Album review: Korrupt “Preachers and Creatures”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Korrupt combines energetic Norwegian shout-along punk with hardcore on its debut album.

On Korrupt’s debut album we get a great mix of shout-along punk and hardcore. Very crowd friendly. This is the kind of music that makes an audience dance and jump up and down. Korrupt’s members grew up in Kristiansand in Norway’s Bible belt. Thus there is naturally some rebellion in this band’s music and lyrics and a bit of a backlash against the church and its influence in the local community. Korrupt is a very energetic band with some explosive raw power channelled via great punk melodies. It works great on this record, but I am sure this must be even more fantastic in a sweaty and intense live setting. “Capitalist”, “Revolt” and “Martyrs” are some of my clear favourite tracks on this album, while the title track “Preachers and Creatures” is fabulous hardcore. I absolutely love the attitude and the never-ending raw energy in this music. What a Scandinavian treat!

Korrupt’s “Preachers and Creatures” album will be released via Fysisk Format on 20th October.


Album review: Ice Age “Breaking the Ice” | Gothenburg thrash metal band finally releases its debut album after three decades

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It took them three decades, but thrash metal band Ice Age from Gothenburg has finally released a splendid debut album filled with fab guitar riffing and Sabrina Kihlstrand’s commanding voice.

In the second half of the 1980s, Ice Age was one of leading underground bands on the Swedish heavy metal scene. Playing thrash metal rather than the melodic rock that dominated the Swedish metal scene at the time, they stood out and followed their own musical path. Following some line-up changes and disagreements with their management, they disbanded in 1990 and reformed in 2014.

Ice Age’s classic 80s line-up.

Back in the day, Ice Age released some great demos that were sold in cassette format at the band’s gigs. But they never released any proper album, until now. “Breaking the Ice”, the band’s debut studio album, comes some three decades after their original heyday.

On this album, Ice Age introduces the world to its signature sound based around vocalist Sabrina Kihlstrand’s voice. There are some great echoes of Megadeth here, but the band members have managed to clearly put their mark on their own version of thrash metal, which is somewhat less brutal and more built around great guitar riffs and melodies. The album has a straightforward, clean production with no fancy stuff but a crystal clear sound. It lets the music speak for itself. And the material and skills are more than good enough for that.

Kihlstrand’s voice is a perfect fit for this music. I love it. It commands attention – clear enough to make it accessible, but still with an angry attitude that tells you not to mess with this fierce lady. The band’s sound is essentially the same as it was in the 80s, but it has grown and matured. Five of the songs on the album (“Fleet Street”, “General Alert”, “Instant Justice”, “Mental Disorder” and “A Case of Cerebral Death”) are terrific re-recordings of some of the band’s classic 80s songs. On this album, the old songs have been joined by five new compositions: “Clever”, “Breaking the Ice”, “Total Collapse”, “Hell of Nothing” and “No Need to Bleed”.

The old and new songs are equally good and there are no obvious differences, proving that the band is capable of creating new music that equals its classics.

Ice Age in 2017.

Among the new songs, “Clever” is a clear favourite of mine. As if Megadeth came from Gothenburg. “Hell or Noting” is also great and will no doubt become a live favourite. But all the songs here are at a fab level. This is a very strong and even thrash metal album with a difference. As much as I love brutal and fast old-school thrash metal, Ice Age’s slightly different take on the genre is fabulous and refreshing.

Sabrina Kihlstrand on vocals and guitar and Viktoria Larsson on bass still make up the core of the band. They are joined in the current line-up by Linnea Landstedt (also in the great thrash metal band Tyranex) on lead guitar and André Holmqvist (Manimal) on drums.

What a great album! Ice Age is not stuck in the past. This is a band that is here and now and clearly one of the best Nordic metal bands at the moment. This is one of this year’s best albums so far. With those 80s demos still in my head, I had high hopes and expectations, but “Breaking the Ice” exceeds them all.

Ice Age’s “Breaking the Ice” album will be released on 20th October via GMR Music.

Album review: Motörhead “Under Cöver”

Motörhead at Glastonbury in 2015. Photo: Pep Bonet.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Motörised rock classics delivered from beyond the grave. Long live Lemmy!

Lemmy may be dead but his music lives on. Here’s a brand new Motörhead album with some outrageously terrific music recorded between 1992 and 2015.

“Under Cöver” is an album which consists of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee playing covers of rock classics. And they do it in a distinct Motörhead fashion.

