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.

www.facebook.com/venomincofficial

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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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Gig review: Pagan Metal Horde | A great folk metal fest headlined by Ensiferum and Trollfest

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

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese promoter Evoken de Valhall put on another great folk metal festival in Tokyo headlined by Ensiferum and Trollfest.

Pagan Metal Horde Vol 2 at Shinjuku Blaze, Tokyo, 5th January 2018

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

Boisson Divine

Following the opening act, Chinese folk metal band DreamSpirit, the second band to rock the stage with their flutes combined with heavy guitars and drums was Boisson Divine, a French band with two albums released and playing outside of their country for the very first time. Opening the gig with “Que Me’n Tornerèi”, Tokyo greeted an enthusiastic band with happy faces and dancing riffs, thrilled by the reception of the Japanese audience. The interesting part of this show was that with the exception of two members, all of the band sings along, forming beautiful choirs while playing their instruments amazingly. Lead vocalist Baptiste Labenne showed not only talent with his voice and guitar, but also a strong sympathy for the audience. With only a 25-minute set, Boisson Divine enchanted the Japanese people with their French lyrics. We might see them in Japan again in the near future.

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

Valhalore

When the curtains fell down, the amazing Sophie Christensen entered the stage with her flute, playing a beautiful captivating melody that left the venue silent, with everybody paying attention only to the tenderness of her music. Lights went out and the other five members of Valhalore joined Sophie for the triumphant “Upon the Shores” followed by “The Winterstone”. As is quite common among folk metal bands, Valhalore’s members all wear typical clothes and make up, reminding us of the Viking era, which gives the show a more powerful atmosphere. This Australian sextet was also playing outside of their country for the first time and although a little anxiety was noticed on their faces, they did a great job. As they sound heavy, headbanging is a mandatory thing both for the audience and the band. The singer Lachlan Neate not only knows how to command the audience during the instrumental parts of the songs, but also can make his audience stop and pay attention to his amazing voice and screams. It was definitely the best show of the night. Even with a short set, Valhalore showed that they came to stand their ground and conquer stages worldwide.

Wind Rose

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

The venue started filling up with more people when the Italians Wind Rose appeared on the stage with the epic “Dance of Fire”. What we saw was a band dressed properly for a rigorous winter, yet heating up the stage while banging their heads and having a lot of fun. Singer Francesco Cavalieri started the show with his operatic vocals, followed by the amazing riffs of Claudio Falconcini. All of their songs feature an amazing orchestral line, reminding the listener of an epic movie soundtrack, and this is the reason why their show is so intense. Heaviness and feeling describe perfectly what these guys do when on stage, and between some talking and acknowledgments, the metal vibe took control of the venue, making people go crazy in the circle pits. Closing the night with “The Breed of Durin” from 2015’s “Wardens of West Wind”, Wind Rose showed us that they are a very experienced and energetic band, taking the audience to a world of fantasy. A must see for every folk metal fan.

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

Trollfest

The co-headline band of the Pagan Metal Horde night was Trollfest, a Norwegian band formed in Oslo, calling their own music Balkan metal. It took a little more time than expected for the curtains to fall down, but when they did, the Tokyo audience was surprised by a stage full of party balloons hanging on the instruments as well as on the members’ hats and clothes. This is a very different band, with a sound heavier than most of the folk metal bands, and also featuring a saxophone (very well played by Drekka Dag).

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

The way the members paint their faces and dress is very peculiar. Trollfest mixes heavy metal, folk music and humour to create a unique experience for those who are watching. Most of their songs are sung in Norwegian, but they have also recorded an unusual cover version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, which of course was performed, and to be honest, it is better than the original. The stage at Blaze was large enough for all the bands, however for Trollfest it became a little narrow, as guitarists Mr. Seidel and Dr. Leif Kjønnsfleis, bassist Lodd Bolt and accordion player Fjernkontrollet dance, jump and run across the whole stage during the set. The light show during the set is great, but the greatest part of their show is how funny they can be, probably due to how much they interact with the fans. Balloons flying all around and people following their dancing marked this first presentation of a band that conquered the Japanese hearts with their passion and sympathy.

