Album review: Skunk Anansie “25LIVE@25”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Skunk Anansie celebrates turning 25 with a new live album that brings back terrific memories of London in the 1990s. 

I saw Skunk Anansie open for KISS in Finsbury Park in London in 1997. The Skunks were perhaps not an obvious choice to open for KISS, but it was a great choice (Rage Against The Machine, Thunder, 3 Colours Red and L7 were also on the bill that summer evening). Skin and the boys owned the stage and the audience like it was nobody’s business. Inspiring a large crowd waiting for KISS is not the easiest of gigs. Skunk Anansie’s brand new live album “25LIVE@25” brings me down memory lane, back to London in the 1990s, the city that was my home for a decade.

Skunk Anansie always had excellent songs that gave them hits and fans. But they have also always been a great live band where fierce powerhouse lead-singer Skin gets to shine while being backed by a groovy band. Skunk Anansie is perhaps best defined as an in-your-face 90s British alternative rock band with punk attitude, great songs and a terrific frontwoman in Skin. They always brought in a wide range of influences into their rock music. They made it work and they became a musical melting pot mirroring the diversity of their hometown London. On this splendid live album we get all the goodies from back in the 90s, including “Intellectualise My Blackness”, “I Can Dream”, “Charity”, “Selling Jesus”, “Little Baby Swastikkka”, “Weak” and “Hedonism” as well as newer material. The album sounds terrific but also unpolished, like a live bootleg with great sound. And that is a good thing. “Yes, It’s Fucking Political” is a song title which nicely sums up what Skunk Anansie is about. They never shy away from bringing up social issues and other sometimes controversial topics they feel strongly about. That is part of what makes this such a great band, a talented band full of adrenaline and attitude. The band disbanded in 2001 but reformed some years later with the same line-up they’ve had since 1995: Skin on vocals, Martin “Ace” Kent on guitar, Richard “Cass” Lewis on bass and Mark Richardson on drums. Based on this live album, they’re as good now as they were back in the 90s. Nostalgia? Yes, but this band is also relevant here and now and they have a future. 

Skunk Anansie’s “25LIVE@25” is out now via Boogooyamma.

Album review: Corroded “Bitter”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Corroded is back with a new album filled with modern metal combining heavy riffs and beautiful contemporary-sounding melodies.

“Bitter” is Corroded’s fifth full-length album since they formed in 2004. Corroded plays a kind of modern, contemporary metal. It is built around heavy guitar riffing while at the same time there are splendid melodies. It also has a dreamy atmospheric layer on top of the music on many of the tracks on the album. It reminds me a bit of fellow Swedes In Flames, only better. I’d say that Corroded creates the music that In Flames tries to do.

The massive track “Cyanide” comes at you in a suggestive way and keeps your attention throughout with its tempo changes and rollercoaster of a song structure. It’s a great piece of modern, melodic metal which isn’t afraid to take in influences from all sorts of places. “Breathing” is a modern rocker of a song that could be a radio hit while the terrific “Burn” grooves along like it’s nobody’s business. “Black” is a great song mixing heavy guitars with what sounds like goth influences. Here vocalist Jens Westlin gets to showcase his pipes. The rest of the band consists of Thomas Andersson on guitar, Bjarne Elvsgard on bass and Per Solang on drums. Overall this is a great and modern metal album by a band that is here and now without any trendy retro shenanigans.

Corroded’s new album “Bitter” is out on 25th January via Despotz Records.

Album review: Carnal Forge “Gun to Mouth Salvation”

Carnal Forge. Photo: Jens Rydén

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish thrash metal band Carnal Forge is back with its first full-length studio album in 12 years.

Following a few years of relative inactivity, Carnal Forge has regrouped and produced a terrific new album called “Gun to Mouth Salvation”. The energy is back and the band has channelled that energy into some fantastic new songs. Originally formed in Sala, Sweden in 1997, the band kept itself busy for over a decade with touring and album releases before they took a break. The new album is the band’s first full-length album since 2007’s “Testify For My Victims”. The current line-up consists of Tommie Wahlberg on vocals, Petri Kuusisto on lead guitar, Jari Kuusisto on rhythm guitar, Lars Lindén on bass and former Nightrage drummer Lawrence Dinamarca. This is dirty, hard-hitting thrash metal. Musically it is not too dissimilar to the thrash/death music created by The Haunted and that is certainly not a bad thing. The fast song “Reforged” is one of the album’s highlights. “King Chaos” is another terrific punishing track, while “Hellride” indeed sounds like a ride in hell and “The Stench” is a freight train of a song. Splendid!

