Album review: Amorphis “Queen of Time”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mighty Finnish heavy metal band Amorphis is back with yet another terrific album combining heavy metal with beautiful melodies and a big chunk of folk-inspired music.

Santeri Kallio and Jan Rechberger of Amorphis backstage at Loud Park in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amorphis’ new album “Queen of Time” is based on the by now well-established Amorphis sound which combines heavy metal with great melodies, heavy guitar riffing with dreamy keyboard soundscapes and clean singing with growling.

The album opens where the last album, “Under the Red Cloud”, left off with “The Bee”. But this is no “Under the Red Cloud II”. They take their music further and we get a fair bit of folk-inspired parts on many songs, bordering on Pagan metal at times. It works very well. The Japanese bonus track “Honeyflow” is a splendid Pagan metal song with flutes and all.

One of the things that stand out is the effective and dramatic use of choirs on songs such as “Message in the Amber”. “Wrong Direction” is a killer track that immediately stands out. “Heart of the Giant” is, well, a giant song. It’s a terrific track featuring some fabulous keyboard work in addition to the band’s rock solid foundation of drums and guitars. On “We Accused” we again get some smashing keyboard wizardry by Santeri Kallio who really gets to shine on this album. On the track “Daughter of Hate” we get a visit by a saxophone and on other songs, we get flutes and other somewhat unexpected instruments. Amorphis certainly never shies away from adding new elements to its music or take new musical routes. There are so many new fantastic songs on this album it sort of feels like a greatest hits album.

Amorphis is a band that has both the songwriting skills and the performance skills. The band is solid with Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen on guitars, Santeri Kallio on keyboards, Jan Rechberger on drums and powerhouse vocalist Tomi Joutsen. Recently original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine returned to the band after a 17-year absence. “Queen of Time” is the band’s thirteenth studio album since its formation in 1990. At times, their death metal roots shine through, but they have evolved quite a lot over the years. Amorphis remains one of the Nordic region’s best metal acts, both live and in the studio. Their native Finland is still at the top of the heavy metal hill.

Amorphis’ new album “Queen of Time” will be released on 16th May Ward Records in Japan and on 18th May via Nuclear Blast internationally. The band will perform in Japan again in mid-June.

Single review: Demon Head “The Resistance”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bearded Danish smoky rockers Demon Head are back with a splendid new 7-inch single.

The diabolic retro-rockers in the Danish band Demon Head have established a fascinating sound that smells of the analogue recording sounds of the 60s and 70s. The recordings sound old but not old-fashioned. This is great stuff. It has that bearded, smoke-filled groove that we would have expected to hear in Copenhagen in the 70s. There’s doom, folk rock, stoner rock and much more in this terrific mix of good rock. On the surface, it is scaled-back storytelling kind of rock. As if Neil Young were drinking beer in Copenhagen and decided to cross the water to Sweden to record some songs with Hellsingland Underground in an old run-down caravan. Or The Hellacopters being robbed of all their money during a drunken night and thus forced to do some busking on a street corner in Soho to make some money to get home. But one quickly realises that there is some very talented and refined songwriting behind this single. Demon Head makes it sound simple and off the cuff, but it is actually very intricate music.Most importantly, it is great music.

Demon Head’s new 7-inch single contains two tracks, “Rivers of Mars” and “The Resistance”. Both songs are terrific and they are obvious 7-inch tracks. I much rather listen to a fabulous two-track vinyl single than an album with some fillers. This single is terrific with “Rivers of Mars” especially standing out like a song I take an immediate liking to.

Demon Head’s single “The Resistance” is out now via The Sign Records.

Album review: Kobra and the Lotus “Prevail II”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Canadian metal force Kobra Paige and her band Kobra and the Lotus are back with their fifth studio album.

Kobra and the Lotus formed in 2009 and “Prevail II” is the band’s fifth studio album. Vocalist Kobra Paige (who some of you may remember from her guest appearances on tour with Kamelot) is the band’s frontwoman and the only remaining original member of the band. As such she is at the centre of this Canadian metal ship conquering the world.

This is powerful and energetic melodic metal. It sounds modern and contemporary while still influenced by proper 80s and 90s metal. On fabulous tracks like “Human Empire” and “You’re Insane”, there are fantastic echoes of bands such as Judas Priest and Queensrÿche. Great heavy metal combining fab songwriting with musicianship and terrific vocals. On other tracks, such as “Heartache” and “White Water”, it is more melodic and calmer. Overall the album provides a great mix of styles with songs built around the strength of Paige’s voice. The band very elegantly manages to balance between heavy riffing and more mainstream rock. The music is heavy enough to keep people like me happy but also accessible enough to have mainstream appeal. They have already toured with KISS and Def Leppard and are well on their way to move up in the world of metal.