Opening with Judas Priest classic “Breaking the Law” and continuing with Sex Pistols‘ “God Save the Queen”, on this album we also get covers of The Ramones, Ted Nugent, Twisted Sister, The Rolling Stones and Metallica. The great Rainbow cover “Starstruck” features Saxon’s Biff Byford on vocals. There is also a fab version of “Hellraiser”, a song originally written by Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde for the 1991 Ozzy album “No More Tears” and which later appeared on Motörhead’s 1992 album “March ör Die”. Notably “Hellraiser” was Swedish drummer Mikkey Dee’s first recording with Motörhead.

One of the more unusual tracks here is David Bowie’s “Heroes” and it is a beautiful masterpiece, proving that Lemmy could do it all, although always on his own terms. “Heroes” was recorded during the band’s “Bad Magic sessions in 2015. It is one of the last songs the band recorded together before Lemmy’s sudden death.

Motörhead at Glastonbury in 2015. Photo: Pep Bonet.

Long live Lemmy. Long live Motörhead. Long live rock’n’roll.

Motörhead’s “Under Cöver” is out now via Silver Lining Music/Motörhead Music.

Album review: CyHra “Letters To Myself” | Former Amaranthe and In Flames members are back with a terrific debut album

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

CyHra – a new dawn for former Amaranthe and In Flames members who return with a terrific modern and melodic metal album.

On 1st July 2011, I saw Swedish vocalist Jake E perform for the first time. He immediately stood out as a very talented singer who can handle the whole spectrum of different kinds of melodic rock and metal, including the power ballads. It was Swedish melodic metal band Amaranthe’s first gig in Japan, a showcase at a small club called Astro Hall in Harajuku in central Tokyo. It was a huge success. Amaranthe had just released its debut album and that was followed by several big-selling releases in Japan and numerous Japan tours and festival appearances. In September 2016 Amaranthe was the support act on a hugely successful Japan tour with Helloween. Those Japan gigs became Jake’s final appearances with Amaranthe. He was ready to move on and do his own thing.

Jake E on stage in Tokyo in September 2016 during the Helloween/Amaranthe tour. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

CyHra is the result and what a comeback it is. In CyHra, Jake E’s classic powerful and melodic metal vocals are coupled with the fantastic guitar work by former In Flames man Jesper Strömblad. The result is modern, energetic melodic metal with plenty of great pop hooks and fabulous power metal guitars.

The combination of Jake E’s voice, Strömblad’s guitar and some fabulous songwriting, is what sets CyHra apart from the pack. Added to the mix is the foundation of former In Flames bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody, Annihilator, Kamelot, Masterplan, Stratovarius).

Genre wise it is, of course, not too distant from bands like Amaranthe and In Flames. But this is something else. It will no doubt appeal to many of the same fans, although the sound and execution have been done differently. The songwriting is also quite different here. I think it is the chemistry of old friends Jake E and Strömblad that has so successfully come together to create CyHra. And since they are backed by the Iwers-Landenburg groove machine, they are comfortable and free to just focus on creating and playing great melodies.

The album opens with two fabulously energetic songs, “Karma” and “Heartrage”. Having heard early demo versions of these songs earlier this year, it’s great to hear the final versions. These two songs firmly put CyHra on the map and show the world that we have a new melodic power metal act to follow. And the album just keep going from there. Bursting with energy and terrific melodic metal.

CyHra has managed to establish a signature sound already with its debut album. Where do we go from here? We get great variation throughout the album. We obviously get some great metal guitars. But we also get slower parts. “Closure”, for example, is a fantastic power ballad. “Here to Save You” is one of the album’s best tracks. CyHra in a nutshell. It is an obvious future live favourite. The title track “Letters to Myself” quickly emerges as one of my favourites with a great melody. It is a track on which Jake E commands your attention despite being rivalled by some fab guitars. “Inside a Lullaby” is a showpiece for Jake E’s voice. “Dead to Me” is an ambitious song combining some spoken words with acoustic guitar and Jake E’s voice at the centre.

Much of this album has that special kind of never-ending energy which makes me want to jump up and down and play air guitar (yeah, OK, I am actually doing that right now).

What a debut album! 11 out of 10 in Spinal Tap terms. What a terrific combination of great songs, bundles of talent, fab band chemistry and flawless execution. Thank you for the music. When I listen to melodic metal I want it to be skilled, flawless and with fine craftsmanship demonstrated in both songwriting and delivery. With CyHra I get it all.

