Single review: Stagman “En mil i mina skor”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former glam rocker Zinny Zan returns with a new Stagman single which brings back memories of some of his old bandmates and 1980s-style Swedish pop and rock.

In an earlier life, Bosse Stagman called himself Zinny Zan when he fronted the terrific glam metal and sleaze rock bands Easy Action, Shotgun Messiah and Zan Clan. Now he’s 55 years old, calls himself simply Stagman and has moved into a musical territory which is part singer/songwriter, part pop and part punk-infused shout-along rock. It suits him well and he’s good at it. I particularly like the hints here and there of the Swedish tradition of melodic shout-along punk-rock. Because it is in the Swedish punk-rock scene that Stagman has his roots: he was a drummer with Belsen Boys, Trassel, Alarm X and Brilliant Boys before he switched to glam metal in the early 1980s when Easy Action was formed. In Easy Action he famously played alongside future Europe guitarist Kee Marcello. But more importantly from a musical pedigree and influence point of view, Easy Action featured three former members of Swedish pop/rock band Noice: Marcello was a live guitarist for Noice which also housed drummer Fredrik von Gerber and bassist Peo Thyrén (aka Alex Tyrone). That connection between Noice and Stagman has now – although Stagman in the past has said that Noice was not really his kind of thing – come full circle as there are some hints of Noice on Stagman’s new single. “En mil i mina skor” is the first taste of his next solo album which will be released later this winter. It is his third solo album since he switched to singing in Swedish in 2016. Stagman sings in Swedish with a distinct Stockholm dialect. Musically he is not miles off what Swedish artists such as Magnus Uggla have built great careers on. Not least the wonderful 1980s-sounding keyboards make me think of Noice and similar bands that were big in Sweden in the early 1980s. Both Uggla and Noice were essentially pop acts, but they had somewhat of a punk attitude. As a youngster in Sweden in the 1980s, I adored Zinny Zan and Easy Action. Now, both Zinny and I have grown up. I really dig the mature and toned-down rocker that Zinny Zan has become.

Stagman’s single “En mil i mina skor” will be released on 16th October via GMR Music.

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Album review: Lindsay Schoolcraft “Martyr”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Cradle of Filth’s Lindsay Schoolcraft goes solo with a splendid and beautiful debut album in collaboration with former Evanescence man Rocky Gray. Just wow!

Canadian musician Lindsay Schoolcraft is best known as a member of British extreme metal band Cradle of Filth. On her new solo album, we get to hear and experience a somewhat different side to this terrific artist. Sure, there are a few hints of Cradle here and there, but musically this is quite different. Evanescence comes to mind more than once (just listen to the track “Dangerous Game”), which is not exactly a surprise as Schoolcraft’s album has been co-written by former Evanescence drummer Rocky Gray who also plays multiple instruments on the album. In Cradle of Filth, Schoolcraft plays the keyboards and provides background vocals. But on this album, she’s at the centre as a lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. She gets to shine like never before. There are some faster and louder tracks, there are ballads and much more. The music is beautiful and, yes, there is that gothic, haunting and eerie feeling on much of it which keeps it interesting. The piano ballad “Blood from a Stone” is sheer beauty and an obvious highlight on a top-quality album. Another immediate favourite is the hard-hitting yet dreamy “See the Light” (with a guest appearance by Ne Obliviscaris vocalist Xenoyr). The album’s opening song, “Saviour”, is my top choice on the album though. It has everything I want: riffy metal guitars, piano, strings, Schoolcraft’s fantastic voice, a great melody, chanting and plenty of variation. The song material is exquisite and so is the production. It is a modern soundscape that manages to bring in medieval touches (Orthodox and Gregorian chants and harp!) and hints of classical music. This is an album that refuses to fit into a specific music category. The result is very Schoolcraft and it is brilliant. Schoolcraft has a busy schedule with Cradle of Filth, but I hope she gets the opportunity to perform her solo material live with a proper tour. This music is too good to just be a side project. As much as I enjoy Cradle of Filth, I like the solo artist Lindsay Schoolcraft more.

Lindsay Schoolcraft’s solo album “Martyr” will be released on 7th October. 

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Album review: Detraktor “Grinder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Germany-based Detraktor is back with its first full-length studio album filled with relentless thrash metal with some crossover hardcore touches.

