Gig review: Hardcore Superstar – You Can’t Kill My Rock’n’Roll Tour Japan 2018

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Hardcore Superstar delivers a Swedish-style feelgood sleaze-rock knockout in Tokyo.

Hardcore Superstar at Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo on 28th November 2018 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Scream for me, Tokyo!” commands vocalist Jocke Berg from the audience in the sold-out venue in Tokyo’s central Shibuya district. Hardcore Superstar is back in Japan as part of their tour in support of the fab new album “You Can’t Kill My Rock’n’Roll”. The Swedish party rock band (perhaps best described as the bastard son of Guns N’ Roses and Slade with a side order of Quiet Riot?) has toured Japan many times. But this is their first visit in some seven years and the sold-out venue in Tokyo is ready to be rocked. This is an evening of party rock. It is all about having fun and entertaining the audience. And this band knows how to entertain. They – Jocke Berg on vocals, Martin Sandvik on bass, Vic Zino on guitar and Magnus “Adde” Andreasson on drums – have the skills to combine musical talent with proper entertainment. 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar crowd surfing. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In a 17-song long show, we get no fewer than six songs from the latest album. It is a testament to the fact that the band’s fab new album is some kind of a “back to the roots” exercise that has been more than welcomed by the fans. Hardcore Superstar opens the show with “AD/HD” and “Electric Rider”, both songs from the latest album, before they deliver the classic anthem “We Don’t Celebrate Sundays”. 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show also includes plenty of other old favourites, such as “Liberation”, “My Good Reputation”, “Wild Boys”, “Someone Special”. “Dreamin’ in a Casket” and “Standin’ on the Verge”. The evening’s highlights for me are a terrific version of “Moonshine” and a kick-ass take on “Last Call for Alcohol” where the band invites some fans up on stage for an alcoholic toast.

Vic Zino of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Shibuya, Hardcore Superstar delivers a faultless feelgood show for its Japanese fans. For me, the only disappointment is that the track “Baboon” from the latest album wasn’t played, but with a back catalogue of eleven albums, I guess they can’t please everybody all the time. They finish a fabulous evening with “Above the Law” from 2013’s “C’mon Take on Me”.

Jocke Berg and Magnus “Adde” Andreasson of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jocke Berg is first-rate frontman. He doesn’t stand still for many seconds during the live show. He’s running around, jumping up and down and even crowd surfing twice during the gig. The few times he does stand still, it is to strike a rock star pose of one kind or another. This man is a rock star to the bone. It is very obvious from the energy on stage that these four guys really enjoy being in a rock’n’roll band that gets to perform for its fans. Indeed, you can’t kill their rock’n’roll.

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Pretty Maids came to rock Japan with special “Future World” shows

Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Melodic heavy metal band Pretty Maids from Denmark came to rock Japan with catchy riffs and a guitar case full of classic songs.

Pretty Maids at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 17th November 2018 

Ken Hammer of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

I first saw Pretty Maids in concert in Sweden in 1990. Since then I have seen them on all their recent Japan tours. Ronnie Atkins on vocals and Ken Hammer on lead guitar – who together founded the band in 1981 – are still there and they still got it. Bassist Rene Shades has been in the band since 2011. The newer recruits – drummer Allan Sørensen (ex-Royal Hunt) and Chris Laney (ex-Zan Clan, Randy Piper’s Animal) on keyboards, rhythm guitar and background vocals – have added a dimension and helped this band back to where they should be. The line-up is the same as for the band’s last Japan tour in 2017. They were very good then, but they are even better now.

Chris Laney of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

This time they’re in Japan for two special gigs at Club Citta in Kawasaki to celebrate the band’s classic Eddie Kramer-produced album “Future World” from 1987. They’re doing it by playing the album in its entirety and then adding some more goodies from the Pretty Maids back catalogue. On the first evening we get about two hours and 15 minutes of Danish metal with great melodies. They open the evening with “Future World” and gets the crowd going. They follow with “We Came to Rock” – indeed they came from Denmark to rock Japan. It’s a solid band and Ronnie has a terrific voice that is better than ever. When it is time for songs like “Yellow Rain” and “Eye of the Storm” we really get to hear Ronnie shine with his stunning voice. He has a great voice to sing energetic rock, but it is during calmer ballads we are reminded what a splendid vocalist he is. “Love Games” is a huge crowd favourite while “Loud N Proud” is one of the evening’s musical highlights. 

