Album review: Aborted “TerrorVision”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Belgian extreme metal masters Aborted are back with a brutal new album and, as expected, it is sheer brilliance.

It seems that Aborted can do no wrong. Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is as good as expected. The band’s tenth studio album is everything anyone could have hoped for. Aborted is an extreme metal band living somewhere between Death Metal Valley and Grindcoreland. Aborted always, always deliver. Since I saw them live on stage in Tokyo in 2015, I have loved this band. It is something about the special combination of a technically gifted metal band and a completely insane frontman that appeals to me. The band also has more energy in its music than most other artists.

Aborted is always a punch in the face. It is relentless carnage, musical mayhem and it is always brilliant. Aborted is a band that never ever has disappointed me, not in the studio and not on stage. Vocalist Sven de Caluwé is nuts. But he is also a very talented artist that always gives his audience what they want and more. In Aborted he is backed up by a great band with not only technical skills, but they are also great songwriters. Don’t let the brutality fool you. This is very sophisticated music. There are many layers and nuances in Aborted’s music. It is technical extreme metal but Aborted’s members never get too carried away. They always manage to put in both aggression and passion into their terrific delivery.

My favourite songs on the new album include “Squalor Opera”, “Visceral Despondency” and “Exquisite Covinous Drama”. Having said that, there isn’t a weak song on this album, not even a weak minute. “The Final Absolution” is splendid and quite possibly the finest moment of Aborted’s career so far. It has a kind of atmospheric black metal quality to some parts of the song but they are coupled with Aborted’s typical grindcore energy and brutality to create one massive piece of music.

Aborted’s new album “TerrorVision” is out on 21st September via Century Media Records.

Album review: Sir Reg “The Underdogs” | Celtic rock from Sweden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Celtic rock from Sweden? Yes. And it works. Sir Reg is back with a feckin’ good album.

The Celtic-sounding rock band Sir Reg is actually from Sweden. However, the band’s frontman Brendan Sheehy is Irish, which helps to explain why this sounds so good and authentic. “The Underdogs”, the band’s fifth studio album since forming in Sweden in 2009, is a solid album which kicks off in style with the title track and is followed by “Conor McGregor”, two of the album’s best songs, both of them bursting with energy. Strong melodies, fine musicianship and smart lyrics are at the centre of this album. Sheehy’s voice is exactly what you’d expect from a decent Celtic rock band and the Swedish musicians backing him are first class. They include Mattias Söderlund, formerly of Swedish cult punk band Charta 77.

Sir Reg is a modern, faster, better and more alert version of The Pogues and The Dubliners. Sir Reg has the same foundation, but the end result is more high-energy rock. They don’t sound dated at all. They are also musically more advanced and thus can really marry the Irish folk music of yesteryear with modern rock. This is a band full of energy, musical talent and punk attitude. They also have some seriously great songs. “Sinner of the Century” is a beautiful song which is one of my favourites. It is more The Waterboys than The Dubliners. “Stereotypical Drunken Feckin’ Irish Song”, however, is a comical take on The Dubliners and Irish stereotypes (it includes the line “Stick a shamrock up your arse”). While there is some obvious melancholy in some of the lyrical themes on this album, overall this is feel-good music. It makes me want to dance on a table in an Irish pub with a pint in my hand.

Sir Reg’s album “The Underdogs” is out on 21st September via Despotz Records.

Album review: Toy Called God “#Socialvangelism”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Patrick Donovan and his men in the Toy Called God army are back with a new studio album of groovy but radio-friendly modern American metal.

Toy Called God plays modern melodic metal with an obvious American sound to it. It’s quality and slightly gritty radio rock with an edge and plenty of groove. The new album, “#Socialvangelism”, is the Bay Area-based hard rock band’s fourth studio album. The band’s current line-up consists of Marcus D. Lance on vocals, Patrick Donovan on guitar, Damian Lewin on bass and Jacob Baptista on drums.

The album kicks off with “United Corporations of America”, a modern rocker which sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the album. We get it all on this track: catchy metal, power vocals, great melodies, variation and guitar wankery. Just the way we like it. “Punch Life in the Face” is an Alter Bridge-sounding track and it’s one of the best songs on this 11-track album. But most of all, Toy Called God has managed to develop a contemporary sound that is borrowing from some of the greats but without trying to copy them. “Miss Me” is aggressive but not brutal, melodic yet hard-hitting with guitars that chug along. It’s the album’s highlight for me. “Take a Bullet Not a Selfie” is a terrific social commentary set to a catchy tune. It will no doubt be a live favourite. “She” is a bit different. It’s almost a power ballad. The album also features a terrific cover of The Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s a brave move but Toy Called God pulls it off. Somehow they manage to both stay relatively true to the original song and inject some of the band’s modern metal attitude into the song. The title track “#Socialvangelism” closes the album. It kicks off in a hazy stoner kind of fashion (hello Monster Magnet influences!) and then adds some power rock in the chorus to wake up the listener before we get a splendid guitar solo.

