Album review: Grafvitnir “Keys to the Mysteries Beyond”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hardworking but shadowy Swedish black metal trio Grafvitnir is back with yet another sinister studio album.

Sweden has long been a leading black metal nation, ever since Bathory helped form the genre in the 1980s. Grafvitnir is one of the leading stars in the current wave of Swedish black metal.

It’s only a year since the band’s last studio album, “Obeisance to a Witch Moon”, was released and yet somehow this trio has managed to put together another great record. The music is superb, both the actual compositions and the performances of them. The tempo is for the most part relentlessly fast. The possessed vocal style puts an even more sinister twist to the songs. Wonderful if you like twisted, evil and darker than dark music. Occultism is the overarching theme of pretty much everything Grafvitnir does.

More than a decade into the band’s career, Grafvitnir’s new album is its fifth full-length studio album and it is, simply put, world class. This is up there at the top of the hill, front of the pack.

The band lets its music do the talking. They don’t share much information about who the members are or any other personal information. The shadow-living band may be a tad shy, or deliberately mysterious, but that’s OK. If the band continues to produce quality extreme music like this, we can let them remain faceless.

“Whispers of the Primordial Sea” and ”Glimpses of the Unseeable” are among my favourite songs together with the fabulous title track, while “Vargavinter” is probably the best track on a very even album which is a worthy follow-up to “Obeisance to a Witch Moon”.

Grafvitnir’s album “Keys to the Mysteries Beyond” is out now via Carnal Records.

www.facebook.com/grafvitnir.official

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Album review: Lechery “We Are All Born Evil”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Arch Enemy veteran Martin Bengtsson is back with a new Lechery album full of classic Swedish metal.

Martin Bengtsson is best known as a former Arch Enemy member (he played bass on their second album “Stigmata” in 1998). Since 2006 he has played a more traditional form of heavy metal with his current band Lechery, in which he handles vocals and plays guitar.

Lechery, which debuted in 2008 with the album “Violator”, is musically quite far removed from Arch Enemy. Lechery lives closer to the valleys of classic heavy metal and power metal. Lechery’s native Sweden has long been strong in traditional heavy metal, going back to the early to mid-1980s with bands such as 220 Volt and Heavy Load. However, Lechery is no copycat band. They have taken that foundation and built further on it by adding their own style to the mix and creating a few anthems along the way. It works very well.

“We Are All Born Evil” is the band’s third album and follows 2011’s “In Fire”. The album kicks off with the very HammerFall-esque “Heavy Metal Invasion”. This is a solid album built on a foundation of 1980s metal: great guitars, catchy songs, shout-along choruses and a production that oozes the 1980s (in a good way). Love it. Song titles such as “Rule the World”, “Breaker of Chains” and “Even A Hero Must Die” are very telling of what this is all about. Good old heavy metal in the Swedish tradition.

Lechery’s album “We Are All Born Evil” will be released on 19th January via Bleeding Music Records.

www.facebook.com/lecheryofficial / www.lechery.se

Album review: Ignitor “Haunted by Rock & Roll”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ignitor serves us an extra large portion of terrific heavy metal on its new album.

They say that everything is bigger in Texas. Well, Ignitor is a larger than life metal band with a terrific new album out. Formed in Texas in 2003 by Agony Column guitarist Stuart “Batlord” Laurence and drummer Pat Doyle (The Offenders), Ignitor’s current line-up also features vocalist Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth, Evil United), guitarist Robert Williams (Witches Mark) and bassist Billy Dansfiell (Agony Column).

In addition to eight fab new tracks, the album also features a cover of “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” by NWOBHM legends Raven. There is a 1980s heavy metal feeling to much of this music and that is a good thing. It’s sort of a mix of NWOBHM and some early thrash metal. Blitzkrieg, Anvil and, yes, Raven all come to mind and so does Overkill. But it’s not all old-sounding stuff. On the title track we get a great bridge between old and more modern influences. “Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown”, perhaps the album’s best track, has a fantastic Dio-esque touch to it. Splendid. No doubt this band will now start making waves outside of Texas. What a great find!