Following the nine tracks from the “Future World” album – which have aged well and do not sound dated – the band keeps giving an already very excited audience plenty of more good stuff from the band’s career. They kick off the second half with the terrific “Mother of All Lies” and follow it with the equally great “Kingmaker”. “Pandemonium” is another obvious favourite of mine in the show while “Savage Heart”, from the 1990 album “Jump the Gun”, is perhaps the show’s highlight for me. For most of the song, the performance is just Ronnie’s voice backed up by Chris on keyboards. Towards the end of the song, Ken Hammer steps in with a guitar solo and he brings the rhythm section back on stage in a proper power-ballad crescendo. The band continues with plenty of fan favourites until they finish the set with “Back to Back” from their 1984 debut album “Red, Hot and Heavy”. They return to do a great encore consisting of “Sin Decade”, “Rock the House” and the John Sykes cover “Please Don’t Leave Me” before an overexcited band keeps on jamming some silly Christmas carols.

This was quite an exquisite evening for those of us who like our Nordic melodic metal.

Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Masayuki Noda

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Gig review: Marduk delivers a black metal assault on Tokyo

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish black metal band Marduk conquers Japan with a no-nonsense battle of a show. 

Marduk at Cyclone, Shibuya, Tokyo on 25th November 2018

Most foreign artists who tour Japan do so without any opening acts. But occasionally we do get the opposite, acts who tour Japan with several support acts. This evening in Shibuya, Swedish black metal band Marduk has no fewer than five support bands on the bill. Best of the opening acts is no doubt the American black metal band Abigail Williams. This fascinating band manages to very effectively create a terrific mix of black metal brutality with a twisted and haunted soundscape that combines heavy doom with blast-beat drumming. The sound of vocalist Ken “Sorceron” Bergeron helps to take the whole package into horror movie soundtrack land. There are also hints of a fair bit of influences from the 1990s Nordic black metal scene. Excellent stuff and a very good way to prepare the ground for Marduk.

The mighty Swedes in Marduk, still led by founder and guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, hit the stage and give us exactly what we want: an energetic one-hour set of brutal Swedish black metal. Marduk’s music is to the point, precise and without any compromises. Speaking between songs are kept to an absolute minimum. Only frontman Mortuus speaks and when he does, it’s limited to a few words. Marduk is all about delivering its brutal music. It’s sinister, it’s dark and it is bloody good. The whole show has a dark atmosphere, both visually and musically. The overall impression of the show is that this is music performed in the middle of a war zone. The band’s lyrics primarily focus on second world war history and anti-religious themes which adds to the overall doom and gloom. Everything is bleak and hopeless. 

They open the fourth and final show of this Japan tour with “Panzer Division Marduk”, the title song from the band’s 1999 studio album. They continue with “Baptism by Fire” from the same album and from there they never let go of their grip around the audience. The current tour is in support of the band’s most recent studio album, the fantastic “Viktoria”, from which we get to hear a few songs this evening, including “Werwolf” and “Equestrian Bloodlust”. We also get older crowd favourites, such as what I consider the highlights of the show, “Burn My Coffin” and “Wolves”, both songs taken from the 1993 album “Those of the Unlight”. There are no dips, no weak parts, no fillers. It is one hour packed with quality black metal performed with energy and conviction by a veteran band who knows how to deliver. 

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Gig review: An evening of Marty Friedman deep cuts in Tokyo

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A very special instrumental evening with Marty Friedman in Tokyo: An intimate venue, die-hard fans, a terrific set of songs and a band that matches its leader. 

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo on 30th October 2018

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

Several times this year, guitarist Marty Friedman has put on special shows at La Donna, an intimate venue in central Tokyo where a lucky few fans get to sit up close and personal with Marty and his band. “We’re all friends here,” as Marty says in Japanese about the cosiness of the La Donna shows. This time, the Friedman show is billed as a “Sparkling Autumn Night” and, as hoped, we get a splendid show with goodies from Friedman’s varied career. Many of the songs performed this evening do not feature often in Friedman’s regular shows. 

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

This special show – well over two hours of music and Marty anecdotes (all in Japanese) – kicks off with “For a Friend” from 2017’s splendid studio album “Wall of Sound”. It is followed by “Tibet” and “Angel” from his 1992 solo album “Scenes”. From the same album, we also get the terrific songs “Valley of Eternity” and “Night” a bit later in the show. From the 2006 album “Loudspeaker” we get the beautiful “Devil Take Tomorrow” and from 2003’s “Music for Speeding” we get “Lovesorrow”. The evening continues with a seemingly never-ending delivery of exquisite songs.