Toy Called God’s album “#Socialvangelism” is out on 18th September via Sliptrick Records.

Album review: Survive “Immortal Warriors”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive celebrates two decades of musical brutality with a smashing new album.

There is currently a wave of great Japanese metal bands who start to make names for themselves internationally. One of the bands is Survive. They have toured internationally quite a few times over the years. Earlier this year they did a European tour together with Venom Inc. and here in Japan, they have this year opened for the likes of At The Gates, Municipal Waste and Venom Inc. Formed in 1998, this is the band’s tenth studio album. Survive currently consists of the core trio of Nemo (vocals and guitar), Sinjlow (bass) and Gaku (guitar). The album has been recorded with session drummers and on some of the recent live shows, United drummer Akira Tominaga has filled in behind the drum kit.

Survive is frequently called a thrash metal band. While that is part of the story, this band is so much more than just conventional thrash metal. Survive plays terrific modern thrashy and dark metal. It’s a great blend of brutal and melodic metal – with dashes of thrash, speed, death and black metal in the mix. There is a crushing brutality to many of the songs and also quite a few atmospheric parts on many of the songs. We also get a few contemporary sounding parts, some of them reminding me a bit of Trivium’s sound. But for the most part, the music on this album is more on the brutal side. Survive also has great melodies and a bag full of splendid guitar solos. But the thrash metal foundation is of course there. The guitars on “Wrath” are insane! The same goes for the title track, “Immortal Warriors” and several of the other tracks on this solid album. My favourite tracks on the album include “Control the Darkness” (which opens with a terrific atmospheric soundscape built on haunted guitars) and the angry and hard-hitting “Blood and Sacrifice”. This is a terrific album by a great Japanese metal band.

Survive’s “Immortal Warriors” will be released on 12th September via Rebel Recordings. You can catch them live at Club Asia in Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th September.

Album review: Angeline “Shadowlands”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish melodic rockers Angeline are back with a fab new AOR album with some twists.

I have followed Swedish melodic rockers Angeline for more than three decades now. I saw many of the band’s first gigs in 1987-88 and the following years. I immediately liked them. Ever since their first demo cassette, “The Legend” in 1988, they have lived in the melodic rock world. Sometimes they are very much AOR, sometimes a bit heavier, but always melodic. Angeline’s current line-up consists of Jocke Nilsson (vocals, guitar), Janne Arkegren (guitar), Uffe Nilsson (bass) and Tobbe Jonsson (drums). They are all founding members of the band which was formed in 1987. The band released its debut album “Don’t Settle For Second Best” in 1990. In 1995, Angeline’s original vocalist Sigge Sigvardsson passed away at age 29. The band soldiered on but split up in 2001. In 2007, the remaining original members reunited and in 2010 they released the comeback album “Confessions”. They have been active since then with some studio releases and gigs. Now they have a new 11-track studio album out and in 2018, Angeline’s music is, unsurprisingly, melodic rock for grown-ups. The album opens strongly with the rather catchy rocker “I Wanna Know” which is followed by another strong track with some fine guitar work, “Slow Down”. “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It somehow manages to combine melodic rock with parts that almost sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers. In “The Devil You Know” we get a bit of blues-tinged hard rock as if Angeline were a rock band from Nashville and not Ljusdal in the deep forests of Sweden. In “Enemy Within” we get a more modern rock, not too far from the sound of Alter Bridge. In “Believe” and “I’m Here For You” we get the obligatory ballad-type songs that we expect on an AOR album. But most of this album is well-crafted middle-of-the-road AOR music as can be heard on songs like “Live Life Like You Mean It”, “Higher Than Love” and “Better Than The Real Thing”. I might have called it radio-friendly rock if anyone still listened to the radio.

Angeline’s album “Shadowlands” is out now via Blow Your Fez Off Music.

Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI3”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Kiyoshi, the Japanese bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, is back with her third solo album. It’s fabulously different.

For those of you who have seen Marty Friedman perform live in recent years, you know that Kiyoshi is one hell of a bass player and an entertainer. She might look like a quiet and cute girl in a red dress, but when she starts playing her Warwick five-string bass, she’s fierce and unstoppable.

