EP review: Ov Shadows “Monologues” | Damp shadow-hugging music

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ov Shadows is a band that lives in a dark, damp and bleak world. There’s no hope in the band’s fabulously dark music.

This gloriously depressing three-track EP is meant to serve as an introduction to the band who plans to release a full-length album later in the year. Although we only get three tracks  on this EP – “Lifeless Cold They Gaze Upon”, “The Ash That Covers All” and “In Darkness Resounding” – it is more than enough to leave me wanting more and eagerly looking forward to the full-length album.

Ov Shadows is a group of what seems like rather secretive people playing their version of black metal. There is a Swedish connection here with Ov Shadows apparently featuring some members from the Swedish band Waning. The lack of information is OK as the band’s music speaks for itself. Slow, doomy black metal from deep down is what we get. At times it is comatose music which builds up to some kind of crescendo. Throughout the EP we get constant tempo changes which keeps this EP interesting. It is music created, performed and best listened to in darkness. A bit like being buried alive in a coffin or trapped in an underwater cave while having worms singing at your funeral. It’s grim and hopeless and the basis for fantastic damp shadow-hugging music. Especially the aggressiveness of parts of the song “The Ash That Covers All” stands out here.

Ov Shadows’ “Monologues” EP is out today via Xperiment XIII.



Album review: Old James “Speak Volumes”

Old James. Photo: Tammy Raybould

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The fabulous Brian Stephenson (Annihilator, Skull Fist) is back with his own trio and a jam-tastic debut album from Old James. Love it.

The multi-talented vocalist, musician and composer Brian Stephenson has earned his stripes in bands such as Annihilator, Skull Fist and Aggressor. In Old James, an explosive rock trio in which he plays bass and sings, Brian is joined by his brother Chris Stephenson (Cauldron, Enforcer, Skull Fist, Aggressor) on drums and Andy Thompson on guitar. Now the trio has its debut full-length album, “Speak Volumes”, ready. It rocks and you should buy it.

This Canadian trio of musicians just jam their way through this terrific album. It seems almost effortless, but there is obviously heaps of talent and hard work behind this album. “Speak Volumes” is an album that has a live-in-the-studio kind of feel. It sounds like a bunch of chums playing away in a rehearsal studio, putting it on tape and releasing it as an album. Fabulous!

Old James is intense, riff-happy and hard-hitting blues-based rock music with groove and attitude. But most of all, it is a trio which loves what it does.

Brian Stephenson on stage in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Words As Weapons” is an immediate and obvious favourite song. It has everything: fast pace, some funky parts, a terrific bass line, a whole lot of jamming, tempo changes and Brian’s fantastic voice and personality. Those of you who have seen Brian perform live on stage know what his personality can do to a song. He can make an average song great by simply adding himself. In my review of a Skull Fist gig fronted by Brian in Tokyo last year, I wrote: “Stephenson looks like a young Sebastian Bach. He dominates the stage like Bruce Dickinson. He manages to sound like Ian Gillan, Bon Scott and himself in the same song. He’s a class act – he’s got the moves and the vocal talent and he is so clearly enjoying himself up on stage. This is what any band should want from their vocalist.” And that was him as a stand-in vocalist in someone else’s band. Old James is a trio with Brian at the centre, performing their own music.

The rawness, freshness and roughness of the songs on this album make this terrific. “Salutations” is another smash in the face with a piece of fab rock music. “Kill Off The Rose” has a Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe to it and so does “Eugene”, while “Master Imploder” kicks off as an AC/DC rocker which turns into high-energy boogie rock.

Brian Stephenson is the real deal. With his presence, charm and raw talent, he commands your attention. Whatever he does on stage or in the studio, it always impresses me. He has so much talent that he’s probably faced with extra charges for being over the baggage limit when he flies.

