Album review: Mats Karlsson “The Time Optimist”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

220 Volt guitarist Mats Karlsson shows us a different side on his first-ever solo album.

Swedish musician and songwriter Mats Karlsson is best known as a founding member of the hard rock band 220 Volt. Forty years since being founded the band is still active but somehow Mats has found time to write and record a solo album. He has always been a great songwriter and guitarist, but here we get to hear a somewhat different side of the musician Mats Karlsson. His 220 Volt heritage shines through in some of the music, for example on the straightforward rock song “Function over Fashion”. But “The Time Optimist”, Mats’ first-ever solo album, is a rather varied album. Mainly it is focused around grown-up, mature rock music. Some of it lives in AOR territory, some in a singer-songwriter valley and some of this music moves around in blues-rock land. “Megalo Seitani” offers us some reggae-infused pop-rock in a relaxed beach holiday mood (yes, it has a bit of 10cc‘s “Dreadlock Holiday” about it) while “Natural High” is a catchy rock song and “Stop the World” features some fine guitar work. The tracks “October 28th” and “Heather” partly make me think of what we heard on Hellsingland Underground’s most recent album. “Real Gone” is music for an enjoyable car ride while “DayDreamer” is Tom Petty-esque. The whole album has a laidback kind of feeling. But this is not lazy music, just a great record created by someone skilled at making things sound effortless. I dig it.

Mats Karlsson’s solo album “The Time Optimist” will be released on 6th December.

Album review: Molly Hatchet “Battleground”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American Southern hard rockers Molly Hatchet are back with a live album. With no original members left in the band, some diehard fans will hate this album, while newer fans may actually find this a decent album of live versions of old and new Molly Hatchet songs.

The original members of the band are long gone. Today’s Molly Hatchet consists of musicians who have joined the band in later stages of the band’s career. Guitarist Bobby Ingram, who joined the band in 1986, is the driving force behind the current version of the band. Personally, I don’t care much about if a current line-up of a long-lasting band has enough, or any, original members in it or not. I care about what it sounds like. Is the music good? That’s what matters. On this live album, we get a mixed bag, but overall it’s decent versions of some terrific songs. The 19 tracks on “Battleground” were recorded live during the band’s recent tours in Europe and the US. Molly Hatchet remains an active international touring act with a loyal audience. On some of the classic songs on this live album, the absence of founding guitarist Dave Hlubek, who died in 2017, is obvious, but some versions of the old classics, such as “Whiskey Man”, are very good. As is evident in some of the newer material – such as “American Pride”, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” and “Justice” – the current version of the band has the skills and opportunity to be more than just a band playing old Molly Hatchet classics. Molly Hatchet’s “Battleground” will be released via SPV/Steamhammer on 29th November as a double CD and a triple-LP with a gatefold album cover.

Album review: The Babes “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes, some of the nicest and hardest working people in Australian rock, are back with a full-length studio album packed with good-fun rock’n’roll.

JD Ryan and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes is good fun, meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. It’s dusty, catchy and its shout-along friendly. It’s music to drink beer to and, in a best-case scenario, get laid to. It’s underdog rock somewhere between AC/DC and Mötley Crüe if that makes sense (it does to me). It has the guts and foundation of AC/DC but also the sexiness and glitz of bands like Mötley Crüe. It’s full-frontal, good-fun hard rock performed by some of Australia’s nicest people. Some bands are dreaming of big things happening and getting a break. The members of The Babes don’t dream. They plan, work hard and get it done whether it comes to gigs, album releases or touring internationally. The Babes is a hardworking band not afraid of getting some dirt under their nails. The Adelaide-based band consists of the three siblings Moni Lashes on drums, Donna Dimasi on guitar and Corey Stone on bass plus the unstoppable vocalist J.D. Ryan. Earlier this year they toured Japan for the first time and proved to me and many other new Japanese fans that this band is able to deliver live as well as in the studio. After the successful Japan tour, they toured Australia and also went to the Middle East to perform for the Australian troops. A national service of rock’n’roll! The title track of the new album, “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”, is nothing short of an anthem for the band. It sums things up nicely. Most of the songs on the album are high-energy songs. It’s sweaty rock’n’roll meant to be performed live on stage in a club. “Doghouse” is my immediate favourite song on the album. It’s hard not shouting along, headbanging and doing some air-guitar playing when this song comes on. Brilliant stuff! Another great track is “Riding Home” which has a somewhat different sound and some slower parts to it but is no less great. It’s like an early 90s power rock music video on MTV. But this is a solid hard rock album with twelve great tracks.

The Babes’ album “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars” is out now. Buy the album and catch this great band live.

Donna Dimasi of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Decadence “Six Tape”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band Decadence is back with another terrific thrash metal album. It’s full-on aggressive headbanging and air guitar mayhem!

Swedish band Decadence gives us proper thrash metal served just the way I like it with great guitar riffs, terrific melodies and Kitty Saric’s splendid voice on top of that. I love the relentless energy, the aggression and the attitude. The bulldozing track “In Natura” is an obvious favourite of mine. It has everything I love about thrash metal: speed, raw energy, mean riffs, fantastic melodies, aggressiveness, musical twists and a pissed-off vocalist which adds a touch of death metal to the mix. “Red Façade Hotel” is perhaps the album’s best track, but this is a rather even album with no fillers. Decadence’s core duo is Kitty Saric on vocals and Kenneth Lantz on guitar and bass. Session drums on the album are once again played by Lawrence Dinamarca of Nightrage fame. “Six Tape” is Decadence’s sixth full-length studio album since they formed in Stockholm, Sweden in 2003. On “Six Tape”, Decadence demonstrates to the listener that the band has that rare quality of being able to combine DIY, grassroots kind of thrash metal with a modern and professional metal sound. It is a great album and it is one of the better metal albums that I have heard this year. Awesome!

Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI4”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese artist Kiyoshi became known to a wider audience through her membership of Marty Friedman’s band. But it is as a solo artist she really gets to shine. She’s now back with her fourth fabulous solo album, “KIYOSHI4”.

I still remember the day some years back when Marty Friedman asked me in a Tokyo rehearsal studio: “Do you know Kiyoshi?” Before that, I didn’t know Kiyoshi but I immediately looked her up and I have been a massive Kiyoshi fan ever since. Kiyoshi looks very innocent. But she is a monster of a bass player. The bass guitar seems to bring out her wild animalistic side. But Kiyoshi is much more than a mere kick-ass bassist. She is also a great songwriter and she has a characteristic voice that I just love. When you combine those three things you get magic.

Kiyoshi with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2018.

The production of this new Kiyoshi album has a raw touch to it. It sounds as if it has been recorded live in the studio, which may well be the case. In true Kiyoshi-style, the album basically consists of Kiyoshi on vocals and bass and she’s simply backed up by a lone drummer. Musically, bits and pieces of this reminds me of other Japanese artists such as GO!GO!7188 and Anna Tsuchiya (not least in the J-pop meets punk attitude), but the prominent part that the bass guitar plays in Kiyoshi’s music makes this different. Most of all this is very Kiyoshi. This is Kiyoshi and no artist is quite like Kiyoshi. While the song titles, again in trademark Kiyoshi-style, are in English and mostly have single-word titles such as “Pride”, “Hurt” and “Frustration”, the lyrics are sung in Japanese. The emotional song “Pride” is one of the tracks that immediately stand out for me. Kiyoshi’s at times vulnerable voice is beautifully combined with an edgy bass. The album’s opening song, the splendid “Warning”, is one of the rawest and edgiest songs on the album with a serious bass assault hitting the listener. “Little King” lets Kiyoshi the bass player shine. But the terrific song “Roots”, which closes the album, is probably my favourite. It’s the best kind of J-pop song. Not the soulless superficial kind. This is a song with real emotion and depth but camouflaged as easygoing J-pop. As far as bass work goes, the song “Go For It” is terrific with an unapologetic bass demanding attention. On the track “Melody” there is a fine bass solo, but on this, and many of the album’s tracks, the devil is in the detail. Kiyoshi puts in many small bass quirks and twists and turns. Most of them are very subtle and hidden in the background, but they add depth and make these songs great.

Genre wise Kiyoshi lives somewhere in a back alley between J-pop and alternative rock. Kiyoshi does Kiyoshi music. Trends and expectations don’t come into her mind. She creates the music that she wants to create. The result of that is pure magic. Kiyoshi is one of the most interesting artists in Japan today. She remains an important part of Marty Friedman’s band, but as a solo artist, she gets to be in the limelight and shine like the star she is. Thank you, Marty Friedman, for bringing this fab artist to my attention.

Kiyoshi’s album “KIYOSHI4” is out now.

Album review: Cyhra “No Halos in Hell”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Modern European melodic metal band Cyhra returns with its second album “No Halos in Hell”.

Cyhra consists of vocalist Jake E, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Euge Valovirta and drummer Alex Landenburg. That the members have played with bands such as In Flames, Amaranthe and Kamelot does not come as a surprise as Cyhra’s music kind of lives in the same musical neighbourhood as those bands. With a second album now below their belts, Jake E and his fellow band members have firmly established a Cyhra signature sound. It is a contemporary melodic metal sound with plenty of pop hooks. But within that signature style, there’s actually quite a bit of variation which is why this works very well. “No Halos in Hell” is the follow up to Cyhra’s 2017 debut album “Letters to Myself”. The new album is a natural next step for the band. It’s partly more of the same modern melodic metal with pop hooks, plenty of keyboards and guitar riffs that we heard on the debut album. But, additionally, we get a somewhat more mature band that explores some new musical areas. Cyhra’s contemporary soundscape and never-ending catchiness bring a freshness to the listeners’ ears that I really like. They are not creating something truly new here, but they are doing great radio-friendly poppy melodic metal. I have always liked Jake E’s voice and his songwriting. On this second Cyhra album,  the band and its fans benefit from the album being more of a band effort than the first album, although Jake remains the principal songwriter. There are some very strong songs on this album, including the power ballad “Lost in Time” and tracks such as “Out of My Life”, “I Am the One”, “Blood Brothers”, “Kings and Queens” and the title track “No Halos in Hell”. The special Japanese edition of the album features no fewer than 18 tracks, including some special bonus material. I particularly like the scaled-down acoustic versions of some of the songs where we really get to hear how good a vocalist Jake E is. The acoustic version of “I Am the One” is exceptional! Here we get a splendid vocal performance combined with some terrific acoustic guitar work. It is the standout track on this album for me.

Cyhra’s second album “No Halos in Hell” will be released on 22nd November via Ward Records in Japan and on 15th November via Nuclear Blast internationally.

Single review: Stagman “En mil i mina skor”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

Album review: Lindsay Schoolcraft “Martyr”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

Album review: Detraktor “Grinder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

Album review: Prime Creation “Tears of Rage”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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