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

Ensiferum

Ensiferum’s intro music “Ajattomasta Unesta” creates an atmosphere similar to an epic war movie soundtrack. This is followed by the amazing first track of the latest album, “Two Paths”. “For Those About to Fight For Metal” is that kind of song that gets stuck in your head and you just cannot stop singing. As the keyboardist Netta Skog recently left the band, Ensiferum entered the stage as a quartet, but that did not extinguish their fire. The grunt vocals of Petri Lindroos fired up the venue, while Markus Toivonen and Sami Hinkka took care of the clear parts of the chorus together with the audience. Sami is also the highlight of the show, banging his head, warming up the crowd, running, dancing and going crazy with each song. Followed by the title track of the new album, “Two Paths” is a song that reminds me of classic rock’n’roll. The set took us through their whole career, including great successes like “Warrior Without a War” and “Two of Spades” that made the crowd insane. After a brief break, the band came back for an encore consisting of “From Afar” and the beautiful Finnish anthem “Lai Lai Hei”. It is impossible to speak about folk metal without mentioning Ensiferum. It is also not possible to watch their show without getting amazed by their impeccable performance, not only showing their competence as musicians, but also giving the audience much feeling and energy.

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

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Gig review: Epica premieres “Attack on Titan” songs on stage in Tokyo

Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Only nine months after their first Japan tour, Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica returned to Tokyo to perform new music. It was, of course, another massive win for the band.

Simone Simons of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

It took Epica 15 years before they finally toured Japan in April 2017. It was a huge success. Since then, the band has released two new EPs and now they returned to Japan for a special one-off show in Japan to mark the release of the “Attack on Titan” EP.

In Japan we rarely get opening acts at concerts by international artists. But this evening is special and Japanese violinist Ayasa gets to showcase her skills to an appreciative audience who is eagerly awaiting Epica’s return to the Tokyo stage.

Epica is a bit different from most other symphonic metal artists. The Mark Jansen-led band’s signature sound is often bombastic, epic and energetic. They have a great and well-balanced mix of melodic symphonic music and sheer brutality. They have better songs than the competition. The band is tight and rock solid and they’re fronted by the one and only Simone Simons. Her vocal talents are above and beyond most  other singers in this genre. I’d say that only Floor Jansen in Nightwish is her equal.

The Tokyo show is similar to the one the band did in Japan last year. Just like then, we get a world-class show with some of the band’s most loved songs, such as “Sensorium”, “Edge of the Blade”, “The Holographic Principle”, “Unchain Utopia” and “Cry for the Moon”. But we get more than that. They also play the terrific “Fight Your Demons” from “The Solace System” EP that was released last September. And we get  the live premiere of three new songs from the new “Epica vs Attack on Titan songs” EP: “Crimson Bow and Arrow”, “If Inside These Walls Was a House” and “Dedicate Your Heart”. Epica has taken these manga soundtracks and made them into Epica-style songs. Works great both in the studio and live on stage. Fab songs.

Mark Jansen of Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

During the show, keyboardist Coen Janssen once again tries to prove that he’s the Keith Moon of keyboards. When he’s not playing his rotating keyboard on stage, he’s out in the audience playing a handheld curved keyboard. He certainly adds some comedy to the well-executed show.

Epica is simply put a great band with great songs and they have what many other similar bands don’t have: Simone Simons. What a truly splendid vocalist she is. She helps to set this apart from the pack. The fact that the band seems to truly enjoy performing for their fans also adds to the positive energy that surrounds Epica shows.

As they did in April, they close a terrific evening with the modern classics “Sancta Terra”, “Beyond the Matrix” and “Consign to Oblivion”.

Epica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

Epica has with these two visits to Japan in nine months certainly laid the groundwork for a long and loving relationship with the band’s Japanese fans.

