Festival report: Japanese Assault Fest

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

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Spiritual Beast’s annual Japanese Assault Fest in November is a great little mini festival taking place at Club Seata in Kichijoji, Tokyo. Here’s Roppongi Rocks’ Caroline Misokane’s report from day one of this year’s two-day heavy metal festival.

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

Ambush

The first international band of the night is the Swedish classical heavy metal quintet of Ambush. Playing an old-school heavy metal mixed with a hard rock feeling and a hair metal look, the guys from Växjö came to warm up the stage and crowd for a night full of rock and roll. With only two albums released, the set list was short but the band put on a cheerful gig from the start with the band members already dancing and jumping around as they walked on stage. Songs like “Close My Eyes” and “Ambush” come shaped with interesting riffs by Adam Hagelin and Olof Engqvist, and great bass lines by Ludwig Sjöholm.

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

The captivating element is definitely the vocals of Oscar Jacobsson, who combines penetrating screams and soft lines when it is needed. If he had been in a band in the 70s or 80s, he would have probably been considered one of the best heavy metal singers of all time. Unfortunately they did not have much time, but it was not a real issue for a band with a rhythm like theirs. The quintet celebrated their first visit to Japan with lots of beer and the excitement took over the venue. When the good “Natural Born Killers” started, people went crazy, singing along, showing how familiar they are with this song and thrilling the band, even making them stop playing for a while just to hear the fans. Closing the show with “Don’t Shoot (Let ‘Em Burn)”, the Swedish heavy metal band left with such gratitude and pleasure that it was impossible for the fans to not keep asking for more even after the curtain had come down.

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

Chronosphere

Five or six minutes later than planned, the curtain opened showing four guys all dressed in red trousers and black shirts. It was time for the Greek quartet of Chronosphere to teach a thrash lesson to the Kichijoji audience. Having started in 2012, the band has already released three albums. The set list covered all three releases, plus one cover song. Starting the set with the amazing “Before It’s Gone”, from their latest album “Red ‘N’ Roll”, the quartet set the stage on fire with their power and energy, all the way banging their heads while executing impressive riffs.

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

Guitarists Spyros Lafias and Stam Syrakos are perfectly synced with each other, combining technique and aggressiveness, while bassist Kostas Spades reminded me of Jason Newsted in his Metallica years. Not only for the haircut, but also for the way he performed: always turning his big neck around while his pick touch the chords of his aesthetically shabby instrument. Strolling through the past and the present, when “Picking Up My Pieces” started, the already crazy crowd went crazier with the killer riffs and the beats of Thanos Krommidas, opening a huge circle pit and one or two fans even went crowd surfing over the audience. “Brutal Decay” and the fast “War Infection” were the prelude for the last song, which was a great surprise: a cover of Metallica’s “Battery”. With skill and brutality, they gave their best, pleasing the fans not only with a brutal sound, but also an energetic and enthusiastic performance. By the end, Kostas left his bass to surf over the heads of his fans in front of the stage. Chronosphere certainly has the potential for soon being discovered by a major label which may take their music to even more metalheads worldwide. And if I was already a Greece lover for its contribution to the modern society, now I love this country even more because one of my favourite bands come from there.

F.K.Ü. on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

F.K.Ü.

One of the most awaited attractions of the night was probably the Swedish thrashers of F.K.Ü. (short for Freddy Krueger’s Ünderwear). Being on the road for the last twenty years with an extreme sound, many people consider them one of the best thrash metal bands of the present. When the intro began, people already started pushing each other to honour the title of “moshoholics” that the band has given to its fans.

F.K.Ü. on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Opening the night with “Rise of the Mosh Mongers”, what Tokyo saw was four people bathed in blood and mud destroying riffs, while marching on the stage guided by the amazing screams of Larry Lethal. As their lyrics make references to horror films, their performances never stray far from that theme. Guitarist Pete Stooaalh’s performance was a spectacle filled with riffs and solos and electrifying interaction with the fans along with bassist Pat Splat. Drummer Unspeakable Emp used all of his strength to give the Japanese fans what they really deserved. One of the most interesting and agitated songs is “Hate Your Guts (But Love Your Brain)”, which has a great chorus, this evening sung by the whole of the Club Seata audience.

