Album review: The Crown “Royal Destroyer”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s The Crown’s new album “Royal Destroyer” is overflowing with brutal and fast death metal with thrash metal qualities and a rock’n’roll attitude.

Formed in Sweden in 1990, The Crown has been a great force in the Swedish death metal scene for three decades. They debuted in 1995 with “The Burning” and “Royal Destroyer” is the band’s eleventh studio album (or tenth, depending on how you count the “Crowned in Terror” and “Crowned Unholy” albums). Original band members Johan Lindstrand (vocals), Magnus Olsfelt (bass) and Marko Tervonen (guitar) are still here. Johan Lindstrand’s terrific angry vocals are a big part of what makes The Crown stand out from the pack together with great melodies, terrific guitar riffs and drum blasts. Robin Sörqvist on lead guitar and Henrik Axelsson on drums joined in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The new album kicks off in style with the short and furious “Baptized in Violence”. The song is only 78 seconds long, but bloody hell, those seconds are glorious. The mayhem continues from there with the crushing “Let the Hammering Begin!” and then the gorgeously speedy and brutal “Motordeath”. Over the years, The Crown has very successfully combined melodic death metal with stenchy old-school death metal. The band’s music also has a tangible raw thrash metal energy on many songs which are often played at speed metal pace and it’s all covered in a proper rock’n’roll attitude. On the new album, the band has managed to arrive at a terrific musical style that combines old-school underground death metal with more mainstream extreme metal. The result is absolute bloody mayhem. And that is a good thing. I love it. The album has some slower parts to it as well, like the heavy but relatively slow “Glorious Hades” and “We Drift On” which the band has referred to as a “ballad”. “Ultra Faust” has an intro that is very different with some haunting sounds but not in a death metal way. But a minute into the song, it turns into the expected merciless brutality. “Full Metal Justice”, “Scandinavian Satan”, “Devoid of Light” and “Beyond the Frail” are all mainly trademark The Crown-style melodic death metal with runaway guitars coming at the listener from all angles. Some of the songs have been seasoned with spicy black metal and rock’n’roll barbeque sauce to great effect. The Japanese edition of the album contains two bonus tracks: “Absolute Monarchy” and a cool raw demo version of “Dawn of Emptiness”, a song that appeared on 2003’s album “Possessed 13”. Heavy, brutal, vicious, fast and riff-happy – that is often how I like my metal served and that is what I get from The Crown. “Royal Destroyer” royally thrashes its listeners. It’s a massive album and what a joy it is to experience it.

The Crown’s “Royal Destroyer” will be released on 10th March in Japan via Avalon/Marquee and on 12th March internationally via Metal Blade Records.

Album review: Angeline “We Were Raised On Radio”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic hard rockers Angeline return with a new album filled with radio-friendly and catchy grown-up rock with strong melodies.

Swedish melodic hard rockers Angeline formed in Ljusdal, Sweden in 1987. I have been following them closely from the very beginning. I shared a rehearsal space with them in a loft on top of a disused cinema where you’d also find a young Charlie Granberg (later of Hellsingland Underground fame) drumming with his hard rock band Hexagon. I saw many of Angeline’s shows in Sweden in the late 80s and early 90s. Following a terrific 1988 demo (“The Legend”), they released their debut LP (“Don’t Settle for Second Best”) in 1990. The current line-up of the band consists of all original members: Jocke Nilsson and Janne Arkegren on guitars, Ulf Nilsson on bass and Tobbe Jonsson on drums. Original vocalist Sigge Sigvardsson sadly passed away in 1995, but guitarist Jocke Nilsson soon thereafter stepped up and took over lead vocals. “We Were Raised On Radio” is an album filled with radio-friendly and catchy grown-up rock with strong melodies. The members are now in their late forties and early fifties and have arrived at a more mature sound. It is quite a varied album with songs shooting off in different directions within the melodic rock category. “Welcome to Paradise” is my favourite track on the album, partly because it reminds me somewhat of how Angeline sounded in the early days and partly because it has an Electric Boys-style groove feel to it. “Halfway to Anywhere” is also a fab song that has a glorious 80s feel to it and so does the track “Helpless”. It’s an album for your car stereo. You can make this the soundtrack to your next road trip.

Angeline’s new album “We Were Raised On Radio” is out today via Blow Your Fez Off Music.

Album review: The Pretty Reckless “Death By Rock And Roll”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Pretty Reckless returns with the winning formula of Taylor Momsen’s voice, great musicians and terrific songs.