In addition to the album’s ten tracks, the Japanese version comes with two bonus versions of the track “Let Me Love You”; an acoustic version and a version sung in Japanese. Both bonus versions are terrific.

Kobra and the Lotus’ new album “Prevail II” is out on 25th April via Ward Records in Japan and on 27th April via Napalm Records internationally.

Album review: Don Airey “One Of A Kind” | Solo album from Deep Purple’s keyboardist

Don Airey

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Deep Purple’s Hammond master Don Airey has a new solo record coming out. It’s way better than anything Purple has released in recent times.

Don Airey joined Deep Purple as stand-in keyboardist in 2001 and subsequently as a permanent member the year after when Jon Lord retired from the band. But he has done so much more than just Purple in his career: he’s played with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Cozy Powell, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Brian May, Bruce Dickinson, Michael Schenker, Helix, Fastway, Graham Bonnet, Saxon and much more. This is a musician whose middle name is “Pedigree”.

Don Airey’s “One Of A Kind” is an album living somewhere between American classic rock and British blues-based hard rock. His backing band is made up of musicians Airey has played with in other bands: Nazareth’s current singer Carl Sentance (who Airey played together with in the band Persian Risk and on a solo album by Sentance), bassist Laurence Cottle (who played with Airey in the Gary Moore band) and drummer Jon Finnegan and guitarist Simon McBride (who both played in Ian Gillan’s solo band with Airey). And speaking of Ian Gillan, some of the music on this album – such as the splendid “Victim of Pain” – reminds me of the sound of Gillan, Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan’s solo band in the early 80s. Great stuff.

“Children of the Sun” is terrific and so is “Respect”. The title track “One Of A Kind” is a good-fun rocker with phenomenal orchestration. Airey allows himself to shine on many of the songs by adding a keyboard solo here and there. It is his album after all and he does his showing off in a tasteful and proportional manner. Welshman Carl Sentance is such an underrated singer. In addition to Persian Risk, he has also sung with Krokus, Geezer Butler and Nazareth. He is doing a stellar job in Nazareth, but there he is always compared to his retired predecessor Dan McCafferty. With Don Airey he has a better chance to get his due recognition because he hasn’t replaced anyone and he is singing new material that he has co-written with Airey. What a pair! They can write and perform together and deliver the goods on this album.

Don Airey’s album “One Of A Kind” will be released on 25th May via earMUSIC internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Dimmu Borgir “Eonian” | A symphonic black metal masterpiece

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Norwegian symphonic black metal masters Dimmu Borgir are back with their first studio album since 2010. It’s bombastically brilliant.

Norwegian symphonic black metal masters Dimmu Borgir have got a new album ready, the band’s first studio album in eight years. It is massive. It is everything I had hoped for and more. It’s sensationally good. It is Dimmu Borgir at its best with its trademark dark and bombastic melodic metal, combining sinister guitars with splendid choirs and prominent use of keyboards to create a fantastic soundscape. At times, as is the case with the tracks “Alpha Aeon Omega”, “I am Sovereign” and “Rite of Passage”, it sounds like a soundtrack to an epic movie. There are majestic choral arrangements here that could come straight out of “The Omen” movie.

Dimmu Borgir formed in Oslo, Norway in 1993. The band is fittingly enough named after an Icelandic volcano: this band is a Nordic force of nature. In its early days, the band had a rawer sound closer to other early Norwegian and Swedish black metal bands. Over time, Dimmu Borgir has evolved and created its own signature sound that is still best described as symphonic black metal. While they established their signature sound, they still offer quite a lot of variety within those parameters. On the splendid track “Interdimensional Summit” they manage to combine a lot of things, even managing to sound like “Floodland”-era Sisters of Mercy. Fantastic! Dimmu Borgir never lets any genre limit is creative output. Another immediate favourite is “Council of Wolves and Snakes” with its gloomy and haunting soundscape and what sounds like chanting by some sort of indigenous people. The album is rock solid with absolutely no weak spots. If you like dark symphonic melodic metal, this is a masterpiece you need in your record collection.

Dimmu Borgir’s album “Eonian” will be released on 4th May via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Gus G “Fearless”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek guitar wizard Gus G is back with a new solo album.

Greek guitarist Gus G first made a name for himself in bands such as Nightrage, Dream Evil and Firewind and even played in Arch Enemy for a short while. But it is as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist he became known to the masses. With Zakk Wylde now back in Ozzy’s band, Gus G has more freedom to get on with his own musical projects, now mainly focusing on his band Firewind and his solo career.