But Old James is not all about Brian. His younger brother Chris is a fab drummer who has played with Brian in many other bands over the years and the album features some fantastic guitar work by Andy Thompson. The trio gels brilliantly. They’re tight like a rush-hour Tokyo commuter train.

Old James’s “Speak Volumes” is out on 5th June. Get your record players ready.



Album review: Slimfit “1” | Tom Petty-esque rock from the blue mountains of Hellsingland

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slimfit plays Tom Petty-esque grown-up rock on their catchy debut album “1”.

Ljusdal is a small town in Hellsingland, deep in the Swedish countryside. Basically it’s a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I grew up in that town and played bass with some local punk, rock and heavy metal bands. I wasn’t any good. But a few of the other local musicians of the same generation actually had talent. Best known among my contemporaries are perhaps rockers Hellsingland Underground, melodic hard rockers Angeline and composer, lyricist, musician and record producer Peer Åström, who went on to work with Madonna, Celine Dion, Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al Yankovic. Just like I grew up with the above-mentioned names as friends, so did the lads in Slimfit.

Slimfit – consisting of Jens Schulstad on guitar and vocals, Daniel Hogdin on bass and Stefan Martinsson on drums – has been around as a band for quite a few years, doing plenty of gigs locally and regionally. They have earned their stripes as a hardworking local party band that will play weddings in the summer and after ski sessions in the winter, and everything in between. Now the trio has a debut album ready full of original and rather catchy songs.

In a way this is similar to Hellsingland Underground in so far as that it is rock music with a firm foundation in fine melodies and great songwriting. Musically Slimfit plays grown-up rock music with some country music influences (but without going too far into the haystacks). There are certainly a few nods here to artists like Kris Kristofferson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Dire Straits, but more than anything there are echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with an added touch of Nordic melancholy.

There’s great potential here. Especially the band’s songwriting skills stand out from the pack. “Turn It Up Louder” and “Take a Ride” both have hit potential and “Can You Feel It” (with a fabulous Joy Division-like bass line at its heart) is sure to become a live favourite. This is non-threatening and radio friendly rock for grown-ups. It’s great. With some added danger and naughtiness on the next album, this will be explosive.

Slimfit’s debut album has been co-produced by Johan Dereborn and recorded in Dereborn’s studio in Sweden. The band will celebrate the release of its debut album “1” with a local release party on 3rd June.

www.facebook.com/slimfitljusdal.com / www.slimfitljusdal.se

Album review: The Night Flight Orchestra “Amber Galactic”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Soilwork and Arch Enemy members get together for some catchy classic rock fun on the new album by The Night Flight Orchestra.

Featuring members from bands such as Soilwork and Arch Enemy, one might get the wrong expectations when putting on the new album by The Nigh Flight Orchestra. This is no death metal album, but a very different kind of rock music. This is more in line with classic rock and progressive rock from the 70s, but without sounding dated. It reminds me to a degree of 70s artists such as Manfred Mann, Boston, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult and Journey, but with a contemporary touch to it. This is the band’s third album, following 2012’s “Internal Affairs” and 2015’s “Skyline Whispers”. They deliver plenty of classic rock with pop-like catchiness on this splendid album.

Some of the tracks, such as “Midnight Flyer”, “Gemini”, “Domino” and “Something Mysterious”, are fabulous good-natured tunes, far removed from the doom and gloom of death metal. “Sad State of Affairs” has a bit of a KISS vibe to it with a 70s-style Ace Frehley guitar all over it. What a great side project this is for these musicians. Lots of fun and great tunes. My standout favourite is “Star of Rio” which chugs along like a beach party with free-flowing drinks.

The band consists of Björn Strid (Soilwork) on vocals, Sharlee D’ Angelo (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Witchery and formerly of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate) on bass, David Andersson (Soilwork) on guitar, Richard Larsson (Von Benzo) on keyboards, Jonas Källsbäck (Mean Streak) on drums and the most recent addition Sebastian Forslund (Kadwatha) on guitar and percussion.