F.K.Ü. on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

They also played some songs from their new album “1981”, showing the fans that even after all these years, they have not lost the recipe for how to create a true thrash metal song. Intensity, heat and bloody are the words that best describe this performance!

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

The Rods

It was around 8pm when the mighty headliners The Rods entered the stage to shake Tokyo for the very first time ever. Unfortunately, the venue was not that crowded at this point in time, but that didn’t stop them from doing one of the best rock shows I have seen in years. People might think that because of their age, The Rods cannot be that great live anymore. But the trio, consisting of David “Rock” Feinstein, Garry Bordonaro and Carl Canedy, really give a rock and roll lecture when their on stage!

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

Opening the gig with “I Just Wanna Rock”, David’s energy spreads all around the venue, while Garry performs some kind of very old school rock and roll dance. They remind me of bands like AC/DC and Deep Purple, not only by the influence these bands have on their sound, but also on their stage performance. One of the greatest moments was when they played “I Live For Rock And Roll”. It shows the spirit of three young boys that only want to play some riffs and be recognised for it. It seems like their dream came true. Between songs, David thanked and greeted the fans in a very kind way, and so did Carl and Garry. First times are always the most special ones and it was clear how happy these guys were to finally be in Japan. Some people find it boring when a drum solo starts in a show, but I particularly love moments like these, especially when it comes to Carl Canedy, whose solo combined speed, power, feeling and, of course, more rock and roll. One of the highlights of the night was definitely David joking around with the staff beside the stage as well as with the photographers in the pit, and, of course, with the fans. With an impressive set of 23 songs, it was impossible to not get into the spirit. The rock music of the 80s is not gone. Words are not enough to start describing the vibe of the night, but I guess that after this amazing start, we will see The Rods more often in Japan.

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

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Loud Park gig report: L.A. Guns

Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns backstage at Loud Park with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

L.A. Guns exceed expectations at their Japan gig with Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns reunited once again.

Sleaze/glam rockers L.A. Guns have had many ups and downs and many different line-ups in their career (for a few years there were even two different versions of L.A. Guns touring at the same time). With vocalist Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns now reunited in the current version of the band and a brand new album out, there is a good level of interest in their performance at the Loud Park festival. I didn’t really know what to expect ahead of the gig, but when L.A. Guns perform on stage I am pleasantly surprised. L.A. Guns certainly exceed my expectations.

It is obviously Lewis and Guns who are the main leaders in this classic sleaze rock band, but the newer additions – guitarist Michael Grant, bassist Johnny Martin and drummer Shane Fitzgibbon – all do their bits to make L.A. Guns in 2017 a relevant band and not a mere nostalgia act. The band’s new album, “The Missing Peace”, was released the day before they walk on stage at the Loud Park festival on Saturday 14th October.

Englishman Phil Lewis has turned 60 and has now lived half his life in the US, but his English accent still shines through as he talks on stage between the songs. He sings great. He doesn’t seem to have lost any of his vocal skills with age. Guitarist Tracii Guns is also in fine form and his guitar playing reminds us that he is an underrated guitar wizard. He has a lot of guitar in him and deserves more recognition than he normally gets. During L.A. Guns’ early days Axl Rose briefly fronted the band and then Tracii Guns was in the very first line-up of Guns N’ Roses before he was replaced by Slash. Tracii has also had brief stints in Poison and Quiet Riot. Additionally, he played with Nikki Sixx in Brides of Destruction and Michael Schenker in Contraband.

L.A. Guns open this gig with “Over the Edge” from the 1991 album “Hollywood Vampires”. As this is a short festival gig at noon we basically get a short “best of” set list, but we do get to hear the new track “Speed” as the second song of the set. We then get “No Mercy” from the band’s 1988 debut album, before we get treated to the fab 2002 song “Don’t Look at Me That Way”. “Killing Machine”, a fast rocker from the 1994 album “Vicious Circle”, follows before we get the terrific “Never Enough” from the 1989 album “Cocked & Loaded”. What is labelled as “Jelly Jam”, is an instrumental session where the band’s guitarists get to shine. They finish their set with two of their most memorable songs: “The Ballad of Jayne” and “Rip and Tear”, both from “Cocked & Loaded”. L.A. Guns have reloaded once again and they sound great, here and now.

