Album review: Tad Morose “Chapter X”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish heavy metal band Tad Morose is back with its splendid tenth studio album, “Chapter X”.

Tad Morose has a sound which is based on what I would call proper heavy metal. There are hints of bands such as Judas Priest, Helloween and Primal Fear. There are progressive influences and there are melodic power metal parts and some symphonic touches as well as great guitar wankery. Most of all, this is great metal music. I love it. It’s a solid album from a seasoned metal band.

The band formed in Bollnäs, Sweden in 1991 and has seen many members come and go over the years. Best known among its former members are perhaps vocalists Urban Breed (Bloodbound, Serious Black) and Joe Comeau (Annihilator, Overkill). The current line-up is led by founding member Christer “Krunt” Andersson on guitar and keyboards and long-time drummer Peter Morén. The line-up is completed by Ronny Hemlin on vocals, Kenneth Jonsson on guitar and Johan Löfgren on bass.

The album opens with “Apocalypse”, a major piece of work with all sorts of influences. It’s like a mini rock opera or concept album distilled down to one song. “Chapter X” is full of rock-solid metal tracks such as “Nemesis”, one of my favourite tracks on the album. “Come Morpheus” is another powerful and gloomy metal song which immediately becomes a favourite. “Masquerader”, “Deprived of Light”, “I am Night”, “Vaunt the Cynical” and many more songs are great. There are no weak points on this album. “…Yet Still You Preach” is close to being a power ballad, but still metal enough. This is Tad Morose after all.

Tad Morose’s album “Chapter X” will be released on 15th June via GMR Music.

Album review: Nervosa “Downfall of Mankind”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Brazil’s Nervosa is back with a fab new album of punishing old-school thrash metal with relentless shredding and anger.

Brazilian thrash metal band Nervosa is back with its aggressive third album. It’s in your face. It’s like an angry pack of wild dogs biting your leg. It’s sinister, aggressive and wonderfully splendid. Nervosa, a trio consisting of Fernanda Lira on vocals and bass, Prika Amaral on guitar and Luana Dametto on drums, plays riff-happy, punishing, relentless and raw thrash metal. There is constant aggressive shredding. The energy and the aggressiveness are always present in Nervosa’s music. It sounds kind of animalistic. Like an out of control wild animal locked into a small cage that is trying to break free.

The album is produced by Martin Furia. When I recently met him here in Japan (he was tour manager for Destruction), he said he very happy with the result of his work on the Nervosa album. Too right, he should be happy. When you have a band with such raw aggression and oversupply of energy, it can be somewhat tricky to capture that in the studio and get it to sound right on an album. But Furia succeeds. He has toured with Nervosa as the band’s sound engineer which probably explains why he’s the man who can take this untamed trio and get them to deliver in the studio as well.

There are some fab uncompromising songs here, such as “…And Justice For Whom?”, “Vultures”, “Raise Your Fist!”, “Fear, Violence and Massacre”, “Never Forget Never Repeat” and so on. No fillers, no compromises, just great thrash metal on every song on this album. My favourite tracks are “Cultura do Estupro” and “Kill The Silence”, a track I like as soon as I see the title. This is a very solid album which includes guest appearances by João Gordo (Ratos de Porão), Rodrigo Oliveira (Korzus) and Michael Gilbert (Flotsam & Jetsam). Good stuff. Love it. I’d love to see these ladies on stage in Japan because live this will no doubt be even more explosive.

Nervosa’s album “Downfall of Mankind” is out now via Napalm Records.

Album review: Marduk “Viktoria”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marduk has been at the forefront of extreme metal for nearly three decades. The influential Swedes are back with “Viktoria”, their fourteenth studio album.

Marduk is so much more than the band’s striking visual image that often gets them noticed. Under the dramatic surface, there is some terrific music. This is a very skilled band with fantastic extreme metal songs that are sinister and fierce at the same time. Since forming in 1990, Marduk has evolved from playing some kind of death metal, via black metal, to what I would call somewhat melodic extreme metal (yeah, that’s right!). This is a quality extreme metal band that is approaching three decades of making music and touring the world.

