Album review: Zephyra “Fall. Rise. Conquer.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Zephyra serves up a mix of melodic and brutal metal on a new album which also gives us a couple of songs in Swedish and a brave Metallica cover.

Swedish band Zephyra is back with a new album called ”Fall. Rise. Conquer.” The band released its debut album, “Mental Absolution”, in 2014. When they released their second album, “As The World Collapses”, in 2016, I wrote in my review that “Some of what Zephyra does reminds me of Battle Beast and other things remind me somewhat of Amaranthe, although this album is much less polished. Zephyra is perhaps Amaranthe’s unwashed cousins from the countryside.” That still holds true today. But with this new album, they have become more personal, more unique and much more diverse. The opening track, “Dreams Denied”, sets the tone for the new album, the band’s third full-length studio album. It is a great showcase for all that this band is about. They continue to play modern, melodic yet hard-hitting metal with liberal use of keyboards. Kind of a cross-breed of melodic death metal and industrial influences and a few nods to pop as well. Vocalist Åsa Netterbrant‘s voice is at the centre of the band’s sound and her mix of clean singing with some brutal growls fits the band’s music well. Two of the best songs on the album are sung in the band’s native Swedish. The Swedish songs – “Fånge i Frihet” and “Svart Smärta” – are terrific with their perfect balance between brutality, great melodies in the proud Swedish pop music tradition and the added novelty of the Swedish lyrics. There’s also a cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. That is a very risky move, but Zephyra pulls it off. They manage to stay respectfully true to the original song while at the same time making it a track that fits nicely in with the Zephyra sound. 

Zephyra’s album “Fall. Rise. Conquer.” Is out now. 

Album review: Inculter “Fatal Visions”


By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Norwegian band Inculter gives us a classic-sounding 1980s thrash metal assault on their terrific new studio album.

On the new album “Fatal Visions”, Norwegian band Inculter has created a perfect 1980s thrash metal sound, managing to remind us of both the American Bay Area school of thrash and the classic German take on thrash. The result is a terrific eight-track album. While paying tribute to those who walked before them on the thrash metal path, Inculter has taken the foundation offered to them and built their own music. The “Fatal Visions” album follows the 2013 EP “Stygian Deluge” and their debut full-length album “Persisting Devolution” from 2015. “Impending Doom” is an immediate favourite track of mine with its fast guitars and its pounding drums. The relentless pummelling on songs like “Endtime Winds”, “Towards the Unknown” and “Final Darkness” puts a smile on my face. Inculter’s music is brutal and raw and terrific but still with some great melodies. There is a glorious aggressiveness here which makes this fantastic. The music is dark with some blackened death metal influences as an overlay on the classic thrash metal. No doubt this song material will work a treat live on stage. This is some seriously tasty Scandinavian thrash metal. 

Inculter’s “Fatal Visions” is out now via Edged Circle Productions.

Album review: Tronos “Celestial Mechanics”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Tronos, three of our absolute favourite people in the music industry – Shane Embury, Russ Russell and Dirk Verbeuren – offer us something very different and splendidly gorgeous. The result is atmospheric epicness! 

Tronos is perhaps giving us a glimpse of the dark, murky and warped world inside the brains of the two Brits Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Venomous Concept, Bent Sea, Lock Up, Brujeria) and Russ Russell (whose production credits include Napalm Death, Lock Up, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir, At the Gates and much more). It’s like “Alice in Wonderland” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Freddy Krueger chasing poor Alice and killing the Mad Hatter in the process. It’s a twisted and dark mystical tour of an underworld under your skin or a space journey to a galaxy far, far away. Embury and Russell have worked together on many albums over the years, and in Tronos they have also brought in another brother who they know well, Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren. 