My expectations on the new studio album from The Pretty Reckless are sky high. First we got the smashing title track “Death By Rock And Roll” released as a single. The mega-tastic power ballad “25” was a show-stopping single release and then we got the terrific “And So It Went”. These songs really showcased what this rock band is about: Taylor Momsen’s excellent voice, great musicians and even better songwriting skills. Many bands have one or two of these ingredients, but few have all three. The combination is very tasty. The band played its first gig in 2009. They debuted with 2010’s studio album “Light Me Up” and have now completed their fourth studio album. Vocalist Taylor Momsen is backed up a fab gang of musicians: Ben Philips on guitar, Mark Damon on bass and Jamie Perkins on drums. Now the full album is about to be released and, yes, it certainly lives up to the expectations. It gives us more of everything. Musically it is quiet diverse and the songs are very well made. This band is very much here and now but they have a lot of the qualities of the best American and British bands from the 1960s and 70s. There is no relying on technology here in order to create music, which has been shown by the band with a lockdown series of acoustic live video performances they have released over the past few months. There are quite a lot of hints and nods to Americana rock in this band. There is dusty, bluesy American rock as a foundation on many songs, but this is so much more than that. The Pretty Reckless is a band that creates multi-layered, genre-bending music ranging from pop to blues rock to hard rock. On a track like “Got So High” we are somewhere between American singer/songwriter and Britpop. “My Bones” is powerful, complex and perhaps my favourite track on the album. There’s a lot of storytelling throughout the album. Call it whatever you want. It’s great music performed by a fab band. There are excellent guest appearances by Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil on the great track “Only Love Can Save Me Now” and Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) appears on “And So It Went”.

The Pretty Reckless’ new studio album “Death By Rock And Roll” will be released on 12th February via Century Media Records.

Album review: Alice Cooper “Detroit Stories”

Alice Cooper on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the new album “Detroit Stories”, shock rocker Alice Cooper pays tribute to the city where he got his proper start as an artist in the early 1970s.

Alice Cooper returns with a new album that is far removed from his polished 1980s hair metal days of “Poison” and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”. “Detroit Stories” is a trip back to 1970 and the early days of the original Alice Cooper band. Here, some five decades later, shock rocker Alice Cooper has reunited with producer Bob Ezrin as well as the surviving original band members who all put in an appearance on the album. There’s also other guests such as MC5’s Wayne Kramer. The music styles on the album, which contains a mix of covers and new material, are varied. The album is a laidback, good-fun tribute to the Detroit rock scene of the early 1970s. Here we get blues, soul, pop, garage rock, hard rock and much more. There will of course be fans who won’t like it because it is very different from what they are used to get from Alice. This is a version of Alice Cooper that doesn’t care about expectations. He wants to pay respect to his musical roots and he does it well, very well. He seems happy. There are some real gems on the album, such as the excellent pop song “Our Love Will Change The World”, the punky “I Hate You”, the rocky “Social Debris” and the bluesy “Drunk And In Love”. There is also a decent cover of Velvet Underground song “Rock & Roll”.

Alice Cooper’s new album “Detroit Stories” will be released on 26th February in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via earMUSIC.

Album review: Epica “Omega”

Simone Simons and Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Epica is the gold standard of symphonic metal. The new album is delightfully dramatic, bombastic and melodic yet at times very heavy. Exquisite!

Epica’s eighth full-length studio album, “Omega”, is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s simply, well, epic! Epica’s superiority comes from the contrasts between Mark Jansen’s growls and Simone Simon’s angelic and powerful voice as well as the combination of the heavy guitars and the dreamy keyboards. Epica is the gold standard of symphonic metal. In addition to the terrific musical performances of all the band members, they write better songs than the other bands in the genre. They also have better arrangements and production. On this new album, the band’s first full-length studio album in five years, we get to hear Epica’s trademark sound and, as always with this band, there is some added complexity. For example, there are some terrific Middle Eastern touches incorporated into the songs “Seal of Solomon” and “Code of Life”. Epica’s soundscape is busy, there are always things going on in this multi-layered music with constant twists and turns. They are also absolute scholars and royals when it comes to the use of choirs and orchestras. At times, Epica’s music sounds like a film score. As we are used to when it comes to Epica, many of the songs are diverse with frequent tempo and style changes. But there are also some more straightforward songs, like the dreamy and beautiful ballad “Rivers”. Epica has a long-established and rock-solid line-up: vocalist Simone Simons and guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen are joined by Isaac Delahaye (guitar), Coen Janssen (keyboards and piano), Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) and Rob van der Loo (bass). Joost van den Broek’s production is flawless. He has worked closely with the band for many years and he manages to get the best out of them. The epic piece “Kingdom of Heaven Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe” clocks in at almost thirteen and a half minutes. During that time, Epica takes us on one helluva ride. It’s a standout track for sure, but this album is so good that all the tracks are terrific. “The Skeleton Key” is perhaps my favourite track with its dramatic intro with piano and choirs, before we get the guitar riffs and, of course, Simone. Other bands don’t have Simone.