CyHra has announced one gig in Finland on 27th October. Now let’s start working on that Japan tour. I demand it.

CyHra’s “Letters To Myself” album will be released on 20th October internationally via Spinefarm Records and in Japan via Universal.

EP review: American Mafia “Made in New York”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American Mafia returns with “Made in New York”, a great American-sounding melodic rock EP.

American Mafia’s new EP is called “Made in New York”, and their music is indeed very American. This is grown-up, melodic hard rock of the American kind. Unlike much of the European melodic hard rock acts, this type of melodic rock is less hair metal and more blues-based rock built around fine songwriting.

This band writes great songs. This is an EP with five very good tracks. I much prefer this than a twelve-track full-length album with a few fillers thrown in. More bands should release killer EPs.

American Mafia has now evolved into a proper band. On their 2014 debut album, “Rock N’ Roll Hit Machine”, the core duo of Tom Jude and Freddy Villano used many guests in order to write and record the album. With the new EP, American Mafia has become a solid quartet. The band has great pedigree from melodic hard rock bands: guitarist Tom Jude played with Doro Pesch’s solo band and bassist Freddy Villano has played with Quiet Riot and Dee Snider’s Widowmaker. Singer Don Chaffin has played with Dan Spitz in Dave Mustaine-produced Red Lamb, while drummer Bobby Marks has a long list of former employers, including Dokken, Joe Lynn Turner, Keel and Steeler.

As I was listening to the new EP, I checked in with Freddy Villano to hear how he thinks the band has evolved since the debut album.

“That’s an interesting question because, aside from me and Tom, everyone else has been mostly interchangeable. I think we know the sound that we’re going for and, even though ‘Made In New York’ deviates from ‘Rock N’ Roll Hit Machine’ a little – in that it rocks a little harder and probably has a little less of that ’70s blues edge – it still maintains the integrity that we established on ‘Rock N’ Roll Hit Machine’. We set the bar pretty high with ‘Rock N’ Roll Hit Machine’ in terms of performances, production, vocal contributions, but I think ‘Made In New York’ is on par with that. We’ll see what people have to say. We’re excited to see how people respond to ‘Made In New York’ and look forward to hopefully broadening our fan base,” comments Villano from New York.

The new EP opens strongly with “Superstar”, a great slow-tempo song, before the groove gets going in “Gistified”. The Aerosmith-smelling “Ride on Through” follows before things slow down again with the terrific power ballad “Lead the Way”. The EP closes with the energetic and catchy “When London Sleeps”.

American Mafia’s “Made in New York” EP will be released on 25th September via Lions Pride Music.

For the American Mafia background story, here’s our 2015 interview with Freddy Villano:

Album review: Cradle of Filth “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dani Filth and his Cradle of Filth are back with a hard-hitting album full of drama as well as bombastic and fabulously twisted metal.

If you, like me, enjoy the weird and wonderful and especially dramatic, extreme and bombastic music, this is an awesome album. English shock rockers Cradle of Filth take their public image seriously. It plays an important part of the package. But there is much more than just image and surface to Cradle of Filth. This is a talented and skilled band that still got it. They are able to perform at the highest level once again.

The “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay” album consists of melodic extreme metal with an overload of bombastic, dramatic and, at times, symphonic music. There are plenty of nods and references to horror-flick music here. We get some haunting church choir-like (and “Omen” smelling!) bits and pieces throughout this varied album.

Only band leader Dani Filth remains from the original line-up. Apart from drummer Martin Skaroupka (who replaced Adrian Erlandsson in 2006), the current line-up consists of relatively newer additions. But it is clear that Dani Filth, despite all the people coming and going in the band over the years, has managed to assemble a bunch of great musicians in the current line-up.

I didn’t really have any big expectations on this album. Having now listened to it intensely for a number of days, all I can say is: what an insane gem of an album! Dani Filth sings as if he were possessed, like a deranged horror-movie villain with an attitude and a sinister sense of humour. It somehow reminds me of the band name of one of his early bands: Carnival Fruitcake. His voice, combined with very strong songwriting and some fabulous arrangements, make this a great album. The constant twists and turns and tempo changes keep it interesting. It seems like a never-ending magical journey through the sewers of some horrible, dark and damp city.

