Gig review: Metal Female Voices Fest Japan with Leaves’ Eyes and VUUR

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks 

Headlined by European bands Leaves’ Eyes and VUUR, the first Japanese edition of Metal Female Voices Fest was a success.

Metal Female Voices Fest Japan with Leaves’ Eyes and Vuur at Shinjuku Blaze, Tokyo on 21st April 2019

Anneke van Giersbergen of VUUR on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

VUUR

When Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen finally makes it to Japan for the very first time in her career, she brings her amazing band VUUR to co-headline the first edition of Metal Female Voices Fest Japan, organised by Japanese promoter Evoken de Valhall Production. The first VUUR album, “In This Moment We Are Free – Cities”, released in 2017, was inspired by cities that have made a mark on Anneke’s life. The song chosen for opening VUUR’s set is “Rotterdam”. Although Anneke has been involved with many bands and projects over the years, she is best known as lead vocalist for The Gathering. That band’s song “On Most Surfaces” continues the show before it is time for “Berlin”, a heavy progressive song, with great guitars performed by Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens. The Gentle Storm is another project which van Giersbergen and several other VUUR members have been involved with. “The Storm”, a song from that project, is also performed by VUUR during the current tour. During the song “London”, van Giersbergen gets down on her knees with her phone to film her fans and their spontaneous reactions while still singing, and when “Helsinki” is performed, her band gets to shine. Not least the amazing Johan van Stratum, the former Stream of Passion bassist, who catches all the attention with his powerful performance. It is not that easy to find a bassist with such quality. To close the short, yet awesome and fulfilling show, van Giersbergen chooses a classic The Gathering song called “Strange Machines”, which makes the audience go crazy not only for its heaviness but also for the strong performance of the singer. Anneke van Giersbergen is definitely one of a kind. She has influenced many artists during her career and caught the hearts of many persons who have had the chance to see her live. Apart from the technical quality of the whole band, it is undeniable the power of the passion and energy van Giersbergen puts into every word she sings that makes her show a spectacle for the ears, the eyes and the heart.

Anneke van Giersbergen of VUUR on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Leaves’ Eyes

As the festival’s co-headliner Leaves’ Eyes starts their show, we are met with what looks like four Japanese Vikings stepping onto the stage during the intro to “Sign of the Dragonhead”, the title song from their latest album which was released in 2018. What we immediately see is a band full of energy, giving their all to an audience as enthusiastic as the band. The first highlight is the performance of German musician Alexander Krull, the mastermind behind Leaves’ Eyes and the one responsible for the aggressive vocals and keyboards. The beautiful Finnish vocalist Elina Siirala has a sweet yet powerful classical voice. When Siirala joined Leaves’ Eyes in 2016, I was fearing that the band’s music would not be as great as before. But already with the first few notes, she proves to me and everyone else that I was terribly wrong. They continue the show with the fantastic “Across the Sea”, one of the band’s best-ever songs. Turning some years back in time, the songs “Take the Devil in Me” and “My Destiny”, both from the 2009 album “Njord”, offer us a couple of more amazing vocal performances by Siirala.

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Balancing the set with old and new songs, the most amazing moment is during “Farewell Proud Men” from their second album “Vinland Saga” from 2005. Here, Krull leaves the stage and everything is about Siirala giving a new face and voice to the songs from the band’s early days. Her classical voice combined with the heavy guitars of Thorsten Bauer gives the audience one of the most enchanting performances I have ever seen. It is now time to light the “Fires in the North” and all the attention goes to the drums of Joris Nijenhuis while the rest of the band march and guide the audience to the beating of the song. With “Riders on the Wind” there is undeniable chemistry within the whole band, especially between the singers. Siirala and Krull’s voices fit so perfectly together. It is amazing to see how Siirala’s voice seemingly grows on stage, sometimes reminding me of the force and power of Angela Gossow. Unfortunately, everything has to come to an end, but they could not do it better than with “Edge of Steel”. For the encore, the Vikings are back on stage, this time with their leader Krull, dressed up properly to perform “Blazing Waters”. It took 15 years for Leaves’ Eyes to finally perform in Japan, but after such an amazing show, with great response and a visible satisfaction of the band, we will probably see them in Japan again soon.