The Night Flight Orchestra’s “Amber Galactic” is out now via Nuclear Blast.


Album review: The Leather Nun “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” | Glasnost, Soviet tanks and rock’n’roll in Estonia

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Back in 1988, Swedish garage rockers The Leather Nun helped bring down the Soviet Union. Now you can add this piece of history to your record collection.

Ever wondered how the mighty Soviet Union came crumbling down? It all seems to the fault of a bunch of Swedish rockers. Rock’n’roll power.

In August 1988, Swedish cult garage rockers The Leather Nun played at Glasnost Rock ’88, the first-ever international rock festival in the Soviet Union. The massive three-day festival’s headliners were Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd and Big Country, and on the bill were other acts such as Steve Hackett, Leningrad Cowboys and Sky High.

Now The Leather Nun’s gig at the festival has been released as a live album. What we get on this album is a bunch of Swedish rockers rocking Tallinn, Estonia as the Soviet Union starts to crumble around them. Soviet tanks were present outside the festival grounds, adding a bit of nerve and excitement to this historic event.

The Leather Nun came to perform in Estonia following a successful US tour. Finnish state television filmed the festival and now fans can hear The Leather Nun’s historic gig. The gig features the best of the band’s output at that point, including “I’m Alive”, “Prime Mover”, “Lust for Love”, “I Can Smell Your Thoughts” and “Jesus Came Driving Along”. The Leather Nun plays dirty garage rock far removed from any trends or fads. It’s a bit like Elvis Presley jamming with Motörhead. Like a hungover Billy Idol in slow motion. Or Johnny Thunders before his morning coffee.

The Leather Nun’s “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” is out now on Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution.


Album review: Iced Earth “Incorruptible”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Iced Earth is back with its 12th album and yet a new line-up. The album’s killer though. Solid North American heavy metal.

Iced Earth, founded in Tampa, Florida in 1985, has more ex-members than most other bands. The list of ex-members includes major names such as Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Yngwie Malmsteen), James MacDonough (Megadeth), Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Death, Obituary, Autopsy) and Jon Dette (Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Heathen). In the current version of Iced Earth, guitarist Jon Schaffer is the only original member who is still in the band. It doesn’t matter, because on their new album, “Incorruptible”, they sound better than they have in a long time. This is great stuff. The current line-up of the band – Jon Schaffer on guitar, Stu Block on vocals, Jake Dreyer on guitar, Luke Appleton on bass and Brent Smedley on drums – delivers above expectation.

“Incorruptible” is the band’s 12th studio album since they debuted in 1990 with “Iced Earth”. Musically they live in in the same neighbourhood, but not in the same house, as Queensrÿche. This is no nonsense modern heavy metal. It has elements of both power metal and thrash metal. It’s melodic yet rather heavy. It’s big music, even bombastic at times, but in a good way. Iced Earth matches its heavy metal music, mainly created by Schaffer, with tales about Vikings, pirates and whores. “Seven Headed Whore” is my favourite track on the album. The track takes fast thrash metal (with angry, pissed off vocals and aggressive guitars) and combines that with a dramatic chorus in a gothic Sisters of Mercy kind of way. “The Veil” sounds epic while on the fab mainly instrumental piece “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” we get some Native American influences. “Black Flag” is simply heavy metal greatness in a Manowar kind of way. “Clear the Way” and “Raven Wing” are other terrific songs. The album has influences from all over the place but they all melt down to a very solid heavy metal album by a great metal band.

Iced Earth’s “Incorruptible” will released on 16th June via Century Media.



Album review: Unleash The Archers “Apex”

Photo: Shimon Karmel

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian power metal force Unleash The Archers is back with a fab new album filled with solid metal, great songs and THAT voice.

