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. /

Album review: Arch Enemy “Will To Power” | A new melodic death metal masterpiece

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mighty melodic death metal giants Arch Enemy are back with a great new album, their first with guitarist Jeff Loomis.

Arch Enemy mastermind Michael Amott has pulled it off again. Following the introduction of a new vocalist (the fierce Alissa White-Gluz) on the last album, he then recruited a new guitarist (Jeff Loomis) for the subsequent world tour. In the middle of all that, he orchestrated an ad-hoc reunion of the original Arch Enemy band with Johan Liiva on vocals for a Japan tour (under the moniker Black Earth) as well as keeping busy recording and touring with his other band, Spiritual Beggars. After all that, Amott took his fellow Arch Enemy band members into the studio and created another masterpiece: “Will To Power”.

Alissa White-Gluz on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The new “Will To Power” album naturally builds further on 2014’s excellent “War Eternal”. Since that album was released, phenomenal guitarist Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore) joined the band which also features bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson.

This is a guitar album with Amott and Loomis fighting a great twin guitar fight throughout (including on the epic song “Dreams of Retribution”). Loomis having toured with the band and performed its back catalogue since November 2014 seems to have been a great preparation for his contributions to this album.

While building on the foundation laid down by the “War Eternal” album, on this new album the band takes us further and offers us more musical variety, especially some atmospheric slower parts here and there and with some unexpected instrumentation. Vocalist White-Gluz also gives us much more variations in her singing styles, showing off that she is much more than just a growler.

Arch Enemy on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Reason To Believe” is sort of a power ballad, delivered Arch Enemy style of course. “My Shadow and I” is a fabulous trademark Arch Enemy track. The closing track, “A Fight I Must Win”, is nothing short of majestic.

This is a terrific album with just the right combination of brutality, guitar duels, tempo changes, bundles of energy and catchy melodies.

Amott and Erlandsson have co-produced the album which was mixed and mastered by industry legend Jens Bogren (Kreator, Sepultura, Enslaved, Candlemass, Babymetal, Soilwork, At The Gates, Marty Friedman, Amon Amarth, Opeth, Paradise Lost, and much, much more).

Arch Enemy’s album “Will To Power” is out on 8th September via Century Media Records and on 1st September in Japan via Trooper Entertainment.

Album review: Grande Royale “Breaking News”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish rockers Grande Royale are back with a new Nicke Andersson-produced album.

“Breaking News” is the band’s third album since Grande Royale formed in Sweden in 2013. The new album certainly has a feel of 70s American rock, with plenty of pop influences in the mix and delivered with great electric guitars. It gives us good, catchy rock tunes with pop hooks, performed by band members that know what they’re doing. The band says that Lynyrd Skynyrd was a heavy influence when they created this album. Sure, there is a fair bit of that, but Grande Royale sounds a tad different – more energetic – and with a modern touch, while still having a sound grounding in the classic rock of the 70s.

Listening to the record, it comes as no surprise to learn it has been recorded in the Honk Palace in Sweden with its owner Nicke Andersson (Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters, Entombed) as engineer and producer. This is no copycat band, but there is a clear hint of Imperial State Electric on this album. Not the same, but it is likely to appeal to the same audience. Perhaps a joint tour can make a lot of sense? Or Grande Royale and Imperial State Electric opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd? There are also traces here and there of the less wild side of Nicke Andersson’s other band, The Hellacopters.

“Brake Light” is a pop-tastic rocker. “Devil’s Place” smells of Nicke Andersson and is one of the best tracks on the album. “Got To Move” makes me want to dance. This is feelgood rock music to get parties started.

Grande Royale’s “Breaking News” is out today via The Sign Records.



Album review: The Haunted “Strength in Numbers”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish extreme metal band The Haunted, featuring members from At The Gates and Witchery, is back with a new album and, of course, it is as good as you’d expect.

The Haunted formed in Sweden in 1996 by a group of metalheads, including two At The Gates members, bassist Jonas Björler and drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1998. Since then the band has released some great records (including the live album “Live Rounds in Tokyo” in 2001) and also seen some line-up changes.

Today the band consists of Björler and Erlandsson, who left the band but returned a few years ago, together with founding member Patrik Jensen (also in Witchery) on guitar as well as returning Finnish vocalist Marco Aro (Face Down, The Resistance) and Ola Englund (Feared, Six Feet Under, Scarpoint) on lead guitar.