The entire show is instrumental with Friedman backed up by a fab band that includes the insanely talented bassist Kiyoshi and hard-hitting drummer Chargeeee. Being a second guitarist in a band with Marty Friedman can’t be an easy gig, but Yuya Komoguchi delivers and even gets to perform some guitar solos. There’s also a fabulous string and piano trio of musicians which adds a dimension to Friedman’s usual band set-up. 

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

One obvious highlight of the show is “The Ninja”. Before Friedman made it big with Megadeth, he played with Cacophony, a band based around the twin guitars of Friedman and Jason Becker. “The Ninja” is a track from Cacophony’s 1987 debut album “Speed Metal Symphony”. Other personal favourites in the set include “Arrival” and “Bittersweet”, both songs from 1994’s “Introduction” album. From the 1996 album “True Obsessions” we get treated to “Farewell” and “Rio”. This is a show so packed with old favourites, some terrific deep cuts and other special treats, that I have a big smile on my face during the whole show. We also get treats like “Tears of an Angel” from 2008’s “Future Addict”, “Kaeritaku Natta Yo” (originally by Ikimono-gakari), “I Love You” (originally by Yutaka Ozaki) and, of course, the Mika Nakashima cover “Yuki no Hana”. 

Marty Friedman closes a fab evening with a jam-filled section that kicks off with “Thunder March” from his first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” from 1988. What a night! What a treat for the die-hard fans who get to experience this.

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

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Gig review: Edu Falaschi and The Dark Element in Tokyo and Osaka

Edu Falaschi on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Former Angra, Nightwish and Sonata Arctica members unite for an interesting double bill of melodic metal on a recent Japan tour.

Edu Falaschi and The Dark Element at Shinjuku Blaze, Tokyo on 6th October and Esaka Muse, Osaka on 7th October 2018

The Dark Element

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

It is exactly 7pm when the intro starts playing and the members of The Dark Element come up to the stage. It is remarkable how the Japanese fans love Nordic metal. When Finnish guitarist Jani Liimatainen and Swedish singer Anette Olzon together enters the stage, the audience salutes them with loud screams and horns up all over the room. Liimatainen has been coming to Japan almost every year since the first time he played here with his former band Sonata Arctica. It has, however, been ten years since the Japanese fans have had the opportunity to see former Nightwish singer Olzon in action and they clearly missed her talent. Opening both the Tokyo and Osaka shows with “The Dark Element”, a song that mixes a lot of electronic music with metal, Olzon shows us that even after all this time away from the stage, her energy and passion are still the same. With a powerful-yet-sweet voice, she sings, dances and interacts with the fans like no one else. With “Last Good Day” and “Dead To Me” the band encourages everyone to dance, sing and jump along, although in Osaka the audience is shyer and prefers to enjoy the show quietly. When the band makes a brief pause for some gear changes, Olzon talks to and jokes with the audience as if all of the people there were close friends of hers. Then she announces the beautiful “Here’s To You“, a song full of mixed feelings and a great melody that makes Olzon give an intense and emotional performance on both nights. With an impressive interpretation of each verse, she puts her heart out, telling the story behind the lyrics with every movement of her hands and body. It is definitely the highlight of both the Tokyo and Osaka shows.

Jani Liimatainen and Anette Olzon on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

During “Halo” something unexpected happens with Anette headbanging along to the music. For those who have been following her career since her Nightwish days, it is a nice and somewhat funny surprise, as she has never been known for headbanging during her symphonic metal years. With “The Ghost and the Reaper” and “My Sweet Misery”, the two singles of The Dark Elements debut album, the band proves that even playing very few shows and not rehearsing a lot, they are all well engaged and prepared for whatever comes. The Tokyo night is the first show of Jere Lahti as new The Dark Element drummer, but the chemistry he has with the whole band, especially with the bassist Jonas Kuhlberg, is so strong that it seems he has been in the band since day one. In Osaka, the stage space and the lights are a little limited. However, the energy and heat of both the band and the audience make the Osaka show a perfect end for this tour. With this tour, Anette Olzon surprises me with her amazing performance. But when it comes to her, my expectations are always very high. Even if after all these years of little musical activity by her, I almost thought that she had lost her passion for music. Fortunately, she proved that I was terribly mistaken. 

