Album review: Stagman “Kejsarens nya kläder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Seasoned Swedish rocker Stagman delivers the goods on latest singer-songwriter solo album.

Bosse Stagman – aka Zinny Zan, formerly frontman of glam rock bands Easy Action, Shotgun Messiah and Zan Clan – returns with the latest solo album in a trilogy of albums sung in his native Swedish. Stagman is nowadays a grown-up singer-songwriter in a very Swedish tradition but with some obvious American influences as well. There are dark and very Nordic melancholic vibes on some of the songs while other tracks are a bit more upbeat. Many of the lyrics are a personal social commentary from Stagman, a master storyteller. Based on his lyrics, it is rather obvious that Stagman is no fan of the current government in Sweden. He seems to have become a bit more political on this new album as compared to the lyrics on the two earlier albums. Musically, things have also evolved somewhat with a more varied soundscape, including some great instrumental additions such as the odd saxophone for example. While his recent solo material is far removed from his glam metal days, it is a result of Stagman growing older and more seasoned. He’s not a kid any more. But his old fans have also grown older and I imagine that many of them, like me, will dig this. Stagman remains a remarkable showman and entertainer. In his current incarnation as an artist, he has ditched the image and is just being himself. This is a very personal and naked solo album. “Ser ni eldarna”, a song that manages to be both emotional and catchy, is a clear favourite of mine. The album’s title track is also a fabulous song. Other tracks that stand out are “En mil i mina skor”, “Inga sånger kvar i mitt jukeboxhjärta” and “Resan som vi gjort”. Fans of Stagman’s past as a glam rocker will be pleased to note that Nalle Påhlsson and Björn Höglund, who both played with Easy Action, are featured on the album.  Skintrade guitarist Stefan Bergström is doing a phenomenal job with his guitar on many of the songs which makes this a bit different than your average singer-songwriter album.

Stagman’s album “Kejsarens nya kläder” is out digitally today and in physical formats on 27th March via GMR Music.

Album review: Demons & Wizards “III”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

German-American band Demons & Wizards combines its Iced Earth and Blind Guardian roots with some excellent Uriah Heep vibes on its third album.

Demons & Wizards is the German-American band in which guitarist Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth fame and Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch combine their talents to create terrific atmospheric metal music. Their day jobs certainly shine through here. The combination of the trademark Iced Earth guitars and songwriting with the classic Blind Guardian voice is sheer brilliance. “III” is the band’s third album and follows the self-titled debut album in 2000 and 2005’s “Touched by the Crimson King”. The band name was inspired by Uriah Heep and there is indeed a progressive rock and classic hard rock foundation here based on the classic Heep sound.

Demons & Wizards has an epic feeling on much of its music which is both very metal and rather melodic. This is a remarkably beautiful album that doesn’t disappoint. The very first song, the stunning “Diabolic”, sets the tone and the direction for the album. The album is rock solid with no weak songs at all. “Wolves in Winter”, “Final Warning”, “Universal Truth” and “Split” are among the highlights but there are no low points. “Timeless Spirit” is a terrific power ballad. “Children of Cain” is beyond epic in its 1970s glory. There is so much good stuff on this album that it feels like an epic overload. It’s a stunning album. This is the kind of classy album that is likely to age very well. It’s as if someone has taken the best hard rock of the 70s and brought it to 2020 for an update. It has a timeless feel to it. The classic rock voice, the splendid guitars, the songs and the awesomeness of it all. Wow! 

Demons & Wizards’ new album “III” is out today via Century Media Records.

Album review: H.E.A.T “H.E.A.T II”

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s H.E.A.T returns with a fabulous new album filled with melodic hard rock of the best kind. This is the band’s best album to date.

Sweden has perhaps produced more melodic hard rock bands per capita than any other country. Among the best of the current Swedish offering is no doubt H.E.A.T. Formed in the Stockholm suburb Upplands Väsby (home to Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen and Candlemass) in 2007, “H.E.A.T II” is the band’s sixth full-length studio album. A what a cracking album it is!

