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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Gig review: Rage goes higher than the sky in Tokyo

Peavy of Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German metal veterans Rage return to Japan with a great line-up and a career-spanning show.

Rage at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 22nd February 2018

German metal band Rage has managed to develop a rather unique sound over the years that is quite hard to define. They don’t quite sound like anything else out there. Formed in 1984 by bassist and vocalist Peter “Peavy” Wagner, they are often described as being part of the German power metal scene. While there certainly is some power metal in the musical mix that is Rage, it’s not quite right as a description. Rage has developed a signature sound that is a bit different. With songs such as “Season of the Black”, they move in on thrash and speed metal territory, but it is the straightforward and riff-happy singalong metal of songs like “My Way” and “Don’t Fear the Winter” that is typical of Rage. Power? Yes. Melodic? Yes. But mixed with some proper heaviness in a wonderful combination.

Lucky of Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Peavy has been the only constant member of Rage throughout the years and in the current line-up of the band he is joined by guitarist Marcos Rodriguez and drummer Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos. This line-up has recorded the band’s last two studio albums, “The Devil Strikes Again” (2016) and “Seasons of the Black” (2017). It’s a solid metal trio where Rodriguez has contributed a lot of the recent songwriting.

They open the live set in Tokyo with the fab new song “Justify” and follow that with “Great Old Ones” from the 2003 “Soundchaser” album. The trio is all dressed in black and we get treated to dark-themed songs such as “Sent by the Devil”, “Season of the Black”, “Deep in the Blackest Hole”, “Straight to Hell” and “Blackened Karma”. But despite all of that darkness, this is a good-natured band with a lot of love. They are having fun and combine a great musical performance with plenty of joking around. Rage has a long history of playing in Japan and have built up a loyal fan base here over the years. This evening they are in a great mood and the love from the audience clearly inspires them.

Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

“Price of War”, taken from the 1995 album “Black in Mind”, is perhaps the highlight of the live set this evening. Proper metal. They finish a terrific set with the 1996 classic “Higher Than the Sky”. The song is dragged out with a tribute to Ronnie James Dio in the form of parts of “Holy Diver” and “Heaven & Hell”.

This is what metal is all about: a great band that loves performing for, and interacting with, an audience that really digs the music. This was a great evening of Rage-style European metal in Tokyo.

Rage on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

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Gig review: H.E.A.T melts Tokyo once more

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic rockers H.E.A.T returned to Tokyo for their third visit and they owned the place. Japan loves melodic hard rock from Sweden.

H.E.A.T at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 16th February 2018

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

H.E.A.T is a part of a long tradition of melodic hard rock bands from Sweden winning Japanese fans. Like last time they played in Tokyo, in 2015, when H.E.A.T returned to Japan for a third time, they showed us yet again that they are a tad bit heavier and rockier live than in the studio. Personally I like their heavier side more than the sometimes more pop-oriented side that appears in the studio.

They open their club gig in Shibuya with a knockout punch in the form of the catchy yet riff-happy song “Bastard of Society” from their most recent album, “Into the Great Unknown”. They follow that with “Late Night Lady”, from their self-titled 2008 debut album, and then the infectious “Mannequin Show”. With that the band is off to more than a great start and they have the audience with them.

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

This evening in Tokyo we get a great set list representing the whole of the band’s career. But best of all, we get no fewer than seven songs from the new album: “Bastard of Society”, “Redefined”, “Into the Great Unknown”, “We Rule”, “Time on Our Side”, “Eye of the Storm” and “Best of the Broken”.

Vocalist Erik Grönwall is a top-class frontman and he’s in fine form this evening. On stage he acts as if he were possessed. Too much energy bubbling over. That is a great quality for a frontman to have. But he combines his on-stage antics with a terrific voice. He’s got the full package. H.E.A.T as a band has many qualities, but the band’s frontman is what sets this apart from much of the tough competition in the melodic hard rock space. Grönwall never slows down and he always tries to entertain his audience. This evening he climbs the loud speakers, he crowd surfs to the bar at the back of the venue and he interacts with the fans throughout the whole set. He even puts on a martial arts outfit for the encore. He’s that kind of guy and the audience loves it of course.

Dave Dalone of H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

This is a hardworking and entertaining band that also has a great catalogue of songs. They are skilled songwriters. While the material is rather varied, especially when the new album is included, most of the songs are within the parameters of melodic hard rock. The return of original guitarist Dave Dalone, after a few years out of the band, seems to have added a new dimension to the band’s songs. He’s a quiet one who doesn’t say much, on or off stage. He lets his guitar do the talking. Drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay gel like it’s nobody’s business while Jona Tee on the keyboards builds terrific soundscapes in the background.

One of the show’s highlights is without doubt “Best of the Broken”, a song that takes everything that is great about this band and puts it all into this one little song. Another great moment is a fab version of “Inferno”, one of the band’s best songs.