On “KIYOSHI3”, her third solo album in two years, we get to hear a somewhat different side to her. Here, too, she treats us to some fantastic bass playing, but the musical styles are different and we also get to hear her sing lead on all the songs. It takes a while before I realise that the album only consists of bass, drums and vocals. “The instruments used on this album are only bass and drums. I played all the basses. There is only me and the drummer Eiji. We are a two-piece band. I played piano a little on the first and second albums, but on this album, there are no other instruments,” Kiyoshi informs me as I listen to her new songs. No guitars, no keyboards, nothing but a bass and a drum set (played by Eiji Mitsuzono, perhaps best known as the former drummer of Japanese rock bands Sads and Bow Wow). The scaled-down instrument line-up influences the sound of course, but it also shows us what a fine musician Kiyoshi is. She uses her bass in ways that you’d think was impossible. It’s an 11-track album and not once do I miss a guitar or any other instrument. Between her bass playing and her voice, Kiyoshi manages to create fine music which sounds complete.

Genre wise, this album belongs to a very Japanese style of modern rock and pop. There are echoes of some of the edgier, less bland, J-pop artists here. But Kiyoshi is Kiyoshi and she carves out her own niche with this new album. Her musical skills are miles ahead of most other Japanese rock and pop artists. She’s not only a great performer of music, she’s also a great songwriter. The emotional “The End” is the album’s standout track. It’s sheer brilliance. Other favourites of mine include “Speed”, “Baka”, “Escape” and “Stay”.

Kiyoshi continues to tour with Marty Friedman globally. Additionally, she is doing solo shows in Japan where she also occasionally performs with other bands and projects.

Kiyoshi’s album “KIYOSHI3” will be released in Japan on 7th September.

Kiyoshi on stage in Tokyo in March 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Mantar “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze”

Hanno of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German noisemaking duo Mantar is back with a terrific unclean new album built on raw energy and anger.

How does one define the music of Mantar? The German duo, consisting of Hanno Klänhardt on vocals and guitar and Erinç Sakarya on drums, label themselves as “black metal doom punk”. It’s dark like black metal, it’s heavy like doom metal and it is has the relentless energy of punk rock. There is anger and rage here, some kind of raw energy. It is sort of animalistic, a bit vulture like. It’s unclean and smelly. It’s music that seems infected by some flesh-eating virus. Mantar is one of those bands that really are doing something different. They’re for real, they don’t care about trends or what is expected of them. They make music for themselves. Formed in 2012, “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze” is the band’s third full-length studio album, following 2014’s “Death by Burning” and “Ode to the Flame” in 2016.

Erinc of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When they performed in Japan for the first time last year, I was blown away by their show. Two guys, facing each other rather than the audience, playing some fantastic noise. Seeing them live I was amazed at how they managed to sound so heavy with only one guitar and drums and no bass in sight. On the new album, that is still the case. The duo sounds like a quintet, at least. The relentless track “Obey the Obscene” chews up its listener. “Dynasty of Nails” is my favourite on the album – it attacks you like a slap in the face with a wet fish followed by never-ending punches and kicks before it turns into doom territory and then back to the punch-and-kick trail. Mantar has its roots in Bremen and Hamburg in northern Germany and the music actually sounds like it comes from the less fancy side of these cities: a damp, seedy, industrial landscape filled with warehouses down by the port. This is real music. It’s genuine and I really dig it.

Mantar’s “The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze” is out now via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Hanno of Mantar on stage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Yes featuring Jon Anderson – Trevor Rabin – Rick Wakeman “Live at the Apollo”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman mark 50 years of Yes with a splendid progressive rock live album.

Legend has it (I don’t know if it is true, but never let the truth ruin a great story), that back in the day there was a one-word review of a Yes album and it read: No. Listening to “Live at the Apollo”, I am pleased to say yes to Yes. Maybe it is an age thing, but as the years go by, I find myself increasingly listening to progressive rock music and Yes is up there among the absolute best.

Yes featuring Jon Anderson – Trevor Rabin – Rick Wakeman’s new live album “Live at the Apollo” was recorded in Manchester, England in 2017 and being released now to mark the 50th anniversary since Yes was originally formed. With two different versions of Yes currently in existence, things are bit confusing. The other version is led by Steve Howe and Alan White. This version of the band – led by Jon Anderson on vocals, Trevor Rabin on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keyboards – is in great shape. They call themselves “The definitive lineup of the greatest progressive rock band ever”. That’s a big claim, but I’d say they’re not far off the truth. This is top-notch stuff, not just some former members of a band getting together for fun or cash. They do more than justice to the old Yes material while not sounding dated or tired at all. The result is nothing short of progressive rock brilliance.

On this live album we get quite a lot of Yes material is from the 1980s, but we also get plenty of good stuff from the 70s, including “And You and I”, “Awaken”, “Roundabout”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “Perpetual Change”, “Long Distance Runaround” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”. Anderson’s voice is as good as ever. Rabin is on fire with his guitar – just listen to his terrific work on “Lift Me Up” – while Wakeman remains the keyboard wizard he has always been (not least on “Rhythm of Love” and “Heart of the Sunrise” he gets to shine). Yes, there is still a future for the band Yes.