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Europe in Kawasaki | A masterclass in melodic hard rock

Joey Tempest of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Europe gives its Japanese fans a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

Europe at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 27th April 2019

40 years after its foundation in a Stockholm suburb in 1979, rock band Europe is better than ever. I have seen this band live many times since I first saw them perform in their native Sweden in the 1980s. They always deliver. However, this evening is above what I have seen before, not least because they are playing some rarely performed songs. The evening turns into a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

John Norum of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

They open with the title track from the latest album, “Walk the Earth” and follow it with “The Siege” from the same album. They are off to a fabulous start and then give us old 80s favourite “Rock the Night” to really get the crowd going. The band is in rude health and they sound fantastic. The rhythm section – consisting of Ian Haugland on drums and bassist John Levén – is reliably rock-solid. Keyboardist Mic Michaeli gets to shine like a Swedish Jon Lord with some elaborate keyboard intros to several of the songs (not least with the splendid intro to “Sign of the Times”). The synth-pop keyboards of the 80s have matured into some proper organ playing. Guitarist John Norum is a quiet man but he communicates through his guitars. His guitar solos are terrific and more varied and emotional than before. We know he can play fast, but with age, it seems he now has realised it is not all about speed. Frontman Joey Tempest remains one of the best in the business. His voice has matured and become a bit huskier. It fits the current version of Europe perfectly. 

The setlist this evening is fabulous. Each of the band’s three evenings at Club Citta, they perform a different setlist. This evening we get some goodies from the band’s self-titled 1983 debut album and the 2004 comeback album “Start from the Dark” in addition to the big hits and some of the newer songs. It’s an evening dedicated to some special songs, some of them deep cuts not often performed by the band. From the debut album, we get to hear “In the Future to Come”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “The King Will Return”, “Paradize Bay” and “Memories”. From the comeback album, we get “Got to Have Faith”, “Start from the Dark”, “Hero”, “Wake Up Call” and “Spirit of the Underdog”. In the 21-song setlist (plus a drum solo) there are also some other goodies, such as “Ninja”, “Carrie” and “Ready or Not”. 

The evening’s musical highlights for me are “Sign of the Times”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “Start from the Dark” and “Wake Up Call”. The encore is predictable but no less world-class with “Superstitious”, “Cherokee” and, of course, “The Final Countdown”.

Europe, thank you for the lesson in how melodic hard rock should be done. Flawless.

Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

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Gig review: Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel in Tokyo

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Legendary guitar wizard Jake E Lee makes a triumphant return to Tokyo with a show featuring Red Dragon Cartel, Badlands and Ozzy Osbourne songs.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th April 2019 

Guitarist Jake E Lee has been loved by Japanese fans since the 1980s when he made a name for himself, first playing with Ozzy Osbourne and then with Badlands. The American guitarist’s Japanese ancestry probably explains part of it, but Japan loves mind-blowingly talented guitar heroes playing rock music.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Returning once again to Japan with his current band, Red Dragon Cartel, Lee has the crowd with him as soon as he walks onto the stage. The evening kicks off with “Wasted”, a great rocker from Red Dragon Cartel’s self-titled debut album from 2014, which is followed by “Havana” and “Punchclown” from the band’s second album, 2018’s “Patina”. The Cartel’s music is very much built on Jake E Lee’s pedigree of playing great blues-based hard rock. Jake not only shows us that his guitar magic is still there. He also shows us some fine dance moves throughout the show. Jake is, of course, the undisputed star. But he manages to shine without ever overdoing it. He’s not overshadowing the songs or his bandmates. The Cartel’s line-up consists of bassist Anthony Esposito (Ace Frehley, Lynch Mob), drummer Phil Varone (Saigon Kick, Skid Row, Vince Neil) and vocalist Darren James Smith (Harem Scarem).

The bulk of the set is made up of songs from the “Patina” album, with the song “Ink and Water” being the highlight. The amount of music in the show from the new album reminds us how good this album is. But there are also other goodies from earlier years: for the Badlands fans, the band offers us “3 Day Funk” and “High Wire” and for the Ozzy Osbourne fans there is “Spiders in the Night”. The band closes the show with the terrific “Feeder”. It is a very fitting end to the show as “Feeder” also has the best guitar solo of the night. It’s quite a finale to a great show.

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Uriah Heep rocks Roppongi

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British classic hard rock band Uriah Heep was formed in 1969. 50 years later they’re better than ever and on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi performing a terrific show.