What we get on “Strength in Numbers” is extreme heavy metal that lives somewhere on the border between thrash metal and melodic death metal. It’s a great mix and it’s executed very well. Thrashy melodic death metal is probably what I’d like to call this.

The Haunted plays music created according to the band members’ own preferences. No fads, no compromises. There’s nothing trendy here and that is why this is so good. For those of us who like quality extreme metal without any bells or whistles, this is a great feast.

“Fill the Darkness with Black” is a great little opener for the album, before the mayhem kicks off with “Brute Force”. It continues from there. On the fabulous track “Preachers of Death” we get to hear drummer Erlandsson at his best. Fearless! There is also splendid guitar work on this song which is perhaps the best track on the album. The title track is also a strong contender for the title with its runaway bulldozer energy. “Tighten the Noose” has even more raw energy. Bloody hell! I get exhausted just from listening to it.

The album’s full of fab music: quality metal the way I like it. “The Fall” and “Means to an End” are all about relentless metal riffing. Great stuff. Producer Russ Russell is an excellent choice who has done work with Napalm Death and Dimmu Borgir. His impact on the studio production of this album is very tangible.

What makes this stand out from the crowd is that it is obvious we have a bunch of pro musicians here, metal veterans who can deliver even on a bad day. Also, the thrash metal guitars make some of the more death metal-focused songs somewhat different and better.

The Haunted’s “Strength in Numbers” is out now via Century Media Records.

Album review: Fleurety “Inquietum”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Norway’s extreme metal band Fleurety offers us a career-spanning and genre-bending collection of rather avant-garde songs on “Inquietum”.

Norwegian band Fleurety plays experimental black metal with a focus on experimental and avant-garde music. Their catalogue of songs takes us to places where many other black metal bands would never go. It combines old-school black metal with some fantastic technical extreme metal, avant-garde influences from all sorts of musical genres and atmospheric soundscapes.

“Inquietum” is a CD collection of songs from throughout the band’s career, previously released as four separate seven-inch EPs, which partly explains the many variations between the different songs. Formed in Norway in 1991, Fleurety is led by guitarist Alexander Nordgaren (ex-I Left the Planet and also a former live member of Mayhem) and drummer and vocalist Svein Egil Hatlevik (Zweizz, Umoral, ex-Dodheimsgard).

The album opens with “Descent into Darkness” and that sets the scene for this collection of songs. Some of the songs can be traced back to the band’s early demo recordings from the 1990s, but presented here in newer versions. While varied, the music is always dark in one way or another. Some of this music is tormented and twisted, while other parts are beautifully atmospheric, yet still dark, haunting and damp. This band is not afraid of going wherever they feel like with their music. That takes some of these songs into unexpected territories.

“Absence” is a fantastically extreme metal track presented in a primitive demo-sounding format that has a great groove to it, not least provided by guest bassist Plenum (Virus, Audiopain). On “Summon the Beasts”, we get a very different Fleurety, here reunited with fabulous female vocalist Ayna B. Johansen (I Left The Planet). This is the album’s best track. Many other prominent guests appear on some of the songs, most notably legendary Mayhem members Necrobutcher and Hellhammer on the track “Descent into Darkness”.

This is a very interesting album which tracks the band’s evolution and different musical styles as well as reminding us of Norwegian black metal’s rich history and deep roots.

Fleurety’s album “Inquietum” is out now on Aesthetic Death Records.

Single review: Old Man Wizard “Innocent Hands”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

California’s progressive heavy rockers Old Man Wizard have got an addictive new 7-inch single coming out.

I don’t know what it is, but Old Man Wizard’s new single has me hooked. This music is some kind of witch brew from southern California. It’s catchy and riff heavy. Like good old, dirty and dusty psych rock. They call it progressive heavy rock and I guess that kind of explains what this is. Southern California also says something about where this music comes from.

The title track “Innocent Hands” kicks off with some serious metal assault, but with a weird mix of psych rock. Some of this is a bit like melodic black metal, but not really. Perhaps if Monster Magnet and The Doors formed a super group and played melodic progressive black metal mixed with some desert rock… Nah, that’s silly. Never mind, whatever this is, it’s bloody good. I am hooked. The B-side’s “The Blind Prince” is even better. Very energetic and with a funky but dusty groove. More 60s psych rock than metal. I’m confused but I really like this. It’s addictive.

Old Man Wizard consists of Francis Roberts on guitar and vocals, Kris Calabio on drums and Andre Beller on bass.

Old Man Wizard’s two-track 7-inch single “Innocent Hands” will be released on 25th August. The band is currently on tour in the US.