The album opener, “Walking Among the Dead Things”, sets the tone for the album. It’s an epic piece of rather complex music clocking in at almost eight minutes. We get plenty of variations in the musical styles on the album’s ten tracks, but somehow they all fit in nicely together. Despite the many various musical influences used to create Tronos, there is not a weak moment on this album. I never get bored. With Embury, Russell and Verbeuren involved, obviously my expectations are sky high, but I didn’t expect this. It’s terrific and so different. Love it! Embury and Russell have spent years putting this album together. The wait has been worth it – the end result is stunning! Tronos’ music is multi-layered dreamy, doomy and epic ambient music. There are some hints of the band members’ more brutal and extreme musical roots, such as on parts of the great track “Birth Womb”. But this is very different and, for the most part, it is not brutal. There are so many variations and twists and turns here that the listener can make new discoveries every time the music is played. In Tronos, Embury is not playing bass, but rather opting to sing lead and play guitar. It shows a different side to this fantastic artist. The dreamy song “Voyeurs of Nature’s Tragedy” is a favourite of mine and the hauntingly doomy “Judas Cradle” is simply exquisite. On one of the album’s best tracks, “Premonition”, we get a fantastic guest appearance by Voivod vocalist Snake. Erica Nockalls (The Wonder Stuff, The Proclaimers) adds both terrific vocals and violin to some of the songs and other guest musicians appearing on the album are Billy Gould (Faith No More), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Venomous Concept). The closing track on the album, Black Sabbath cover “Johnny Blade”, is one of its absolute highlights. This album is simply terrific! This is a beautiful avant-garde masterpiece!

Tronos’ album “Celestial Mechanics” will be released on 12th April via Century Media Records.

Tronos: Dirk Verbeuren, Shane Embury and Russ Russell. Photo: Gobinder Jhitta

Album review: Entombed “Clandestine Live”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Reunited Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed’s live version of its 1991 “Clandestine” album is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece. 

My expectations on the reformed/reunited Entombed’s new live release were sky high. After all, this is one of the best death metal bands of all time. Entombed were pioneers in the original Swedish death metal movement. Here they are performing one of their most classic albums in its entirety. I am very pleased that the band and this live album by far exceed those expectations. “Clandestine Live” is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece!

The band’s current line-up consists of Nicke Andersson (drums), Uffe Cederlund (guitar) and Alex Hellid (guitar) from the band’s original line-up that recorded the Tomas Skogsberg-produced “Clandestine” studio album in 1991. New members are Edvin Aftonfalk on bass and Robert Andersson on vocals, both formerly of Morbus Chron. “Clandestine Live” features all the nine songs from the studio album – “Living Dead”, “Sinners Bleed”, “Evilyn”, “Blessed Be”, “Stranger Aeons”, “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns” and “Through the Colonnades” – plus “Left Hand Path”, the title song from the band’s 1990 debut album. It is brutal old-school death metal, yet beautifully melodic at times, in a haunted kind of way. While professionally recorded, this live album has captured the fantastically raw and brutal DIY sound that was an important ingredient in the death metal scene in the late 80s and early 90s. This live performance was recorded on 12th November 2016 in Sweden to mark the 25th anniversary of the studio album’s release. But it sounds as if it could have been recorded in 1991. That’s a good thing and probably what the band has tried to achieve here. The end result is splendid death metal awesomeness. Entombed rocks like it’s nobody’s business. Now the pressure is on for Entombed’s friends and rivals in Dismember to see what they can achieve when they reunite on stage later this year. The absolute highlights on this terrific live album include the exquisite songs “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns”, “Stranger Aeons” and, of course, “Left Hand Path”.

Entombed’s “Clandestine Live” will be released on 17th May via Threeman Recordings.

Entombed. Photo: Anders Norrud

Album review: Suzi Quatro “No Control”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Suzi Quatro is back with a new studio album filled with grown-up rock’n’roll with plenty of blues and some glam rock hints. 46 years after her album debut, she is still in control of her career. 

American artist Suzi Quatro had her heyday back in the 1970s. She relocated to England in 1971 and released her first album as a solo artist in 1973. With “No Control”, her brand new album, she proves that she’s still got it. This is straightforward rock with hints of glam rock and plenty of blues rock. She undoubtedly influenced The Runaways and Girlschool and many other artists back in the day. Her voice still sounds great and on this album, she has backed up her vocal and playing skills with decent songs. The majority of the new songs have been written together with her son, Richard Tuckey. Most of the album consists of catchy grown-up rock’n’roll. The fantastic “Strings” is my favourite track. Other great songs here are “No Soul/No Control”, “Macho Man”, “Bass Line”, “Heavy Duty” and “Going Down Blues”. “Love Isn’t Fair” is a bit of a weird one. It’s not a bad song at all, but to me, it feels out of place as it sounds like some kind of Caribbean-flavoured pop song. I am not sure what the thinking was here. But the rest of the album is solid. I like this mature version of Suzi Quatro. She’s definitely in control.