The “Epica vs Attack on Titan songs” EP is out now via Ward Records.

www.facebook.com/epica / www.epica.nl

Gig review: A fine evening of proper British rock with Thunder at Club Citta

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

An evening of British rock music of the best kind with Thunder back on stage in Japan.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Friday 12th January 2018

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

It’s just over two years ago since British rockers Thunder last played in Japan and now they’re back for three gigs for their Japanese fans. This evening at Club Citta in Kawasaki we get another perfect demonstration of how great music played by a great band can be delivered without any fancy big stage production. There are no gimmicks, no spectacular stage outfits, no pyro or big laser show, no Stonehenge replica or anything else. Just a great rock band doing what they do best: performing great rock music for their fans.

Fab musicians (Luke Morley and Ben Matthews on guitars, Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass) playing terrific songs – that is Thunder’s foundation. And when you add vocalist Danny Bowes on top of that, it becomes awesome. Bowes is no doubt one of the best British rock singers ever. That voice, that feeling, his presence and his obvious love for performing for his fans. That is very hard to beat.

I bloody love this band because they always deliver. This evening they open with the terrific “Loser” from 2003’s “Shooting at the Sun” album and follow that with “The Enemy Inside” from their latest album, “Rip It Up”. We get a great set list of both old favourites and some newer material, including four songs from their most recent album. They have evolved from their early days when they had long hair and dressed in black leather. Since many years Thunder is now a great blues-based rock band.

Thunder on stage at Club Citta. Photo: Mikio Ariga

A fine evening of British rock comes to a close with “Dirty Love” from the band’s 1990 debut album “Backstreet Symphony”. This band is clearly one of the absolute best British rock bands in recent times. Fabulous!

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www.thunderonline.com

Gig review: KISS legends Paul Stanley and Eric Singer return to Japan with Soul Station and a bag full of soul classics

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Best known as rockers, KISS members Paul Stanley and Eric Singer return to Japan with their band Soul Station for intimate club gigs focused on soul music classics.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, Billboard Live Tokyo, Thursday 11th January 2018

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Unlike their KISS bandmate Gene Simmons (who recently played KISS songs in Japan with his solo band), Paul Stanley and Eric Singer are staying away from KISS nostalgia when they now do a 12-gig Japan stint at Billboard Live in Tokyo and Osaka with their band Soul Station.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Soul Station puts on a terrific hour and a half celebration of classic soul music. This evening they open with The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and follow with The Delfonics’ “La-La Means I Love You”. We get a great and comprehensive showcase of classic American soul music from artists such as The Miracles, Al Green, The Spinners, Five Fairsteps and much more. Paul Stanley’s voice fits the music very well. He’s on top form and he clearly loves performing this music. But this is no solo act as Stanley pointed out to me when I met him the day before the Japan tour kicked off. Soul Station is a 13-person collective of fab musicians. Eric Singer, who has also played with Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, gets to show that he can handle soul music just as well as he normally thunders away on a KISS classic such as “Creatures of the Night”.

In Jackson 5’s “I Want You back”, vocalist Crystal Starr gets to shine with that terrific voice of hers. So does Gavin Rhone In Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and Laurhan Beato in Martha and The Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets”. There is some serious power and raw talent in this band. They are so well rehearsed that their performance seems almost effortless.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

With both Stanley and Singer on stage, there are of course some KISS fans in the audience. And while the performance is purely focused on soul music, with Soul Station we do get a few subtle nods to rock music: the fab guitarist Rafael Moreira some will remember from Paul Stanley’s solo band and there is also a cameo appearance by Doc McGhee, the legendary manager of KISS, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe.

When KISS play Japan they normally do so in massive venues such as Tokyo Dome and Budokan. This evening, Soul Station performs in a much more intimate setting which is a rare treat for the fans. Billboard Live Tokyo is a terrific venue in Roppongi: it’s like a high-end jazz club which is all-seated and with a tiered layout where everyone is close to the performers.

Paul Stanley’s Soul Station on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Soul Station finishes a splendid evening with The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” where we also get to hear guitarist Rafael Moreira really come to life. This was a great evening leaving us wanting more. Thank you for the music, Soul Station.

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Festival report: Japanese Assault Fest

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

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

Ambush

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

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

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

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

Chronosphere

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

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

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

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

F.K.Ü.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rods

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

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

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

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

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