Album review: Ace Frehley “Spaceman”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following his successful Japan tour last month, Ace Frehley is back with a new studio album full of good stuff.

Spaceman is back and he told you so. I am not sure if it is the just announced final KISS world tour that has got him to up his game or what (he has said he’d like to take part in that tour). But the fact of the matter is that 2018 is the year of original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. His recent Japan shows were awesome (certainly a contender for live shows of the year in Tokyo). During the Japan tour in September, he didn’t play any songs from the new album. Hopefully, he will come back for that because with this new album he has some great new music to add to his back catalogue of classic rock.

The whole new album has that great laidback Ace Frehley touch. Many of the songs remind me of songs Ace did with KISS in the 70s and on his self-titled solo album from 1978. “Spaceman” is a terrific Ace Frehley album which opens with the splendid “Without You I’m Nothing”, a very typical Frehley song combining fab guitar work with his characteristic laidback approach to singing. “Rockin’ with the Boys” is kind of an Ace Frehley answer to the KISS classic “Beth” (although it is not a ballad). “Off My Back” is an obvious favourite of mine. “I Wanna Go Back” is another. “Bronx Boy” is an answer to “New York Groove”. While this is an album of all new material, dedicated KISS and Frehley fans will find plenty of nods to his musical heritage. “Mission to Mars” is a smoking rocker of a track while the exquisite “Pursuit of Rock and Roll” is a new “Rock Soldiers”. The nine-track album closes with the jam-tastic instrumental piece “Quantum Flux”.

It’s so great to hear Ace back at the top of his game. He’s still a guitar wizard and he has some fab new songs for his fans. Ace is indeed back and he did tell you so!

Ace Frehley’s new album “Spaceman” is out on 19th October via eONE.

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Album review: Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators “Living the Dream”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With Guns N’ Roses on a short break from their ongoing multi-year world tour, guitarist Slash has found time to put out a new album with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators.

In essence, this is more of the same that Slash and his men created on their last album, 2014’s splendid “World on Fire”. Since the last album, the major difference is of course that Slash has rejoined Guns N’ Roses. Guns N’ Roses is a rather complex band where Axl Rose has a say in everything and where the partly reunited classic line-up of the band has not yet produced any new music. The GNR live set has been focused on playing classics as well as some covers. This, I believe, is why Slash needs to put out an album like Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators’ “Living the Dream”. Here he gets to do what he wants to do without too much pressure or too high expectations. Because of this, we get quality rock’n’roll by a terrific band of rock brothers who play well together, seemingly without too much drama. The world-class band line-up remains the same that toured the previous album – in addition to Slash there is vocalist Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), bassist Todd Kerns (Bob Kulick, Hookers & Blow, Sin City Sinners), drummer Brent Fitz (Union, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper, Bruce Kulick) and guitarist Frank Sidoris (The Cab). As is the case with many of the world’s truly great guitarists, Slash never goes too far. Sure, he shows off his guitar-playing skills, but he makes sure he is part of the songs. His guitar never overstays its welcome. It never overshadows the songs.

“Living the Dream” offers us straightforward and catchy rock’n’roll built around Slash’s guitar and Myles Kennedy’s characteristic voice. It’s radio friendly and won’t scare too many parents. “Sugar Cane” is a clear favourite of mine with trademark Slash guitar riffs. So is “Mind Your Manners”, a straightforward rock’n’roll track. “Lost Inside the Girl” is terrific – the album’s best track – and “Driving Rain” is another strong track. “The One You Loved is Gone” and “The Great Pretender” are power ballads where not least Myles Kennedy gets to shine. The album “Living the Dream” is great fun. This is a band playing melodic rock’n’roll, music that they love and have produced without overthinking things. That laidback, casual feeling is what makes this rock album a good one.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators’ new album “Living the Dream” is out now via Roadrunner Records.

Slash in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Amaranthe “Helix”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe is back with its fifth studio album. It’s everything you’d expect from this band and more: fast-paced and catchy modern metal bursting with energy and with some great new twists.

