Gig review: Graham Bonnet Band/Alcatrazz: Night of the Shooting Star

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet returned to Japan for a headline tour with a difference. A magical night with Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz in Tokyo.

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What a gig! Having seen Graham Bonnet perform in Japan with Michael Schenker in 2015 and 2016, it was finally time for Bonnet to come back to Japan with a headline show. With a great new album, “The Book”, out and – finally – a proper band line-up, Graham Bonnet returns to Japan as a king holding court. This evening he gives his loyal fans nearly two hours of greatness up on stage.

Graham Bonnet and Beth-Ami Heavenstone on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As the Graham Bonnet Band walks on stage, the sold out venue is already overexcited and ready to rock and be rocked. The band opens the gig with an immediate knockout, the Rainbow classic “Eyes of the World”. Bonnet is as excited as the audience and the band is in top form. This evening quickly becomes a major love fest between a band and its audience. Expectations are sky high but Bonnet and his band deliver. They exceed expectations. Bonnet’s characteristic voice sounds better than ever. He’s 69 years old, but he still has the voice and the stage performance to delight his old fans and attract new ones. Most 25-year old hopefuls don’t have even half the energy that this seasoned veteran displays on stage. The band continues with “California Eyes” from the new album and then they move on with Bonnet’s old solo hit “S.O.S.”. The crowd loves it and the evening is off to the best possible start.

Graham Bonnet Band on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The set continues with a mix of new and old Graham Bonnet songs mixed with Rainbow and MSG classics. It’s a faultless set list covering a big chunk of Bonnet’s career. As is often the case when Bonnet is in Japan, he offers something very special to his fans. This time the regular set is expanded with a special Alcatrazz section to the delight of the fans. Japan was one of the countries where Alcatrazz was most successful back in the mid-80s. For the Alcatrazz section of the gig, bassist Gary Shea joins his Alcatrazz co-founders Graham Bonnet and Jimmy Waldo on stage. They rock it out in front of a sea of Japanese fans wearing Alcatrazz t-shirts. Seeing the three Alcatrazz founders reunited on stage in Japan brings back memories of the splendid live concert videos  “Metallic Live ‘84” and “Power Live”, both recorded in Japan. The set includes a couple of great Alcatrazz nods to Japan, in the form of “Ohayo Tokyo” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. They finish a powerful set with “Island in the Sun”.

Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the terrific Alcatrazz part of the show, Beth-Ami Heavenstone again takes over bass duty to finish a fantastic night with another Rainbow classic, “Lost in Hollywood”. It’s been a delight to see Graham Bonnet make special appearances with Michael Schenker in Japan over the past couple of years (and it certainly hasn’t hurt his popularity in Japan), but to see him as a headline act with almost two hours on stage is bloody brilliant. But as the new songs performed in this evening’s set proves, there is also a future for Bonnet. This man is not stuck in the past. He now has a band and new material to go on creating and performing fabulous music.

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We already knew that his old Alcatrazz mates Shea and Waldo would deliver, but the rest of the Graham Bonnet Band is also fantastic. Bonnet’s partner Beth-Ami Heavenstone has been part of the foundation of the Graham Bonnet Band from the beginning. She brought in phenomenal guitarist Conrado Pesinato (who previously played with Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous). Pesinato has big shoes to fill as he follows in the footsteps of Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. But he pulls it off and adds his own style to it. The latest addition to the band is new drummer Mark Benquechea. He’s an animal behind the kit and seems to fit the band like a glove. Graham told me the day before the gig that Mark asked for his autograph when he auditioned. Well, he’s a mere fanboy no more. Now he’s a colleague and the way he delivered on stage in Japan, Graham will not want to lose this one. He’s found his drummer.

Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thank you Graham for bringing both Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz back to Japan. Now the question is, how can you top this? Japan has now come to expect something special every time Bonnet turns up in Japan. A Blackthorne session perhaps coupled with Anthem and Uli Jon Roth? I don’t know. We’ll see.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet Band / Alcatrazz – Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan – 16th March 2017 – set list

Graham Bonnet Band
Eyes Of The World
California Air
S.O.S.
Night Games
Stand In Line
Into The Night
Dancer
Samurai
Desert Song
Rider
Since You Been Gone
Assault Attack
All Night Long

Alcatrazz
Night Of The Shooting Star (intro)
Ohayo Tokyo
Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live
Suffer Me
God Blessed Video
Will You Be Home Tonight
Jet To Jet
The Witchwood
Skyfire
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Island In The Sun

Graham Bonnet Band
Lost In Hollywood

Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

www.facebook.com/alcatrazzoriginalband1

Gig review: Testament delivers thrash metal knockout on Tokyo fans

Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thrash metal heroes Testament are on top of their game as they tour Japan once again.

30 years on from their debut album “The Legacy”, Bay Area thrash metal veterans Testament are on top of their game. They have a fab new album out and one of their best band line-ups to date. Following a lot of member changes over the years, they now have a solid band which one hopes will last. The band’s in fantastic form and in a great mood. A metal power house who are better live now than ever before during their three decades of performing.

Chuck Billy of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Chuck Billy of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

The band has built up a loyal following in Japan over the years. Even before the band’s on stage there is a circle pit happening in the audience. As the band walks on stage the crowd goes wild. During the gig the audience does its best to outdo the band with constant crowdsurfing and circle pits.

Testament’s return to Tokyo is nothing short of a knockout. The band’s in fine form and are clearly enjoying themselves up on stage. They kick off with “Brotherhood of the Snake” followed by “Rise Up” (quite possibly the evening’s highlight) and “The Pale King”.

Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Alex Skolnick is one of the fastest guitarists in metal and he shows off his skills throughout the set. Eric Peterson, the only remaining original member of the band, personifies thrash metal with his guitar playing and stage presence. The rhythm section – Gene Hoglan on drums and Steve Di Giorgio on bass – is rock solid while Chuck Billy proves why he is the best lead vocalist in thrash metal. None of the Big Four bands (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) has a singer like Chuck. His voice outclasses the vocalists of all the other major thrash metal bands. He is also a great entertainer who knows how to perform for his audience. Chuck plays more air guitar up on stage during the gig than the metalheads in the audience.

This evening Testament has put together an absolute killer set list with great songs from the last two albums (their best in a long time). But we also get songs from throughout the band’s career, including early classics such as “Disciples of the Watch”, “Over the Wall”, “Into the Pit”, “The New Order” and “Practice What You Preach”. The crowd loves it. “Alone in the Dark”, dating back to when Testament was still known as Legacy, finishes a great evening of thrash by one of the best bands in the business.

Alex Skolnick of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Alex Skolnick of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

Testament – Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, 20th February 2017 – set list

  • Brotherhood of the Snake
  • Rise Up
  • The Pale King
  • Disciples of the Watch
  • Practice What You Preach
  • The New Order
  • More Than Meets The Eye
  • Dark Roots of Evil
  • Stronghold
  • Into the Pit
  • Over the Wall
  • D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
  • 3 Days in Darkness
  • The Formation of Damnation
  • Alone in the Dark

www.facebook.com/testamentlegions

www.testamentlegions.com

Gig review: Dynazty finally rocked Tokyo

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With five albums below their belt, Swedish melodic rockers Dynazty finally came to play for the band’s Japanese fans. And what a Japanese live debut it was.

When Swedish melodic metal band Dynazty brings its live show to Japan for the first time, we get an hour and a half of pure energy. The band has the talent, the songs and the stage presence to claim a place in the Japanese fans’ crowded metal hearts.

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

The band formed in Sweden nine years ago and the lads have released five studio albums to date. All the albums have been released in Japan which has helped in creating a loyal following for the band.

The band opens their first-ever gig in Japan with “Run Amok” and follows it with “The Northern End”. The “Titanic Mass Tour: Tokyo Showdown”, as the evening is billed, is built around songs from the band’s latest album, the eminent melodic metal album “Titanic Mass” from 2016 and its predecessor, 2014’s “Renatus”. This is no coincidence as the band’s sound has somewhat changed to become a bit heavier than the music on the first three albums. Dynazty is also a bit heavier live than on record. This evening we do, however, also get two favourite songs from the band’s 2009 debut album, “Bring the Thunder”, as well as a couple of other earlier songs. Dynazty’s music has echoes of other bands here and there, including Europe, H.E.A.T. and even, at times, HammerFall. But they have used these and other influences to make their own signature sound.