Suzi Quatro’s new studio album “No Control” is out now via SPV/Steamhammer.

Album review: Mötley Crüe “The Dirt – Soundtrack”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mötley Crüe gives us a fantastic collection of old songs on this new movie soundtrack. But the new material falls short of expectations. 

This 18-song soundtrack to the forthcoming movie about the history of LA band Mötley Crüe contains a lot of great, sleazy LA hair metal of the best kind. From early favourites such as “Red Hot”, “Live Wire”, “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks That Kill”, to later – more commercial – mainstream songs such as “Home Sweet Home”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “Dr. Feelgood”, this is all fantastic stuff bringing back some great memories. Personally, I especially like the raw and less polished sound of the early recordings. I love the guitar sound Mick Mars had back then!

Nikki Sixx on stage in Japan in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

BUT, and that is a big but, this soundtrack also contains four newly recorded songs. The news that Mötley Crüe would be recording new music for this soundtrack got many fans excited. At the planning stage, it probably sounded like a great idea to include some new music to avoid this just being a greatest hits collection of songs that the fans already have. In reality, it doesn’t work as the new material isn’t very good. “The Dirt (Est. 1981)” – featuring a guest appearance by rapper Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Tommy Lee in the movie) – is a boring song where Mötley seems to be trying to combine its 80s sound with some contemporary touches. In the process, they seem to have lost their way. The result is confused and not good. The other two new songs, “Ride with the Devil” and “Crash and Burn”, follow the same pattern and it’s just boring music with none of the excitement that the band’s best work has. Then there’s the Madonna cover, “Like a Virgin”. Why on Earth have they decided to do this? It’s terrible. Maybe it is some kind of internal joke.

Let’s ignore the new material and focus on the good old stuff that made us like this band in the first place. Lucky us that we still have the old Mötley Crüe classics to bring back sweet memories of some great shows and parties in the 80s and early 90s. Long live the terrific and decadent legacy of Mötley Crüe!

Both the soundtrack and the movie “The Dirt” will be released on 22nd March.

Album review: Disrated “Celestial Abhorrence”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

The arrival of Disrated’s “Celestial Abhorrence” gives us another great extreme metal debut album by a Swedish band.

Disrated is a new Swedish extreme metal band formed in Stockholm in 2016. The band’s music is punishingly brutal, but with many technical parts and some serious groove as well. Having earlier released a single and an EP, the band’s first full-length studio album, “Celestial Abhorrence”, is now available. Sweden, of course, has a proud tradition of producing terrific extreme metal bands (is it the long, cold and dark winters, the high taxes, the IKEA flatpacks, the Viking heritage or something else?), but it is still a bit of a surprise to hear such fine brutality on a debut album by a new band. There are some great tech death influences here. It is exhausting to listen to technical tracks such as “Angel Maker” and “Blackout”. It’s angry in a “bodybuilder with a master’s degree in architecture” kind of way. Fantastic stuff that demands your attention. It is not exactly background music. The fast and technical track “Gehenna” is my favourite on this album. The music on the album is brutal and quite technically advanced, but the band still manages to retain an underground feeling in much of its music (for example, listen to the track “Dead & Loving It”), which is a huge plus. This is no doubt a band to keep an eye on. Since the album was recorded they have brought in a new lead vocalist. Hopefully that is not something that will slow this heavy freight train down.

Single review: Stagman “Ser ni eldarna?”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Former Easy Action, Shotgun Messiah and Zan Clan frontman Bosse Stagman (aka Zinny Zan), continues his singer-songwriter career with new single “Ser ni eldarna?”.