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

Uriah Heep at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo on 20th March 2019 

With 50 years of gigs and 25 studio albums under their belts, British rockers Uriah Heep are better than ever. Founding guitarist Mick Box still leads the band. The current line-up also features Bernie Shaw on vocals, Phil Lanzon on keyboards, Russell Gilbrook on drums and Davey Rimmer on bass. It’s a terrific version of the band. The trademark Heep sound – classic melodic hard rock with plenty of keyboards and vocal harmonies – is done justice by these fine musicians. This is not least very apparent in the new material.

Mick Box of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

The 70-minute set offers us a terrific blend of classic Heep and some of the band’s newer material. The band’s latest studio album, 2018’s “Living the Dream”, is fantastic. In a short ten-song set we get to hear four songs from the new album: “Grazed by Heaven”, “Take Away My Soul”, “Waters Flowin’” and “Rocks in the Road”. But, of course, we also get some of the band’s classic songs from the 1970s: “Return to Fantasy”, “Rainbow Demon”, “Gypsy” and “Look at Yourself”. Billboard Live is a terrific venue for classic rock bands such as Uriah Heep. Because of the venue’s tiered, multi-level seating, everyone is close to the band and has a great view. 

Mick Box is smiling throughout the whole set. He is still a terrific guitarist and it is obvious he still loves it up on stage. Bernie Shaw has been singing with Heep since 1986 and he is a top frontman and vocalist. The band is tight and they give us some fantastic jamming. “Rocks in the Road” turns into an absolutely amazing jam and “Look at Yourself” is also turned into a world-class jam. A splendid version of “Gypsy” is an obvious highlight in a flawless set. The band finishes with classics “Lady in Black” (with the whole audience singing along) and “Easy Livin’”. With the 50th anniversary reached, it now feels as if this band can now aim for 100 years.

Mick Box and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

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Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Stefan Nilsson of Roppongi Rocks after the La Donna show.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman continues with his series of special, one-off shows in Tokyo for his Japanese fans. It’s such a treat for Marty’s fans to see him up close and personal and performing music that is rarely performed by him in his usual shows.

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo on 15th March 2019

Having just completed a successful US tour, guitar hero Marty Friedman appears on stage in Tokyo with an almost completely different band where only fierce bassist Kiyoshi (an insanely talented bassist that Marty should always play with) remains. It’s not only the band that is different. The setlist is also vastly different. These special shows in Tokyo, Marty’s adopted home town, are very special to the die-hard Marty fans. At La Donna in Harajuku, the audience is seated at tables and served food and drinks during the performance. Having seen Marty return to his Hawaii, Cacophony and Megadeth heavy metal roots when he guested NWOBHM veterans Raven for two songs the night before (performing Raven classics “Fire Power and Wiped Out”), it is a big contrast to see him now perform calmer music. But that is Marty in a nutshell – he has so many sides to him as an artist and he keeps evolving. Fortunately for us here in Japan, we get to see Marty do things that fans in other parts of the world rarely, if ever, get to experience. For this splendid evening of emotional compositions, a celebration of the arrival of spring, he is backed not only by Kiyoshi on bass and a rhythm guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist. He also makes great use of a violinist and cellist. This special show is labelled “Brilliant New Era” and Marty describes it as an “orchestral ballad concert”. That sums it up pretty well. He makes his guitar both weep and laugh. Marty’s guitar certainly has a soul and he makes it show the audience its emotions, both its sad and happier moments. The chemistry between him and the other musicians is terrific which allows Marty to focus on his guitar as he knows he has solid backing from the band. 

A couple of the evening’s absolute highlights include a great version of “Tears of an Angel” (with a splendid violin intro) from the 2008 album “Future Addict” and “For a Friend” from 2017’s “Wall of Sound” album. We obviously get to hear both “Yuki No Hana” and “Kaeri Taku Natta Yo”. “Thunder March” from 1988’s “Dragon’s Kiss” album is performed during the encore, but we also get some special deep cuts in this show. Marty is obviously a world-class guitarist, but he is much more than that. He knows how to entertain and charm a Japanese audience with the right mix of terrific music and self-deprecating jokes (all of the talking during the show is done in Japanese). After the show, Marty stays to chat with his fans and signs autographs. He knows what the Japanese fans want and he makes sure they get it. 