“Helix” is a logical next step for Gothenburg, Sweden-based band Amaranthe. It’s the band’s fifth album in seven and a half years. Since they debuted in 2011 with “Amaranthe”, they have kept themselves busy with countless tours around the world and frequent album releases. Amaranthe had its signature sound established already on the debut album but they keep evolving and refining the sound. The solid musical foundation of the band – Olof Mörck on guitar and keyboards, bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen – remains intact since the very first album. The band has since the beginning fielded three vocalists with distinctly different vocal styles. Now only Elize Ryd remains of the original vocal trio. She’s the one that takes centre stage in Amaranthe, but on this album, we also get to hear the other two singers – Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson and Nils Molin – really staking out their own kingdoms in the futuristic Amaranthe world.

The three vocalists are working in great harmony here. Elize Ryd gets to shine as usual – she’s a great vocalist and an entertainer who likes to rock out. Growler Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson, who joined the band after the first two albums, sounds fiercer than ever. He sounds angry which adds an edge to his splendid performance. Nils Molin, previously best known as the voice of Dynazty, shows here why he was chosen by Amaranthe as Jake E’s replacement in 2017. He adds something new to this band’s sound. He has a great voice and he sounds very relaxed when he’s singing. His singing seems to come naturally. He was born to sing music like this. His big moment on this album is the terrific power ballad “Unified” where he really gets to demonstrate the refined side of his voice. On other tracks, such as the album’s first single, the massive “365”, Molin gets to demonstrate the less polished, rockier side of his vocal abilities. He can handle both styles which is why he is a perfect fit for Amaranthe.

Musically, many of the songs on the album are very much trademark Amaranthe: fast-paced and catchy modern metal bursting with energy and with heavier parts thrown in here and there. But we also get plenty of new stuff, not least in the smaller details. Amaranthe is a band with a signature sound built on contrasts. Some of the turns in the songs are very fast and sharp – from commercial pop-like choruses to extreme metal anger. They always manage to keep things interesting. They never shy away from adding things from different musical genres and making it part of Amaranthe’s music. Parts of the music on this album is grittier, heavier and darker. It’s less perfect, it’s dirtier and…better. Some of it is less direct, it requires the listener to pay attention. I like it a lot. There’s still plenty of modern, melodic and catchy metal with pop hooks, but this time with more twists and frequent tempo changes. Henrik’s growling plays a bigger and more crucial role this time, a musical direction which I particularly like. To put it in simple terms: they manage to get me to headbang and do some disco moves with my feet at the same time. Genre purists will hate this as they can’t define what this is. But I love it. It is obvious that Olof Mörck and producer Jacob Hansen have spent a great deal of effort on getting the arrangements and production just right. I love the many small details in the soundscape. On a track like “GG6”, one of the album’s best tracks, we find the essence of Amaranthe: terrific growling, hard-hitting drums, guitar riffs and keyboard wizardry, all tied together by a catchy chorus. The fast and furious “Iconic” is terrific, combining aggressive extreme metal verses with a melodic and catchy chorus. Amaranthe at their very best.

Following the last Amaranthe album, 2016’s “Maximalism”, I thought they had peaked. Not so. This is a step up. Where will Amaranthe go from here? Now that they have former Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow as their new manager, who knows what’s next? Clearly, Gossow is ready to take on the challenge: “Yes, different kind of band for me. I really dig their sound and they are lovely people. They have a lot of potential, will be exciting to see how far and big I can make them”, comments Gossow as I check in with her regarding her new Amaranthe collaboration.

Amaranthe’s album “Helix” will be released on 19th October via Spinefarm Records/Universal Music.

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Album review: Aborted “TerrorVision”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Belgian extreme metal masters Aborted are back with a brutal new album and, as expected, it is sheer brilliance.

It seems that Aborted can do no wrong. Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is as good as expected. The band’s tenth studio album is everything anyone could have hoped for. Aborted is an extreme metal band living somewhere between Death Metal Valley and Grindcoreland. Aborted always, always deliver. Since I saw them live on stage in Tokyo in 2015, I have loved this band. It is something about the special combination of a technically gifted metal band and a completely insane frontman that appeals to me. The band also has more energy in its music than most other artists.