I love Detraktor’s take on in-your-face and relentless old-school thrash metal with some crossover hardcore touches. There are no compromises, just great music with plenty of energy and attitude. Detraktor is a multinational band based in Hamburg, Germany. Its members – Henrique Queiroz (drums and vocals), Rafael Dobbs (guitar), Boris Pavlov (guitar) and Juan Orellana (bass) have their roots in Chile, Brazil and Bulgaria. Their music is raw, groovy and bloody good. The album title, “Grinder”, should give you a bit of a hint what this band is capable of. There’s not a weak second on this album, but my standout favourite is the terrific fast track “Rejekt” which hits its listeners like a runaway freight train. It’s as if Californian bands Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies had a Kreator-obsessed Latino out-of-wedlock bastard child in Europe. I love this band. You should too. “Grinder” is the band’s debut full-length studio album. They have previously released a couple of EPs, including “Size Matters”, produced by Dirk Schlaechter of Gamma Ray fame, which landed them a well-deserved German Metal Hammer award as newcomer of the year. This is so much better than most of what’s out there. This is the new soundtrack to your life. Album of the year? Perhaps so. 

Detraktor’s album “Grinder” is out now via the German label Violent Creek.

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Album review: Prime Creation “Tears of Rage”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Prime Creation gives us great melodies, heavy riffs and a contemporary soundscape on its new album. 

Prime Creation formed in Sweden in 2015 and released its debut album in 2016. The band is part of the well-established Swedish melodic hard-rock tradition where great melodies are always at the centre of the songs. But Prime Creation has a certain edge to its music which at times is more hard-hitting than some its peers’ music. One such song is the album’s title track “Tears of Rage” which sounds very modern. The tracks “Lost in the Shades” and “Pretend till the End” are among the album’s obvious highlights. Those songs define what this band is about: catchy melodies with pop hooks, heavy guitar riffs and a contemporary soundscape.  Among all the modern stuff, the band still somehow manages to also keep an unpolished rawness which gives it all some great edginess. That some of the band members have a background in power metal comes as no surprise. For the most part, Prime Creation has a somewhat different sound, although the terrific “Before the Rain” is basically catchy power metal. There is, of course, also a big keyboard-soaked ballad in the form of the track “Endless Lanes” on the album. 

Prime Creation’s album “Tears of Rage” is out now via Silent Wall Productions.

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Album review: Michael Schenker Fest “Revelation”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Michael Schenker Fest returns with its second studio album of new material plus some special Japanese bonus tracks.

Michael Schenker Fest was born out of the onstage reunion of Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet in Japan in 2015. In the early 1980s, Bonnet briefly, very briefly, fronted MSG. It lasted for one album and a small part of a gig. When Schenker in 2015 did a tour of Japan with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, he had the newly formed Graham Bonnet Band as support act. The two former colleagues reunited for the first time ever for a couple of songs during Schenker’s set. It was a huge success and led to the formation of Michael Schenker Fest which sees Schenker reunited with a whole heap of his old MSG bandmates as well as Doogie White from Temple of Rock.

The new band has toured around the globe ever since, including several successful Japan tours. MSF performs classics from throughout Schenker’s career with MSG, UFO and Scorpions. They released a studio album, “Resurrection”, in 2018 and now they are back with a new studio album called “Revelation”. It’s more of the same of what we have been getting from Schenker and his Fest colleagues. The one notable change is the absence of drummer Ted McKenna who sadly passed away unexpectedly in January during a routine operation. He has been replaced in MSF by two other former MSG drummers, Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips.

The album, obviously, features some fine guitar work by the revolutionary guitarist Schenker, but also the voices of the legendary vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. There’s also a guest appearance by current Rainbow singer Ronnie Romero on the track “We Are the Voice” (one of the album’s best tracks). The backbone of MSF still consists of MSG alumni Steve Mann on keyboards and guitar and Chris Glen on bass. Musically, MSF continues in the footsteps of MSG. It is melodic classic rock delivered by some of the most legendary names in the rock business. Everybody misses the great Ted McKenna, but the show must go on. His replacements do not only have the same MSG pedigree, but they are also still able to deliver at the top level. Just like the first MSF album, this one has a few new tracks that will fit in nicely with the old Schenker classics in the live set, such as perhaps “Under a Blood Red Sky”, a great rock song sung by Robin McAuley. “Sleeping with the Light On”, “Leading You Astray” and “Headed for the Sun” are also great tunes.