The “Viktoria” album is filled with heavy riffs, drum blastbeats and terrific melodies. It’s not all mayhem as some of the songs on the album contain slower parts which are both gloomy and rather melodic. The result is great. Fast, heavy, slow, gloomy, aggressive, melodic. It’s a great melting pot of styles and tempo changes that are all added up to become Marduk. Marduk’s lyrics revisit historical battles, religion and the very dark side of humanity. The heavy and serious topics of the songs fit very well with the aggressive music. The sinister combination makes great metal music for those of you who like your heavy metal evil and dark.

The album opens with “Werwolf”, a straightforward punishing two-minute track that hits you in the face and wakes you up. Marduk wants your attention! Time to listen! “Equestrian Bloodlust”, a more complex and varied song, is an immediate favourite of mine on this album. The title track “Viktoria” is also a splendid lesson in how extreme metal is done. The album is rather varied but also consistent with it comes to song quality.

Marduk’s album “Viktoria” will be released on 22nd June via Century Media Records. Marduk will tour Japan in November.

Album review: Stagman “Moder Jord” | Zinny Zan continues his singer-songwriter solo career

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bosse Stagman, better known as Zinny Zan of Easy Action and Shotgun Messiah fame, has grown up and become a singer-songwriter.

In the early 1980s, Bosse Stagman, under his Zinny Zan stage name, was one of Sweden’s first proper rock stars who fronted sleaze rock band Easy Action, a band which also featured guitarist Kee Marcello. Marcello moved on to bigger stages when he joined Europe, while Stagman became frontman of Shotgun Messiah, a Swedish band which saw some decent success in the US for a few years and also included future Marilyn Manson member Tim Sköld.

Now Stagman has grown up and long gone are his sleaze rock days. He now continues his journey as a solo artist on the same road he went down on last year’s “Är ni kvar där ute?” album. Stagman the solo artist has dropped the brash image of yesteryear. Now he is focused on scaled down singer-songwriter kind of music sung in his native Swedish. Stagman has sort of followed in the footsteps of Tommy Nilsson, a well-known mainstream pop/rock singer who replaced Zinny Zan as frontman of Easy Action in the mid-80s when the band dropped both the image and the sleaze music and became a melodic rock band. Nilsson later became a household name as a solo artist. Stagman covers a relatively wide area of musical styles on this new solo album. Thankfully he’s chosen to just write and perform music that he wants to do, ignoring all trends and expectations along the way. There’s some fine guitar work on several of the songs that reminds us of Stagman’s past as a rock star. We get some blues influences as well as touches of more contemporary rock and pop music, including a few ballads. It is a very personal album, something which is very noticeable in songs like “Stockholm är min stad” (“Stockholm is my city”). He writes lyrics about his life and experiences, not some abstract or made up stories. My favourite track on this album is “Den rätta vägen”, a song which partly sounds like a Squeeze-inspired song.

Easy Action fans will enjoy the fact that Nalle Påhlsson is on bass duty on this album and Björn “Grizzly” Höglund plays drums. While not original members, both of them were part of later line-ups of Easy Action.

Stagman’s “Moder Jord” album is out now via GMR Music.

Album review: Overkill “Live in Overhausen”

Overkill onstage in Japan in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Overkill live in front of a fired up German thrash metal crowd? Yeah, that works. Overkill’s new live album “Live in Overhausen” is brilliant.

New Jersey’s Overkill has always been a great thrash metal band with an attitude and terrific songs. Live they have always been entertaining and even a step up from the studio experience. The current line-up of the band is rock solid and here on this live recording from Germany, we get Overkill at its best in front of a loyal German audience.

The band’s co-founders Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (vocals) and DD Verni (bass) are better than ever. Backed up by long-serving guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer, this is a tight thrash machine that delivers the goods. On this recording, the band is joined by stand-in drummer Eddy Garcia (Blitz introduces him with the words “We call him the Mexicutioner!”). At the time of the recording, Overkill’s current permanent drummer Jason Bittner had not yet joined the band.