“Live at the Apollo” by Yes featuring Jon Anderson – Trevor Rabin – Rick Wakeman is out today in Japan via Ward Records. It is being released in multiple formats, including LP, DVD and Blu-ray.

Album review: Tarja “Act II”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Tarja Turunen is back with a double live album and the Finnish soprano is as dramatic and bombastic as ever. She’s still got it.

In recent years, many artists have tried to copy Tarja Turunen, but when the Finnish soprano co-founded metal band Nightwish in 1996 she was a pioneer. She set the tone for the emerging symphonic metal genre which combined metal with classical music elements. She was the standout vocalist that everyone else was compared to.

She hasn’t changed. Having left Nightwish in 2005, as a solo artist she now has fewer restrictions musically. Thus, she has gone off in a few different musical directions. She has released a Christmas album as well as a classical studio album in addition to several symphonic metal releases.

“Act II” is the follow up to 2012’s “Act I”, which was recorded in Argentina. Musically, “Act II” – which was recorded in London and Milan – gives us a bit of everything that Tarja is about. There are great symphonic metal songs here (such as the majestic “Demons in You” and the catchy “500 Letters”), but there is also a lot of other musical styles on this varied album. In addition to her own original songs, we get a decent version of the James Bond soundtrack “Goldfinger” and a great cover of Muse’s “Supremacy”. The exquisite “Too Many” is my immediate favourite on this album. Another highlight on the album is a terrific medley consisting of “Until Silence”, “The Reign”, “Mystique Voyage”, “House of Wax” and “I Walk Alone”. The obvious Nightwish medley – “Tutankhamen”, “Ever Dream”, “The Riddler”, “Slaying the Dreamer” – is simply stunning.

If you’re a devoted Tarja fan, “Act II” is ear candy. You’ll love it. For those who find her operatic vocals challenging to listen to, this won’t win you over. I like Tarja, especially her bombastic symphonic metal side. She has some fantastic song material and a beautiful, dramatic and characteristic voice. Releasing a 20-track double live album is ambitious, but Tarja pulls it off.

Tarja’s “Act II” is being released in multiple formats, including LP, CD, DVD and Blu-ray. It is out internationally via earMUSIC and it will be released in Japan on 7th September via Ward Records.

Album review: Alcatrazz “Live in Japan 1984”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Shea, Jimmy Waldo and Jan Uvena shine on Alcatrazz live recording from 1984 Japan tour.

Alcatrazz was a relatively short-lived American rock band (1983-87) that made a lasting impression on the music world. It was with Alcatrazz that former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet restarted his career after a very brief stint with Michael Schenker Group. It was here that young Swedish guitar wizard Yngwie Malmsteen got his big break (and was then replaced by another wizard, Steve Vai). Alcatrazz was also home to New England and Warrior members Gary Shea and Jimmy Waldo as well as former Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvena. Last year’s partial Alcatrazz reunion in Japan (featuring Bonnet, Shea and Waldo) reminded us how great this band is. This live album, “Live in Japan 1984”, is another great way to look back at a terrific rock band and its legacy.

The “Live in Japan 1984” album was recorded at Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo in January 1984 and the album contains the complete gig. Alcatrazz was a popular band in Japan and on this live album we get to sample some of that magic. With Gary Shea (bass), Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) and Jan Uvena (drums) laying the foundation of Alcatrazz’s music, at the centre of it all is that familiar, characteristic Graham Bonnet voice. It is instantly recognisable. We also get treated to some splendid guitar solos by Yngwie Malmsteen. Personally, I think that Yngwie’s contributions to Alcatrazz were his career highlights. As a solo artist he often gets carried away, but when he played in Alcatrazz he got to shine without overdoing it. His guitar work on this live album – especially on “Evil Eye”, “Kree Nakoorie”, “Coming Bach”, “Guitar Crash” and the traditional Japanese song “Kojo no Tsuki” – is sheer brilliance.

We get three Rainbow classics (“Since You’ve Been Gone”, “All Night Long” and “Lost in Hollywood”) as well as a Michael Schenker Group song (“Desert Song”), but the bulk of the set is made up of Alcatrazz classics such as “Too Young to Die, Too Drunk to Live”, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, “Night Games”, “Island in the Sun”, “Suffer Me” and “Big Foot”. Many of the songs here are still being performed by the Graham Bonnet Band today.

The production of this live album is – thankfully – quite raw and real. This is more like an “as is” recording rather than one of those polished “live albums” with tons of studio overdubs. It makes it more real and a great documentation of what Alcatrazz sounded like live on stage back in the day.

Alcatrazz’s album “Live in Japan 1984” is out now in Japan via Ward Records. It is being released in various formats including CD, LP, DVD and Blu-ray. Graham Bonnet will tour Japan again from 29th August until 5th September with Michael Schenker Fest.