The next special Tokyo show with Marty is planned for early July. Date, venue and ticket details to be confirmed. 

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Gig review: Raven rocks until it drops in Tokyo

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Proper heavy metal knockout by NWOBHM legends Raven in Tokyo. What a band! What a show! A band that rocks until it drops.

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

Raven at Club Seata, Kichijoji, Tokyo on 14th March 2019

Wow! What a pleasant evening of proper old-school heavy metal. 45 years after the band was founded in Newcastle, England in 1974 by brothers John Gallagher and Mark Gallagher, Raven is still going strong. And they sound better than ever. The latest addition to this powerful trio is American drummer Mike Heller, most famous as the drummer for Fear Factory. He’s a great fit for Raven and has the energy to keep up with the unstoppable Gallagher brothers.

Mark Gallagher of Raven on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening’s show, the first of the band’s two Tokyo shows, is focused on Raven’s first three studio albums: “Rock Until You Drop” (1981), “Wiped Out” (1982) and “All for One” (1983). We get classic songs such as “Take Control”, “Hell Patrol”, “All for One” and “Hung, Drawn & Quartered”. We also get treated to a brand new and unreleased song called “Top of the Mountain”. It is classic Raven and right up there with their best songs. One of the evening’s highlights is a splendid version of the terrific song “Rock Until You Drop”. Other highlights include “Faster Than the Speed of Light” and “Mind over Metal”. Another treat is a medley of The Sweet classics “Hellraiser” and “Action”.

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

Throughout the show, Mark Gallagher shows what a terrific lead guitarist he is. He is such an underrated guitarist that has influenced many of the world’s greatest guitar players. One of them, Marty Friedman, joins Raven on stage for two songs – “Fire Power” and “Wiped Out” – in the middle of the set. It’s great to see Friedman play in-your-face metal. He’s clearly loving it as he can’t stop smiling during the performance. John Gallagher puts on a bass solo with a difference. Treating his bass like a cross of a guitar and a keyboard, he manages to create some fantastic music that one would not expect in a heavy metal bass solo.

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

A fantastic heavy metal evening is summed up nicely with a fantastic and sweaty final which includes songs such as “Don’t Need Your Money”, the band’s 1980 debut single, “Crash Bang Wallop” and “Seek and Destroy”.

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

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Gig review: Napalm Death – quite possibly the best band in the world

Barney and Shane Embury of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary Birmingham grindcore band Napalm Death, quite possibly the best band in the world, never disappoints live. They just bulldozed Tokyo once again. 

Extreme the Dojo with Napalm Death, Eyehategod, Misery Index and Melt-Banana at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 6th March 2019

Mike Williams and Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The opening acts at this year’s Extreme the Dojo happening – Japanese noise rockers Melt-Banana and American bands Misery Index and Eyehategod – do a great job of getting this extreme music evening going. Misery Index gives us a set filled with punky death metal with some grindcore touches, while Eyehategod (featuring Down drummer Jimmy Bower on guitar) offers us an interesting heavy blues-punk mix of sludge metal and stoner rock topped off with anxious vocalist Mike Williams’ tortured voice and troubled stage presence.

Shane Embury of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening’s headline act, the mighty Napalm Death, has never disappointed me live. This evening is no exception. Meeting the band backstage before the gig, it is obvious they are ready and eager. The band’s non-stop energy, the intensity, the buckets of sweat they produce and their love of performing their music in front of dedicated fans, all shine through in the quality of the performance. Vocalist Barney, bassist Shane Embury, drummer Danny Herrera and live guitarist John Cooke are a tight musical machine and they know where they have each other. Barney doesn’t stand still for a second during the show. He really is an artist giving it his all. The sharp contrast between the extreme music and Barney’s very polite use of the English language (although it is spiced up with a few expletives here and there) is all part of the Napalm Death experience.

Barney of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They open the set with the hard-hitting “Multinational Corporations” and follow it with “It’s a M.A.N.S. World”. This evening we get a fine setlist with some of our favourite Napalm Death songs, including “Practice What You Preach”, “Continuing the War on Stupidity”, “Life?” and, of course, “Scum”. From the band’s most recent studio album, 2015’s “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”, we get to hear “Smash a Single Digit” and “Cesspits”. Additionally, we get a couple of terrific covers – Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and Anti Cimex’s “Victims of a Bomb Raid”. It’s a set based on controlled chaos delivered by a superb band of grindcore masters.

