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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Gig review: Voivod

Voivod’s Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Canadian cult rockers Voivod give their Japanese fans a weird and wonderful night of spaced-out music. 

Voivod at Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo on 18th January 2019

Voivod’s Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What a weird and wonderful show Canadian cult rockers Voivod put on in Tokyo this evening. Founded in Quebec, Canada 36 years ago, the band has released 14 studio albums so far, most recently 2018’s “The Wake”. The band has seen a number of line-up changes, including having former Metallica and Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted as a member for a number of years. The current line-up features original drummer Michel “Away” Langevin and vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger. They are joined by Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain on guitar and bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche. 

Voivod’s Away on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As a band, they have a terrific combination of wackiness and cheekiness. But they back that up with terrific music. Voivod’s musical style is best described as…Voivod. The band’s record label Century Media Records calls them “Canadian progressive sci-fi metal innovators” while the band has described itself as “cosmic-metal warriors”. The band’s music is all over the place. It’s hard rock, thrash metal, speed metal, progressive metal, jazz metal, avant-garde metal… Their style is always evolving. There are twists and turns around every corner and this is what makes this innovative band so interesting.

The evening’s setlist is very tasty and it is evident that the band members are loving it up on stage. The whole set is performed with big smiles on their faces. They open with “Post Society” from the 2016 EP and follow it with “Ravenous Medicine”, a classic from the 1986 album “Killing Technology”. The band’s anthem “Voivod” is an obvious highlight of the evening. “Iconspiracy” from the new album is another one. The set is a fabulous mix of new and old and it highlights the band’s broad musical world. They close a splendid evening of music with the Pink Floyd cover “Astronomy Domine”.

Voivod’s Snake and Rocky on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Just as I think that Voivod’s stage show somewhat reminds me of a Napalm Death gig, I notice that none other than Napalm Death frontman Barney is standing next to me at the gig. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Voivod’s Chewy, Rocky and Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators

Slash. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks (archive photo)

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slash puts on a great show in Tokyo focused on his solo material.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators and H.E.R.O. at Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba, Tokyo on 17th January 2019

The evening kicks off with promising new Danish rock band H.E.R.O. as support act. They have just been signed by Sony Music Japan and their short set gets them noticed and no doubt creates some interest in their debut full-length studio album which will be released in April.

I first saw Slash live with Guns N’ Roses in 1991 on the “Use Your Illusion” tour. Since then I have seen him numerous times solo. What sets this evening’s gig apart from all the previous ones, is that he is no longer relying on playing old Guns N’ Roses hits. This evening we only get one GNR song, “Nightrain”. We also get one Velvet Revolver song, “Fall to Pieces”, but the show is primarily built around Slash’s solo material. It is a fantastic night of good-fun quality rock’n’roll delivered by a world-class band. Unlike in Guns N’ Roses, here Slash gets to do what he wants. He can be more relaxed and have a more laidback approach. It looks like he is having more fun and it feeds into the music too. Slash has a fabulous and very tight band. It’s the same line-up as when they last toured Japan four years ago: vocalist Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), bassist Todd Kerns (Bob Kulick, Hookers & Blow, Sin City Sinners), drummer Brent Fitz (Union, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper, Bruce Kulick) and guitarist Frank Sidoris (The Cab).

They open the show with “Call of the Wild”, a track from the latest album, “Living the Dream”, and follow it with crowd favourite “Halo”, one of the best songs from Slash’s solo catalogue. Other highlights of the 22-song show include the terrific “World on Fire” and “Shadow Life”. In the splendid “Wicked Stone” we get one of a series of excellent extended guitar solos by Slash. The man and his guitar are in love and they are having a good night. If one were to look for areas of possible improvement, perhaps we could wish for a little more variation in the song material. A majority of the songs are of a similar kind. We do get a couple of slower songs and a few songs that are a bit more blues rock, but for the most part, Slash’s show is made up of guitar-based melodic hard rock. Having bassist Todd Kerns sing lead on a couple of great songs (“We’re All Gonna Die” and “Doctor Alibi”) is a smart move. It mixes things up and Kerns is a hell of a showman – his stage moves reminds me of Gene Simmons in the 1970s. A great evening of rock finishes with the catchy “Anastasia” and one more fantastic guitar solo by Slash.

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Gig review: Dust Bolt | Old-school thrash metal from Germany

Dust Bolt’s Lenny Bruce (and a stage diver) on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilssson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrashers Dust Bolt make a terrific debut on the Japanese stage with an energetic heavy metal show.

Dust Bolt’s Lenny Bruce on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dust Bolt at Rock Maykan, Meguro, Tokyo on 13th December 2018

Formed in Bavaria, Germany in 2007, German thrashers Dust Bolt now have three studio albums under their belt: “Violent Demolition” (2012), “Awake the Riot” (2014) and “Mass Confusion” (2016). Their fourth album, “Trapped in Chaos”, will be released by Napalm Records in January. This evening we get a taste of the forthcoming album in the form of the songs “The Fourth Strike”, “Dead Inside” and “Bloody Rain” as well as the first-ever live performance of the track “Another Day in Hell”. Overall the gig’s set list, a great mix of old and new material, is a perfect introduction to the band which consists of Lenny Bruce on vocals and guitar, Flo Dehn on guitar, Ben Muenzel on bass and Nico Rayman on drums. Among the older material, we get to hear splendid songs like “Distant Scream (The Monotonous)”, “Toxic Attack”, “Soul Erazor” and of course the fantastic anthem “Agent Thrash”. 

Ben Muenzel of Dust Bolt on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They have some technical issues during the show’s first song, “The Fourth Strike”, but they just get on with it (and they finish a sweaty and great show by playing the song once again). The raw energy of Dust Bolt reminds me a lot of the power and enthusiasm of the American Bay Area thrash metal scene in the early 1980s. Musically they are also closer to American old-school thrash than the German school of thrash metal. “We don’t listen that much to other German bands. We’re more into the American thrash metal bands,” Lenny Bruce tells me after the gig. Most of all, this is bloody good thrash metal delivered by a terrific band. 

Dust Bolt’s Lenny Bruce on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Tokyo audience is with the band from the start. We get circle pits, stage diving and crowd surfing. Between songs we get shouts of “Dust Bolt! Dust Bolt!”. This is the band’s first-ever visit to Japan and it is a very good start. The show was filmed and recorded and if everything goes as planned, this live material should appear as bonus material on the Japanese edition of the new studio album (which will be released by Metal Justice Tokyo in the coming months).

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

Germany has always been a leading heavy metal nation, but now there’s a new generation of great German metal bands with the talent and work ethic to take on the world. Dust Bolt is right there at the front. A big thank you to promoter Metal Justice Tokyo for bringing another top-quality thrash metal band to Japan.

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

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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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