The evening’s show reminds me quite a lot of the gig that H.E.A.T. performed at the same venue in 2015. Dynazty not only shares the same Japanese record label with H.E.A.T., they also share much of the same audience here in Japan. The Japanese fans have always liked the combination of melodic and heavy music that so many Swedish acts offer.

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

They finish a great evening of melodic metal – call it power metal, melodic hard rock or something else – by playing the fabulous “Starlight” as an encore.

Jonathan Olsson of Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

Jonathan Olsson of Dynazty on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Masayuki Noda

The band members are all skilled and tight, with bassist Jonathan Olsson sticking out as the most talented of the bunch. Vocalist Nils Molin, an obvious centre of attention, personifies a fabulous mix of a young Joey Tempest of Europe and Sebastian Bach of Skid Row at his best.

Dynazty – Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan – 15th February 2017 – set list

  • Run Amok
  • The Northern End
  • Raise Your Hands
  • Roar of the Underdog
  • Free Man’s Anthem
  • This Is My :Life (Anna Bergendahl cover)
  • Lights Out in Candyland
  • Bring the Thunder
  • Drum solo
  • The Beast Inside
  • Incarnation
  • Salvation
  • Guitar solo
  • The Human Paradox
  • Titanic Mass
  • Starlight

www.dynazty.com / www.facebook.com/dynaztyband

Gig review: Loudness finishes off a great year with a knockout performance in Roppongi

Masayoshi Yamashita, Akira Takasaki and Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Masayoshi Yamashita, Akira Takasaki and Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness finishes off a great year with a sold-out performance in Roppongi and a knockout set-list decided by the fans.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Akira Takasaki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Loudness has been creating and performing great music since 1981. First they made a name for themselves in Japan in the early 80s and followed that with some success in Europe and North America in the mid-80s. Three decades later, the veteran Japanese metal band is better than ever. They are a hardworking band but they are also a band that works smart. They still sell tickets to their shows, most of which are quickly sold out. They continuously offer their loyal fans something new or different to spend their money on, both live experiences and constant releases of different albums and DVDs (most recently the Loud Out Fest live DVD). They also have an impressively extensive and constantly changing range of Loudness merchandise.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Akira Takasaki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Over the past couple of years, Loudness has played a number different of special anniversary shows, celebrating various anniversaries for the band and its classic albums from the 80s. This evening they offer us yet another special show: this time it is a full set which has been decided by fans voting on their favourite songs. The concept works very well. The set list is fantastic and the band is in a good mood and on form. We obviously get some of the usual favourites, such as “S.D.I.’”, “The Sun Will Rise Again” and “Crazy Nights”. But we also get some songs that are not played live that often, such as “Ghetto Machine”, “Metal Mad”, “Slaughter House” and “Soldier of Fortune”. For those of us who have seen Loudness live often, it is great to see a somewhat different set list from the usual one.

Masayoshi Yamashita and Masayuki Suzuki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Masayoshi Yamashita and Masayuki Suzuki of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

2017 is set to be busy for Loudness with more anniversary shows, festival gigs and work on a new studio album which is expected to be released next winter. They will tour both in Japan and internationally and in May they will once again host their own festival, Loud Out Fest in Tokyo. The sun will indeed rise again for this band and their loyal fans.