Carnal Forge’s album “Gun to Mouth Salvation” will be released on 25th January via ViciSolum Productions.

Album review: Dust Bolt “Trapped in Chaos”

Dust Bolt’s Lenny Bruce (and a stage diver) on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

The young Germans in thrash metal band Dust Bolt are back with a fab new album.

Germany has a great new generation of heavy metal bands that are starting to make noises internationally. One of my current favourites is thrash metal band Dust Bolt. Following a great show in Tokyo in December, they are now back with a great new studio album called “Trapped in Chaos”. 

Dust Bolt formed in 2007 and released their debut album “Violent Demolition” in 2012. “Trapped in Chaos” is their fourth full-length studio album. It’s overall a terrific thrash metal album that no doubt will win the band plenty of new fans. For the most part, this is very much an old-school sounding album created in the tradition of American-style Bay Area thrash metal. But there’s some variation, most obviously in the form of the song “Another Day in Hell” which is far from straightforward thrash. It is perhaps best described as Dust Bolt’s answer to Metallica’s “One”. Call it what you like, it’s brilliant. It really is a power ballad, but somehow it manages to be that without losing the band any of its street cred. The album’s opening track, “The Fourth Strike”, also opened the band’s recent Tokyo show. It sounds like it has been written to open shows and my guess is that it will survive for many years to come in the band’s live set. One of the absolute highlights of the album is the fantastic track “The Bad Ad”. It is a track with great aggression, smart melodies and terrific guitars! Dust Bolt has indeed great songs. They manage to both deliver top-level quality music and somehow still retain a kind of underground sound. Love it! Thrash metal isn’t supposed to be too polished. There should be a certain degree of grittiness to the songs. Dust Bolt knows that and they deliver accordingly.

Dust Bolt’s “Trapped in Chaos” will be released on 18th January via Napalm Records. A Japanese edition, including live recordings from Tokyo in December, will be released later via Metal Justice Tokyo.

EP review: Night Crowned “Humanity Will Echo Out”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Excellent dark, melodic and brutal music on debut EP by Sweden’s Night Crowned.

Night Crowned’s three-track debut EP “Humanity Will Echo Out” surprises me. I have never heard of the band and as I listen I am impressed by the music. Normally bands this good don’t just appear from thin air. They come from somewhere. That turns out to also be the case with Night Crowned. There is plenty of pedigree here: Marcus Sunesson on guitar (Engel, The Crown, CyHra, The Haunted), Henric Liljesand on bass (The Unguided, Nightrage, Amaranthe), Janne Jaloma on drums (Dark Funeral), Ken Romlin on vocals (Dark Forest of North, Disrated) and Johan Eskilsson on guitar (Cipher System).

Night Crowned plays powerful and high-energy music in the tradition of Nordic extreme metal of the 1990s. It sometimes reminds me of the heavier parts of Amorphis’ music and there are also reminders of Dark Funeral and similar bands. The music is brutal and heavy but it also has great melodies and an atmospheric soundscape. The three songs on this EP – “No Room for Hope”, “Nocturnal Pulse” and “All Life Ends” – are all excellent and they make it clear what this band is all about. The future is bleak and in such a dystopian society we need a suitable soundtrack of hopelessness. Here we have it. I really like when bands put out an EP like this one, where we get slam-dunked by terrific music, rather than, which is too often the case, a full-length album with three-four great songs and then some fillers. I can only imagine how good this can be live on stage. I have seen Sunesson, Liljesand and Jaloma perform here in Japan with other bands and I hope they will return with Night Crowned. 

Night Crowned’s “Humanity Will Echo Out” is out now via Black Lion Records.

Album review: Raven “Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live in Aalborg”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Cult hard rock band Raven returns with a fabulously raw live album ahead of its upcoming Japan gigs.