Ignitor’s album “Haunted by Rock & Roll”, with Megadeth’s David Ellefson as executive producer, is out now via EMP Label Group.

www.facebook.com/ignitor.metal / www.ignitorband.com

Album review: Verikalpa “Taistelutahto” | Beer-fuelled troll metal from Finland

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Beer drinking and troll-chasing band Verikalpa debuts with an energetic and very Finnish folk metal album.

In the Nordic folk metal sub-genre of heavy metal there is plenty of great music to be found. Finland’s Verikalpa, a band about to release its debut album, refers to its version of folk metal as “troll/beer metal”. It’s a fitting label, but don’t be fooled by the somewhat not-so-serious lyrical themes: this is no comedy or novelty act. This band is for real and they’re actually a very good metal band.

There are a few key ingredients that can be found In all great folk metal: traditional folk music instruments and influences among the heavy metal, an angry vocalist, speed and often beer-fuelled energy. Verikalpa has all that and more. Their energy is contagious and makes me want to drink beer, dance and headbang. I can only imagine how good this can be live in a small club full of Finnish metalheads. Vocalist Jani Ikonen can no doubt rally the troops around Verikalpa’s battle hymns.

Style-wise this band lives in the same Nordic woods as Finntroll, Ensiferum, Moonsorrow and Korpiklaani. The lyrics are all in the band’s native Finnish language which makes this more authentic-sounding than some other bands in the genre. Verikalpa sounds VERY Finnish which is also why this appeals to me. On songs such as “Rautatammi” and “Pahan Laulu”, an accordion plays an integral role in the soundscape. This is a band from Oulu in northern Finland and they are proud of that. They do not pretend that they grew up in LA or New York. Yes, there is sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in the lyrics, but in the form of tales about Finnish-style drinking, hangovers, trolls and blood-spattered eternal battles. Great stuff which is entertaining and energetic.

Verikalpa’s “Taistelutahto” will be released on 16th February via Inverse Records.

www.facebook.com/verikalpa

Album review: Ammouri “Dare to Be Happy”

Ammouri

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish vocalist Ammouri showcases her powerful voice on debut solo album.

Swedish vocalist Marina Ammouri has a voice made for singing powerful hard rock. A classically trained pianist and a professional sound engineer, Ammouri has written and produced other artists in various genres. Her background working with various pop acts shines through in her own more rock-focused music.

Ammouri’s musical style is very interesting. Much of it has a foundation in melodic rock/hard rock, but Ammouri’s powerful voice and some metal-style guitar parts here and there make this different. Even standard ballads like “Bad Illusion” and “He Knows Everything About Me” become interesting due to that special voice which commands your attention.

“Fill Your Heart With Love”, previously released as a single, opens the album and it is one of the strongest tracks. “Monster of Your Own Creation” is another strong track. “Starlight” is a pop song Ammouri wrote for Regina Lund which we here get a bit of a metal version of. “More Than Everything” is some kind of bombastic Heart/Bonnie Tyler-style song.

Personally I prefer the rockier songs where Ammouri’s characteristic voice gets the space it needs without constraints. Ammouri’s debut album is quite an arrival on the scene for this singer. It’s good stuff. With more focus on smoking-hot rock songs, this will be explosive. She’s got the voice.

Ammouri

On her debut album she’s worked with a number of seasoned Swedish rock veterans, including Staffan Österlind (Paul DiAnno), Pontus Egberg (King Diamond, Kryptonite, Treat, Lion’s Share, Dark Illusion, The Poodles, Zan Clan and many more), Tony Borg (Alien) and Johan Kullberg (Therion, HammerFall, Talk of the Town, Dark Illusion, Lion’s Share, Zan Clan).

Ammouri’s debut album “Dare to Be Happy” will be released on 12th January via Pride & Joy Music.

www.facebook.com/marina.ammouri

www.prideandjoy.de

www.facebook.com/prideandjoymusic

Album review: Loudness “Rise To Glory”

Minoru Niihara on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese veterans Loudness are back with a great new album showcasing an evolved and more varied sound.

Loudness has been one of Japan’s leading heavy metal bands throughout their long career. In the 80s they also made waves internationally with international record deals and touring with the likes of Saxon and Mötley Crüe. They have remained active with plenty of album releases and touring. In recent years, they have once again been frequently touring in Europe, North America and Asia as well as remaining very popular in their native Japan.