Barney of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This was another terrific performance by what is quite possibly the best band in the world. No doubt they will be back to perform for their ever-growing number of loyal Japanese fans. 

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Gig review: Watain and Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Roppongi Rocks spends a Friday night in Shibuya filled with extreme metal performed by Watain, Anaal Nathrakh, Ethereal Sin and Hybrid Nightmares.

Watain, Anaal Nathrakh, Ethereal Sin and Hybrid Nightmares at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo on 1st March 2019 

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

A Friday night in Shibuya can mean anything. I choose to spend it at an Evoken de Valhall-produced brutal music fest. It turns out to be an evening filled with corpse paint. Three of the four bands on the bill sport some form of corpse paint. Nothing wrong with that if you have the attitude, skills and work ethic to back it up.

Seth Maelstrom and Yama Darkblaze of Ethereal Sin on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Enthusiastic Australian extreme metal band Hybrid Nightmares is the evening’s opening band. Walking on stage at 5:30pm on a Friday may not be optimal, but the Aussies do a good job of getting this evening going. Japanese extreme metal band Ethereal Sin, fronted by Yama Darkblaze, follows and they seem to be getting better every time I see them live. They combine extreme metal with pagan metal influences and Japanese cultural touches. They can perhaps best be described as a Japanese take on Cradle of Filth. This evening they give us a solid set that proves this band is here to stay and it is one of the more interesting metal bands in Japan at the moment.

Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Anaal Nathrakh, the only band on the bill tonight not wearing make-up, is also the best part of this evening for me. They open an energetic show with “Obscene as Cancer”. Vocalist Dave Hunt and guitarist Mick Kenney formed the band in England in 1999. Throughout the band’s career they have relied on bringing in session guys and touring musicians rather than adding permanent members. Among the musical highlights of this evening’s set are the fantastic “Forward!”, “Submission is for the Weak” and “Do Not Speak”.

Mick Kenney of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While musically this sounds quite different, there are some obvious similarities here with another extreme band from Birmingham, Napalm Death. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Napalm’s Shane Embury has also played with Anaal Nathrakh in the past. An Anaal Nathrakh show is a high-energy affair mixing brutal music with constant (and very British) onstage banter between songs. It’s like a terrifically brutal musical version of the British TV shows “Fawlty Towers” and “The Young Ones”. I love it! The band encourages and gets several stage divers to become willing participants in the chaos. They finish a terrific set with “Idol”.

Pelle Forsberg of Watain on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish black metal band Watain last toured Japan in 2015. Since then the band has released the great album “Trident Wolf Eclipse” in 2018. This evening, the band performs four songs from the latest album as well as the expected old favourites. They open strongly with “Storm of the Antichrist”, “Nuclear Alchemy” and “The Child Must Die”.

Erik Danielsson of Watain on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The highlight for me of the 12-song set is no doubt “Sworn to the Dark”. This Watain classic is one of the best extreme metal songs of all time. Another highlight is a splendid cover of Bathory’s 1985 classic “The Return of Darkness and Evil”. They close a solid set with the majestic “The Serpent’s Chalice”. The band is as sinister as always. We get a stripped down show with no fire, pyro or blood, but the band manages to still come across as sincerely evil with the help of a few upside crosses, some banners and the band members themselves and, of course, the punishing music they perform. The fact that the band is more or less performing in darkness for most of the set underpins the band’s dark yet often surprisingly melodic black metal.

Sworn to the dark: Watain performing in the dark on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia – Metal Souls Live

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Destinia’s music is classic heavy metal and hard rock in the tradition of Dio, Rainbow and Whitesnake. For a special Metal Souls Live performance in Tokyo, Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai brings together Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza and Ronnie Romero on stage. 

Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya on 21st January 2019

Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura 

Nozomu Wakai is one of Japanese rock’s most promising guitar players. Having got himself into the spotlight with his initial Destinia full-length studio album and a follow-up EP, he then continued to build a fan base as guitarist in Mari Hamada’s touring band. He also teamed up with singer Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot, Rough Cutt, King Kobra) for gigs in Japan with the Paul Shortino Band in 2016 and 2017.