Album review: Venom Inc. “Avé” | Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back in action

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom’s Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back as Venom Inc. with fab new material on new album.

When old bands reunite and produce new music, you never really know what to expect. Often the result is not great. So, what is the result when British extreme metal pioneers Venom get its line-up from 1989-92 back together again? A fantastic album of great heavy metal by an explosive trio of veterans who manage to combine their past glories with a modern sound and terrific new material.

In Venom Inc. founding Venom members Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on drums have again teamed up with vocalist and bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (who fronted Venom during the 1989-92 period when the albums “Prime Evil”, “Temples of Ice” and “The Waste Lands” were released). What a great trio of heaviness. Two years after they reunited in 2015, they have now created a comeback album that beats all expectations.

There are some great, heavy riffs and a dark groove throughout the album. Best of all, there are great songs. The album brings back memories of the classic Venom days back in the 80s and early 90s, but this is much more than that. With “Avé”, Venom Inc. shows us that this trio is still relevant. This is very much a contemporary band, here and now, not some has-beens stuck in the past.

The opener, “Avé Satanas”, is very strong and announces that this is a band that will claim back its spot in the heavy metal race. There’s great energy on tracks such as “Metal We Bleed”, “The Evil Dead” and “War”. “Dein Fleisch” has a sinister vibe to it, both musically and lyric-wise. “Time to Die” is fantastic. “Preacher Man” is one of the stand-out tracks on the album and it has a bit of a Judas Priest flavour. “I Kneel to No God” is simply epic. Many of the songs are a bit longer than your average metal song and that allows Venom Inc. to really live out their musical ambitions to the full and without compromises. There are no dips on this album. A bloody great album closes with “Black N Roll” and, yes, the title is fitting. It has a touch of Motörhead to it.

This is a fantastic album straight through. Venom Inc. has truly arrived with this album. Die-hard Venom fans may not want to admit it, but Venom Inc. is actually far better than anything that Venom has ever done (OK, maybe I’ll make an exception for “Countess Bathory”).

Venom Inc.’s album “Avé” is out now via Nuclear Blast.

Album review: The Lurking Fear “Out of the Voiceless Grave”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Lurking Fear’s much-hyped debut album lives up to the expectations. It’s bloody awesome death metal by a bunch of professionals.

The new death metal band The Lurking Fear’s debut album “Out of the Voiceless Grave” is a brutal album without any compromises. It’s an assault on your senses by a bunch of Swedish extreme metal veterans. The Lurking Fear has a stellar line-up of extreme music royalty: Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates, Disfear, The Crown, Grotesque, Skitsystem, Lock Up, Nightrage) on vocals, Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre, Bombs of Hades, Crippled Black Phoenix, The Crown, ) on guitar, Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem, Embalmed, Sarcasm) on guitar, Andreas Axelson (Tormented, Disfear, Marduk, Edge of Sanity, Necronaut) on bass and Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted, Riket, Nemhain, Brujeria, Cradle of Filth, Netherbird, Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre, Skitsystem) on drums.

Tomas Lindberg on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Comparisons with At The Gates are impossible to avoid. But The Lurking Fear lives at the more inaccessible end of the musical world which also houses At The Gates. It lives next door to early Morbid Angel. It’s fast, brutal and heavy. High-energy bulldozing metal with some King Diamond-esque horror movie references here and there. There are also fab melodies underneath all the brutality and at times the tempo slows down for a breather. I love this album. It makes me want to start a one-man mosh pit right here at Roppongi Rocks headquarters.

Adrian Erlandsson on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

For the most part, this is Insanely brutal and aggressive, like a high-pressure cooker. But don’t let the death metal typhoon on the surface fool you. This is multi-layered intelligent, yet brutal, music with many nuances.

Picking out favourite tracks on such a solid album is hard. “Vortex Spawn” is a splendid physical assault. “The Infernal Dread” is terrific and so is “With Death Engraved in Their Bone”.  “The Starving Gods of Old” is one of my clear favourite songs on this album. It sort of sounds like a death metal version of a Napalm Death song performed by an early version of Morbid Angel in a speed metal tempo. “Tentacles of Blackened Horror” starts as a “normal” song, only to explode into fucking mayhem once the vocals start. Insane brutality. Splendid! The album closes with the track “Beneath Menacing Sands”, a five-minute masterclass in death metal. Well, there are no weak spots on this album. What a debut album The Lurking Fear has arrived on the scene with!

The Lurking Fear’s album “Out of the Voiceless Grave” is out on 11th August via Century Media Records.