Album review: Season of Ghosts “A Leap of Faith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Blood Stain Child singer Sophia Aslanides is back with a new Season of Ghosts album combining metal riffs with catchy pop hooks in a musical style they call cinematic electro-metal. 

Greek artist Sophia Aslanides made a name for herself as the vocalist in Japanese band Blood Stain Child in 2010-12. Soon after leaving Blood Stain Child, Sophia formed Season of Ghosts which released its debut album “The Human Paradox” in 2014. Now the band is back with a new album.

Musically this is a logical continuation of what Sophia did in Japan with Blood Stain Child, although Season of Ghosts takes a bit of a different approach to its modern mix of metal and pop. They call it “cinematic electro-metal” and that label fits very well. We get metal guitar riffs, catchy melodies, keyboards and Sophia’s dreamy vocals on top of it all. Sophia is a talented songwriter. During her years in Japan, she seems to have soaked up a lot of modern Japanese music, made it into her own style and brought it with her. In Season of Ghosts’ music there are hints of current Japanese acts like Lovebites a well as influences from the 1980s generation of Japanese melodic metal acts (think Loudness, Earthshaker and X-Japan) and the wave of visual kei-bands that they inspired. I also think there are certain hints of Japanese rock queen Mari Hamada here. Musically this modern combination of metal and pop isn’t miles away from contemporary acts such as Amaranthe, Within Temptation and Epica, although the sound is a bit different. Sophia has somehow managed to take all these influences and create her own terrific music with those ingredients.

“A Leap of Faith” is a very strong and even album. We get fab songs such as “How the Story Ends”, “Almost Human” and “Astero”. One of the highlights is no doubt “A Place to Call Home”, which we get in both a standard version and a special Japanese version. It is clear that while this is a UK-based band, Japan is very much still a major part of Sophia as a person and an artist. “There’s a good chance we’ll tour Japan in 2019, so I would like to stress that I never lost contact with my Japanese audience. I still love and appreciate it since they’re the first people that embraced me as an artist. I always say this and it’s true, that Japan is my second home,” Sophia comments to Roppongi Rocks. In addition to Sophia, Season of Ghosts consists of Zombie Sam (guitar), Paul Dark Brown (bass) and Max Buell (drums).

Single review: Electric Feel Good “Moneymaker”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Electric Feel Good is back with a new smashing blues-rock single. Where will this end?

From Hellsingland in rural Sweden comes Electric Feel Good, a band formed in 2015 that plays guitar-based rock with roots in the 70s. It is dusty blues rock from the Swedish woods. It’s impossible to avoid thinking about Hellsingland Underground when listening to Electric Feel Good due to the geographical and musical proximity of the two bands. Another current band that comes to mind is Imperial State Electric. But make no mistake about it: Electric Feel Good is no copy-cat band. They have based their sound on those who have gone before them, but they have added their own ingredients to the mix to arrive at something very promising. In a way, we get straightforward and simple rock music on this new single, “Moneymaker”. At the same time, there is some insane songwriting talent here. “Moneymaker” is two minutes and twenty seconds of musical brilliance. Writing a simple but catchy tune is hard. These lads have it in them. They base not only their songwriting in the 1970s. They also have made the production sound like it was recorded in 1974. Following a few single releases, I am now eager to hear a full album with this rather promising band to see where they can take this. 

Electric Feel Good’s new single “Moneymaker” will be released on 30th November.

Album review: Thomas Silver “The Gospel According to Thomas”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Hardcore Superstar guitarist Thomas Silver is back with a fabulous solo album showing him in a somewhat different light. 

Having made a name for himself as guitarist in the band Hardcore Superstar, Swedish artist Thomas Silver left the band in 2008. Now he’s back with his first solo album, “The Gospel According to Thomas”. The former sleaze rocker is now all grown up. Thomas Silver the solo artist still has some of that Hanoi Rocks kind of sleazy melodic hard rock in him that made his old band famous. But here it is mixed with other influences, ranging from garage rock to goth rock. The foundation is built on straightforward and often catchy guitar-driven rock music (just listen to the fab guitars on “Caught Between Worlds”). But, at least in my ears, there are plenty of hints of The Cramps, Misfits, Bauhaus and David Bowie as well as contemporary acts such as Ghost. The end result of this melting pot of influences is very good. Silver has found a signature sound that works very well across the entire album. As a solo artist, Silver is fully in charge as vocalist, guitarist and, not least, songwriter. He knows how to craft a song that will attach itself to its listeners. The catchy but somewhat lyrically dark track “Not Invited” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. “All Those Crazy Dreams” is a likeable and terrific slower piece in all its David Bowie-like glory. I am confident that many of Silver’s old Hardcore Superstar fans will dig this while he is also likely to attract completely new fans that are unaware of his past as a sleaze rock star.