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

They finish a high-energy set with an encore consisting of “Point of No Return” and “A Shot at Redemption”. This evening was good fun. H.E.A.T once again showed us that they are a band that delivers. They will be back in Japan. Their loyal Japanese fan base keeps growing as they won new fans on this Japan visit.

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Gig review: Venom Inc slays Tokyo

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc’s Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man destroy Tokyo as they kick off their “Blood Stained Earth Tour” in style.

Venom Inc at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 15th February 2018

Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man were part of the best-ever line-up of British black metal pioneers Venom in the late 80s and early 90s. Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on bass and vocals took the band to a new level then and he leads from the front now. He has a stage presence that commands your attention. Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on drums have developed into fine musicians too, having started from nowhere four decades ago. The primitive start of Venom has over the years developed into some serious extreme metal with even progressive rock elements in the mix. There is some serious songwriting talent here. This trio also knows how to perform the songs and give their audience a great show in the name of black metal.

A few years ago, this line-up reunited under the name Venom Inc and started touring. In September 2017 they released a brand new album, “Avé“ (via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan), which was named Extreme Metal Album of the Year in The Roppongi Rocks Music Awards. With the Venom back catalogue and a terrific new album, Venom Inc has a treasure trove of music to choose from when putting together set lists.

As they walk on stage in Tokyo, following energetic sets by local opening acts Survive and Neuroticos, they kick off with the epic new track “Avé Satanas” from the latest album before they play the classic “Welcome to Hell”. Many old Venom favourites – such as “Die Hard”, “Live Like an Angel”, “Warhead”, “Don’t Burn the Witch”, “Poison”, “Leave Me in Hell” and, of course, “Countess Bathory” – are mixed with fab new songs such as “Metal We Bleed”, “War” and “Preacher Man”.

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

“We like our metal black,” says Demolition Man as he introduces the classic “Black Metal”, indirectly reminding the younger generation that Venom not only influenced the black metal genre, it named it. We also, of course, get the classic “Sons of Satan” before the evening is over. This trio is in fine form, absolutely killing it musically. While on the surface there is aggression and anger, underneath the Venom cheekiness and playfulness shine through. They’re loving it up on stage and they are soaking up the love and respect they get from the Japanese fans. Abaddon can’t help himself but stands up behind his drum kit and screams “Fuck yeah!” several times during the set.

It’s great to see these veterans better than ever and having some great new material in the show as well. Terrific stuff.

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Thrash Domination live report: Californian thrash at its best with Testament, Exodus and Warbringer

Testament at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With two legendary Bay Area thrash metal bands and one splendid newer thrash metal band from LA, it was an all-Californian affair at this year’s Thrash Domination festival at Club Citta. And what a night of thrash glory it was! Roppongi Rocks reports from the first day of the latest edition of Thrash Domination.

Thrash Domination with Testament, Exodus and Warbringer at Club Citta, Kawasaki, 10th February 2018

Club Citta’s mini thrash metal festival Thrash Domination premiered in 2004 and this past weekend’s festival was the 12th edition. Exodus and Testament have both appeared multiple times and they are always welcomed with open arms by their Japanese fans.

Warbringer at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Warbringer

As opening act, LA thrash metal band Warbringer has a 50-minute set and they use their limited time wisely. They perform the 2017 album “Woe of the Vanquished” in its entirety. The eight tracks from that album are terrific and straightforward thrash metal, a perfect opening set for Thrash Domination. They round off their set with “Combat Shock” from “War Without End”, their 2008 debut album. Vocalist John Kevill is the only original member still in the band, but despite a bit of a revolving door with members coming and going, Warbringer has somehow managed to keep it together musically. This afternoon in Kawasaki, the band’s second time playing in Japan, they deliver and they get the respect they deserve from the audience. As long as they can establish a somewhat stable line-up, I reckon this band will continue to grow and become bigger. They’re already a terrific act.

Exodus at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Exodus

Due to Gary Holt’s commitments with Slayer, Exodus has in recent years been forced to tour with a replacement guitarist. Not so this time. With Slayer having some time off before they embark on a massive farewell tour, Holt was available and joined his Exodus mates on stage. From the very first song he seemed so fired up and eager to perform, one could almost touch his energy. It was so great to see Holt back on stage with the band.

Exodus at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Another returnee is frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza who returned to the band in 2014 for a third stint. Zetro is a great fit for Exodus and he delivers. I’ve said it before and I am saying it again: the current line-up of Exodus is the best ever. They’re working on a new album and no doubt it will be very heavy, fast and furious. They open their set strongly with “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles” before we get the title track from their most recent album, “Blood In, Blood Out”. Then we get the first of several old classics in “And Then There Were None”. We get many of my favourite Exodus songs this evening, including “Blacklist” “Body Harvest”, “Fabulous Disaster” and “A Lesson in Violence”. They close a high-energy set with a trio of classics: “Bonded by Blood”, “The Toxic Waltz” and “Strike of the Beast”. Another solid Japan win for this band who has a very loyal following here.