Loudness – EX Theater Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan, 30th December 2016, set list

  1. Ghetto Machine
  2. Milky Way
  3. Metal Mad
  4. The Sun Will Rise Again
  5. Let It Go
  6. Speed
  7. Slaughter House
  8. Ares’ Lament
  9. Like Hell
  10. Gotta Fight
  11. Loudness
  12. Soldier of Fortune
  13. Dream Fantasy
  14. S.D.I.
  15. In the Mirror
  16. Crazy Nights
  17. Crazy Doctor
Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Loudness – band members

Akira Takasaki – guitar

Minoru Niihara – vocals

Masayoshi Yamashita – bass

Masayuki Suzuki – drums

www.loudnessjp.com / Loudness on Facebook

Masayoshi Yamashita, Akira Takasaki and Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Masayoshi Yamashita, Akira Takasaki and Minoru Niihara of Loudness. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Gig review: New England at Club Citta in Kawasaki

Gary Shea and John Fannon of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Gary Shea and John Fannon of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sensational first-ever gig in Japan by classic American rock band New England. Few other classic rock bands have the songs, the musicianship and creativity that this band has.

New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Forty years after forming, New England opens their first-ever set in Japan strongly with “Seal It With a Kiss” and “L-5” before performing the playful “Hello Hello Hello”, the first song on the band’s debut album from 1979. We get no less than eight songs from that debut album during this gig, but we also get treated to favourites from their other classical albums (“Explorer Suite” from 1980 and “Walking Wild” from 1981) as well as the newer song “I Know There’s Something Here” from 2015.

John Fannon of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

John Fannon of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

New England is a quartet of musicians who all play a unique part in the band’s sound. Replacing any one member would change everything (which was evident in the great, but very different, Warrior demos three of the band members did with Vinnie Vincent in 1982 when John Fannon quit the band). All four members are fundamental parts to the New England sound.

Gary Shea of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Gary Shea of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

While New England is basically a guitar-based band, Jimmy Waldo’s keyboards are a major part of the backbone of this band’s music. His wizardry adds a whole new dimension to many of the songs. Hirsh Gardner is a heavy-hitting drummer (evident as he breaks one of his drum sticks during a song). Gary Shea’s bass guitar has a life of its own in many of the songs. John Fannon not only has an unmistakable voice, he’s also a great guitarist. But the real New England magic lies in how it all comes together and how the four members flawlessly change instruments and roles in order to deliver the New England experience. Waldo plays guitar on several songs while Gardner jumps in to sing lead on a few occasions. His unique voice is very different from Fannon’s and thereby adds a twist and depth to the music. During an acoustic part of the show, which kicks off with “Conversation”,  Shea suddenly plays a ukulele while Gardner brings out a tambourine and chimes, Waldo rocks it out on a guitar and Fannon plays the harmonica. In a later part of the show we get both Waldo and Gardner on keyboards at the same time and no drummer. The playfulness of this band of multi-instrumentalists is great stuff. Very creative and the result is phenomenal. Obviously, they also have the songs to match their performing skills.

Jimmy Waldo of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Jimmy Waldo of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

In the splendid “Turn Out the Light”, Fannon performs solo with an acoustic guitar. To the fans’ delight he steps down from the stage and into the audience and performs the whole song among and with his audience. That’s how a real showman does it.

Hirsh Gardner of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Hirsh Gardner of New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Musically the show spans a wide range of styles of classic rock. Some of the songs get a heavier sound live, not least because of Gardner’s hard-hitting drumming style, while other songs are performed scaled down with little or no drumming. New England can do it all. This band’s musicianship and creativity go far beyond what most other bands can do. At the end of the evening they come back twice for encores. A great gig is finished with the splendid “P.U.N.K.”.

On Sunday 20th November there is a second chance to see the band at the same venue. Don’t miss it. Hopefully we will see New England back in Japan soon, but in the meantime there will be a chance to see at least Gary Shea and Jimmy Waldo on tour in Japan with Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz in March next year.

New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

New England – set list – Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan, 18th November 2016

  1. Seal It With A Kiss
  2. L-5
  3. Hello Hello Hello
  4. Alone Tonight
  5. Shoot
  6. Get It Up
  7. Honey Money
  8. Holdin’ Out On Me
  9. I Know There’s Something Here
  10. Conversation
  11. Shall I Run Away
  12. Turn Out the Light (John Fannon solo)
  13. Explorer Suite
  14. Hope
  15. Nothing to Fear
  16. Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya
  17. Elevator
  18. You’ll Be Born Again
  19. P.U.N.K.
New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

New England on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

www.newenglandrocks.com

www.facebook.com/newenglandtheband

Festival report: Japanese Assault Fest

Brian Ross of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Brian Ross of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Spiritual Beat’s annual mini heavy metal festival in Tokyo was yet again a splendid weekend of metal.