Thomas Silver’s “The Gospel According to Thomas” is out now via Volcano Records internationally and King Records in Japan.

EP review: Sodom “Partisan”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrash metal band Sodom is back with a new line-up and a brutal new EP. 

Sodom formed in Germany in 1981 and its debut full-length studio album “Obsessed by Cruelty” was released in 1986. Founder Tom Angelripper is still the main man in Sodom and he has now assembled a new line-up of the veteran German thrash metal band. Guitarist Frank Blackfire, who was in Sodom in the 1980s and who has also played in Kreator and Assassin, is back and he brings some of the old-school Sodom sound from around the time of “Agent Orange” with him. The new line-up also features guitarist Yorck Segatz (ex-Beyondition) and drummer Stefan “Husky” Hüskens (ex-Asphyx, Desaster). The new line-up is terrific and combines old-style, classic Sodom with some new vibes and adds some layers and nuances to the Sodom soundscape. This three-track EP features the brand new and brilliant studio tracks “Partisan” and “Conflagration” as well as a live version of “Tired and Red”. The original studio version was on the band’s 1989 classic album “Agent Orange”. Here we get it in a splendid live version recorded at the Rock Hard festival earlier this year. This new EP is fast, dirty, high-energy thrash metal performed just the way we like it. One thing that is very telling about Sodom’s music is that there is very little difference in sound between the studio tracks and the live track. It more or less sounds the same, which is a good thing as Sodom successfully manages to recreate its terrific live sound in the studio. This EP is a very appropriate way to announce that Sodom is back and it has a fabulous new line-up ready to attack.

Sodom’s “Partisan” EP will be released on 23rd November via Steamhammer/SPV.

Album review: The Smashing Pumpkins “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Smashing Pumpkins are back with a great new album filled with college rock and alternative pop as well as a near-complete reunion of the original 1988 line-up.

The media coverage of the partial reunion of The Smashing Pumpkins has focused on the absence of bassist D’arcy Wretzky and the back and forth mudslinging between her and leader and frontman Billy Corgan. The current line-up of the band, founded in Chicago in 1988, consists of Corgan and his co-founding members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) as well as guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who has been in the band since 2007.

So, what about the new music? I am very pleased to say that behind all the drama there is great new music. The Rick Rubin-produced new album, which has the somewhat cumbersome title “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”, is, well, smashing. It is often more pop than alternative rock, but that’s perfectly fine with me as long as it’s this good. “Knights of Malta” sets the scene with strings adding a dreamy background to Billy Corgan’s characteristic voice and a splendid song. “Travels” and “Alienation” are dreamy reflections while “Solara”, perhaps the album’s highlight, is good-old college rock of the best kind. “Marchin’ On” is an energetic rock song but with some of those dreamy touches to it. The album only has eight tracks, but they’re all good. I much rather have shorter albums or even EPs, than albums with filler songs. The album closes with “Seek and You Shall Destroy”, a typical Pumpkins alternative rock song. Having seen a few of Corgan’s alternative band line-ups performing live in Japan over the years (they have been decent), it is good to see a more proper version of the band back together. The original line-up may not be intact, but The Smashing Pumpkins are back in style and are creating great new music again.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ new album “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.” is out now via Napalm Records.

EP review: Open Surgery “After Birth Abortion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death metal band Open Surgery is back with an EP that smells like a damp Florida basement in 1989. And that’s a good thing.

Open Surgery is one of our favourite Swedish death metal bands. This is a band that plays proper death metal without making it unnecessary complicated. The new EP continues along the same path as the band’s two previous full-length albums. The band formed in Finspång in rural Sweden in 2012, but its music is of the Tampa, Florida kind. On this six-track EP, the follow-up to 2016’s terrific full-length album “Post Mortem Mutilation”, Open Surgery delivers exactly what I want from them: Smelly, damp underground death metal of the best kind. This is music built on the foundation of old-school death metal. Open Surgery has stayed focused on creating fantastic death metal without adding any modern touches to it. This is death metal that could have been recorded in 1989. Love it. It is an underground Swedish response to Morbid Angel’s classic album “Altars of Madness” from, yes, 1989. Or Obituary’s debut album “Slowly We Rot”, also from 1989. Open Surgery is not merely copying its forefathers from Florida, but rather paying tribute to their groundbreaking work and creating new music based on the same musical foundation. There is nothing fancy here. No trends, no fads, nothing new. Just bloody good old-school death metal from the underground. The EP has six strong and solid tracks. “Altar of Death” is splendid while “Reduced to Broth” is my favourite among the new tracks. This is indeed terrific brutal music that will reduce you to a broth.