They kick off the album with “Coma” followed by “Infectious”. With that, we’re off to a great start and the 21-song recording just keeps on delivering highlights. In “Soulitude” Overkill somehow manages to sound like Iron Maiden. “Thanx for Nothin’” is my favourite track on this splendid live album. Other highlights include “There’s No Tomorrow”, “Hammerhead”, “Bare Bones”, “Live Young, Die Free”, “Feel the Fire” and the insanely brilliant and rarely performed “Kill at Command”. There is so much good stuff on this album it is hard to write the review as I can’t sit still. I am doing a one-man circle pit around my computer keyboard and my one-man wall of death nearly knocks over my PC screen. Playing air guitar, throwing metal horns in the air, headbanging and typing a review on the keyboard all at the same time is tricky and painful. But this album deserves it. They finish off this high-energy live album with the obvious “Overkill” and “Fuck You“.

Bobby Blitz is one fine and effective thrash metal captain, a skull crusher. He takes his German fans with him on a showcase where Overkill demonstrates why they are one of the world’s top thrash metal acts. Great, great stuff for thrash fans. Blitz and the boys clearly love performing for the German fans. Blitz salutes the audience with the words: “Metal is in your blood, isn’t it? It’s in your heart and your motherfucking soul! Deutschland, you make me proud to call myself a metalhead!”

Overkill’s “Live in Overhausen”, recorded in Oberhausen, Germany in 2016, will be released in multiple formats, including CD, Blu-Ray and DVD. It will be released on 18th May via Nuclear Blast internationally and via Ward Records in Japan.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Overkill’s Blitz in Japan in 2017.

Album review: Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia “Metal Souls”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai teams up with Ronnie Romero, Tommy Aldridge and Marco Mendoza on new Destinia album.

Nozomu Wakai has already made a name for himself as a young guitar wizard here in Japan. Perhaps the biggest hope in Japanese heavy metal since Akira Takasaki of Loudness emerged on the scene nearly four decades ago. Wakai has released a couple of albums and has also performed with Mari Hamada’s band and Paul Shortino Band (led by the legendary Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino) and has guested Lords of Black during their Japan tour last year. Now he’s ready to take on the world with Destinia and he’s doing it together with Lords of Black’s vocalist Ronnie Romero, who is also the current frontman of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The rhythm section on this album consists of drummer Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers Band, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy) and bassist Marco Mendoza (The Dead Daisies, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, Blue Murder). Not a bad little line-up of international rockers.

The title song kicks off the album and sets the tone. “Metal Souls” is an album that lives somewhere between European power metal and American AOR. Most of all it has loud echoes of 80s power metal and is dominated by Wakai’s guitar playing and Romero’s powerful voice. Destinia plays very melodic metal, but – in a power metal kind of way – it is often performed at speed, with plenty of keyboard soundscapes and fiery guitar solos. The international version of the album is being released by the Italian label Frontiers Music. That is no coincidence as Frontiers has almost monopolised the AOR/melodic metal genre in Europe. Destinia fits in well musically with Frontiers other artists. “Raise Your Fist” is AOR of the kind popular in the 1980s: melodic rock, singalong chorus, keyboards, big hair and a fiery guitar solo. “Rain” is a fab song and my other favourites on this album are “Promised Land” and “Be a Hero”. If you like melodic metal, fine guitar work and a powerful voice, Destinia is for you. The members of the band line-up performing on this album are very busy with other bands and projects and, thus, I wonder if Wakai will put together a new line-up of the band for touring. I am hoping that he will take this music on the road, or at least do some special shows with Ronnie Romero.

Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia “Metal Souls” album will be released on 23rd May in Japan via Ward Records and on 13th July in Europe via Frontiers Music.

Album review: At The Gates “To Drink From The Night Itself”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Records

Gothenburg sound creators and melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates are back with a new guitarist and a fabulous new album.

Yes, the new At The Gates album is as good as I had hoped. “To Drink From The Night Itself” has been produced by Russ Russell (Napalm Death, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir) and features some gloriously punishing tracks. It’s terrific! It’s a knuckle-duster knockout! There is not one weak moment on this majestic album of death metal awesomeness. It’s now a decade since At The Gates reformed and they are still top of their game, still kings of the hill of death metal. Since their last studio album, 2014’s “At War With Reality”, guitarist Anders Björler has left the band and been replaced by Jonas Stålhammar. I don’t know, perhaps I just feel relieved that this album exceeds my high expectations. I am not sure if I had any real reason to have been worried. Perhaps Anders Björler’s departure as he wrote much of the material on the previous album? For the new album, his twin brother Jonas Björler stepped up to write the material together with vocalist Tomas Lindberg.