“Rise To Glory” is the band’s 27th studio album since they debuted in 1981 with “The Birthday Eve” and the first released by Japanese label Ward Records.

Akira Takasaki on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s a refreshed and vital Loudness we meet on this album. Many of the songs are a bit experimental and progressive, not least noticeable on the instrumental track “Kama Sutra”. As much as I love the straightforward heavy metal of much of Loudness’ back catalogue, it is great to hear new influences in the new music from this splendid band. It somewhat reminds me of classic Loudness mixed with the more spaced out version of Loudness we heard on some of their records in the 90s, when they had several different short-lived line-ups with guitarist Akira Takasaki the only constant member. There’s still plenty of Loudness’ trademark heavy metal in the mix, but Loudness now lives in a broader and deeper musical world with all sorts of influences. I love it. There are new details being discovered in the songs every time I listen.

Ampan Suzuki on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Rain” is my favourite track on the album. It’s a wonderful mix of ballad and Black Sabbath heaviness. Simply splendid. “Go For Broke” is a great rocker of a song and “I’m Still Alive” is a fantastic and energetic heavy metal track. Loudness is indeed still alive.

In 2008, original Loudness drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed away and was replaced by powerhouse Masayuki “Ampan“ Suzuki. Apart from that necessary change, today’s Loudness is the classic line-up of the band from the 80s with vocalist Minoru Niihara and bassist Masayoshi Yamashita standing next to band leader Takasaki. Takasaki remains one of the best metal guitarists in the world. He’s up there with the best of them.

Masayoshi Yamashita on stage with Loudness in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Loudness and its members are as strong as ever and they are still relevant. Buy the album and catch them on their 2018 world tour. This band never disappoints.

Loudness’ “Rise To Glory” album will be released by Ward Records in Japan on 26th January. It will be released internationally by earMUSIC.

Loudness on Facebook / www.loudnessjp.com

Album review: Watain “Trident Wolf Eclipse”

Erik Danielsson of Watain on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish black metal titans Watain are back with a new album and it is gloriously uncompromising.

Sweden’s Watain celebrates two decades of creating and playing fierce black metal in 2018. They will kick off the year with a new studio album and a European tour. “Trident Wolf Eclipse” is the band’s sixth studio album and the follow-up to the very successful “The Wild Hunt” which was released in 2013.

The album is gloriously uncompromising. Watain mainman Erik Danielsson and his men don’t care about trends or expectations. They just create music for themselves and that is why they succeed where many others fail. Too many artists are so preoccupied with trying to fit in or meet expectations that the resulting creative output is mediocre at best. Not so with Watain.

Obviously there will be some fans and other people “in the know” who will hate this for whatever reason, but I don’t care and neither will Watain. This is great extreme metal and the new material stands up very well to Watain’s splendid back catalogue when it comes to fighting for space in the band’s live set lists in the coming year.

As is often the case with Watain, we get some terrific and beautiful melodies among all the noise and mayhem. It’s what sets Watain apart and above much else in the genre. They’re simply better and more consistent songwriters and arrangers than most other artists. Watain pays attention to every single little detail. Nothing in their music, or anything else around the band, is there by coincidence.

Watain live in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album opens with the very fast “Nuclear Alchemy”, a trademark Watain song. It has everything in it that you want from a Watain song: aggression, speed, heaviness, organised chaos, great melodies and much more. The track “Ultra (Pandemoniac)” is a clear favourite of mine on this album. A terrific song with so many small details adding up to a great, aggressive, yet darkly beautiful, piece of music. Another standout track is “The Fire of Power” which has some fab guitar work on top of the heavy drums driving this machine.

Watain live in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album is very even, but also rather varied. Most songs have constant twists and turns, tempo changes and a few surprises here and there. It’s a busy soundscape that demands your full attention. It also deserves your full attention.

Welcome back, Watain.

