EP review: Thunder “Christmas Day”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British rockers Thunder are back with a scaled-back and mostly acoustic EP release ahead of their Japan tour.

While the title track is a Christmas song, this is not really a Christmas record. It’s more a record with some rare and special goodies from Thunder, released to coincide with their winter tour which will also take them back to Japan in January.

On this EP we get to see a scaled down and stripped bare Thunder which has slowed down the tempo. We get a combination of mainly acoustic arrangements and some live versions of old songs. It’s all good stuff which showcases how truly great this band is. The music has a laidback and casual feeling to it. Yet it is so beautiful and expertly executed. Here they’re not hiding behind volume or any gimmicks. This is just a great band performing some emotional songs as a Christmas present to its fans.

“Christmas Day” is a melancholic ballad and here we get a terrific combination of the distinctive voice of Danny Bowes and the fine guitar work of Luke Morley. Since the very beginning of Thunder In the late 80s, the chemistry between Bowes and Morley has been the very essence of the band’s sound. It is only becoming more prominent and evident over time. They are complemented by guitarist Ben Matthews and rhythm section Chris Childs on bass and Harry James on drums (who is also Magnum‘s drummer).

The six-track Japanese edition of the new EP contains acoustic versions of “Heartbreak Hurricane” and “The Enemy Inside” from the band’s latest album “Rip It Up”, as well as a live version of the track “Broken” from 2015’s “Wonder Days”. “Love Walked In” is a ballad which was originally featured on Thunder’s 1990 debut album “Backstreet Symphony”, here in a fab new version. There is also a splendid version of “Low Life In High Places”, a song which originally appeared on 1992’s “Laughing On Judgement Day”.

This is a British rock band with roots in blues and storytelling, something which more than ever before is evident on this record. Guitarist Luke Morley shows us that he doesn’t need electricity to make his guitar smoke. He is a fine guitarist and an even better songwriter.

Thunder will perform in Osaka on 10th January and on 12th and 13th January they will perform at Club Citta in Kawasaki as part of their “Mix It Up – Then & Now Tour”. Get your tickets here: http://clubcitta.co.jp/001/thunder-2018/

Thunder’s “Christmas Day’ EP will be released on 8th December in Japan via Ward Records.

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Album review: Appice “Sinister”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary drumming brothers Carmine and Vinny Appice have finally made a splendid classic hard rock album together and with a little help from their industry friends.

Between them, Brooklyn-born drummer brothers Carmine Appice and Vinny Appice have drummed with major acts such as Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Heaven & Hell, Last In Line, Vanilla Fudge, King Kobra, Blue Murder, Cactus, Marty Friedman, Michael Schenker, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Paul Stanley and many more. There is no shortage in the pedigree department in this family.

While they have previously toured and released a “Drum Wars” live album together, this is their first joint studio album. With many different guest musicians and vocalists appearing, this is naturally quite a varied album. But it basically is an album filled with blues-based classic hard rock of the best kind. It is a melting pot of the Appice brothers’ careers. Terrific stuff.

One of the prominent guests on this fab album is vocalist Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot, King Kobra, Raiding The Rock Vault). Shortino sings on one of the album’s best tracks, “Monsters & Heroes”, a terrific tribute to Ronnie James Dio. He also takes the lead on the tracks “War Cry” and “Suddenly”.

“Killing Floor” is fabulous song, with Chas West (Lynch Mob, Foreigner, Red Dragon Cartel) on vocals, which sounds as if it could have been a lost Whitesnake track. “Riot” is a great hard rock track (originally done by Carmine’s old band Blue Murder) made even better with one of our favourite Irishmen, Robin McAuley (MSG, Michael Schenker Fest, Raiding The Rock Vault), on vocals.

On the track “War Cry”, we get Shortino’s vocals combined with the guitar of Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake). “You Got Me Running” has, somewhat surprisingly, Carmine Appice on lead vocals. Other notable guests on the album include Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses), Craig Goldy (Dio, Dio Disciples, Giuffria, Rough Cutt), Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol. Last In Line), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm, Whitesnake), Johnny Rod (King Kobra, W.A.S.P.) and many more.

“Sabbath Mash” is a weird and wonderful medley of Black Sabbath classics and a nod to the brothers’ past with Sabbath, Heaven & Hell, Dio and Ozzy Osbourne.

While this is an album led by two drummers, we don’t get drumming overkill. The track “Drum Wars” is a drum showcase, but much of the rest of the album is just good-old hard rock. There’s plenty of fab guitar work and some terrific vocal efforts as well as great original songs plus a couple of revisits to old stomping grounds.

Appice’s “Sinister” album will be released on 24th November via Ward Records in Japan. It has been released in other markets via SPV/Steamhammer.

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Album review: Butcher Babies “Lilith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Butcher Babies returns with a an angry, in-your-face album filled with attitude and some good melodies.

Butcher Babies is a band that has a lot of things counting against them. In the early days of the band, the two female vocalists Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey performed bare chested with only their nipples covered by black tape. Not the easiest thing to overcome if you want to be taken seriously as vocalists and as a band. Many metal heads seem to dislike them (at least in public) and consider them gimmicky and fake. My guess is that many of those thinkers haven’t heard much of the band’s music. Well, it seems that they have put their clothes back on, stopped the drug use and decided to focus on the music. Good choice, because it seems to make wonders to their artistic output.

It’s not fashionable to dig this but I sort of do. Power to them. There is certainly some room to improve on some of the material, but there are some fab songs here. This is modern, angry metal with some great melodies. There are some metalcore vibes here and there, as well as some small nods to bands such as Arch Enemy and Amaranthe and plenty of good melodies under the harsh and angry surface.

The album kicks off with “Burn The Straw Men”, a typical trademark Butcher Babies song, full of energy, hooks and a shout-along chorus. “Headspin” kind of sounds like a pop song by Avril Lavigne. OK for what it is. Could have gotten air time on MTV if anyone still watched music shows on TV. “Korova” is a terrific and energetic song, combining sheer power with a great melody. A piece of arena rock. “#Iwokeuplikethis” is a good brutal and fast song, while In “The Huntsman” we get a great combination of angry brutality and pop hooks. “Controller” is pure energy while “Oceana” is a crossover song with metalcore and all sorts of modern metal melted together to create an interesting song. “Look What We’ve done” is Butcher Babies’ take on a power ballad. Could have been a radio hit if anyone still listened to radio. “Pomona (Shit Happens)” seems to exist to piss people off (yay!). There is always someone who will find the use of swear words upsetting. “Underground and Overrated” is perhaps the song title of the year. The title is better than the song, which isn’t bad though. But, together with the title track “Lilith”, it is one of the weaker songs on an album filled with quite a few good songs. The album was produced by Steve Evetts (Warbringer, Havok, Devildriver, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sick Of It All, Sepultura, Hatebreed, Suicide Silence, The Cure).

Butcher Babies is a band full of contradictions and strange turns. But it is also a band with attitude and some interesting modern metal to back it up. Overall this is quite a good album of modern metal. I love the energy and no-fucks-given attitude. Despite the shit storm facing them, I hope Butcher Babies will stick around. They’re entertaining and they have some good music..

Butcher Babies’ “Lilith” album is out now via Century Media Records.

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www.butcherbabiesofficial.com

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.

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www.fysiskformat.no

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.

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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.

www.imotorhead.com

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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.

www.facebook.com/cyhraofficial

www.cyhra.com

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: https://roppongirocks.com/2015/11/21/freddy-villano-is-back-with-american-mafia/

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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.

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www.cradleoffilth.com

www.loudpark.com

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.

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www.zornheym.com