The album kicks off with the smoking high-energy track “Rock Your Body”. Like many of the other Swedish bands, H.E.A.T has great songs and great musicians. What really sets them apart from the pack is frontman Erik Grönwall. He has the voice, energy, attitude and fearless craziness to be a world-class frontman. He’s a proper entertainer who knows how to keep his audience engaged. It’s most evident on stage, but even in the studio, his quality shines through. Just listen to his voice in the intro to “We Are Gods”, a song which is the absolute highlight on this fab album. As part of a proud Swedish tradition, H.E.A.T delivers melodic hard rock filled with great guitars and wrapped in plenty of keyboards. Jona Tee on the keyboards is another of the band’s differentiators. His keyboards play a more prominent role in most of the songs than is usual for other melodic hard rock bands where they are more of a decoration. On a song like “Victory”, for example, we get an exquisite combination of keyboards and guitars. H.E.A.T is not a band afraid of pushing the boundaries. They are a melodic hard rock band, but throughout their career, they have included many different influences in their songs and they are good enough to get away it. Another highlight is the rocking track “One by One”, which no doubt will become a live favourite. “Nothing to Say” is the obligatory big power ballad of the album. Original guitarist Dave Dalone returned to the band a few years ago and his guitar work has matured and really is smoking on many of the songs here. The rhythm section – drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay – is as steady as ever. “H.E.A.T II” is the band’s best album to date. Wow! They’ve done it.

H.E.A.T’s new album “H.E.A.T II” is out today in Japan via Marquee/Avalon and will be released internationally on 21st February via earMUSIC. H.E.A.T will tour Japan again in March.

Album review: Anvil “Legal at Last”

Anvil. Photo: Rudy De Doncker

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian heavy metal trio Anvil returns with a fab new album filled with straightforward metal.

Anvil is a metal band of the seasoned kind. They’ve been around the block a few times and have their boots on the ground. They are the kind of band who, like AC/DC and Raven, keep going no matter what. They do their own unique thing. They’ve hit a few bumps on the road and they get knocked about once in a while. But they ignore the trends and just keep going, just like they always have since they formed in Toronto in 1978. In today’s Anvil, founding members Steve “Lips” Kudlow on guitar and vocals and drummer Robb Reiner are joined by bassist Chris Robertson who has been in the band since 2014.

Anvil’s Robb Reiner with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in Nov 2019.

“Legal at Last” is the band’s eighteenth full-length album and the follow-up to 2018’s “Pounding the Pavement”. As I had hoped, it is an excellent and trend-ignoring heavy metal album. “Gasoline” is the album’s absolute highlight for me. It is a splendid old-school and riff-happy heavy metal track with a world-class guitar solo. Other great songs on this solid album include “Plastic in Paradise”, “Chemtrails” and “Bottom Line” as well as the catchy “Glass House” and the fun “Nabbed in Nebraska”. “Legal at Last” is a true return to form by Anvil. There are more than just a few hints and nods to the band’s classic early albums here, but without sounding dated. This is what I would refer to as proper heavy metal.

Anvil’s “Legal at Last” will be released on 14th February via AFM Records.

EP review: The Rekkening “Payback’s a Bitch”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian raw punksters The Rekkening from Montreal are back with a new EP filled with in-your-face, no-punches-pulled kind of punk rock with attitude.

The Rekkening’s “Payback’s a Bitch” is an EP filled with raw underground punk rock which still manages to be rather catchy among all the attitude and mayhem. There are some hints of metal as well, for example when it comes to the guitar on the track “Fuck Off”. The Rekkening plays in-your-face, no-punches-pulled kind of punk rock with attitude. The EP’s three songs, “Payback’s a Bitch”, “Broken Mind” and “Fuck Off”, are all angry songs. On the surface, these are simple and primitive songs, but the lyrics add a dimension of complexity and the musical metal-infusions make this interesting and a bit different. The Rekkening is led from the front by fierce lead singer Trasee Lynn, who is also the brain behind the emotional and street-tough lyrics. Her style and the song structures at times make this into a weird kind of spoken-word performance with a punk soundtrack added to it. I dig it.