The Japanese edition of the album comes with a few bonus tracks: “Doctor Doctor” and “Assault Attack” (the album’s highlight for me), both recorded live in Japan in 2017 (with McKenna on drums!) and an alternative version of the track “The Beast in the Shadows” with Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki as a guest. 

Michael Schenker Fest’s new album “Revelation” will be released on 20th September by Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally. Michael Schenker Fest will tour Japan once again in March 2020.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Liv Sin “Burning Sermons”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Liv Sin is back with a terrific hard-hitting yet melodic metal album.

Liv Sin’s frontwoman Liv Jagrell (ex-Sister Sin) has one of those voices meant to sing heavy metal. It is powerful and it comes with plenty of attitude. She’s at the centre of Liv Sin’s music and she leads from the front. Shortly after her former band Sister Sin disbanded in 2015, Liv formed Liv Sin and released the band’s debut album “Follow Me” in 2017. Much of Liv Sin’s music is rooted in proper 1980s heavy metal but it has a modern touch to it as well which means it doesn’t sound dated. “Chapter of the Witch” is a great song. It contains so much good stuff and twists and turns that it puts a big smile on my face. It has terrific energy and the guitars here are fantastic. “War Antidote” is an anthem, a glorious and pompous (in a good way) call to arms of the misfits. “Ghost in the Dark” is the best track on the album and it is Liv Sin’s version of what 80s power ballads were back in the day. On the fab song “Hope Begins to Fade”, Björn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra fame appears on guest vocals. “At the Gates of the Abyss” is the album’s other highlight for me, again with fantastic guitars. It’s great hard-hitting and chest-pounding heavy metal which is also very melodic. It is Liv Sin at its best.

Liv Sin’s new album “Burning Sermons” is out now via Despotz Records. 

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Album review: Frantic Amber “Bellatrix”

Frantic Amber

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band Frantic Amber returns with a smashing new studio album filled with aggressive vocals and plenty of speedy guitar riffs.

Perhaps this should be classified as melodic death metal, but I’d like to describe it as dark and hard-hitting thrashy metal with both speed and melody. The harsh vocals mix well with the guitar melodies. It’s angry music with great melodies. Frantic Amber is a Swedish band but the current line-up is quite international: rhythm guitarist Milla Olsson and bassist Madeleine Gullberg Husberg are indeed Swedish, but lead guitarist Mio Jäger (formerly of Swedish thrash metal band Ice Age) is Japanese, vocalist Elizabeth Andrews is Danish and drummer Mac Dalmanner is from Colombia. “Bellatrix” is the band’s second full-length studio album following the band’s debut album, “Burning Insight”, which was released in 2015. It’s a great album by a great band where Elizabeth Andrews, who has some serious aggressiveness in her vocals, and Mio Jäger’s guitars stand out. The terrific song “Lagertha” kicks off with the line “I am a Viking!” How can I not like that? I do. It’s one of the best tracks on a very solid album. Sometimes Frantic Amber’s music feels uncompromisingly old-school (not a bad thing in my book), but there are also other influences here, such as when the band makes use of some traditional Japanese instrumentation on the splendid track ”Joshitai”. This is great stuff. A proper metal album to bang one’s head to.

Frantic Amber’s “Bellatrix” is out now via GMR Music.

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Album review: Opeth “In Cauda Venenum”

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Opeth returns with the new studio album “In Cauda Venenum”, a progressive rock masterpiece.

Opeth, as expected, delivers a terrific album that is full of progressive rock music with “In Cauda Venenum”, the band’s 13th studio album. Opeth was originally formed as a death metal band in 1989 and there are still some elements of that in Opeth’s music, but the band’s music has evolved a lot since then. Vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt and his current bandmates seem to be able to create music that often is far removed from their metal roots. Nowadays they create a dreamy soundscape filled with storytelling. I want to live in this weird and wonderful Opeth world. The song material is world-class and so are the musicians. When that is combined with excellent arrangements (not least the use of piano, beefy organs and acoustic guitars) and crisp production, we get pretty close to perfection. The “In Cauda Venenum” album is a beautiful masterpiece, but there are also hints of an evil and sinister soul lurking inside this music. It all adds up to exquisite and intense music.