Open Surgery’s new EP “After Birth Abortion” will be released on 17th December via BVR Records.

Album review: Electric Boys “The Ghost Ward Diaries”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish groove masters Electric Boys are all grown-up on fab new album. 

Sweden’s Electric Boys burst onto the scene with their terrific Bob Rock-produced debut album “Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride” in 1989. They made a reputation for themselves with the hit single “All Lips ‘N’ Hips” and plenty of touring. I loved the debut album and I went to see them in concert for the first time in 1989. I was very impressed with them already then. Twenty years later, in 2009, I saw Electric Boys’ vocalist and guitarist Conny Bloom and bassist Andy Christell when they toured Japan as members of Finnish glam rock band Hanoi Rocks. That was Hanoi Rocks’ farewell tour. A few years later, when Bloom and Christell had reformed Electric Boys’ original line-up with drummer Niclas Sigevall and guitarist Franco Santunione, they brought in their former Hanoi Rocks colleague Jolle Atlagic to share drum duties with Sigevall.

The grown-up 2018 version of Electric Boys sounds great. It is easy to recognise the band many of us grew to love in the late 80s, but it is also evident that they have matured and let some other influences help shape their songs. Vocalist and guitarist Conny Bloom is the main driver behind the songwriting and who leads the band from the front on stage, but he is part of a terrific band. The foundation of Electric Boys’ sound is still groovy rock with some funk influences, but this mature version of the band mixes it all up with blues rock, melodic hard rock, classic rock and much more. It is a bit like Hawkwind meets Atomic Swing meets Trapeze meets Tom Petty. It’s all good and it is often playful. It is intelligent rock with exquisite melodies performed by a splendid rock band. 

The majestic “Love is a Funny Feeling” is an obvious favourite of mine with a great arrangement of a fabulous song. “You Spark My Heart” is a beautiful love song which goes from being ballad-like to sudden explosions of catchy rock. The first single “Hangover in Hannover” is a terrific rocker where classic Electric Boys meets Hanoi Rocks. The catchy track “First the Money, Then the Honey” also has terrific echoes of Hanoi Rocks while “Rich Man, Poor Man” is a fantastic blues rocker with plenty of soul. Old fans won’t be disappointed with this new Electric Boys album. The band also has a great chance to broaden its fanbase with this more mature sound.

Ladies and gentlemen, Electric Boys are back. It’s time to put your dance shoes on and let your hair down. 

Electric Boys’ new album “The Ghost Ward Diaries” will be released on 23rd November via Mighty Music.

Album review: Reece “Resilient Heart”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Accept and Bonfire vocalist David Reece returns with a strong solo album. 

American vocalist David Reece is best known as the singer who bravely replaced Udo Dirkschneider in Accept in the late 80s. Later he would also front another already established German hard rock act, Bonfire. But make no mistake about it, Reece is no mere fill-in guy. He is a great singer and here he is back with a solo album where we not only get to enjoy his powerful voice, we also get great melodic hard rock songs.

On “Resilient Heart” David Reece has teamed up with the Danish musicians Marco Angioni and Martin Jepsen Andersen (guitars), Malte Frederik Burkert (bass) and Sigurd J. Jensen (drums). Angioni and Andersen have also worked with Reece on the songwriting and the result is a solid melodic hard rock album. “Perfect Apocalypse” is the standout song on this great album for me. From the very start of the song with its 1980s sounding keyboards, via the heavy guitar riffing, to the great melodies, the runaway energy and Reece’s splendid vocals to top it all off, it’s an excellent song. “Any Time at All” is a very catchy contemporary sounding rock track. “Karma” is another big song with plenty of attitude while “Forest Through the Trees” is a beautiful piano-based power ballad. The album is even and it is solid. It’s great to hear David Reece in his own right without having to compare him to predecessors in various bands. This is David Reece being David Reece. It seems that his new Danish partners have given Reece a vitamin injection. Let’s hope that this successful partnership will last beyond just this album.

David Reece’s album “Resilient Heart” is out now via Mighty Music.

Album review: Ace Frehley “Spaceman”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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