Album review: Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s world-leading position in melodic hard rock is showcased on a new Impera album featuring members from Europe, Nocturnal Rites, King Diamond and Lion’s Share.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera was founded by drummer Johan Kihlberg in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011. “Spirit of Alchemy” is the band’s sixth album. Johan – who has done session work in backing bands for Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick, John Corabi, Graham Bonnet and Brian Robertson – has gathered an impressive line-up of musicians to play with him on the album: Europe bassist John Levén, drummer Snowy Shaw (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Memento Mori, Therion, Dimmu Borgir, Dream Evil), vocalist Jonny Lindkvist (Nocturnal Rites) and guitarist Lars Chriss (Lion’s Share). There are also guest appearances by Kay Backlund (Lion’s Share) on keyboards, Mats Vassfjord (220 Volt) on bass and Pontus Egberg (King Diamond, Treat, Lion’s Share, The Poodles) on bass. Musically, this album lives somewhere in the valleys of 1980s Swedish melodic hard rock and power metal. It’s riff-happy but always melodic. “Lost Your Life to Rock’n’Roll” has echoes of Europe while “All About You” has some 220 Volt vibes. The song quality is very strong throughout the album and, obviously, with a band line-up like this, Impera delivers in the studio. Personal favourites on the album, in addition to the previously mentioned tracks, are “Read It and Weep”, “When Souls Collide” and “In Heaven”. All of them are melodic hard rock songs full of energy and heavy riffs. Johan Kihlberg has a passion for atmospheric film scores and we get treated to some of that on the instrumental track “Battle” and also on a “The Empire Strikes Back” medley which features as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album. Impera was scheduled as opening act for KISS in Sweden before the “End of the Road” tour came to a halt due to the global pandemic. Hopefully, Impera will get a second chance at opening for KISS once arena gigs will be possible again. This music needs to be performed live. In the meantime we will listen to this fab album of Swedish melodic hard rock.

Johan Kihlberg’s Impera “Spirit of Alchemy” will be released on 9th April via Rubicon Music in Japan and via Metalville internationally.

Album review: Evil Drive “Demons Within”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Another great metal album from Finland – Evil Drive releases its third studio album.

Founded in Finland in 2013, melodic death metal band Evil Drive debuted with the album “The Land of the Dead” in 2016. That was followed by the album “Ragemaker” in 2018 and now “Demons Within”, which is the band’s third album. Having had some line-up changes over the years, the Finnish band is now technically very skilled. I think that on this third album they have also evolved their song-writing skills and have created a great album. “In the End” is a slow ballad, but it is still heavy and with growls. However, most of the “Demons Within” album is classic melodic death metal with growls by Russian-Finnish vocalist Viktoria Viren. Viktoria’s husband Ville Viren co-founded the band with her and plays guitar. The rest of the current line-up consists of J-P Pusa (guitar), Matti Sorsa (bass) and Antti Tani (drums). Evil Drive reminds me of Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow-era (2000-2014). It is obvious that Arch Enemy has been a big influence on this band. But this is no copycat band. They may have a similar sound to Arch Enemy but they certainly are making something of their own, not least creating their own terrific songs. The album opens with the energetic “Payback” which sets the tone for the album. “We are One” is a standout track, the relentless “Bringer of Darkness” is crushing and so is the pummelling “Rising from the Revenge”. Love it.

Evil Drive’s album “Demons Within” will be released in Japan today via Spiritual Beast and internationally via Reaper Entertainment.

Album review: Korpiklaani “Jylhä”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Finnish folk metal masters Korpiklaani return with the band’s eleventh studio album.