Edu Falaschi

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

“In Excelsis”, the opening intro of the “Rebirth” album, starts Edu Falaschi’s show. With the whole band ready to destroy the Tokyo stage, a beautiful light illuminates the flag behind Aquiles Priester while my attention is caught by the nervousness of the guitarist Diogo Mafra. He seems to be breathing too fast and I can almost see his chest pounding while he tries to stay calm. Following the intro, the band starts playing “Nova Era”, one of the most acclaimed songs written by Edu Falaschi during his Angra era. The audience in Tokyo is singing so loudly that it becomes hard to hear the music itself. When Falaschi enters the stage, the audience pushes to the front and every single person in the room is now jumping and singing so happily that it is clear that no one cares about being a little smashed. By the first notes of the song, it is noticeable how Edu has been working hard on recovering his voice and it feels like I am listening to his voice from the original recording. With “Acid Rain”, “Angels and Demons” and “Running Alone”, the band leads the audience to madness, with lots of headbanging and jumping. After many fast songs, Edu takes an acoustic guitar, taking the fans 14 years back in time with the ballad “Wishing Well” from the album “Temple of Shadows”. This song is about hope and belief and Falaschi’s voice gives it an emotional touch. Just like Mafra, Edu seems to be very nervous and his hands are shaking. It is impressive to see how well he performs the whole song while handling both guitar and vocals, just like a true artist always does. In Osaka, the whole band seems a bit more relaxed. Opening the show with “Winds of Destination”, this time all the attention is on keyboardist Fabio Laguna. Laguna plays a long, beautiful and sad part all alone with only Falaschi’s voice as support. Their joint performance is phenomenal. No one can sing this song with the same intensity as Edu, just as no one can play it as hard as Laguna. It is very pleasant to see them playing together again, reminding us how good they are together. “Heroes of Sand” is performed with a lot of emotion at both shows. This is probably the main masterpiece of Falaschi’s career as a songwriter. Again, his voice just slips through every note beautifully. It has been eight years since the last time Edu performed in Japan and 11 years since Priester and Laguna were here. Both the musicians and their fans had clearly longed to be reunited.

Edu Falaschi with his band on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Then, Falaschi presents his latest release, “The Glory of the Sacred Truth”, a song written especially for an EP with the same name that was released only in Japan in September and recorded with the “Rebirth of Shadows Tour” line-up. This song is a gift from Edu to all of his fans worldwide for never giving up on him, even in the darkest of times when he struggled with voice loss. It is about always thinking positive and having faith in yourself. Although the whole band’s performance on this song is awesome, it is impossible to not get impressed (again!) with Aquiles. That he is the best power metal drummer of all times is already known to the fans of the genre, but to watch him performing live, especially this song that has a drum intro, is something else. The man is literally an octopus; it is hard to think how he can do all of that with only two arms and two legs. It is not surprising that the whole venue, in both Tokyo and Osaka, bows down to him after this song. “The Shadow Hunter” shows the quality of the guitarists Falaschi has chosen to follow him on this journey. With an acoustic intro, Roberto Barros plays each chord with such ability that the whole world stops to watch him. Then, when the electric guitar enters to make the song heavy, Barros and Raphael Dafras show why Falaschi describes them as “the best guitar couple of Brazil.” He is definitely right about that.

With another pause, this time for Edu to present his awesome band, the audience cheers every musician with a warm welcome, making each of them thrilled to be in Japan and of course, saluting Priester and Laguna like the old days. By the end, Priester takes the microphone and presents Falaschi as “the best Brazilian metal songwriter ever” and both the Tokyo and Osaka audiences go crazy, screaming his name all over and cheering him just like they did eight years ago. With “Rebirth” Falaschi and his band show gratitude for all the years of support and gets all the fans to sing the words with him. The band closes both nights with the fast track “Spread Your Fire”, performed in a rather heavy version. The highlight here is the bassist Dafras, playing faster than the speed of light and making things even more insane. This Japan tour was a terrific celebration of Edu Falaschi’s Angra years.

Edu Falaschi on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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

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

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

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gig review: Resurrected Michael Schenker attacks Tokyo in style

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gig review: Ace Frehley on fire in Roppongi

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gig review: The Agonist, Cellar Darling and Vulture Industries

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

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

Vulture Industries

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

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

Cellar Darling

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

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

The Agonist

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

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

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

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