Album review: Serious Black “Suite 226”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Multinational melodic hard rock band Serious Black is back with a fantastic new album.

Serious Black is often called a power metal band, but the band’s music is actually quite varied. The music all lies within the boundaries of the melodic hard rock genre but with bits and pieces borrowed from theatrical rock acts like Avantasia and Ayreon. There’s also indeed a healthy dose of power metal on offer. There are great melodies, plenty of catchy hooks and some fine guitar work. The end result is very enjoyable. I really like this. Serious Black is a multinational metal band with some serious pedigree. The band was co-founded by Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween) in 2014 but there have been quite a few people coming and going since then. The current line-up of the band consists of Urban Breed (vocals), Dominik Sebastian (guitar), Mario Lochert (bass) and Ramy Ali (drums). Their debut album “As Daylight Breaks” was released in 2015 and “Suite 226” is the band’s fifth full-length studio album. Swedish vocalist Urban Breed (ex-Bloodbound, Tad Morose) has a terrific voice made for this kind of music. He also seems to be the one behind the band’s theatrical parts. He’s a showman and he knows how to entertain both visually and musically (something which was evident when Serious Back performed in Tokyo a few years ago). The album opens strongly with the single “Let It Go”. Highlights for me also include the terrific “When The Stars Are Right” and the title track “Suite 226”. “Fate of All Humanity” is straightforward melodic rock and on this solid album it sits comfortably right next to the majestic and dramatic track “Castiel” – which perhaps is where this splendid album hits its peak – and the power-metal track “Heaven Shall Burn”.

Serious Black’s new album “Suite 226” is out today via AFM Records.

Single review: Camp Marshy “Baby (Are You Ready for Some Fun?)”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Camp Marshy is the latest addition to a long line of catchy punk-rock bands from Sweden.

Camp Marshy plays great party punk-rock. This Swedish band’s catchy music has hints of American punk (think a Ramones-like attitude but with a somewhat different sound) and Swedish shout-along punk-rock as well as touches of contemporary punk-rock. In short: This is about having a good time and getting laid. It’s as simple and existential as that. You gotta love the simplicity and the catchiness of Camp Marshy. They have the melodies to shout along to and they have some groove and heaps of energy in their music. And there are terrific Johnny Ramone guitars! This is the kind of band you want to play at your 50th birthday party. Now let’s see where they will take this on their next EP which is due out in the spring. There’s potential here. This is the soundtrack to baby-making in Karlstad in 2020.

Camp Marshy’s single “Baby (Are You Ready for Some Fun?)” will be released on 7th February.

EP review: Rock Island Orchestra “Revolution”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea – of New England and Alcatrazz fame – have released a fab EP by their new project Rock Island Orchestra.

Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea have a longstanding friendship and musical partnership going back to the 1970s. The keyboard wizard and the rock-steady bassist co-founded classic American rock band New England and then briefly played with Vinnie Vincent in Warrior (just as he was about to join KISS). Thereafter, they co-founded Alcatrazz with former Rainbow and MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet. As announced only a few days ago, Shea has now rejoined Bonnet and Waldo in Alcatrazz. Waldo and Shea also continue to play together in New England. On top of all this, the two old friends have now created the terrific project Rock Island Orchestra.

In Rock Island Orchestra we get the best sides of Waldo and Shea. Melodic and heavy, precision as well as spontaneity. They are unfazed seasoned veterans who can still create fabulous new music. Perhaps this band is best summed up as exquisite modern hard rock. The orchestration, production and songwriting are world-class and performed by absolute pros. In addition to Waldo and Shea, the band on this album features vocalist Tommy Fields, guitarist D. Kendall Jones and drummer Spencer Speckman. Rock Island Orchestra’s album is contemporary sounding and yet this is quite timeless classic rock, although with enough variations and twists and turns to keep it interesting. The title track “Revolution” is very here and now. It’s a contemporary kind of grown-up rock. “Won’t Back Down” is the five-track album’s highlight for me. It’s an awesome rather heavy track that manages to still be melodic and performed relatively slowly.