Ever since I heard “General of the Dark Army” for the first time, I knew that Unleash The Archers was a band that was special. When I saw them live at a club here in Japan in 2015, I found out that they could also deliver their splendid form of power metal live. There are many metal bands that can produce a decent album, but surprisingly few of them can deliver the goods live.

Brittney Slayes. Photo: Shimon Karmel

Frontwoman Brittney Slayes has a voice that beats the competition by a mile and a half. She wipes the floor with the also-rans. She is not only the best voice among newer and younger metal vocalists, she also stands up to the best of the established veterans. Her voice is insane, ridiculously good. She lifts Unleash The Archers’ music from great to fabulously gorgeous.

There is dramatic heavy metal here in bundles, but always centred around great melodies. The band’s music has a base in power metal, played very well and expressed through some great songwriting. At times this is fast and even brutal (in a melodic death metal kind of way), but mostly it is melodic power metal of the best kind. The fab musicianship on the album (especially some fine guitar work) and Slayes’ voice are backed up by some fabulous use of choirs on songs like “Cleanse the Bloodlines” and “The Coward’s Way”.

Brittney Slayes in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Apex” is a very solid album. True craftsmanship shines through in these songs. But even though there are no dips on this album, a few songs stand out and are likely to become new favourites in the band’s live sets. “The Matriarch” is a new “General of the Dark Army”. Fantastic. The epic “Cleanse the Bloodlines” is beyond fantastic. It’s the album’s best track. “Ten Thousand Against One” is another clear favourite, while the title track “Apex” is massive. It’s a superb piece of Canadian metal storytelling, an epic tale set to fantastic power metal music. Just the way we like our Unleash The Archers.

They’re back and they have a bright future ahead of them. The band has been around for a decade and with “Apex”, their fourth full-length album, they will no doubt win new fans.

Unleash The Archers’ “Apex” album will be released on 2nd June by Napalm Records.


Album review: The Dead Daisies “Live & Louder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rock’n’roll ain’t dead: Here are The Dead Daisies, live and louder in Europe. This is a great live album showcasing a bunch of rockers who clearly love what they do. And they do it bloody well.

The Dead Daisies are always good fun and they come with heaps of positive energy. The Dead Daisies is a band who likes to play rock’n’roll and they do it very well. With plenty of pedigree (Whitesnake, Dio, Mötley Crüe, Thin Lizzy, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol….) there is no shortage of talent in this band and when coupled with a “let’s party” attitude, the audience always gets a very good rock show when this band is on stage.

“Live & Louder” is a very solid live album showcasing a great rock band performing their best songs in front of their fans in Europe. The album is made up of recordings of gigs across Europe in 2016. Mainly it is the band’s original material from their three studio albums we get treated to on this 16-track album. But we also get a cover version of “Helter Skelter” (The Beatles) and “We’re an American Band” (Grand Funk Railroad). The band’s in great shape and the sound quality is world-class. “Mexico” is one of the best songs on the album and so is the terrific rock anthem “Make Some Noise” and the splendid “Song and a Prayer”. But there are no dips here, no fillers, no junk. It is a live album that brings back sweet memories of The Dead Daisies set at last year’s Loud Park festival here in Japan. Great stuff!

Doug Aldrich on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Since the band was founded by Australian guitarist David Lowy in 2012, there has been a revolving door of members coming and going. It seems that the band now has arrived at a more stable line-up and it is a bloody good one. One of the more recent additions to the band, Doug Aldrich, takes this band up a notch with his guitar. Having made a name for himself with Dio and Whitesnake, he was most recently part of Glenn Hughes’ trio before he joined The Dead Daisies in 2016.

Especially in John Corabi, Marco Mendoza and Doug Aldrich, this band has some big and well-liked personalities who know how to entertain a crowd. Drummer Brian Tichy is the solid anchor that keeps this band together. This is blues-based hard rock that fits perfectly at rock festivals and at club gigs. It’s a band to get a party started. It’s a band that gets you in a good mood. It’s great rock band, period.