Zetro and Gary Holt of Exodus at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Eric Peterson of Testament at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Testament

Following last year’s headline shows in Japan, the Testament men are back once again and they, of course, deliver a great show which they open with “Brotherhood of the Snake”, “Rise Up” and “The Pale King”. This band has several things that make them stand above many other acts. The fine balance in the make-up of the current line-up is one of them. They have a rock solid rhythm section in Steve Di Giorgio on bass and Gene Hoglan on drums. On the guitars they have a perfect combo in two very different musicians: Eric Peterson is a terrific thrash metal guitarist while Alex Skolnick is a rare animal in the thrash metal kingdom. He’s more of a splendid mix of, say, Ace Frehley, Doug Aldrich and Marty Friedman, than your typical thrash metal guitarist. He’s an exceptional guitarist who brings in some great influences from far outside thrash metal into Testament’s music. Combining Skolnick and Peterson works a treat over the solid rhythm foundation. And when topped off with Chuck Billy, one of the best-ever thrash metal vocalists, it is very powerful. Testament now has a terrific line-up that I hope remains in place. A fab evening is finished off with “Practice What You Preach” and “Disciples of the Watch”.

Alex Skolnick and Chuck Billy of Testament at Thrash Domination 2018. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Thrash Domination is always a terrific mini festival with world-class thrash metal on stage. I am already looking forward to future editions.

www.thrash-domination.com

Gig review: Swedish preachers of death The Haunted conquered Tokyo once more

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death thrashers The Haunted once again made Tokyo do it with a splendid, brutal and sweaty show at Liquidroom.

The Haunted at Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo, 26th January 2018

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

During the two decades that have passed since Swedish death thrashers The Haunted released their debut album, Japan has been a constant in their career. It was here in Japan they recorded the live album “Live Rounds in Tokyo” back in 2000 and they still have a loyal following here.

The current line-up of The Haunted is terrific and I hope it stays like this. The members are, however, all busy with other bands such as At the Gates, Witchery, The Lurking Fear and much more, so it can’t be too easy to plan for The Haunted’s touring and recording sessions. The Haunted’s brutal rock’n’roll machine is anchored with the rock solid At the Gates rhythm section of Adrian Erlandsson and Jonas Björler. Add to that two great and, I believe, very underrated guitarists – Patrik Jensen and Ola Englund – and you have a very good metal band. And then we still have frontman Marco Aro, who after a break of ten years, returned to the band in 2013. It seems as if he were born to front this band. He’s a perfect fit. And best of all, he so obviously is happy to be fronting this band. The Japanese audience’s affection for the band makes him somewhat emotional a couple of times during the show. It is a two-way brutal love affair between this Swedish extreme metal band and the Japanese metalheads in the audience.

The Haunted’s thrash guitars played over a death metal foundation make this different and better than many other extreme metal acts. Excellent Swedish death thrash, combining Bay Area thrash with the Gothenburg sound.

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

With the fab new studio album “Strength in Numbers” released just a few months ago, the band has quite a treasure trove of songs to choose from when they put together their set lists. This evening in Tokyo we get a terrific set list with material from throughout the band’s career and representing most of the band’s nine studio albums.

We get no fewer than five songs from the latest album, including the splendid “Preachers of Death”, “Spark” and “This is the End”, in addition to the two songs that open both the latest album and this evening’s show: the instrumental intro “Fill the Darkness with Black” (ain’t that poetry, then I don’t know what is!) and “Brutal Force”.

From the “Revolver” album we get  “99”, “No Compromise” and “All Against All”. From “The Haunted Made Me Do It” we get “Bury Your Dead”, “Trespass”, “Hollow Ground” and “Dark Intentions”. Additionally, we get “D.O.A.“ from “One Kill Wonder” and we get “The Flood”, “The Medication” and “The Guilt Trip” from “The Dead Eye”. From “Exit Wounds” we get treated to “Eye of the Storm”, “Trend Killer” and “Time (Will Not Heal)”, while from the band’s self-titled 1998 debut album we get “Hate Song” and “Bullet Hole”. What else could one ask for? This is as close to the ultimate The Haunted set list one can get.

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

The energetic Japanese audience is with the band the whole time from before they enter the stage until well after they have left it. They’re so into the performance that Marco Aro several times become lost for words. He is clearly overwhelmed by the love from The Haunted’s Japanese fans who not only sing along and headbang, we also get a series of circle pits and plenty of crowdsurfing this evening. The Haunted made us do it indeed.

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