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura 

For Nozomu Wakai’s latest Destinia album, 2018’s “Metal Souls”, he put together a dream team consisting of Ronnie Romero (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Lords of Black) on vocals, Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, The Dead Daisies, Blue Murder, John Sykes, Ted Nugent) on bass and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, John Sykes, Ted Nugent) on drums. The album was well received and soon the idea was bandied about to perform the album live at a special show in Tokyo.

Tommy Aldridge on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

What a powerful band Destinia is. Drummer Tommy Aldridge has more drums in his blood than perhaps any drummer out there. The combination of Aldridge and bassist Marco Mendoza is explosive. The two gentlemen have anchored many bands together over the past few decades and it shows. Ronnie Romero has a powerful voice and with this trio added to the guitar playing of Nozomu Wakai we have something terrific. The song material is outstanding which, of course, also helps. Japanese guitarist Nobu Doi, one of Wakai’s high-school friends, has been added to the Destinia live band and, while seemingly a bit shy in the limelight on stage, he lets his guitar do the talking and does a fine job backing up his friend.

Marco Mendoza and Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

This evening Nozomu Wakai is clearly very happy to be at the centre of a star-studded Destinia. Getting the love from his Japanese audience seems to overwhelm him a few times during the set. The audience is very switched on. They know most of the lyrics to the Destinia songs. We get to hear all the ten tracks from last year’s “Metal Souls” album, including the splendid “Be A Hero” and “Judgement Day”. We also get three songs from the first Destinia release from 2014: “Requiem for a Scream”, “Still Burning” and “Ready for Rock”. To the delight of the audience, Tommy Aldridge also gives us a superb version of his trademark bare hands drum solo.

Destinia closes the evening’s show with some classic songs: Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”, John Sykes’ “Please Don’t Leave Me”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Over the Mountain” and Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Loving”. Wakai performs these songs with a big smile on his face. Standing on stage performing such classics with some of the musicians from those bands is a dream come true for the young Japanese guitarist.

The question now is obviously: what’s next for Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia? I hope that more people will get a chance to experience this line-up of Destinia live on stage. It could be perfect for some of the European rock festivals for example. Based on the initial success of the debut gig, I also hope we will get to see Destinia on stage here in Japan again. Whatever happens with Destinia, you will soon get the chance to hear Nozomu Wakai play on a forthcoming Shortino album. Nozomu Wakai is a guitarist and songwriter you should keep an eye on. This is only the beginning!

Destinia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

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Gig review: 10cc at Billboard Live Tokyo

10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Gouldman and his 10cc put on a superb night of timeless hits at Billboard Live in Roppongi. 

Graham Gouldman of 10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

10cc at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo on 28th January 2019

Graham Gouldman co-founded 10cc in 1972 and he is still leading the band from the front. While 10cc has not produced any new material since 1995, they continue to tour the world playing their extensive back catalogue. And what a treasure trove of fabulous songs the band has. 10cc is a band that is hard to define musically as they take so many different influences into their music, but essentially it is a soft rock band with its roots in the British pop and rock invasion of the 1960s. With a background as a songwriter for acts such as The Yardbirds and The Hollies, Gouldman is not only a world-class songwriter, he is also a fabulous musician (he was Ringo Starr’s bassist on two tours in 2018) and a producer (among many other things, he has produced The Ramones).

Graham Gouldman of 10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

In the current line-up of 10cc, alongside bassist and vocalist Graham Gouldman, we find long-time members Rick Fenn (Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman, Nick Mason) on guitar and drummer Paul Burgess (Jethro Tull, Camel). They both have been in the band since the 70s. Newer additions are Keith Hayman (Cliff Richards) on keyboards and Iain Hornal (Jeff Lynne’s ELO) on vocals, keyboards, percussion and guitar. Hornal, who gets to do a fair bit of the lead vocals in the show, does a stellar job.

They open the evening’s 70-minute set with “The Wall Street Shuffle” and continue with “Art for Art’s Sake”. The gig continues in the same fashion with hit after hit until they finish in triumph with a rather tasty and jam-tastic version of “Rubber Bullets”. One of the highlights of the set is the fantastic “Dreadlock Holiday” with its reggae vibe. There is not a weak part during the entire set. Since the very foundation of the band, 10cc has been populated with multi-instrumentalists. The current line-up is no different with several members swapping instruments with each other during different songs throughout the show. What a superb night of timeless hits delivered by a splendid live band. 

10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

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