The Dead Daisies will be back in Japan for some gigs in July. Before then, buy this live album, set your expectations sky high and then have The Dead Daisies exceed them when they perform in Japan in July.

“Live & Louder” is out now via Ward Records in Japan.


Album review: Decadence “Undergrounder” | Terrific Swedish thrash metal

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New album “Undergrounder” brings Decadence to the front of the current wave of Swedish thrash metal bands.

Decadence’s “Undergrounder” album is mostly made up of thrash metal played at breakneck speed. I really like it. It has a sound foundation in classic 80s Bay Area thrash metal but with a modern touch to it. It is also, for the most part, a tad bit more melodic than much of the old-school thrash metal.

The Swedish thrash metal scene seems to be on the verge of something very interesting with new bands appearing and old revitalised bands doing new things. Decadence is at the very front of that crowd together with bands such as Ice Age and Tyranex.

Decadence formed in 2003 when guitarist Metallic Kitty Saric, at the time only 16 years old, started singing. In 2004, they put together their first demo and in 2005 they released their self-titled debut album. They quickly released their follow-up album in the same year. Now they are back with “Undergrounder”, the band’s fifth studio album and it kicks ass.

The track “Undergrounder” is one of the best tracks here, but the fierce “Manifesto” is my favourite on this album. Bloody hell, the energy and relentlessness on that track is terrific. “The Inner Circle” has a similar attacking energy to it.

Metallic Kitty has that great pissed-off attitude in her voice. The band has an easily recognisable sound: great melodies, fantastic riffing and shredding guitars, a tight rhythm section and then that angry voice coupled with plenty of energy. All of that packaged together into one fine thrash metal album containing eight strong songs.

In addition to the core duo of Kitty Saric and Kenneth Lantz, on this album Decadence has brought in Lawrence Dinamarca from Nightrage as a session drummer. With such a strong album in the market, I reckon that Decadence sooner rather than later need to have a full band line-up and get out on the road with this music. This music is too good to not be performed at clubs and festivals this year.

Decadence’s “Undergrounder” is out now via Heavy Dose. Buy it. It’ll make you play air guitar and headbang.

www.facebook.com/decadencesweden / www.decadence.se

Album review: Nightrage “The Venomous”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek-Swedish melodic death metal band Nightrage is back with a great new album combining brutality and heaviness with catchy melodies.

Nightrage’s new album is rather heavy yet still melodic with some great guitar riffs. Genre wise they live next door to Arch Enemy. Like Arch Enemy, Nightrage is an international band with its base in southern Sweden combining heavy music with aggressive vocals and some fantastic melodies, choruses, hooks and riffs. Nightrage’s new album, “The Venomous”, is the band’s seventh studio album since they formed in 2000.

Nightrage has a long list of well-known former members, including Gus G (Ozzy Osbourne, Firewind), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, The Crown), Olof Mörck (Amaranthe, Dragonland), Johan Nunez (Firewind, Gus G), Nick Barker (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Brujeria), Jesper Strömblad (CyHra, In Flames, HammerFall), Brice LeClercq (Dissection, Satyricon), Per Møller Jensen (The Haunted) and many more.

Those players are no longer in the band which now consists of Marios Iliopoulos (who founded the band with Gus G) and Magnus Söderman on guitars, Anders Hammer on bass, Ronnie Nyman on vocals and Lawrence Dinamarca on drums. Make no mistake about it: Nightrage are better than ever and on this album none of the former members are missed. The current line-up of the band delivers.

The title track is one of the better songs on a very solid and even album. Some of the heavier songs, like “In Abhorrence”, “From Ashes into Stone” and “Affliction” are also my favourites. The very fast track “The Blood” is bleeding terrific. The album closes with “Denial of the Soul”, a calmer instrumental piece.

Nightrage’s album “The Venomous” is out now on Despotz Records.

www.facebook.com/nightrage / www.nightrage.com