Finland is a super power when it comes to heavy metal. The Nordic country has world-class acts in most metal subgenres. Korpiklaani is one of the best bands in the folk metal subgenre and at the same time they are one of the most Finnish bands. Korpiklaani’s music is a melting pot of heavy metal and traditional Nordic folk music. The instrumentation in the band also represents the two genres with a combination of electric guitars and accordions, mandolins and violins. Some songs are folk music with some metal injections while others are heavy metal songs with an added accordion. It should be weird but it isn’t. It’s great. Unlike many other folk metal bands who play metal with added folk parts, Korpiklaani has its roots firmly in folk music and has evolved into a folk metal band. It shows in the quality of the folk parts and in the very Finnish lyrics which are stories about nature, folklore and murders. During its career, Korpiklaani has sung in both Finnish and English. “Jylhä” is the band’s eleventh full-length studio album and it is sung entirely in Finnish. Frontman and founder Jonne Järvelä is still leading the band. New in the band since the last album is drummer Samuli Mikkonen. The splendid and heavy folk song “Mylly” is my favourite track. It has everything I love about Finnish music: melancholy, heaviness, catchiness, a great melody, energy and an accordion. “Sanaton maa” is another excellent song that puts the violin at the centre of a very catchy song. “Tuuleton” is also terrific song which is something of a campfire storytelling session deep in a dark Finnish forest. Having said that, this is a very even album with no duds and no fillers among the thirteen songs. I know that folk metal is not for everybody. But if you are into ethnic metal, then you should give this very Finnish folk metal album a listen. Finns know how to be melancholic and dark while still being catchy and melodic.

Korpiklaani’s new album “Jylhä” will be released on 2nd April in Japan via Ward Records. The album is available internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.

EP review: Bottenhavet “Ett hav av tårar”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bottenhavet debuts with hard rock sung in Swedish on new EP.

Bottenhavet (Swedish for Bothnian Sea) is a trio of rockers – Kim Minkkinen (vocals), Charlie Karlsson (guitar) and Marcus Wigren (drums) – based in Stockholm, Sweden. The band’s sound that has a kind of 1970s hard rock foundation but with plenty of other influences shining through, including prog rock and Soundgarden-style grunge. There is also a fair bit of haze rock touches here and some echoes of fellow Swedish rockers The Soundtrack of Our Lives and, yes, even Mando Diao. The resulting melting pot is very enjoyable. “Ett hav av tårar”, the band’s first release, is an exquisite four-track EP. Bottenhavet’s lyrics on the four songs – “Fula skor”, “Dra mig i håret”, “En tår” and “Två tårar” – are all sung in their native Swedish. Kim Minkkinen’s voice is perfect for this music. It is powerful and engaging. The combination of his voice and the music makes me want to dance. This is a rock-solid debut EP with very strong tracks showcasing the band’s abilities. I hope that we soon get to hear a full-length studio album from this band. I am guessing they are a terrific live band with such strong songs. Bottenhavet is now one of my new favourite Swedish bands. It will soon be yours too.

Bottenhavet’s EP “Ett hav av tårar” is out now.

Album review: Speed Command “Vestiges of Peace”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Excellent stenchy old-school basement thrash metal on debut album from Argentina’s Speed Command.

Formed in 2011, “Vestiges of Peace” is Speed Command’s debut full-length studio album. Prior to this album, the band has done a bunch of demos, singles and participated in split releases and compilations. The Argentinian lads in Speed Command have a fantastic old-school thrash metal sound. The powerful trio – consisting of Bruno de Lucia (lead guitar), Luciano Roldan (drums) and Germán Mulc (vocals and bass) – has managed to recreate not only the sound of early thrash metal but also the DIY and underground feeling of the whole thing. If you like your metal thrashy, stenchy, damp and with a sound that implies that it has been recorded in someone’s basement, this is for you. I love it. It brings me back to the many thrash metal demo cassettes I listened to in the early 1990s. The songs have a lot of speed and energy and they also have a few black metal influences shining through. “Violent Force” with its relentlessness and terrific guitars immediately becomes one of my favourite tracks and so does “Lethal Injection” with its raw energy. The title track is another terrific track with its speed metal guitar solo. And “Falcons of Death”! Well, most tracks are outstanding in their own gritty way. The Japanese edition of the album contains two bonus tracks in the form of a 2017 demo version of the splendid song “Chainsaw Evil Night” and a cover, “Face of Darkness”, which was originally performed by German blackened thrash metal band Desaster on the 1993 demo cassette “The Fog of Avalon”. Japanese record label boss Akira Sugiuchi at Spiritual Beast has a great talent for discovering new metal bands. I have no idea how he found this underground band in Argentina, but he did and I am grateful for it as I sit here playing air guitar and headbanging. What a great find!

Speed Command’s album “Vestiges of Peace” is out now in Japan via Carnal Beast/Spiritual Beast.

Album review: Miasma Theory “Miasma Theory”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Doomy and hazy metal on Miasma Theory’s debut album.