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Loud Park gig report: Slayer

Kerry King of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

The mighty thrash metal veterans Slayer once again slayed Loud Park.

Tom Araya and Kerry King of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At 8:00pm, at the end of a long and busy day of heavy metal, many festivalgoers are tired. But there is still one attraction that almost everybody who has bought tickets for the Loud Park festival wants to see: I am of course talking about the mighty Slayer, one of the Big Four American thrash metal bands.

Gary Holt of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slayer performed at the very first edition of Loud Park in 2006 and this evening it is their fifth time playing this festival. They are seen by me and many others as an integral part of Loud Park. They always put on a great show for their fans at Loud Park.

Kerry King of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Before the band’s festival set on Saturday 14th October starts, a huge curtain is covering the stage. As the house lights turn off we see illustrations in the form of pentagrams, crosses and the Slayer logo. Then the curtain falls to reveal the powerful thrash metal quartet from California.

Opening with “Repentless” from their latest album of the same name, these four guys show that age is just a number when it comes to slaying a stage. Continuing with “The Antichrist” and “Disciple”, Saitama Super Arena opens up in a huge circle pit where tired fans seem to forget their tiredness from a long festival day as Slayer gives them renewed energy. Alternating old classics with more recent songs, brutality and technique dominate the show. Kerry King is, without doubt, one of the best guitarists of all time. When his riffs are combined with Gary Holt’s, the only thing I can think is that Gary was shaped for Slayer and his predecessor, the late Jeff Hanneman, is probably really proud of the team.

During the set vocalist and bassist Tom Araya talks about the love relationship between the band and the fans and then announce the song “Dead Skin Mask”. They play the song as if it were a romantic love song. Definitely dark, weird and beautiful at the same time.

Tom Araya of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Continuing the spectacle, the set keeps crossing their entire career. Building a set list for a band with 12 studio albums to their name and 36 years on the road is not an easy thing to do, but they do it very well. As a tradition, the last few songs at a Slayer gig are always the anthems. Thus, songs like “Hell Awaits” and “South of Heaven” are played with mastery, preparing the audience for the two best known and most awaited Slayer classics of all time: “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death”. It does not matter if you are a new or an old-school fan, when it comes to Slayer these two songs are the ones you were waiting for since the moment you bought your ticket to see the band live.

“Angel of Death” is a strong, brutal and bloody song. Its lyrics are about the Holocaust and the band’s interpretation is no less than magnificent. However, I have to confess that since drummer Dave Lombardo left the band in 2013, this song has not sounded the same. There is a powerful drum solo in it, which Paul Bostaph plays in a spectacular way. But there is something missing and I just can’t find it. Nevertheless it is still my favourite Slayer song and the best one to close another killer set. Slayer once again leaves the Japanese audience amazed and wanting more from one of the truly great thrash metal bands.

Tom Araya of Slayer on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Loudness

Akira Takasaki on stage with Loudness at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Loudness is better than ever live on stage at Loud Park.

Masayoshi Yamashita on stage with Loudness at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese veteran metal band Loudness seems to get better by the day. Having seen them perform numerous gigs in Japan over the past few years, they have always delivered, every single time. This day at Loud Park is no exception. With a new record deal with Ward Records in the bag – the new album “Rise To Glory” will be released on 26th January – they seem to have new energy.

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Akira Takasaki is one of the best guitarists in the metal world. He stands above all other guitarists in Asia. But Loudness is more than just a fab guitarist. Bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Masayuki “Ampan” Suzuki are tight and reliable. Vocalist Minoru Niihara sounds better now than he did in the 1980s. They are currently putting the finishing touches to their next album and I have no doubt that we will get a fab new record.

At Loud Park, while it is a relatively short festival set, they give us a great mix of songs from throughout their career. The first part of the gig consists of newer material. They open with the instrumental song “Fire of Spirit” from 2008, before they perform “Hellrider”, “R.I.P.”, the fabulous “The Sun Will Rise Again” and “Metal Mad”. Then we get the classics from the 80s: “Rock This Way”, “Crazy Nights”, “In The Mirror”, “Crazy Doctor” and “S.D.I.”. Loudness has a big and loyal following in Japan and they always draw a big audience. At Loud Park they are performing in the early afternoon, but they still get a big turnout. And the band rewards the fans with another great Loudness gig.