Aborted is always a punch in the face. It is relentless carnage, musical mayhem and it is always brilliant. Aborted is a band that never ever has disappointed me, not in the studio and not on stage. Vocalist Sven de Caluwé is nuts. But he is also a very talented artist that always gives his audience what they want and more. In Aborted he is backed up by a great band with not only technical skills, but they are also great songwriters. Don’t let the brutality fool you. This is very sophisticated music. There are many layers and nuances in Aborted’s music. It is technical extreme metal but Aborted’s members never get too carried away. They always manage to put in both aggression and passion into their terrific delivery.

My favourite songs on the new album include “Squalor Opera”, “Visceral Despondency” and “Exquisite Covinous Drama”. Having said that, there isn’t a weak song on this album, not even a weak minute. “The Final Absolution” is splendid and quite possibly the finest moment of Aborted’s career so far. It has a kind of atmospheric black metal quality to some parts of the song but they are coupled with Aborted’s typical grindcore energy and brutality to create one massive piece of music.

Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is out on 21st September via Century Media Records.

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Album review: Sir Reg “The Underdogs” | Celtic rock from Sweden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Celtic rock from Sweden? Yes. And it works. Sir Reg is back with a feckin’ good album.

The Celtic-sounding rock band Sir Reg is actually from Sweden. However, the band’s frontman Brendan Sheehy is Irish, which helps to explain why this sounds so good and authentic. “The Underdogs”, the band’s fifth studio album since forming in Sweden in 2009, is a solid album which kicks off in style with the title track and is followed by “Conor McGregor”, two of the album’s best songs, both of them bursting with energy. Strong melodies, fine musicianship and smart lyrics are at the centre of this album. Sheehy’s voice is exactly what you’d expect from a decent Celtic rock band and the Swedish musicians backing him are first class. They include Mattias Söderlund, formerly of Swedish cult punk band Charta 77.

Sir Reg is a modern, faster, better and more alert version of The Pogues and The Dubliners. Sir Reg has the same foundation, but the end result is more high-energy rock. They don’t sound dated at all. They are also musically more advanced and thus can really marry the Irish folk music of yesteryear with modern rock. This is a band full of energy, musical talent and punk attitude. They also have some seriously great songs. “Sinner of the Century” is a beautiful song which is one of my favourites. It is more The Waterboys than The Dubliners. “Stereotypical Drunken Feckin’ Irish Song”, however, is a comical take on The Dubliners and Irish stereotypes (it includes the line “Stick a shamrock up your arse”). While there is some obvious melancholy in some of the lyrical themes on this album, overall this is feel-good music. It makes me want to dance on a table in an Irish pub with a pint in my hand.

Sir Reg’s album “The Underdogs” is out on 21st September via Despotz Records.

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Album review: Toy Called God “#Socialvangelism”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Patrick Donovan and his men in the Toy Called God army are back with a new studio album of groovy but radio-friendly modern American metal.

Toy Called God plays modern melodic metal with an obvious American sound to it. It’s quality and slightly gritty radio rock with an edge and plenty of groove. The new album, “#Socialvangelism”, is the Bay Area-based hard rock band’s fourth studio album. The band’s current line-up consists of Marcus D. Lance on vocals, Patrick Donovan on guitar, Damian Lewin on bass and Jacob Baptista on drums.

The album kicks off with “United Corporations of America”, a modern rocker which sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the album. We get it all on this track: catchy metal, power vocals, great melodies, variation and guitar wankery. Just the way we like it. “Punch Life in the Face” is an Alter Bridge-sounding track and it’s one of the best songs on this 11-track album. But most of all, Toy Called God has managed to develop a contemporary sound that is borrowing from some of the greats but without trying to copy them. “Miss Me” is aggressive but not brutal, melodic yet hard-hitting with guitars that chug along. It’s the album’s highlight for me. “Take a Bullet Not a Selfie” is a terrific social commentary set to a catchy tune. It will no doubt be a live favourite. “She” is a bit different. It’s almost a power ballad. The album also features a terrific cover of The Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s a brave move but Toy Called God pulls it off. Somehow they manage to both stay relatively true to the original song and inject some of the band’s modern metal attitude into the song. The title track “#Socialvangelism” closes the album. It kicks off in a hazy stoner kind of fashion (hello Monster Magnet influences!) and then adds some power rock in the chorus to wake up the listener before we get a splendid guitar solo.