Ever since Raven was founded in Newcastle in the north of England in 1974, the band has had brothers John Gallagher (vocals and bass) and Mark Gallagher (guitar) at its core. They emerged as part of the NWOBHM scene in the UK. They toured North America in 1983, with Metallica as its support act, and Raven soon thereafter relocated to the US. Raven’s sound is a mix of classic British heavy metal with some American-style thrash elements (or shall we say it sounds like that because Raven actually inspired and toured with many of the Bay Area bands?). In 2017, drummer Mike Heller (Fear Factory) joined the band to complete its current energy-filled line-up.

This live album is raw and it is real, just like the band itself. We get an excellent song selection on this eleven-track album recorded in Denmark in November 2017. We get two songs “Destroy All Monsters” and “Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)” – from the most recent studio album, 2015’s “ExtermiNation”. But the bulk of the material is from the early 1980s, including “Hell Patrol” and “Rock Until You Drop” from the band’s 1981 debut album. We also get the 80s classics “Faster than the Speed of Light”, “Hung, Drawn and Quartered”, ”All for One”, “Break the Chain”, “On and On” and “Crash Bang Wallop”, plus “A.A.N.S.M.M.G.N.”, a spaced-out guitar solo by Mark Gallagher (picture Ace Frehley performing a terrific and hazy solo at an English working men’s club in a coal mining town). This live album is a splendid snapshot of what Raven is all about.

Raven “Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live in Aalborg” will be released on 18th January via Steamhammer/SPV internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Raven will perform two special shows in Tokyo in March: On 14th March they will do a show focused on the first three albums and on 15th March they will do a greatest hits show. Get your tickets here:

Album review: Magnum “Live At The Symphony Hall”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British prog-rock glory on stage in Birmingham on an exquisite new live album by Magnum. 

I haven’t seen Magnum live for many years, but this terrific live album brings me right back to the impressive shows I saw them perform in 1990 and 1991. Magnum is a terrific and classic progressive rock band with great melodic and symphonic touches. Formed in 1972, Magnum has so far released twenty studio albums. Magnum’s core duo remains the same – vocalist Bob Catley and lead guitarist Tony Clarkin. In the current line-up of the band they are joined by Al Barrow on bass, Rick Benton on keyboards and Lee Morris (ex-Paradise Lost) on drums. 

On “Live At The Symphony Hall”, recorded live in front of their loyal hometown fans in Birmingham, England on 19th April 2018 during the final show of the “Road to Eternity Tour”, we get Magnum delivering a flawless performance. It’s fifteen songs of sheer classic rock brilliance. On this double CD/three-LP live release we get treated to classic songs such as “How Far Jerusalem” (the album’s absolute highlight for me), “All England’s Eyes”, “Vigilante”, “When The World Comes Down”, “The Spirit” and “Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)”. We also get four splendid songs “Peaches and Cream”, “Show Me Your Hands”, “Without Love” and the title track “Lost On The Road To Eternity” – from Magnum’s most recent studio album that was released a year ago. The new material fits right in with the classics and it demonstrates that this band has still got it. They’re still delivering in the studio and on stage after all these years. The musicians, the song material, the delivery…it’s all world class. What a terrific band!

Avantasia’s Tobias Sammet appears as a guest on this Magnum show which reminds us of the great musical partnership Sammet and Catley have shown us on both Avantasia and Magnum songs. Magnum’s “Live At The Symphony Hall” will be released on 18th January via Steamhammer/SPV internationally and Ward Records in Japan. Avantasia will perform in Tokyo in May, hopefully with Bob Catley teaming up with Tobias Sammet on stage once again.

Album review: Soilwork “Verkligheten”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Soilwork’s sound keeps evolving while still being built around a combination of melodic rock and rather brutal metal. The new album “Verkligheten” is another masterpiece.