There was no need for me to worry. This solid death metal album slaps me in the face with a wet fish and wakes me up. Yes, Sir, I can boogie to this music. At The Gates has done it again! They not only own the Gothenburg sound, they created it and they are taking it into the modern era with a contemporary version of the deep-rooted death metal of 1990. The “new boy” in the band comes with the right pedigree. Bombs of Hades, God Macabre, The Lurking Fear and The Crown are just a few of the bands that Jonas Stålhammar has been a member of. It seems he is an obvious choice for At The Gates.

There are passages in some of the songs on the album, such as parts of “Daggers of Black Haze” and “The Mirror Black”, where we get some different kinds of influences and music mixed in with the normal anger. However, on the whole, this is an album which is a bit darker and more sinister than its predecessor. Lyrically the band has built stories based on themes from German writer Peter Weiss‘ book “The Aesthetics of Resistance”. The band has walked down the appropriate path. It’s old-school, at times more death metal than melodic death metal, but it’s timeless and often contemporary sounding. The title track is one of the album’s best tracks. It’s sheer death metal brilliance. But there’s plenty of other good stuff on this album. “In Death They Shall Burn” is a nice head-cleaning track that I particularly like. “Palace of Lepers” is another fabulous song and so is “A Stare Bound In Stone”. On the track “In Nameless Sleep”, King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque appears as a guest.

Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At The Gates’ album “To Drink From The Night Itself” will be released on 18th May via Century Media internationally and Trooper Entertainment in Japan. The band will tour Japan again at the end of May.

Album review: Grá “Väsen” | A cold and dark soundtrack to the end of the world

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Funeral frontman Heljarmadr returns with Grá’s new album: a fabulously dark, cold and dramatic Nordic soundtrack to the chaotic end of the world.

When vocalist Heljarmadr is not busy with Dark Funeral, he is fronting Grá, another splendid Swedish extreme metal band. Grá was founded in 2010 and “Väsen” is the band’s third full-length studio album. Grá has some of its roots in black metal, but on “Väsen” the band shows us that these dark minds are capable of much more than that. The characteristic voice of Heljarmadr obviously reminds us of Dark Funeral, but musically this is quite different.

Lyrically, Grá performs in both its native Nordic tongues and in English. The Nordic identity is very much part of what this band is about. There is a foundation here built on the frozen landscapes of the north and plenty of references to Norse mythology. The music is often extreme. We get chaos and sorrow, yet there are many melodic parts, mainly of the haunting kind. There is a great use of keyboard soundscapes, adding more horror to the furious attack of the guitars and drums. “Krig” is the album’s standout track. It is full of hatred, preparation for battle and destruction. It is rivalled by “King of Decay” as the album’s best track. “The Devil’s Tribe” is another smashing track on this album. It keeps going back and forth tempo-wise and it has a rather evil spirit about it. Pitch black, certainly no rays of sunshine here. Splendid! The title track “Väsen” is also a highlight for me on this eight-track album where we get a lone acoustic guitar breaking in among the electric mayhem.

Overall “Väsen” is a terrific album of eerily extreme metal from Sweden. Great stuff. The future is bleak, all hope is gone. But at least we have a splendid soundtrack to listen to while the world falls apart. Or something of quality to play at your funeral.

Grá’s new album “Väsen” is out now via Carnal Records.

EP review: Candlemass “House of Doom”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish doom masters return with the new EP “House of Doom”.

Candlemass has been at the forefront of doom metal since the mid-80s. They set the agenda and the rules that others follow. Now they have a brand new four-track EP ready.