Swedish rocker Bosse Stagman made a name for himself in the 1980s as Zinny Zan, frontman of Swedish sleaze rock bands Easy Action (which also featured future Europe guitarist Kee Marcello) and Shotgun Messiah (with future Marilyn Manson bassist Tim Skold) and later with Zan Clan (with future Pretty Maids member Chris Laney). In recent years, Stagman has relaunched himself as more of a singer-songwriter performing mature rock in his native Swedish. “Ser ni eldarna?” is his new single and it continues along the same path that Stagman has taken us on with his two most recent albums, 2017’s “Är ni kvar där ute?” and 2018’s “Moder Jord”. 

At the age of 55, Stagman’s new musical style suits him well at this stage of his career. Musically it is a Swedish take on mature rock, based on a tradition created by American artists such as Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, but here delivered with an added Swedish touch. It’s direct, accessible and personal. Meat and potatoes kind of middle-of-the-road rock for grown-ups. It’s not fancy or complicated. But it is good. I dig it. It’s great to see an old favourite artist realise he’s no longer 20 and that he is brave enough to create a new style for himself. It’s a style he’s good at and it suits him.

Stagman’s single “Ser ni eldarna?” will be released on 1st March via GMR Music.

Album review: Astrophobos “Malice of Antiquity”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Astrophobos gives us great melodic black metal in the Nordic tradition on the new album “Malice of Antiquity”.

The Swedish black metal trio Astrophobos reminds me quite a lot of fellow Swedes Dark Funeral and Naglfar. That’s not a bad thing at all. Astrophobos has a musical foundation which is very similar to those bands’ take on black metal. They have used that base as a starting point and carved out its own music from there. The music is brutal and dark, yet very melodic. The band combines fast and brutal chaos – with hardhitting drums, evil guitar riffs and fierce vocals – with calmer parts of beautiful but frosty tones. This is very much great melodic black metal in the Nordic tradition. Just listen to the acoustic guitar intros to the songs “The Summoning Call” and “Until the Red of Dawn”, which effectvely draw innocent and naive souls into the chaos that soon follows. Founded in 2009, Astrophobos’ new album “Malice of Antiquity” follows the band’s first EP “Arcane Secrets” (2010), the debut full-length album ”Remnants of Forgotten Horrors” (2014) and the EP ”Enthroned in Flesh” (2016). The band’s line-up consists of Micke Broman on vocals and bass and Martin Andersson and Jonas Ehlin on guitars. The new album features session drums by Giuseppe Orlando (The Foreshadowing, ex-Novembre), We also get guest vocals by Elisabetta Marchetti (Inno, ex-Riti Occulti), who adds a dimension to the terrific “Imperator Noctis”, perhaps the best track on the album. 

Astrophobos “Malice of Antiquity” is out now via Triumvirate Records.

Album review: Velvet Insane “Velvet Insane”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following a couple of EPs and global touring, Sweden’s Velvet Insane is finally set to release its debut full-length studio album.

Founded in 2013, Swedish rock band Velvet Insane released an EP in 2014 which was followed by another EP soon thereafter and plenty of international touring, including gigs in Japan. Now they have managed to put together their first full-length studio album. In some of its PR, the band has named The Waterboys as an influence (in addition to names such as Mott The Hoople and T. Rex) and I can certainly hear some resemblance. I love The Waterboys and so that is certainly no bad thing. But overall the Swedes are a bit more rock’n’roll than Mike Scott’s band. Velvet Insane gives us music with a foundation in the British rock of the late 60s and 70s. I hear some similarities to The Shades of Orange, another rock band from the north of Sweden. But Velvet Insane never gets too heavy or wild. Much of the music is emotionally fragile and with vulnerable vocals that fit well with the music. Just listen to the beautiful “Coffee, Jazz and Arts”. We also get rockier songs with some fine guitar work, including the smashing “King of the Foolish”. This is a rather promising debut. Having been a quartet earlier, it now seems that the band only consists of its core duo of guitarist Jesper Lindgren and vocalist Jonas Eriksson. 

Velvet Insane’s self-titled debut full-length studio album will be released on 22nd February via Metalapolis Records.