Since the last album, 2015’s terrific “The Ride Majestic”, Soilwork has lost drummer Dirk Verbeuren to Megadeth. But Dirk left Soilwork a departing gift by recommending the young drummer Bastian Thusgaard as his replacement. It sounds like that was a perfect replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable Dirk. Originally a Swedish band, Soilwork is now more of a European band consisting of Björn “Speed” Strid (vocals), Sven Karlsson (keyboards), Sylvain Coudret (guitar) and David Andersson (guitar and bass), in addition to drummer Thusgaard. “Verkligheten” is the band’s eleventh full-length studio album since being founded in 1995. 

Soilwork remains a tasty combination of great melodies and brutality. But the sound keeps evolving with new twists and turns. On tracks such as “Full Moon Shoals”, “Stålfågel” and “The Nurturing Glance”, some of the vibes of The Night Flight Orchestra (the classic rock band which includes some of Soilwork’s members as well as Sharlee D’Angelo from Arch Enemy) are shining through. This is more brutal, but the beautiful melodies are present in both bands. Essentially Soilwork has a classic rock foundation and then there is an overlay of brutality added to the mix on most songs. One of my favourite tracks on the album is “The Wolves Are Back in Town”, which sounds as if it comes straight from “The Ride Majestic” sessions. Glorious! On “Needles and Kin”, Amorphis’ powerful vocalist Tomi Joutsen provides splendid guest vocals. In addition to the album’s twelve tracks, there is a bonus EP called “Underworld” featuring the songs “Summerburned and Winterblown”, “In This Master’s Tale”, “The Undying Eye” and the original version of “Needles and Kin”. I dig it. This is good stuff. Modern, relevant metal where brutality does not mean you have to get rid of beautiful melodies and where it’s OK to use plenty of keyboards.

Soilwork’s new album “Verkligheten” is out today via Nuclear Blast internationally and via Ward Records in Japan.

Single review: Angeline “Higher Than Love”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish melodic rockers Angeline are back with a new single with a splendid B-side track.

A few months ago, Swedish melodic rockers Angeline released their latest full-length studio album, “Shadowlands”. Now they’re back with a two-track single featuring “Higher Than Love” (taken from the recent studio album) and the previously unreleased “Somebody Save Us Now”. It is once again guitar-based hard rock of the melodic kind. The title track is catchy radio rock while “Somebody Save Us Now” is my clear favourite as it has a bit more bite to it. The song sounds like it would work a treat in Angeline’s live set. It features great melody, terrific guitars, a rock solid rhythm section and it is very groovy. In other words, it could have been an Electric Boys song. Angeline is now 32 years into their career and they’re better than ever. Obviously, I still love their “The Legend” demo from 1988, but the more mature version of Angeline is really delivering at a high level. There is talk about a brand new Angeline EP being released later this year. Until then, put on your dancing shoes and groove along to this new single.

Angeline’s “Higher Than Love” single will be released digitally on 25th January.

Album review: Burning Witches “Hexenhammer”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Burning Witches – Swiss band playing old-school heavy metal on new album.

While Burning Witches is quite a new heavy metal band, formed in 2015 in Switzerland, their sound has a fair bit of a 1980s metal vibe to it. The songwriting and the production also feels like it is 1985. And that is why I like this album. They manage to sound like the soundtrack of my youth but without being copycats. There is a foundation here that contains a big chunk of NWOBHM as well as the more Germanic metal from the same era. It has a raw feeling to it. Schmier from German thrash metal veterans Destruction has been a mentor for the band which may have rubbed off a bit on the music as well. “Hexenhammer” is the follow-up to the band’s 2017 self-titled debut album. The terrific “Open Your Mind” is a clear favourite of the 14 tracks on the album. Another is “Executed”, a fast track with some clear Judas Priest influences. In addition to original material, we get a cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver”. It’s a decent version of the song, but I don’t really see the point of them including such a cover on the album. This band has enough of its own great material. One of the bonus tracks is an acoustic version of the power ballad “Don’t Cry My Tears”. Here we really get to hear a terrific performance by vocalist Seraina Telli. For those of how us who like classic heavy metal, this band is a treat. In addition to Telli, Burning Witches consists of guitarists Romana Kalkuhl and Sonia Nusselder, bassist Jeanine Grob and drummer Lala Frischknecht. Keep an eye on them, I am confident that this is only the beginning for this band.

Burning Witches’ “Hexenhammer” album is out now via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.