Some of the music is of the slower kind, but it is very dramatic and it grooves. There are some jazzy elements to a few of the songs as well as folk music touches here and there. The fantastic tracks “Next of Kin” and “Charlatan” are progressive rock heaven with twists and turns around every corner. “The Garroter” kicks off with a flamenco-style guitar and a simple piano before moving into some kind of jazz-rock territory. On ”Continuum” we get some timely explosions of wah-wah guitars. The phenomenal guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (of Talisman, Krux, Arch Enemy, Tiamat, John Norum and Southpaw fame) is in the current line-up of the band together with Martin Mendez (Vinterkrig) on bass, Martin Axenrot (Witchery, Bloodbath, Nifelheim) on drums and Joakim Svalberg (Yngwie Malmsteen) on keyboards and piano.

Wow! What an album. It has it all. Love, love, love it! 

Opeth’s album “In Cauda Venenum” will be released on 27th September via Ward Records in Japan and internationally via Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast. There will be two versions of the album, one in English and one in Swedish. Opeth will tour Japan in December.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.opeth.com

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Album review: The Dead Daisies “Locked and Loaded – The Covers Album”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

New album of classic rock covers by The Dead Daisies.

Rock veteran collective The Dead Daisies is, after a few very busy years with multiple album releases and constant touring, on a bit of a break. They are filling part of the gap by releasing a compilation album featuring cover songs they have recorded and played in recent years. The album’s highlights include “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s era-defining anthem of dissent from 1969, as well as cool live versions of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. We also get covers of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Beatles, Howlin’ Wolf, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young. The Daisies has always been a band that is all about feelgood music and meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. Music to get a party started. They write terrific original material but have always made a point of also playing well-chosen covers. The Daisies has had a rotating line-up of music veterans coming and going with Aussie guitarist David Lowy the only constant. On this compilation, we can hear John Corabi, Doug Aldrich, Jackie Barnes, Deen Castronovo, Richard Fortus, Marco Mendoza, Dizzy Reed, Jon Stevens and Brian Tichy people with some serious pedigree from Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Dio, Foreigner, Journey and much more. Just like this band is always a joy to see and hear, this album of covers, too, puts me in a good mood. It will do just fine until we get to hear some news about what’s next for the Daisies. 

The Dead Daisies’ “Locked and Loaded The Covers Album” will be released on 23rd August via Spitfire Music.

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Album review: Riot “Live in Japan 2018”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

American metal band Riot’s love story with Japan continues with a new live release and upcoming Japan shows.

Riot has a long and proud tradition as one of the best American heavy metal bands. They have also had a great relationship with their Japanese fans and they always seem to come up with great things for the Japanese fans. In 2018 they toured Japan twice. This year we get a new Japanese live release (the band’s third) as well as two special shows in Kawasaki in October.

Riot, founded in New York in 1975, has seen its line-up evolve continuously over the years. Leading the current line-up of Riot (or Riot V as the band is now called outside of Japan) are guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Don Van Stavern who both joined the band in the 1980s. They are joined by Frank Gilchriest on drums, Nick Lee on guitar and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. While the band has no original members left, the current members deliver and are worthy of carrying on with the band name. Most importantly, they play the back catalogue very well, but they are also creating great new music in the Riot tradition, such as the terrific 2018 studio album “Armor of Light”.

This double live album, “Live in Japan 2018”, recorded at Club Citta in Kawasaki in March 2018, gives us all the good stuff from throughout the band’s long career. In 1990, the band recorded the live album “Riot in Japan – Live!!” and in 1998 they recorded “Shine On” during a Japan tour. Only Mike Flyntz was part of those earlier live albums and the setlist is very different on this new live album. Of course, we get some of the obvious classics, including “Thundersteel”, “Warrior” (with LoudnessMasayoshi Yamashita as a guest) and “Swords and Tequila”. But we also get fab newer songs such as “Messiah”, “Armor of Light”, “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fall from the Sky”, “Take Me Back”, “Metal Warrior” and “Land of the Rising Sun”. The 23-track live release is a great showcase of Riot’s past and present. It’s a great band that is still relevant and still delivering at a top-level.

Riot’s “Live in Japan 2018”, released both as a live album and a live DVD/Blu-ray, is out now in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via AFM Records. On 5th and 6th October, Riot will be back at Club Citta for two special shows to celebrate the release of the new live release. Get your concert tickets here: www.clubcitta.co.jp/001/riot-2019/

Here’s Roppongi Rocks live review of one of the two Japan shows in March 2018: https://roppongirocks.com/2018/03/17/gig-review-riot-celebrates-30-years-of-thundersteel-at-club-citta/

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