Epica’s “Omega” will be released on 26th February in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.

Album review: Bark “Written in Stone”

Bark. Photo: Christophe Brysse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Belgian band Bark is a rabid dog barking at us on its glorious new album. Intense and wonderfully aggressive music!

Founded in Antwerp, Belgium in 2014, the band name Bark was inspired by the short rabid songs the band plays. They debuted in 2016 with the album “Voice of Dog” and followed that with 2017’s “Like Humans Do”. “Written in Stone” is the band’s third full-length studio album and it is a terrific album filled with intense and sweaty music. The band consists of Ron Bruynseels (vocals), Martin Furia (guitar), Toon Huet (guitar), Jorn Van der Straeten (bass) and Ward Van der Straeten (drums). It’s heavy music with terrific melodies. The guitar riffs are fantastic throughout the album. To me, it sounds as if California’s crossover thrash/punk cult band Suicidal Tendencies has been crossbred with Belgian extreme metal band Aborted, with a tiny bit of Rage Against The Machine seasoning as well, although Bark is a much heavier band. The band has managed to create a distinct and easily recognisable trademark Bark sound. It is such intense and wonderfully aggressive music! Bark’s Argentinian-born guitarist Martin Furia has produced the album which has a flawless production. The whole soundscape has Furia’s fingerprints on it. He is an artist that has a clear vision of what he wants to create and he has the talent and experience to make it happen. Furia is a terrific live and studio audio engineer and producer who has worked with bands such as Nervosa, Destruction, Flotsam & Jetsam, Evil Invaders, Aborted and many more. That experience has served him well in shaping Bark’s sound. Some of my favourite tracks on this solid album are the hard-hitting “I’m a Wreck”, “Hitman”, “Mass Lobotomy” and the furiously fast “The Spirit of the Streets”. “They Are All Dead” is the absolute highlight where I get some splendid At The Gates vibes. “Written in Stone” is a fierce and fantastic album by a great band.

Bark’s “Written in Stone” is out now.

Single review: The Lightbringer of Sweden “Farewell”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Lightbringer of Sweden returns with a power ballad. “Farewell” shows us what a terrific songwriter Lars Eng is and Avantasia’s Herbie Langhans puts in another splendid vocal performance.

Swedish musician Lars Eng and his band The Lightbringer of Sweden, who released a phenomenal debut album last summer, are back in the studio. A new riff-happy and heavy album is in the works which will hopefully be released later this year. In the meantime, the band shows us a different side with “Farewell”, a massive power ballad which will be released as a stand-alone single. Lightbringer is Lars Eng’s baby. He is the songwriter, producer, guitar player and brain behind this. On “Farewell” we can again hear the terrific voice of Germany’s Herbie Langhans (of Avantasia and Firewind fame) and drummer Tobbe Jonsson (from Swedish melodic hard rockers Angeline). On this song, we also get to hear Jonsson’s Angeline band mate Ulf Nilsson on bass. “Farewell” is an emotional power ballad of the best kind. It gives me flashbacks to the 1980s when all metal bands included big power ballads on their albums to get their videos played on MTV (ask your parents, kids) and, subsequently, sell singles and LPs (again, ask your parents to explain). I love it. As much as I dig the heavier side of Lightbringer – the debut album “Rise of the Beast” was filled with heavy metal with power metal influences – it is nice to see that this band is not a one-trick pony. Now I am starting to dream of having The Lightbringer of Sweden as the opening act on a future Japan tour by Avantasia. Wouldn’t that be something?

The Lightbringer of Sweden’s single “Farewell” will be released on 22nd January.

Album review: Michael Schenker Group “Immortal”

Michael Schenker on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s back to the future on the new MSG album as Michael Schenker celebrates five decades as an artist.

Michael Schenker never stands still. He keeps moving as a musician and artist. Throughout his long career, he has moved back and forth, in and out of bands. He often revisits old bands, albums and line-ups but always with a twist of some kind. Now, after some very successful years touring and releasing albums with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Michael Schenker Fest and to mark his 50th anniversary as an artist, he has moved on – back to the future, if you will – to do another Michael Schenker Group album. “Immortal” is an album that manages to squeeze in many different styles. What I particularly like about Michael Schenker’s performance on this album is that, despite being one of the biggest, best and most innovative guitarists in the history of rock, he never lets his guitar overshadow the music or the songs. He shows off his terrific guitar skills but without too many extended guitar solos or over-the-top technical outings. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of guitar wizardry from the master on the album, but it doesn’t scare away listeners.