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Black Earth

Black Earth’s Sharlee D’Angelo with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson backstage at Loud Park after Black Earth’s secret gig.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Original Arch Enemy line-up reunites once again in Japan for a secret gig at Loud Park.

In 2015, during Arch Enemy’s appearance at the Loud Park festival in Japan, they did a special section where they reunited the original Arch Enemy line-up. Guitarist Christopher Amott and vocalist Johan Liiva came onstage to join their former bandmates to perform some early classics. The move was such a success that in 2016, the original Arch Enemy line-up did a full Japan tour under the name Black Earth (named after Arch Enemy’s 1996 debut album). That Japan tour was a massive success. It was documented and recently released as a special live album and DVD.

At this year’s Loud Park, Black Earth turned out to be an unannounced secret act to the audience’s delight. There is definitely no shortage of love for Arch Enemy here in Japan. Rumours were circulating the night before that Arch Enemy mainman Michael Amott was in Japan. Thus, a large crowd was in front of the stage at 10:30am on Sunday 15th October to find out what the secret act was and if indeed Amott was part of it. For those in the audience with good eyes, it was easy to spot Michael Amott’s signature guitar on the side of stage just before the gig. Then Amott walks on stage together with his brother Christopher, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, drummer Daniel Erlandsson and Johan Liiva and the crowd goes wild. The rumours were indeed true.

Black Earth opens with a knockout version of the splendid “Bury Me An Angel” from the band’s debut album. We then get treated to “Dead Inside” and “Diva Satanica”, both from the “Stigmata” album. “The Immortal” (from “Burning Bridges”) follows and then we get to revisit “Stigmata” with the song “Beast of Man”. “Silverwing”, another terrific song from “Burning Bridges”, is performed before they close their short set with “Fields of Desolation” from “Black Earth”. An intense, short and fabulous gig on a Sunday morning in Japan.

With Liiva back on vocals, we are reminded that Black Earth is a very different band from what Arch Enemy later became with Angela Gossow or Alissa White-Gluz on vocals. They are three very different singers who have all been great with Arch Enemy.

Black Earth – what a great secret act to add to Loud Park. With the Black Earth live-DVD and a new Arch Enemy studio album both just released, it makes a lot of sense for Michael Amott and his men to do this secret gig. Arch Enemy will return to Japan for headline gigs during 2018 as part of their “Will To Power” world tour.

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Loud Park gig report: Cradle of Filth

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth finally made it back to Japan for a great but short festival gig. They will be back in Japan in May for headline gigs.

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Expectations were high when Cradle of Filth returned to Japan after a long absence. With a splendid new album out and what seems like a strong band line-up, the gig at Loud Park on Sunday 15th October was the start on a major world tour for the band.

Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At the Loud Park festival at Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo, It’s a short festival gig for Cradle of Filth, so this afternoon Japanese fans are treated to a “best of” set of Cradle favourites such as “Beneath the Howling Stars”, “Dusk and Her Embrace”, “Born in a Burial Gown”, “Nymphetamine (Fix)”, “Blackest Magick in Practice” and “Her Ghost in the Fog”. Sadly we only get one song, the terrifically haunting “Heartbreak and Seance”, from the new fabulous album “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay”.

Richard Shaw of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Band founder and frontman Dani Filth is in fine form and clearly enjoys performing for his fans. His possessed singing style works a treat with Cradle’s music. It’s sinister, insane, beastly and entertaining at the same time. He knows what he’s good at and how to deliver that to his fans. The current line-up of the band is tight. Drummer Martin “Marthus” Skaroupka is a long-serving member, but the rest of the band (Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Smerda on guitars, Daniel Firth on bass and Lindsay Schoolcraft on keyboards and vocals) are newer additions. Having had the same line-up for the past two studio albums and tours, it seems to be a stable line-up that will hopefully survive for the long term.

Cradle of Filth will return to Japan in early May for three headline gigs in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Based on the Loud Park gig, we can have even higher expectations on the headline gigs in May.

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Brujeria

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Brujeria’s Shane Embury backstage after the Brujeria gig.

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

International Latino death-grind metal band Brujeria finally made it to Japan with their mayhem of an energy-packed show.