Toy Called God’s album “#Socialvangelism” is out on 18th September via Sliptrick Records.

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Album review: Survive “Immortal Warriors”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive celebrates two decades of musical brutality with a smashing new album.

There is currently a wave of great Japanese metal bands who start to make names for themselves internationally. One of the bands is Survive. They have toured internationally quite a few times over the years. Earlier this year they did a European tour together with Venom Inc. and here in Japan, they have this year opened for the likes of At The Gates, Municipal Waste and Venom Inc. Formed in 1998, this is the band’s tenth studio album. Survive currently consists of the core trio of Nemo (vocals and guitar), Sinjlow (bass) and Gaku (guitar). The album has been recorded with session drummers and on some of the recent live shows, United drummer Akira Tominaga has filled in behind the drum kit.

Survive is frequently called a thrash metal band. While that is part of the story, this band is so much more than just conventional thrash metal. Survive plays terrific modern thrashy and dark metal. It’s a great blend of brutal and melodic metal – with dashes of thrash, speed, death and black metal in the mix. There is a crushing brutality to many of the songs and also quite a few atmospheric parts on many of the songs. We also get a few contemporary sounding parts, some of them reminding me a bit of Trivium’s sound. But for the most part, the music on this album is more on the brutal side. Survive also has great melodies and a bag full of splendid guitar solos. But the thrash metal foundation is of course there. The guitars on “Wrath” are insane! The same goes for the title track, “Immortal Warriors” and several of the other tracks on this solid album. My favourite tracks on the album include “Control the Darkness” (which opens with a terrific atmospheric soundscape built on haunted guitars) and the angry and hard-hitting “Blood and Sacrifice”. This is a terrific album by a great Japanese metal band.

Survive’s “Immortal Warriors” will be released on 12th September via Rebel Recordings. You can catch them live at Club Asia in Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th September.

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Album review: Angeline “Shadowlands”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic rockers Angeline are back with a fab new AOR album with some twists.

I have followed Swedish melodic rockers Angeline for more than three decades now. I saw many of the band’s first gigs in 1987-88 and the following years. I immediately liked them. Ever since their first demo cassette, “The Legend” in 1988, they have lived in the melodic rock world. Sometimes they are very much AOR, sometimes a bit heavier, but always melodic. Angeline’s current line-up consists of Jocke Nilsson (vocals, guitar), Janne Arkegren (guitar), Uffe Nilsson (bass) and Tobbe Jonsson (drums). They are all founding members of the band which was formed in 1987. The band released its debut album “Don’t Settle For Second Best” in 1990. In 1995, Angeline’s original vocalist Sigge Sigvardsson passed away at age 29. The band soldiered on but split up in 2001. In 2007, the remaining original members reunited and in 2010 they released the comeback album “Confessions”. They have been active since then with some studio releases and gigs. Now they have a new 11-track studio album out and in 2018, Angeline’s music is, unsurprisingly, melodic rock for grown-ups. The album opens strongly with the rather catchy rocker “I Wanna Know” which is followed by another strong track with some fine guitar work, “Slow Down”. “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It somehow manages to combine melodic rock with parts that almost sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers. In “The Devil You Know” we get a bit of blues-tinged hard rock as if Angeline were a rock band from Nashville and not Ljusdal in the deep forests of Sweden. In “Enemy Within” we get a more modern rock, not too far from the sound of Alter Bridge. In “Believe” and “I’m Here For You” we get the obligatory ballad-type songs that we expect on an AOR album. But most of this album is well-crafted middle-of-the-road AOR music as can be heard on songs like “Live Life Like You Mean It”, “Higher Than Love” and “Better Than The Real Thing”. I might have called it radio-friendly rock if anyone still listened to the radio.