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Japanese Assault Fest is always a highlight in Roppongi Rocks’ calendar. While Knotfest Japan was taking place the same weekend (with a rather boring and weak artist line-up), the much smaller Japanese Assault Fest, hosted by Japanese record company and concert organiser Spiritual Beast, offers fans a more grassroots-type festival. At this festival, held in a Tokyo club, one often sees the bands hang out with their fans before and after their sets. The two-day festival offers the same headliners on both days, but with different support bands on each day. Roppongi Rocks attended the second day of the festival.

Hitten on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Hitten on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Hitten

Aitor Navarro of Hitten on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Aitor Navarro of Hitten on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Hitten from Spain is a young band with an obvious love for and dedication to 1980s heavy metal, despite the fact that most of its members were not even born then. Hitten is a perfect opening act for the festival as this band is all about feel-good heavy metal with great energy. While only formed five years ago, the band has already released a couple of full-length albums. Keep an eye on these Spaniards, they will keep doing great stuff in the name of heavy metal.

Bio-Cancer

Greek thrash metal band Bio-Cancer continues with the proud tradition of Greek thrash metal. They play a modern, quite brutal, version of thrash metal. They call it “ear-piercing thrash”, which is also the name of their first demo and their 2012 debut album. We get an exhausting set featuring six songs from the band’s latest album – 2015’s “Tormenting the Innocent” – plus the best bits from their debut album. They finish with the anthem “Spread the Cancer”.

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bio-Cancer on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Solitude

Akira Sugiuchi of Solitude on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Akira Sugiuchi of Solitude on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Japanese metal band Solitude – fronted by Spiritual Beast’s Akira Sugiuchi – plays a more old-school blend of thrash metal and NWOBHM. Having just signed a North American record deal with Test Your Metal Records, the band is on a roll. The band has been around since 1996 but may now finally become a bigger name outside of Japan. The band is tight and the vocals of Sugiuchi sets them apart from the pack. This man was born to sing heavy metal. Their set is dominated by songs from their latest album, 2015’s “Reach for the Sky”, but they finish with old favourite “Volcano of Anger”.

Ancient Bards

Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Italians Ancient Bards call their music “symphonic epic power metal”. Celebrating a decade as a band, they perform a great set this evening. The band’s concept reminds me somewhat of Nightwish, although the Bards sound quite different. There are some folksy, medieval touches to their melodic symphonic metal which also has some progressive elements. The Bards are quite a bit different from the other bands on the bill this evening, but it works. That’s the beauty of festivals such as this one which has room for all kinds of metal and hard rock. In vocalist Sara Squadrani, the Bards have something special. A bit like an Italian version of Floor Jansen, kind of. Bassist Martino Garattoni also stands out. Their perhaps best song, the splendid “Through My Veins”, closes their superb gig.

Sara Squadrani and Martino Garattoni of Ancient Bards on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Sara Squadrani and Martino Garattoni of Ancient Bards on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bill Baxter and Brian Ross of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

True British metal band Blitzkrieg formed in 1980 and was an influencer of both NWOBHM bands and early thrash metal. Famously covered by Metallica (yes, Metallica’s “Blitzkrieg” is a cover of Blitzkrieg’s original), Blitzkrieg has cult status among heavy metal fans the world over. This evening they deliver above and beyond expectations. Unlike many of his peers, vocalist Brian Ross – the only remaining original band member – still has a voice that is as good now as it was in 1980. He sounds fantastic. Blitzkrieg has also continued to write, record and perform new music and not just rely on their classic material. We get a great gig with a perfect combination of old and newer material. One of the set’s highlights is the Judas Priest tribute “Call for the Priest” which Is simply fabulous with Ross sounding like Rob Halford at the top of his game. We get both tracks from their 1981 debut single – “Buried Alive” and “Blitzkrieg” – as well as other classics such as “A Time of Changes”, but also quite a bit of newer stuff, such as the terrific Jack the Ripper-inspired “Back from Hell”, proving that this is no mere nostalgia act.