In this latest version of MSG, Schenker has brought back some MSG alumni in the form of Steve Mann on keyboards, Barry Sparks on bass and drummers Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips. A new face is Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol, Foreigner, The Dead Daisies) on drums. On this new MSG album, Schenker is making use of several vocalists, including no fewer than three Rainbow vocalists! Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear fame lends his powerful voice to “Devil’s Daughter” and “Drilled to Kill”, a track which gives us a fine keyboard-guitar duel between Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Black Country Communion, Sons of Apollo, KISS) and Schenker. The album is quite varied, both because of the various musical styles and the different vocalists and musicians featured. My favourites include “Drilled to Kill” and “Sail the Darkness” which, with Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords of Black) on vocals, has some Dio vibes about it. “Come On Over” and “Knight of the Dead”, both with Romero on vocals, are also great tunes. The oddest song on the album is “The Queen of Thorns and Roses”. It’s essentially a lightweight pop song with Michael Voss on vocals. It seems a tad bit out of place, but it isn’t a bad song at all. Voss is also singing lead on “After the Rain”, a bit of a power ballad. Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple) puts in terrific vocal performances on “Don’t Die on Me Now” and “Sangria Morte”. The ten-track album closes with what is perhaps its finest moment, “In Search of Peace of Mind”, a  track Schenker wrote when he was 15 years old. The song was originally featured on Scorpions’ debut album “Lonesome Crow”. Here we get it in a terrific extended version featuring vocalists Gary Barden, Ronnie Romero, Doogie White and Robin McAuley. It ends with an exquisite guitar solo that shows us who’s boss. I can only bow in respect to the guitar master Michael Schenker. A masterpiece by a master craftsman.

Michael Schenker Group ‘s new album “Immortal” will be released on 29th January in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.

Album review: Tribulation “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Tribulation’s fifth studio album is beautifully gloomy, doomy and melancholic – and absolutely terrific!

Tribulation from Sweden is a terrific band that has been very hard to define in recent years. I saw them live here in Tokyo in 2015 when they were performing alongside several black metal bands. Sure, that worked well. But Tribulation is very different. They keep evolving and moving further away from conventional metal. The band formed in Arvika, Sweden in 2005 and was essentially a death metal band at that stage. By the time they released their third studio album, “The Children of the Night”, they had moved on, matured perhaps. In recent years, they have become more of a hybrid haze/goth/prog hard rock act with ever-present darkness and sadness to it. Bits and pieces of their music are still heavy metal and even death metal, but there is so much more here. Much of the music is heavy in a doomy kind of way, but not fast. Tribulation comes with plenty of depth and sorrow. The music and many of the lyrics are gloomy and melancholic. Perhaps it is something born out of the band’s roots in the mythical deep forests of rural Sweden, not far from the Norwegian border. The new album, very fittingly named “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”, is the band’s fifth studio album. It kicks off with a terrific trio of songs – “In Remembrance” (which briefly starts with lyrics sung in Swedish before English takes over), “Hour of the Wolf” and “Leviathans” – and the listener just knows that this album is a solid one from such a strong opening. “Daughter of the Djinn” is an immediate favourite track with its drive and energy. “Funeral Pyre” is another standout track with its heavy metal guitars while the slow and sombre song “Dirge of a Dying Soul” is a magical piece of sadness. The band is not afraid of going outside of genre-imposed limits, something evident on the beautiful instrumental track “Lethe” which solely consists of a piano. Many of the songs on the album contain small details in the soundscape that makes the album one that the listeners discover new things on every time they listen to it. Following the completion of the recording of the album, guitarist Jonathan Hultén left the band he co-founded to focus on his solo career. He has been replaced by Joseph Tholl, who like the band’s other guitarist Adam Zaars has a background in the heavy metal band Enforcer. The two bands have shared several band members over the years, but musically they are very different. Tribulation’s current line-up also includes Johannes Andersson (bass, vocals – whose haunting voice keeps the link to the band’s death metal roots) and drummer Oscar Leander. The Japanese edition of the album comes with a bonus track in the form of a cool demo version of the fantastic track “Hour of the Wolf”.

Tribulation’s new album “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound” will be released on 29th January in Japan via Ward Records. A US edition will be released via Metal Blade Records and an international edition via Century Media Records.