Florida-based Miasma Theory plays doomy, dirty heavy metal. It’s dreamy, hazy, slow metal. The core trio of the band consists of two members from the American doom metal band Northern Crown – guitarist Zachary Randall and bassist Leona Hayward – as well as the Argentinian lead guitarist Juan Carrizo from Anna Fiori’s backing band. On the debut album, the trio is joined by Latvian vocalist Māra Lisenko (from death metal band MĀRA) and German drummer Jonas Schütz (Sapiency, Diesis). Miasma Theory’s self-titled debut album has only five tracks on it. It has four very promising original songs – “Forever Ends Today”, “Together as One”, “Next Time, Last Time” and “Vector” – as well as a very good cover of “Under the Oak” by Swedish doom metal masters Candlemass (from their 1986 debut album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”). The album has an underground, grassroots, DIY kind of appeal about it. Nothing is too polished. It’s raw and gloomy and very good. “Next Time, Last Time” has excellent guitars, but it is “Together as One”, an exquisite, dreamy slow-motion haze rock song (Zachary Randall describes it as a ballad) that is my favourite on the album.

Miasma Theory’s debut album will be released on 23rd April via Shadowlit Music.

Album review: Electric Boys “Ups!de Down”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A more mature and seasoned band is emerging on the exquisite new Electric Boys album “Ups!de Down”. Who knew that Electric Boys had a secret desire to be a naughty version of The Traveling Wilburys?

Swedish rockers Electric Boys take us for another terrific and funky ride on the band’s seventh studio album, “Ups!de Down”. I have always dug this band and I was fortunate enough to see them live a few times in 1989 and 1990 when they toured in support of their just-released debut album “Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride”. Founding members Conny Bloom (guitar and vocals) and Andy Christell (bass) are still the driving force of the band. Guitarist Franco Santunione exited the band last year and has, once again, been replaced by Martin Thomander, who originally took over from Franco in 1993-94. Drum duties continue to be shared between original drummer Niclas Sigevall and Jolle Atlagic (who came into the band after having played with Conny and Andy in Hanoi Rocks in 2008-09, including some great gigs here in Japan). Jolle plays all the drums on the album as Niclas was prevented to travel to the recording studio due to the global pandemic. Electric Boys has always been a band with attitude and swagger. But they can back that up with quality. They always deliver. They open their new album with a seven-minutes and twenty-seconds long instrumental piece called “Upside Down Theme”. Not exactly what industry experts would suggest you do. But this band doesn’t care. They are confident and they do what they do. It’s up to you if you dig it or not. I dig it. “Ups!de Down” is quite a diverse album. There is a foundation built on rock and pop from the 1960s and 70s, mixed up with some funk, groove and blues and given the Electric Boys treatment to arrive at a contemporary style of rock music that is absolutely terrific. The splendid “Super God” is groovy rock meets 60s pop. “She Never Turns Around” is a terrific ballad. “Globestrutter” and “Never Again Your Slave” are energetic rocker songs with a swagger attitude. The fantastic “Tumblin’ Dominoes” has some cool Neil Young and Tom Petty vibes, but more than anything it is an exquisite Electric Boys song. Who knew that Electric Boys had a secret desire to be a naughty version of The Traveling Wilburys? On the track “It’s Not the End” the Wilburys vibes return. Those vibes suit Electric Boys very well and are seemingly part of a natural progression of a maturing band. In “The Dudes & the Dancers” we get some Mott the Hoople seasoning sprinkled over the Electric Boys sound. There are also plenty of tips of the hat and nods to The Beatles throughout the album. It’s a relaxed, laidback album. It is performed as if it were done effortlessly. But, make no mistake about it, there’s a ton of talent, skill, experience and bloody hard work behind the creation of a new Electric Boys album.

Electric Boys’ new album “Ups!de Down” will be released on 30th April via Mighty Music.

Album review: Siniestro “Vortexx”

Siniestro: The Machine (drums) and Commander (vocals and guitars). Photo: Jens Ryden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish-Chilean blackened thrash metal with death metal and punk influences and a few surprising musical twists and turns.