“Achingly Beautiful” is a standout track with fantastic vocals (which often sounds possessed by some kind of wicked demon) and dreamy, sinister choirs. Fabulous! Sheer joy for the ears. On “The Seductiveness of Decay” we get a whole bunch of great stuff. What a track! They even manage to throw in some Iron Maiden-esque guitars in the mix (who would’ve thought?). “You Will Know the Lion by His Claw” is, for the most part, straight-forward extreme metal which works great, especially when embedded among the other more varied songs. “The Night at Catafalque Manor” is an epic piece of metal while the splendid cover of Annihilator classic “Alison Hell” has a bit of a King Diamond-feel to it.

I think this is a terrific album that takes its listeners on quite a fantastic journey. Due to its bombastic nature, no doubt there will be listeners out there that won’t get it, that will hate it. But they’re wrong. This is great stuff. The Cradle of Filth gang is back on top. They’re creating great, twisted dark music.

Cradle of Filth will perform in Japan at the Loud Park festival on 15th October. The album “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay” will be released on 22nd September in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast.

Album review: Zornheym “Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns”

Zornheym: Scucca (guitar), Zorn (guitar), Bendler (vocals) and Angst (drums)

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish symphonic extreme metal band Zornheym, led by former Dark Funeral guitarist Zorn, has arrived on the scene with a splendid debut album full of drama.

Zorn, perhaps best known as the former guitarist of Dark Funeral, has also played with Devian and Aktiv Dödshjälp. With Zornheym he takes the driver’s seat and is in full control. With him on this epic journey he has Bendler (Facebreaker) on vocals (who some of you may remember as a fill-in vocalist for Scar Symmetry), guitarist and musical arranger Scucca and Diabolical drummer Angst.

“Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns” is a rather varied album with constant twists and turns. There is a basic foundation not too dissimilar to Dark Funeral’s music, but this is somewhat different due to the symphonic elements and some unexpected turns in songs and fine orchestrations.

Zornheym has a well thought-out concept and the execution is flawless. There is fabulous aggression and guitar mayhem, but there are also many fine melodies. It is extreme metal but with added drama, theatrics and symphonic influences. The end result is beautifully bombastic. On “A Silent God”, one of the standout tracks on the album, we get some fantastic choirs adding a dimension to a fantastically dramatic track. Stunning! And the great use of choirs, harmonies and chants prevail throughout the album. These variations and added texture set Zornheym apart from many other artists active in the same genre.

Zornheym is bombastic, theatrical extreme metal with great melodies and so much variation and many twists and turns that it is always interesting. This is a terrific debut album which has been recorded at Wing Studios by extreme metal master Sverker Widgren (October Tide, Demonical, IXXI, CB Murdoc, Diabolical).

Zornheym’s “Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns” is out today via Non Serviam Records.

Album review: Belphegor “Totenritual”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Helmuth Lehner, Austria’s master of dark ceremonies, is back with gloriously heavy and dark extreme metal on the new Belphegor album.

With 2014’s “Conjuring the Dead”, Austrian extreme metal masters Belphegor set the bar sky high. Now the follow up is here and Helmuth Lehner‘s done it again. On “Totenritual” we get glorious mayhem! If you like your metal extreme and from deep down the abyss, this is for you.

This album is trademark Belphegor: dark and very heavy metal but with some fabulous melodies interwoven with the mayhem. It is blackened death metal with plenty of doom with tuned-down guitars and some thrash and speed metal influences here and there. Call it whatever you want, it’s fabulously good music.

The album, the band’s eleventh studio album since forming in the early 1990s, opens with “Baphomet” which closely resembles the songs on the last album. But already on the second track, “The Devil’s Son”, we get some nuances to Belphegor’s sound. This album clearly is related to its predecessor, but Belphegor has not made a “Conjuring the Dead II”. The band has evolved and on this new album we can hear some new sides to one of our absolute favourite extreme metal bands.

Over the years, Belphegor has developed a very distinct style of music. However, they don’t just stand still. They keep pushing the limits in different directions within the framework that defines Belphegor. Helmuth’s obviously the brain and engine here, but bassist Serpenth, who has been in the band since 2006, has also put his mark on the band’s output.

The album is consistent and rock solid: all tracks are of the highest level. Immediate favourites include “Swinefever – Regent of Pigs”, “Apophis – Black Dragon”, “Totenkult – Exegesis of Deterioration” and “Spell of Reflection”. The short spoken sound bites inserted here and there on some of the tracks nicely add to the haunting horror flick-feeling of Belphegor.

