” throughout the whole gig and frontman Robb Flynn soaks it all up. He feeds on it and recycles the energy from the crowd. Few bands are heavier live than Machine Head. There are acts that are faster, rawer and darker, but not heavier. Their modern take on heavy metal includes variations, such as slower parts, more melodic parts and spoken parts as well as some serious grooves at times. But most of all this is heavy music that attacks you on all fronts.

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

They open in style with the majestic “Imperium” and follow it with “Volatile”, a song from the band’s latest album, “Catharsis”. They are off to a magnificent start and when then they start playing “Now We Die”, one of the band’s best-ever songs, they have already won this evening. The evening’s set list is untouchable. How could this possibly be improved? We get the ultimate collection of Machine Head songs, old and new, delivered by an on-form band bursting with energy. Robb Flynn, on guitar and lead vocals, is backed up by guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain. Every song is a crowd favourite. “Tokyo! Fuck yeah!” screams Flynn from the stage and I can only agree. What a total metal love fest this is. It’s a volcanic eruption of hard-hitting heavy metal.

In recent years, Machine Head has opted to tour without opening acts and not do festival gigs. Instead, they do their own massive sets billed as “An Evening with Machine Head”. The concept works a treat. When you get this much good stuff from your favourite band, who needs anything else? Few bands out there can match Machine Head live. This is a band that knows how to deliver a quality show to its fans.

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

One of the absolute highlights of the gig is the track “Is There Anybody Out There?” This is Machine Head at its best: combining crushing heavy metal and hints of thrash metal with more contemporary sounds, all melted down into a modern Machine Head track. In the set, we also get fabulous versions of older tracks such as “Ten Ton Hammer” and “Old”. New songs “Beyond the Pale” and “Triple Beam” are other favourites in the set this evening. The crowd keeps going without ever stopping. “You’re at a Machine Head show. You can do whatever fuck you want!” promises Flynn from the stage. And the fans in the audience do whatever they want. They sing along, they chant, they crowd surf, they mosh, they enjoy the music in a very physical way.

A long, sweaty and fabulous evening comes to an end with “Halo”. Let’s hope it won’t take them three years to make it back to Tokyo. The fact that this Japan tour consists of gigs in five Japanese cities shows that there is plenty of love for Machine Head here.

Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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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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