A year ago he did some terrific solo shows here in Japan and now he’s back with a new solo album, “Fearless”. The album kicks off in style with the energetic track “Letting Go” and it is followed by “Mr Manson”, one of the album’s standout tracks where we – obviously – get some guitar thunderbolts but also a catchy, modern rock song. “Don’t Tread on Me” is another contemporary sounding rocker of a song. The instrumental title track “Fearless” sounds a lot like something that could have been done by Marty Friedman. It is my favourite track on this album. “Nothing to Say” is an AOR-type melodic rock ballad. The album continues to mix musical styles, instrumental pieces and tracks with locals throughout its ten tracks. Gus G’s amazing guitar wizardry remains at the centre of it all but without crossing the border to guitar wankery country.

One of the instrumental tracks, “Thrill of the Chase”, is a wonderful showcase for what Gus can do with his guitar. Dire Straits’ monster hit “Money for Nothing” gets the Gus G treatment. If one is going to do a cover song, one has to do something different, adding something to not make it pointless. Gus G does that here. The classic 1985 Mark Knopfler song gets a modern makeover that works very well. On this album, Gus is backed up by vocalist/bassist Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic) and drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence, Black Label Society). The trio delivers on every song. “Fearless” is a solid and accessible melodic album showcasing Gus G’s guitar skills.

Gus G’s “Fearless” album will be released on 20th April via AFM Records.

Gus G backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Live album/DVD review: Anthrax “Kings Among Scotland”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American thrashers Anthrax on top form in Scotland as they mark the 30th anniversary of “Among The Living” with a live release.

American thrashers Anthrax are always great live. I first saw them live in 1990 when they opened for Iron Maiden and most recently last year when they opened for Megadeth. Always full of energy, attitude and ready to entertain their audience. On the new live CD/vinyl/DVD “Kings Among Scotland” we get exactly that. Anthrax has released some brilliant studio albums over the years, but it is live on stage, in front of their fans, that these American thrashers really become kings of Scotland and the rest of the world. The sweat, the headbanging, the singalongs, the air guitar duels, the circle pits and the metal horns in the air take this to another level.

The two-disc release “Kings Among Scotland”, recorded in Glasgow on 15th February 2017, is split into one best-of disc and one where Anthrax plays their 1987 album “Among The Living” in its entirety to celebrate its 30th anniversary. On the first disc of “Kings Among Scotland” we get all the good stuff we would expect from an Anthrax gig: “A.I.R.”, “Madhouse”, “Evil Twin”, “Medusa”, “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can”, “Blood Eagle Wings” and more. Anthrax is in great form and the current line-up is killer. Charlie Benante (drums), Scott Ian (rhythm guitar), Frank Bello (bass), Joey Belladonna (vocals) and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais are on fire here. Only guitarist Dan Spitz is missing from the line-up that recorded the original “Among The Living” studio album.

On the second disc, the band gets challenged as they don’t usually play some of the tracks from “Among The Living” in their live set. But they pull it off big time. What a treat! One of the best thrash metal albums of all time performed live in front of a sold out rowdy crowd of Scots at Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. “Caught In A Mosh”, “I Am The Law”, “A Skeleton In The Closet”, “Indians”, “”Efilnikufesin” and all the good stuff served up as a thrash metal feast. The band finishes with “Antisocial”, a cover of a song by French hard rockers Trust that Anthrax has made into its own over the years.

The production is fabulous as it has managed to capture the energy and rawness of Anthrax live. The album cover art is a terrific tribute to the classic KISS album cover “Rock And Roll Over”. Buy the vinyl version and frame it.

Anthrax’s “Kings Among Scotland” will be released on 27th April in Japan via Ward Records in Japan and Megaforce internationally.

Scott Ian of Anthrax on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: QFT “Live in Space” | Therion’s Linnéa Vikström and Dynazty members unite on new album

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As Therion’s Linnéa Vikström goes out on her own with QFT, she brings a big chunk of Dynazty with her into the studio.

Linnéa Vikström has made a name for herself as one of the vocalists in the Swedish symphonic metal band Therion. She’s been touring the world with Therion since 2010. She is also the daughter of Thomas Vikström who’s been fronting Candlemass, Talk of the Town and currently Therion.

Now Linnéa makes her solo debut under the name QFT, which is short for Quantum Field Theory. Lyric-wise we get a space journey covering everything from modern science to the big questions about eternity. This album is rather varied and showcases very well the many sides to Linnéa. Her terrific voice is backed up by her fiancée Georg Härnsten Egg on drums. He brought with him fellow Dynazty member Jonathan Olsson bass and former Dynazty touring guitarist Mano Lewys as well. It doesn’t end there. Dynazty’s guitarist Mikael Lavér appears as a guest on the album’s title track. So, we get a lot of Dynazty people in the studio, but the end result is a very different sound.