For the last album, the band recorded with Erik Rutan in Florida. This time they have recorded closer to home, in Germany and Austria, but the album has been mixed in Florida by Jason Suecof (Trivium, Death Angel, Deicide, Whitechapel, The Black Dahlia Murder).

Following “Conjuring the Dead”, I expected nothing short of a masterpiece from Belphegor this time and that’s what I got.

Belphegor’s “Totenritual” is out on 15th September via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

Album review: H.E.A.T “Into the Great Unknown”

H.E.A.T | Photo: Klara Fowler

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic rockers H.E.A.T are back with a catchy and very radio-friendly new album.

Since the last H.E.A.T studio album, 2014’s “Tearing Down the Walls”, guitarist Eric Rivers has left while original guitarist Dave Dalone has returned. There is some fine guitar work on the album, so Dalone seems to have easily reclaimed his place in the band. But most of all this album is a showcase for singer Erik Grönwall who gets to show off a few different sides.

Following the 2015 “Live In London” live album, which featured quite a lot of rock’n’roll, the new album, the band’s fifth studio album, is more focused on melodic rock and even some pop. We do get a few rockers of the very catchy kind in addition to some very different songs. The album opens with “Bastard of Society” which is a trademark H.E.A.T rock song. Then follows the first surprise with the track “Redefined”. This is some kind of modern pop with a big chorus. Very different from what we are used to, but quite a good song. “Shit City” is back to the old H.E.A.T and then with “Time on Our Side”, we’re back in the modern pop world again. You know, the world where Coldplay rules. “Best of the Broken” is somewhere in the middle. A bit like when Depeche Mode started using rock guitars. This song has a singalong rock chorus but more modern pop verses. “Eye of the Storm” is a classic power ballad with radio hit potential. “Blind Leads the Blind”, one of the album’s best rock songs, is classic H.EA.T: catchy, melodic rock, complete with added fancy keyboards fighting a good fight against the guitars.

Erik Grönwall and Crash of H.E.A.T in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Ikuko Yamanaka, Roppongi Rocks

“We Rule” is a Disney-esque ballad complete with violins and all the works. Somewhere between “Top Gun” and “Pocahontas”, I’d say. “Do You Want It” is pop rock with a great melody. Very catchy. The title track “Into the Great Unknown” is a big song which defines the album. It has some rock groove to it as well as pop hooks and some great guitars. Very much a summary of the album and thus an obvious title track.

The Japanese edition has a great bonus track, “FYI Miley”. A smoking rocker of a song, it is by far the best song on the album and a good reason for everybody to track down the Japanese edition.

In summary: H.E.A.T has delivered a different, more varied album which is centred around modern radio rock with pop hooks. Not what I expected after “Live in London”. But still very good. It takes a bit of getting used to, but H.E.A.T pulls it off. Not least because vocalist Erik Grönwall can do both pop and rock and he brings the rest of the band with him on this album. H.E.A.T’s new direction may lose them a few old fans, but it will also win them some new fans as they become more accessible to the masses and more radio friendly.

H.E.A.T’s “Into the Great Unknown” will be released in Japan on 20th September via Marquee Inc and internationally on 22nd September via Gain.

EP review: Epica “The Solace System”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica are back with a new six-track EP.

Epica’s new six-track EP “The Solace System” is, of course, dominated by their trademark symphonic metal. It is a natural continuation of last year’s “The Holographic Principle”. But we do get some interesting variations here as the band’s sound keeps evolving. It promises an interesting future for this band. If you like Epica, you’ll love this.

The title track “The Solace System” kicks it all off in that easily recognisable dramatic Epica way. Then things keep going in the same style with “Fight Your Demons” and “Architect of Light”. “Wheel of Destiny” kicks off with fast and aggressive guitars, but then calms down a bit when the keyboards and vocals manage to rein in the guitars. Dramatic tempo changes keep the song interesting throughout.

“Immortal melancholy” is Epica’s take on a ballad. No metal, not even rock, just a beautiful ballad based around Simone Simons’ voice. It’s almost like a lullaby that could be a lost scene from “Sound of Music”.

The final track, “Decoded Poetry”, is Epica in a nutshell. It is the EP’s showpiece track. On this track we get everything that Epica is about distilled into one song: a continuous duel between Simons’ powerful yet angelic voice and Mark Jansen’s deep grunts, bombastic choirs, a great mix of heavy guitar riffing and strong melodies and topped off with fab keyboard-based soundscapes to tie it all together. Brilliantly fabulous.

Epica’s “The Solace System” EP is out today in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast. /