Album review: Battering Ram releases debut album filled with Swedish hard rock

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Battering Ram brings back memories of Swedish hard rock of the early and mid-1980s without sounding retro on its debut album.

Swedish hard rock band Battering Ram was formed in Filipstad, Sweden in 2017 and, following plenty of gigs and a few single releases, the band has now released its self-titled debut album. Battering Ram’s music lives somewhere between the melodic hard rock of today and the more rough and raw hard rock of the early 1980s. The music is not too polished which is a plus for me. The fairly basic and straightforward production is partly why it brings back memories of Swedish hard rock acts of the early and mid-1980s, such as Heavy Load, Torch and 220 Volt. This was a time that can be defined as “pre-The Final Countdown”. It was a time when the Swedish hard rock sound was more related to NWOBHM than AOR. Before that 1986 hit, even Europe had a tougher sound similar to their contemporary Swedish bands. But Battering Ram’s music is not created to be retro. The band somehow manages to sound both early 1980s and 2020. Like many of those Swedish bands did back in the day, Battering Ram walks a fine line between rough hard rock and melodic hard rock. The blend works well. There is a solid foundation in the Swedish hard rock sound of the early 80s, but there are also similarities to contemporary Swedish bands such as Mustasch and Corroded. It takes the best bits from back in the day, without sounding dated, and sprinkles some here-and-now metal on top of it all. “Wanted Man”, “The Sign” and “Coming My Way” are some of my obvious favourite songs on this album, but perhaps the fantastic in-your-face track “Chase the Fire” is the album’s highlight. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Battering Ram has arrived and this band is here to stay.

Single review: Stagman “Kejsarens nya kläder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At age 56, former glam metal man Stagman, aka Zinny Zan, continues his fascinating singer-songwriter journey with his best song yet. The new single “Kejsarens nya kläder” has serious hit potential.

The former Easy Action, Zan Clan and Shotgun Messiah frontman Zinny Zan, aka Stagman, continues his grown-up musical journey as a splendid and seasoned Swedish singer-songwriter. A few years back, Stagman moved on from his glam days and started to sing in his native Swedish. He has also evolved musically and at 56 years old has become a more mature singer-songwriter. “Kejsarens nya kläder” (“the Emperor’s new clothes”) is a terrific song which has serious hit potential. This new single is quite different from his previous single, “En mil i mina skor”, which was released in October and it shows that the artist Stagman is not a one-trick pony. “Kejsarens nya kläder” is radio rock of the best kind. It’s catchy but not in a sugary way. There’s a real substance in Stagman’s music, built on an intelligent song structure and some harsh social commentary in the song’s lyrics (he doesn’t seem too impressed with Sweden’s all-talk, no-action prime minister). There’s some exquisite guitar work by Skintrade’s Stefan Bergström on this track. Stagman’s musical style is partly following a typical Swedish tradition, but there are also some obvious hints of influences by American and British singer-songwriters. This excellent single is putting my expectations of Stagman’s next full-length studio album even higher. This artist is on fire and I am loving how productive he is in recent years. We get both quality and quantity.

Stagman’s new single “Kejsarens nya kläder” will be released on 24th January via GMR Music.

Album review: Victorius “Space Ninjas from Hell”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power metal band Victorius plays fast and melodic power metal on its new Japan-themed album. It’s good fun.

Power metal band Victorius from Germany performed in Japan a few months ago and won some new Japanese fans with a great stage show. The band’s new album, its fifth full-length studio album, is full of hints and nods to Japanese culture, including songs such as “Ninjas Unite”, “Shuriken Showdown”, “Wasabi Warmachine”, the title track “Space Ninjas from Hell” and the very catchy “Super Sonic Samurai”. The album’s highlight for me is the weird and wonderful track “Nippon Knights”. Victorius is a good fun power metal band. They don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. They sing about space, dragons, wizards and ninjas and they have 80s-sounding keyboards all over the place. They are here to entertain and they do. It’s goofy, cheesy and often over-the-top, but it is very catchy and entertaining.

Victorius’ album “Space Ninjas from Hell” will be released on 17th January via Napalm Records.

EP review: Tragedy In Hope “Smile at Death”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A Russian version of Cradle of Filth? Yes. Tragedy In Hope is extreme and yet melodic metal. It is dramatic, bombastic and very good.

Russia keeps producing very interesting and great metal bands. Tragedy In Hope from St. Petersburg is, while not unique, a very good band. The music on this new EP sounds like a Russian version of Britain’s Cradle of Filth. That’s not a bad thing. While they seemingly have taken their whole sound and image from Cradle, they do their own version very well. The “Smile at Death” EP sounds very similar to Cradle’s recent sound. It is extreme and yet melodic metal. It is dramatic, bombastic and very good. The roots are in symphonic black metal but the songs twist and turn and take off in many directions. The EP opens with the brilliantly haunting and creepy little piece “Alone in the Woods” before we get some serious mayhem in “Smile at Death” and “Pierce the Heavens”. “Grim Love Story” is an epic piece of music and the EP’s best song. The production is great. If you ever wished for a Russian version of Cradle of Filth, here you go.

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.