Watain’s “Trident Wolf Eclipse” album will be released on 5th January via Century Media. Tour dates for Europe and North America have been announced for 2018, kicking off with a sold-out gig in Stockholm on the release day.

www.facebook.com/watainofficial / www.templeofwatain.com

U.S. Bombs to release two new EPs | Duane Peters is back!

U.S. Bombs | Photo: Olga Aguilar

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A quarter of a century into their career, California punksters U.S. Bombs are back with two new releases.

California punk rockers U.S. Bombs will celebrate a quarter of a century as a band in 2018. They’re kicking off the celebrations with two new releases on 29th December via Slope Records.

“Clash Tribute” is, obviously, a tribute to legendary British punk band The Clash. On this EP we get the Americans’ take on Clash classics “Death or Glory” and “Straight to Hell”. It is a good way to teach the kids about the roots and paying respect to those that walked before you.

The two tracks on the “Hollywood Gong Show” EP is U.S. Bombs’ first new music in many years. The two tracks, “Hollywood Gong Show” and “Midnight Run”, are bang in the middle of what we have come to expect from U.S. Bombs: a sort of American combination of The Clash, a tiny pinch of Sex Pistols (more the attitude than the music) and echoes of the Swedish shoutalong melodic punk bands of the 80s and 90s. Musically there are also some similarities to The Ramones, although the vocals make the two bands sound rather different. Vocalist Duane Peters, the only remaining original member of the band, has a larger than life personality that influences and colours everything around him, including obviously the band he’s fronting. His commanding voice, scarred by life and filled with experience, is perfect for storytelling.

Basically this is straightforward and catchy punk rock which you can singalong to while drinking beer. It’s as simple as that.

Duane Peters is getting older, but U.S. Bombs’ music is still very much relevant and still catchy.

Old-school punk rock like this will obviously be made available in both vinyl and cassette formats.

www.facebook.com/usbombs

Album review: Todd Michael Hall “Letters from India” | Riot vocalist shows us another side

Todd Michael Hall. Photo: Doug Julian

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Best known as the current vocalist for American metal veterans Riot, Todd Michael Hall has a new solo album out on which he presents a different side of himself: a storytelling singer-songwriter in the great classic American rock tradition.

If you don’t like sunshine and upbeat, hopeful and positive things, this album is not for you. But if you appreciate a great voice and need some variation to the darkness in your record collection, this storytelling ray of sunshine is worth consideration.

There are two things that Riot vocalist Todd Michael Hall’s solo album “Letters From India” is built on: Hall’s fantastic voice and his love for his wife. Most of the album consists of ballads showcasing Hall’s terrific voice. It is a very personal album, a labour of love which shares some of Hall’s personal life in musical form. The album is inspired by the real-life story of how Hall as a young American musician working hard on establishing himself in the music industry got a fan letter from a girl in India. That led to many letters back and forth. Then Hall went to see the girl in India and fell in love. He made many more trips to India to see the woman who eventually became his wife in 1999.

As many of you know, Hall is a perfect fit as the current vocalist for Riot, but I think it is great to be able to hear and get to know a different side of this talented musician. The music on this album is quite far from what Hall does with Riot, but we do get a nod of respect to Riot in the form of some Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee guitars.

Todd Michael Hall. Photo: Doug Julian

Ballads such as “Open My Eyes” and “If Today Were My Last Day” are great. There are some dramatic parts on this album, such as the remarkable “The Best I Can”. “The Sky Is Falling” is one of my favourite tracks on this album. “Free” is another standout song and so is “Never Let Go”. “Ordinary People” is one of several songs on this album which has a little pinch of country dust in it. As is often the case with American singer-songwriters, a wide variety of influences have been melted together here to produce a beautiful album.

Todd Michael Hall has put his soul and heart into this album which sees him walk down a path of hope in the great American singer-songwriter tradition. This is him. It’s beautiful music.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to see some Todd Michael Hall solo shows here in Japan, but in March he’ll be back for gigs with Riot. On 10th and 11th March, Riot will perform at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Get your tickets here: http://clubcitta.co.jp/001/riot-2018/

www.toddmichaelhall.com / www.facebook.com/toddmichaelhallsolo

www.facebook.com/riotrockcity

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.

www.facebook.com/thunderonline / www.thunderonline.com