The five-track album is terrific. In addition to the original tracks we get a beautiful version of the Alcatrazz classic “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. Despite lacking both Graham Bonnet and Yngwie Malmsteen (who together wrote and performed on the original), this version of the song is terrific. It would seem a bit risky to try to pull off this re-recording without Bonnet and Malmsteen, but Rock Island Orchestra manages to do it and do it very well. With Waldo and Shea about to release a new Alcatrazz album and having gigs booked with both Alcatrazz and New England, I am not sure what lies ahead for the Rock Island Orchestra. Perhaps there won’t be any time for gigs in the near term, but whatever the future of the band is, the debut EP is fab and well worth buying.

The Rock Island Orchestra EP “Revolution” is out now via Cherry Red Records.

Album review: Battering Ram releases debut album filled with Swedish hard rock

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Battering Ram brings back memories of Swedish hard rock of the early and mid-1980s without sounding retro on its debut album.

Swedish hard rock band Battering Ram was formed in Filipstad, Sweden in 2017 and, following plenty of gigs and a few single releases, the band has now released its self-titled debut album. Battering Ram’s music lives somewhere between the melodic hard rock of today and the more rough and raw hard rock of the early 1980s. The music is not too polished which is a plus for me. The fairly basic and straightforward production is partly why it brings back memories of Swedish hard rock acts of the early and mid-1980s, such as Heavy Load, Torch and 220 Volt. This was a time that can be defined as “pre-The Final Countdown”. It was a time when the Swedish hard rock sound was more related to NWOBHM than AOR. Before that 1986 hit, even Europe had a tougher sound similar to their contemporary Swedish bands. But Battering Ram’s music is not created to be retro. The band somehow manages to sound both early 1980s and 2020. Like many of those Swedish bands did back in the day, Battering Ram walks a fine line between rough hard rock and melodic hard rock. The blend works well. There is a solid foundation in the Swedish hard rock sound of the early 80s, but there are also similarities to contemporary Swedish bands such as Mustasch and Corroded. It takes the best bits from back in the day, without sounding dated, and sprinkles some here-and-now metal on top of it all. “Wanted Man”, “The Sign” and “Coming My Way” are some of my obvious favourite songs on this album, but perhaps the fantastic in-your-face track “Chase the Fire” is the album’s highlight. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Battering Ram has arrived and this band is here to stay.

Single review: Stagman “Kejsarens nya kläder”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At age 56, former glam metal man Stagman, aka Zinny Zan, continues his fascinating singer-songwriter journey with his best song yet. The new single “Kejsarens nya kläder” has serious hit potential.

The former Easy Action, Zan Clan and Shotgun Messiah frontman Zinny Zan, aka Stagman, continues his grown-up musical journey as a splendid and seasoned Swedish singer-songwriter. A few years back, Stagman moved on from his glam days and started to sing in his native Swedish. He has also evolved musically and at 56 years old has become a more mature singer-songwriter. “Kejsarens nya kläder” (“the Emperor’s new clothes”) is a terrific song which has serious hit potential. This new single is quite different from his previous single, “En mil i mina skor”, which was released in October and it shows that the artist Stagman is not a one-trick pony. “Kejsarens nya kläder” is radio rock of the best kind. It’s catchy but not in a sugary way. There’s a real substance in Stagman’s music, built on an intelligent song structure and some harsh social commentary in the song’s lyrics (he doesn’t seem too impressed with Sweden’s all-talk, no-action prime minister). There’s some exquisite guitar work by Skintrade’s Stefan Bergström on this track. Stagman’s musical style is partly following a typical Swedish tradition, but there are also some obvious hints of influences by American and British singer-songwriters. This excellent single is putting my expectations of Stagman’s next full-length studio album even higher. This artist is on fire and I am loving how productive he is in recent years. We get both quality and quantity.

Stagman’s new single “Kejsarens nya kläder” will be released on 24th January via GMR Music.