The album’s opening track, “End of the Universe”, is bombastically terrific. The song lives in the same musical neighbourhood as Therion and also has some of that Candlemass doom in it. The next track, “Big Bang”, is more pop-like, and it is followed by “Black Hole”, which is somewhere in the middle of the first two songs. And this is how the album continues, with constant changes in styles. It covers a wide spectrum of music, but it always has Vikström’s strong voice at the centre. The title track “Live in Space” is a full-on power ballad with an 80s guitar solo and all. The album closes with an unexpected cover of the Björk song “Joga”.

The album sounds great. It was, for the most part, recorded live in the studio which means it captures that proper feeling of real music being performed by a band. Lording over the production was sound engineer Lennart Östlund, a man who learnt his trade in the classic Polar Studios in Stockholm where he worked with ABBA, Genesis and Led Zeppelin.

QFT’s album “Live in Space” will be released on 4th May via Despotz Records.

Album review: Metalwings “For All Beyond”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Metalwings gives us symphonic metal with folk music touches on its second album. But most of all, we get the angelic voice of Stela Atanasova.

Bulgarian band Metalwings, founded in 2010 by classically trained vocalist and viola player Stela Atanasova, released its debut album in 2016. Now they’re back with a brand new album filled with great symphonic metal.

Most journos want to put labels on artists to make it easy to describe things and relate an artist to other acts. Many artists don’t agree with the labels they are given and most don’t want any labels at all. So, Bulgarian symphonic metal. That’s what this is. “Immortal Metal Wings” is a great song that gets it all into one song. It’s a great showpiece for what this band is all about. “When We Pray” is terrific with great musical arrangement and instrumentation. “A Wish” combines some brutal riffs with beautiful vocals. On this album there is certainly some of that Nightwish-like atmosphere, combining symphonic metal with operatic vocals and many changes in tempo and style. As is the case with some other bands in the symphonic metal genre, we also get some folk-inspired elements in the music. This is a beautiful album built around Atanasova’s splendid voice. The music is dominated by keyboards, given extra life with the addition of viola and flute parts, and with metal guitars and drums as an overlay, just like you’d expect from a European symphonic metal act.

They are not reinventing the wheel here, but it is rather good. Metalwings sounds similar to many other symphonic metal bands, but they do show us some other sides as well. In “Tujni Serca” we all of a sudden hear a more personal musical performance. The song stands out as it is focused on a beautiful voice and it completely leaves out the electric guitars. On this solid album, we also get alternative versions of two of the album’s tracks, a dramatic orchestral version of the title track and an instrumental version of “Fallen Angel in the Hell”.

It is still early days for Metalwings but they have now built a solid foundation for a promising future.

Metalwings’ album “For All Beyond” will be released on 19th April.

Album review: Nightstage “Sunset Industry”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

LA-based rock band Nightstage has released its debut album which is filled with terrific classic rock full of emotions and fantastic guitars.

Nightstage is a brand new band that only really formed in the past year. They released a single in 2017 and now their debut album has arrived. They have also started to perform live in the Los Angeles area. The core of the band consists of Nicky Renard on lead guitar and her father Max Foxx on rhythm guitar. They recorded the album in Nashville with an all-star backing band of pro session players. Lead vocals on the album are handled by Caleb Johnson while live the band is now fronted by Robbie Wyckoff (who has played with Roger Waters, Michael McDonald and Keith Emerson).

If one has to compare Nightstage to other artists, classic rock acts such as The Eagles, Journey, Tom Petty, New England and Bad Company come to mind. But this is no copycat band. They have crafted their own classic rock songs based on bluesy rock and a fair bit of Americana influences.

Nicky Renard is still in her teens but the music she creates and performs with the rest of the band is best described as grown-up classic American rock. But not the bland, boring kind. No, in Nightstage’s music there is depth and emotion, wonderfully expressed through Nicky’s guitar. Just listen to the crying guitar on the terrific rock ballad “Grovy Lane”. Wow!

An immediate favourite of mine on the album is “You Will Never Get It Back”, not least for the interaction between the guitars and Jim Hoke’s saxophone. “Not For Me” is a terrific and energetic rocker. All eleven songs on this very even album are strong and have been composed by Nicky and Max. There is some serious talent here, both when it comes to songwriting and musical performance. What a debut album!

The question that comes to mind when one is faced with such a strong debut album by a new act: where will Nightstage go from here?

Nicky Renard of Nightstage.

Nightstage’s debut album “Sunset Industry” is out now.