Angeline’s album “Shadowlands” is out now via Blow Your Fez Off Music.

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Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI3”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Kiyoshi, the Japanese bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, is back with her third solo album. It’s fabulously different.

For those of you who have seen Marty Friedman perform live in recent years, you know that Kiyoshi is one hell of a bass player and an entertainer. She might look like a quiet and cute girl in a red dress, but when she starts playing her Warwick five-string bass, she’s fierce and unstoppable.

On “KIYOSHI3”, her third solo album in two years, we get to hear a somewhat different side to her. Here, too, she treats us to some fantastic bass playing, but the musical styles are different and we also get to hear her sing lead on all the songs. It takes a while before I realise that the album only consists of bass, drums and vocals. “The instruments used on this album are only bass and drums. I played all the basses. There is only me and the drummer Eiji. We are a two-piece band. I played piano a little on the first and second albums, but on this album, there are no other instruments,” Kiyoshi informs me as I listen to her new songs. No guitars, no keyboards, nothing but a bass and a drum set (played by Eiji Mitsuzono, perhaps best known as the former drummer of Japanese rock bands Sads and Bow Wow). The scaled-down instrument line-up influences the sound of course, but it also shows us what a fine musician Kiyoshi is. She uses her bass in ways that you’d think was impossible. It’s an 11-track album and not once do I miss a guitar or any other instrument. Between her bass playing and her voice, Kiyoshi manages to create fine music which sounds complete.

Genre wise, this album belongs to a very Japanese style of modern rock and pop. There are echoes of some of the edgier, less bland, J-pop artists here. But Kiyoshi is Kiyoshi and she carves out her own niche with this new album. Her musical skills are miles ahead of most other Japanese rock and pop artists. She’s not only a great performer of music, she’s also a great songwriter. The emotional “The End” is the album’s standout track. It’s sheer brilliance. Other favourites of mine include “Speed”, “Baka”, “Escape” and “Stay”.

Kiyoshi continues to tour with Marty Friedman globally. Additionally, she is doing solo shows in Japan where she also occasionally performs with other bands and projects.

Kiyoshi’s album “KIYOSHI3” will be released in Japan on 7th September.

Kiyoshi on stage in Tokyo in March 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Mantar “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze”

Hanno of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German noisemaking duo Mantar is back with a terrific unclean new album built on raw energy and anger.

How does one define the music of Mantar? The German duo, consisting of Hanno Klänhardt on vocals and guitar and Erinç Sakarya on drums, label themselves as “black metal doom punk”. It’s dark like black metal, it’s heavy like doom metal and it is has the relentless energy of punk rock. There is anger and rage here, some kind of raw energy. It is sort of animalistic, a bit vulture like. It’s unclean and smelly. It’s music that seems infected by some flesh-eating virus. Mantar is one of those bands that really are doing something different. They’re for real, they don’t care about trends or what is expected of them. They make music for themselves. Formed in 2012, “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze” is the band’s third full-length studio album, following 2014’s “Death by Burning” and “Ode to the Flame” in 2016.

Erinc of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When they performed in Japan for the first time last year, I was blown away by their show. Two guys, facing each other rather than the audience, playing some fantastic noise. Seeing them live I was amazed at how they managed to sound so heavy with only one guitar and drums and no bass in sight. On the new album, that is still the case. The duo sounds like a quintet, at least. The relentless track “Obey the Obscene” chews up its listener. “Dynasty of Nails” is my favourite on the album – it attacks you like a slap in the face with a wet fish followed by never-ending punches and kicks before it turns into doom territory and then back to the punch-and-kick trail. Mantar has its roots in Bremen and Hamburg in northern Germany and the music actually sounds like it comes from the less fancy side of these cities: a damp, seedy, industrial landscape filled with warehouses down by the port. This is real music. It’s genuine and I really dig it.

Mantar’s “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze” is out now via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Hanno of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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