The record label describes Siniestro as Swedish-Chilean blackened thrash metal. With such a description I know that, even before listening to a single song, I no doubt will find this duo’s album very interesting. The duo, formed in 2012, has a Northern European/South American fire-and-ice kind of dynamic to its music. Hot and cold and freaking furious. I love it. It’s angry yet melodic. It’s fast and heavy. It’s at times primitive yet often complicated and technical. A couple of the tracks are sung in Swedish. Those tracks, “Blod eld död” and “Den svartaste flamman och renaste hat”, are a bit different musically from the tracks sung in English. They sound like they have a fair bit of Swedish punk influences in them. “Vortexx”, the band’s second full-length album, is quite varied. It includes two instrumental pieces – “Hiisi” (an acoustic flamenco-style guitar piece) and “My Innermost Sun” (a piece seemingly played on a church organ) – which both further add to the variety of musical styles that Siniestro performs with excellence. “Escape by Death” is a splendid song that takes the band into a dense death metal forest. The hard-hitting tracks “One Last Bullet, One Last Ride” and “Buried in the Bog” are among my favourites on this terrific album. But the almost ten-minute long “Anti Human Commando” is the standout track for me. It’s an epic piece of music that has everything that I love about Siniestro: heaviness, speed, melodies, razor-sharp riffs, pissed-off vocals and plenty of raw and dirty energy.

Siniestro’s album “Vortexx” will be released on 14th May via Black Lodge Records.

Album review: Peter Hermansson “Second Glance”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

220 Volt drummer shows us he has more than drum sticks in his bag on a great solo album.

I saw Peter Hermansson live on stage for the first time in 1987. It was a show with one of my favourite bands, the Swedish melodic metal band 220 Volt, performing in front of a massive and enthusiastic festival audience in their hometown Östersund. Peter started drumming with 220 Volt before the band released its self-titled debut album in 1983. He is drumming in the current line-up of the band and has also played with John Norum and Talisman. Now we get to hear more of Peter when he releases his first full-length solo album. We already knew he is one of Sweden’s best rock drummers, but on this new album, we get to experience much more of this multitalented vocalist, musician and songwriter. Peter sings lead and drums on all songs on the album. He plays bass on a few tracks as well. We also get to hear his 220 Volt band mates Mats Karlsson and Mats Vassfjord perform. Other notable musicians guesting on this album include Nalle Påhlsson (Therion, Zan Clan, Treat, Easy Action), John Levén (Europe), Björn Englén (Quiet Riot, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Martin Thomander (Electric Boys). The album contains nine original tracks penned by Peter plus two covers, Deep Purple’s “Soldier of Fortune” and Nick Ashford’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (which has also been covered by Humble Pie, W.A.S.P. and many more). The music on “Second Glance” is best described as melodic 70s/80s hard rock with blues touches, some more contemporary parts and a few ballads in the mix as well. Peter has a seasoned, grown-up rock voice that fits this music style very well. “Set Me Free” is a ballad with some terrific guitars by Christofer Ståhl (Talisman) while “Last Goodbye” is an emotional ballad. “Ain’t Gonna Crawl” is an excellent modern rock song performed by Peter and Mats Karlsson. “Hero’s End”, a splendid and energetic bluesy hard rock song, is one of the highlights on the album together with the tracks “Revolution”, “Movin’ On” and “Perfect World”.

Peter Hermansson’s solo album “Second Glance” will be released on 16th April via GMR Music.

Peter Hermansson Official Facebook page

Album review: Against Evil “End of the Line”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Indian band Against Evil releases its third album filled with great heavy metal.

Against Evil formed in India in 2014. They debuted with “Fatal Assault” in 2015 and followed that up with the album “All Hail the King” in 2018. 2019 saw them tour Europe on the back of the great feedback from the latest album. Now they’re back with their third album. So, how can I describe Against Evil’s music? The track “Out for Blood” (with Billy Sheehan guesting on it) sounds a bit like 1980s American radio metal/hair metal (think Ratt), but most of the album has a proper foundation in NWOBHM while also sounding contemporary. There are also hints of thrash metal and heavy-yet-melodic bands such as Queensrÿche, Manowar and Riot throughout the album. The band itself calls it “heavy metal with power and speed metal influence”. Overall this is a very good heavy metal album. “The Sound of Violence” is a beyond terrific track. Other strong ones include “Metal of Nothin’”, “War Hero”, “End of the Line”, “Sword of Power” and “Speed Demon”. There is some real metal potential in these Indian lads.

Against Evil’s album “End of the Line” will be released on 14th May via Doc Gator Records in Europe and independently the rest of the world.