In the afternoon of Saturday 14th October, many extreme music fans start to gather in front of the Big Rock Stage of the Loud Park festival to witness a historical moment; a time many of us have been waiting for too long. We are about to see the Mexican grindcore masters Brujeria playing in Japan for the very first time in 28 years of activity. I personally thought that I would have to cross the ocean to see them destroying some Latin American country someday. Thus this was definitely one of the shows I wanted to see the most at Loud Park.

As the intro of “Brujerizmo” starts playing over the loudspeakers, guitarist Anton Reisenegger comes to the stage and starts interacting with the crowd before slaying their ears with his riffs. Vocalists Juan Brujo and Fantasma then show up. A huge circle pit forms in the middle of the audience and the destruction begins.

I never thought a band singing in Spanish could be so popular among Japanese metalheads, but as the gig progresses, people get more and more into the show. When the band plays an old classic like “Colas de Rata”, insanity takes control of the Loud Park family.

What I love the most about Brujeria’s live show is that they speak in Spanish with their audience most of the time and call their fans “cabrones”, no matter where they are playing. While Fantasma presents new songs, like “Viva Presidente Trump”, in English, Juan Brujo only interacts in Spanish during the performance. The audience is so excited during the gig that even though many of them do not understand a word of what is being said, they respond very well. Brujeria’s set rolls on with more classics, such as “Anti-Castro” and the amazing “Marcha de Odio”, a brutal, old-school song that every Brujeria fan considers an anthem.

Most of Brujeria’s songs are about politics, but there are also some about drugs. Juan Brujo directs his fellow band members with his microphone as the guitar riffs of Reisenegger and Shane Embury make a perfect marriage with Nicholas Barker’s drumming in “Consejos Narcos” and “La Ley de Plomo”.

To finish this outstanding performance, the band chooses to play “Matando Gueros”, one of their best known songs and also one of the heavier ones. With a captivating chorus, everybody in the audience screams along as Saitama turns into a little part of Mexico. With Brujeria’s first Japan gig a great success, we can expect them to come back to Japan in the not too distant future.

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Loud Park gig report: Michael Schenker Fest

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker brought Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley as well as their old MSG colleagues to Japan for another terrific trip down memory lane.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker has long been a crowd favourite in Japan. He frequently tours Japan and performs in front of sold-out venues. This time he is headlining a rock festival with his Michael Schenker Fest, a touring band made up of old colleagues from MSG.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In June 2015, Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time during a Japan tour of Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Graham Bonnet Band. In 2016 they returned to Japan and performed together again, this time with Michael Schenker Fest which also featured two other legendary MSG singers, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley. That resulted in great shows and a live DVD. In 2017, they are back in Japan and Michael Schenker Fest headlines the big Loud Park festival on 15th October. It is once again an MSG love fest.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In addition to the three former MSG vocalists and, of course, Michael himself, we also get Ted McKenna on drums, Steve Mann on guitar and keyboards and Chris Glen on bass. It is essentially the same show and mainly the same songs as we saw last year, but when it is this good, who cares? Michael Schenker Fest gives the Japanese audience what it wants. The execution is flawless. We get a bunch of veterans who seem to find joy in playing together again. No drama, no rivalry, only a bunch of great musicians having fun doing what they do in front of their loyal fans. I am sure there are long rehearsals and much planning behind this show, but it seems so effortless. Like a bunch of friends jamming it away. There is so much experience and pedigree in this group of musicians, not just from MSG, but also from artists such as Scorpions, UFO, Rainbow, Alcatrazz, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Ian Gillan, The Sweet, Gary Moore, Survivor, Lionheart and much more.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following tours around the globe this and last year, the former MSG gang is a well-oiled machine. The three vocalists all still got it. They have voices that can deliver and they do as the band pumps out classics from Schenker’s long career. The band is in top shape and Michael Schenker is so clearly enjoying himself up on stage. The constant sparkle in his eyes and the big smile on his face when he plays his guitar in front of his fans are priceless.

Graham Bonnet on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The bulk of the set is of course made up of MSG classics, including some of my personal favourites such as “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Assault Attack”, “Save Yourself” and “Bad Boys”. But we also get one Scorpions song (“Coast to Coast”) and the UFO songs “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor” finish another Japanese triumph for Michael Schenker. Splendid, inspirational.