The title track “House of Doom”, which unsurprisingly opens with the sound of a church bell, is sheer brilliance. It’s Candlemass at its best: doomy, gloomy, heavy and energetic, yet melodic and accessible. Fantastic! “Flowers of Deception” is more complex and demands more of its listeners. There are twists and turns, tempo changes, style changes and loads of small details to discover and cherish. Terrific music. “Fortuneteller” is a melancholic doom ballad with Mats Levén’s voice and a beautiful acoustic guitar at its centre. The EP is rounded off by “Dolls on a Wall”, an instrumental track where the band gets to do some guitar wankery and let off some steam. Four songs on an EP that are very different and showcase the greatness and musical variety of this terrific band. Candlemass is always doom, but its timeless music comes in different shapes.

Vocalist Mats Levén has a long track record in metal, which includes Treat, Swedish Erotica, Yngwie Malmsteen, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, ReVertigo, Abstrakt Algebra, Krux, Therion, Gus G, Firewind and much more. He is a world-class singer and his pipes, together with Leif Edling’s superior songwriting skills, help Candlemass stay clear of the competition. Splendid riffing (Mats “Mappe” Björkman and Lars Johansson on the guitars) and a rock-solid rhythm section (Edling on bass and Jan Lindh on drums) are topped off by Per Wiberg’s melancholic Hammond wizardry. Adding the former Opeth and current Spiritual Beggars man Wiberg to Candlemass (although only as a session player and live member) was a very smart move as he adds so much to an already solid band. Wiberg has also been playing bass at most of Candlemass’ gigs in recent years when Edling’s been unable to perform due to illness.

The doom masters are still top of the hill. They are currently working on a new full-length album which should be out later this year. “House of Doom” will keep us happy until then.

Candlemass’ new EP “House of Doom” will be released on 25th May via Napalm Records.

Album review: Lords of Black “Icons of the New Days”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black, the Spanish metal band fronted by Rainbow’s Chilean vocalist Ronnie Romero, is back with its third studio album.

Vocalist Ronnie Romero is a busy artist. Not only is he fronting Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and providing vocals for multiple projects (such as Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia), he also has a day job as frontman for Spanish metal band Lords of Black. While I enjoy pretty much everything Romero does, I hope that he will remain focused on Lords of Black. He co-founded the band with guitarist Tony Hernando and drummer Andy C (with bassist Dani Criado as a later addition). Here he gets to sing his own material and has also started a tradition of performing fantastic covers.

Lords of Black’s new studio album is as good as hoped. Since the band formed in 2014, they have produced three studio albums and toured the world, including two Japan visits. The music is top notch European melodic metal/power metal. Tony Hernando is quite a guitarist and when combined with Romero’s voice, it becomes fantastic.

“World Gone Mad” is a fabulous opener of the album. It has energy, a great melody and THAT voice. “The Way I’ll Remember” is a great track that immediately stands out. “Wait No Prayers for the Dying” is a splendid song which reminds me somewhat of Megadeth. While Lords of Black has established their signature sound, they are very capable of pushing the limits and play whatever music they feel like. The title track “Icons of the New Days” is also a favourite which will no doubt become a live favourite.

There is plenty of bonus material on the Japanese edition of the album. First of all, we get a great acoustic version of the track “Forevermore”, but we also get some very well-chosen cover songs. Lords of Black takes on tracks by Queen, Journey, Anthrax and Bruce Dickinson on a special bonus disc which also includes two previously unreleased original songs: “The Maker and the Storm” and “When Nothing was Wrong”. On the Queen track “Innuendo”, Romero shows us that he can not only fill the shoes of the legendary Rainbow vocalists that preceded him in the band, he can also take on Freddie Mercury and get away with it. He is not copying Mercury, but he adds is own personality to his take on the classic Queen song. The cover of Bruce Dickinson’s “Tears of the Dragon” is perhaps the best song on this release. A beautiful power ballad-type of song delivered flawlessly. The Anthrax track “Only” is phenomenal and proves once again that Lords of Black can play all kinds of music.

Overall “Icons of the New Days” is a fab album. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Lords of Black.

Ronnie Romero and Tony Hernando on stage with Lords of Black in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lords of Black’s album “Icons of the New Days” will be released on 9th May in Japan via Ward Records and on 11th May internationally via Frontiers Music.