Album review: The Dead Daisies “Holy Ground”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Glenn Hughes dominates The Dead Daisies’ terrific new album. He was a brilliant, but risky, addition to a fabulous rock band. He and the band pull it off as the new studio album demonstrates.

The Dead Daisies are back with its fifth studio album, “Holy Ground”. Since the last album and tour, vocalist John Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza have left the band. They have been replaced by Glenn Hughes on both lead vocals and bass. That is a major change and it shows. The Dead Daisies has evolved as a band and moved on in a new direction. The new album is terrific. But, it is very different from the Corabi/Mendoza era of the band. Glenn Hughes takes up a lot of space and this sounds like a terrific Glenn Hughes album rather than what we in the past would consider a Daisies album. If you, like me, are both a Daisies and a Glenn fan, this is a smorgasbord of exquisite music. When Glenn last toured Japan, in 2015, he had Doug Aldrich (ex-Dio, Whitesnake) on lead guitar. After that tour, Doug joined the Daisies and now the two gentlemen have reunited in the new line-up of the Daisies which also features Deen Castronovo (ex-Journey, Bad English) on drums and band founder and rhythm guitarist David Lowy. Lowy took a gamble and made a very ballsy move when he invited such a legendary rock star to join the band. Adding someone like Glenn to a band line-up isn’t the same thing as adding some other replacement musician. Glenn Hughes requires space. When he walks into anything, he takes centre stage. Don’t forget that this is a man who walked into both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and commanded attention and respect and got it. Thus, it was a risky move adding him to this band. But, so far, the gamble seems to have been the right one. Losing the band’s frontman could’ve been the end of this story. Now there is a yet another chapter being written in the Daisies story. While the arrival of Glenn in the band grabs the spotlight, the other band members are delivering terrific work on this album too – not least the phenomenal guitarist Doug who is delivering one of his best-ever studio performances on this album. This version of the band is a solid rock collective of seasoned veterans. Rather than trying to fit Glenn Hughes into The Dead Daisies, Lowy and the band wisely opted to evolve and create music that is built to incorporate Glenn and his talents. The result is stunning.

The album kicks off with the heavy and catchy “Holy Ground (Shake the Memory)”. The song has Glenn all over it, but it also contains an insane Doug Aldrich guitar solo. It’s a statement that this is a band that has evolved and here’s what you can expect from this new album. It’s a punch in the face and I want more. I get it, immediately, with the next song, “Like No Other (Bassline)”. More energy, heaviness, catchiness, insane guitar work and plenty of groove in the music. I have time to think “Blimey, this is brilliant hard rock!” before Glenn goes off with a bass solo in the middle of the song. I bow my head in respect. The album just continues from there and never eases its grip of the listeners’ ears, brain, heart and balls with terrific songs such as “Bustle and Flow”, “Chosen and Justified”, “Unspoken”, “Saving Grace” and “Righteous Days”. Swagger hard rock? Yeah, perhaps, but this quartet can back up the claim. They deliver on every song. The combination of heaviness and catchiness is very appealing and will serve this band well. Rumours say that Castronovo will sing lead on Corabi-era Daisies songs when his new line-up will perform live. That can make a lot of sense in order to keep the Daisies relevant as a band with a proud legacy and not turn into a Glenn Hughes backing band. I love, love, love Glenn Hughes. He’s a terrific artist who brought soul and groove to hard rock with his golden voice and splendid bass guitar. At 69, he’s still got it. His early work with Trapeze and then Deep Purple in the 70s and later Black Sabbath, Hughes/Thrall, Phenomena and John Norum, have shaped my musical tastes more than I ever realised. He continues to have that tremendous impact on me with this new album. The new version of The Dead Daisies is oozing with terrific songwriters and musicians. The new line-up and evolved sound will leave some old fans missing Corabi and Mendoza, but it will surely appeal to many old fans and create many new fans. I dig this new version of the Daisies as much as I dig the earlier versions. Corabi and Mendoza are missed, but they will keep doing music elsewhere for us to enjoy. Lowy made the correct decision to take the Daisies in a somewhat new direction rather than trying to continue doing what the old line-up did. There are, however, some hints of the old Daisies on this album, such as on the track “30 Days in the Hole” (a Humble Pie cover) and also on the terrific Japanese bonus track, “Inside and Above”. The Dead Daisies are dead. Long live the new The Dead Daisies. Now we’re looking forward to seeing what this new version of the band can do live on stage with both the new and old songs.

The Dead Daisies’ new album “Holy Ground” will be released on 22nd January via Ward Records in Japan and internationally via SPV.