Robin McAuley on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Opeth

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive rockers Opeth returned to Japan for another triumphant gig.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is the middle of a typical autumn day when people start gathering in front of the Big Rock Stage on Saturday 14th October to see the Swedish progressive masters Opeth’s gig at the Loud Park festival. The air becomes a little thick, yet very energetic as the on-stage screen displays the band’s name. Opening the night with the amazing “Sorceress” from their latest album, the riffs of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson take the crowd to another world with Mikael’s voice lightning the dark atmosphere of this song.

Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Continuing the show, they turn back 12 years in time with “Ghost of Perdition”. Heavy screams, violent drumming by Martin Axenrot and a good bass job by Martin Mendez are mixed with slow vocals and keyboards, showing why Opeth has been considered one of the best, if not the best, progressive death metal bands of all time.

Martin Mendez of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next comes “The Wilde Flowers”, also from the “Sorceress” album, bringing another set of beautiful vocals from Mikael and also the backing vocals of Joakim Svalberg, which make a great difference in the song together with the band’s technical yet very emotional performance.

 

After that, a brief pause is made for some interaction between Mikael and crowd, with some jokes and thanks and many “I love you” coming from the audience. Then Mikael announces a ballad, which he believes will be one of the few ones played during the two-day Loud Park festival. The ballad is “In My Time of Need” from “Damnation”, a controversial album at the time considered by some fans as being too soft, but I believe it was the beginning of a transition consolidated in the 2011 album “Heritage”. This song is very deep and emotional. The lyrics are about a lonely person who is in need of someone who is not there. Mikael really knows how to share the feelings of the song with people. When he sings, he puts his soul out for everyone to see it and cherish it. It is impossible, even for the die-hardest death metal fan, to not get moved by it.

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unfortunately while they are preparing to play “Cusp of Eternity”, a member of their crew comes and whispers something in Mikael’s ear and I can hear some words in Swedish before he announces that they only have 14 minutes to finish the show. Thus they will have to cut a song from the set and play “Deliverance”, the last one, which is 14 minutes long. Of course it isn’t the best news for the crowd, but it is a festival gig and we all know such things can happen. Starting with a heavy combination of all instruments and then Mikael’s violent screams, this song travels between dark and heavy moments to soft and light ones, showing all their abilities as musicians and giving the listener a delightful moment. As they don’t have enough time to say a proper goodbye, when they end the song Mikael thanks the fans and walks off stage, leaving their fans already longing for a headline tour as soon as possible. This was definitely one of the best performances I have seen in my life.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Overkill

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal veteran band Overkill delivers another Japanese knockout at Loud Park.

DD Verni of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal band Overkill has had a loyal following in Japan since the 1980s. Last time they played Japan in 2015, they conquered the Thrash Domination festival in Kawasaki with Exodus and Sodom. This time they are even better. With a fab new album out – “The Grinding Wheel”, their 18th studio album – the band is as good as ever. The energy is spilling over as they hit the stage at the Loud Park festival on 14th October.

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The core duo of vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist DD Verni are still steering this steady thrash metal ship. They write all the music and lead the band from the front. Long-serving guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer are by now firmly rooted in the band. They are good custodians of the Overkill legacy while at the same time helping create new classics. The newest addition, drummer Jason Bittner, is a vitamin injection for the band. He has honed his skills with bands like Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, Shadows Fall and Toxik. Being the drummer in an energetic band like Overkill is no walk in the park. Bittner is up to the job.

Dave Linsk of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s a short festival set but a great gig, one of the best of the two-day festival. They open frenetically with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” from their latest album “The Grinding Wheel”, which was released earlier this year.

Derek “The Skull” Tailer of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During the short set we get 80s classics “Rotten to the Core”, “Hello from the Gutter”, “In Union We Stand” and “Elimination”, but also the newer songs “Electric Rattlesnake” and “Ironbound”. The performance is flawless. The band is so fired up that you can touch the energy on stage. The audience loves it. This is how thrash metal should be done.

Overkill closes a fantastic gig with “Fuck You”, a terrific cover version of a The Subhumans song that Overkill has made its own and released on an EP back in 1987.

DD Verni and Jason Bittner of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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