Ken Johnson of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Ken Johnson of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The current line-up of the band – Brian Ross on vocals, Brian’s son Alan Ross and Ken Johnson on guitar, Bill Baxter on bass and Matt Graham on drums – is tight and they are having fun on stage. While Blitzkrieg has had a revolving door for members coming and going in the past, it seems they have now find a stable bunch of fine musicians to carry the true British metal torch forward.

Brian Ross of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Brian Ross of Blitzkrieg on stage at Japanese Assault Fest. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

www.spiritual-beast.com

www.facebook.com/spiritualbeast

Gig review: Michael Amott’s triumphant return to Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott makes a triumphant return to Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars – 1970s-inspired hard rock at its best.

Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

No matter which band guitarist Michael Amott tours with, he never disappoints his Japanese fans. Earlier this year he was here in Japan with Black Earth, the temporarily reunited original line-up of Arch Enemy. Now he’s back with Spiritual Beggars who have toured Japan many times before. On Monday 24th October, Spiritual Beggars played a terrific club gig at WWW X in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Spiritual Beggars, formed by Amott In Sweden in 1993, plays a very different kind of rock music from Arch Enemy, one they label as stoner rock and which is firmly based in classic 70s hard rock flavoured with a big shot of 60s psychedelia. Most of the time, this is brilliant. At times it is so good it hurts. They open with “Street Fighting Saviours” from the 2002 album “On Fire”. This evening they also play many of my other favourites, such as “Hard Road”, “Turn the Tide”, “Euphoria”, “Killing Time” and “Diamond Under Pressure” before they finish in style with “Blind Mountain” and “Spirit of the Wind”.

Michael Amott and Sharlee D'Angelo on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Amott and Sharlee D’Angelo on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

One thing with this gig that is immediately obvious, is that they’re having fun up on stage. The band members have a background playing with serious heavy metal bands such as Arch Enemy, Candlemass, Carcass, Firewind, Dismember, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. Spiritual Beggars is not at all less serious than those bands, but they have a more playful attitude to performing their music and it really shows.

Amott is a very gifted guitarist who doesn’t let his guitar work take over the songs. Much like his inspiration Michael Schenker, Amott does not destroy the music with outbursts of guitar overkill. Instead he is using his guitar skills to enhance the songs and contribute guitar solos that fit in with the fabric of the songs (most of them written by himself). It’s the work of a real guitar hero.

Michael Amott and Apollo Papathanasio of Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Amott and Apollo Papathanasio of Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

While Amott is the band’s mainman and already a legend to Japanese hard rock fans, this isn’t a one-man show. This is a band with more drive, skill and energy than most bands currently out there. Amott’s Arch Enemy colleague Sharlee D’Angelo is a rock solid anchor on the bass. Drummer Ludwig Witt has perhaps the smallest drum set I have ever seen used on stage by any established rock act., but he makes it work. Former Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio is fronting Spiritual Beggars since 2010. What a find as a singer and frontman! This guy can stand up to the best of them and fits this band like a glove.

Ludwig Witt and Sharlee D'Angelo of Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Ludwig Witt and Sharlee D’Angelo of Spiritual Beggars on stage in Tokyo on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Per Wiberg on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Per Wiberg on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

In a great band with great musicians and great material, keyboardist Per Wiberg is the standout member for me. Wow! The former Opeth man, who is also currently playing bass with Candlemass, adds a dimension to Spiritual Beggars’ sound with his Hammond organ and keyboards. On songs like “Mantra” and “Black Feathers” he really shows off his keyboard skills and why he is an essential ingredient in this band. Like a Swedish Jon Lord or a Ray Manzarek of hard rock. Outstanding!

This evening we get an extended set at just over two hours with all the musical goodies we could wish for. The band is tight and in good form. Thank you for a splendid evening of great music.

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Amott on stage in Tokyo with Spiritual Beggars on 24th Oct 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

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