Album review: Deep Purple “Whoosh!”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The seasoned gentlemen in Deep Purple are still at it. Their new Bob Ezrin-produced album “Whoosh!” is a solid album of grown-up bluesy rock but with some nuanced twists and turns.

Deep Purple is back and about to release its 21st full-length studio album. “Whoosh!” is solid, bluesy grown-up rock performed by the elder statesmen of hard rock. Sure, the album doesn’t necessarily have an equivalent to “Child in Time”, “Highway Star” or “Burn”, but it is a great album from a seasoned band that has consistently delivered since 1968. From the band’s classic line-up, vocalist Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice are still in the band. What stands out for me on this Bob Ezrin-produced album, apart from Ian Gillan’s still great voice, is that guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey (who joined in 1994 and 2001 respectively) have managed to replace Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore. Well, obviously, they can’t be replaced, but Airey and Morse manage to fill the gaps and add their own ingredients to what Purple is today. They do it very, very well. Despite being the “new boys” in the band they are allowed to shine throughout the songs on this album.

The album builds on the band’s 20 earlier studio albums but it also brings the listener a bit further into new areas for the band. “We’re All the Same in the Dark” has the classic 70s Purple hard rock sound while “Nothing at All” sounds almost like something Mott the Hoople could’ve done. “Step by Step” is splendid and a bit different with its edginess. “Man Alive” is an exquisite track where it sounds as if Bob Ezrin has been able to get something new out of Purple. “The Power of the Moon” is a track that manages to create something rather interesting by combining trademark Purple with contemporary influences. There are plenty of obvious, and some less obvious, nuances to Purple’s new music. Bringing the band to Nashville to write and record the new album seems to have paid off in a good way. Overall, despite the band walking into some for them unusual musical neighbourhoods, Deep Purple plays it fairly safe on this album. That is OK for a 52-year-old band that is now nearing the end of its journey. But the Purple boys still have a playfulness about them and they have a very solid foundation to their songs and performance skills. The catchy “Dancing in My Sleep” manages to sound like a big band blues rocker mixed with some 1980s pop vibes to finally arrive at a contemporary-sounding track. It’s one of the 13-track album’s best songs. Nashville and Bob Ezrin have been good for today’s Deep Purple.

Deep Purple’s album “Whoosh!” will be released on 7th August via Ward Records in Japan and earMusic internationally.

Album review: Alcatrazz “Born Innocent”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea have reunited in a fab new line-up of Alcatrazz. “Born Innocent”, the band’s first studio album since 1986, is a rather exquisite album of melodic hard rock.

Alcatrazz was always a band whose sound was built on the combination of the characteristic voice of former Rainbow and MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet with phenomenal guitars and terrific melodic rock songs with plenty of keyboards. In 2017, Bonnet, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and bassist Gary Shea from the original Alcatrazz line-up reunited for some fantastic shows in Japan (read our gig review here). They seemed to have a lot of fun together up on stage. Behind the drums since then is Mark Benquechea and on the lead guitar (a role previously held by both Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai) we find Joe Stump, who handles the pressure well and manages to outperform the high expectations. The new Alcatrazz album is rather exquisite. If you dug Alcatrazz back in the 80s, you’ll love this.

The “Born Innocent” album opens strongly with the title track and it just continues from there. Alcatrazz has a rock-solid rhythm section upon which Jimmy Waldo’s keyboards take us for a swirl on the dance floor together with Joe Stump’s phenomenal neoclassical guitar playing. It is all topped off with Graham Bonnet’s one-of-a-kind voice. “Polar Bear” is an immediate favourite. It has a rushed nature as if the musicians are in a hurry to reach the end of it. Perhaps it’s Joe Stump’s fault. The speed quirk makes it a very interesting song and it’s one that no doubt can be a great live song with all that energy and playfulness. “We Still Remember”, with its twists and turns, is something of a fantasyland song. Love it, especially the generous use of keyboards. “London 1666” has some terrific heavy metal guitar riffs on it which enhances the dramatic storyline. “Reality” and “Darkness Awaits” (a smoking instrumental track showcasing Stump’s talent) are two terrific Japanese bonus tracks. No doubt, there will be fans very eager to buy the Japan edition just for these tracks. They should. The 15-track album features a number of notable guests, including the late Bob Kulick, Steve Mann, Chris Impellitteri and Don Van Stavern. Former Alcatrazz guitarist Steve Vai is not playing on the album but he has contributed to the songwriting with the bouncy track “Dirty Like the City”. Overall, “Born Innocent” is a splendid album by a great line-up of Alcatrazz. Wow!

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Japanese edition of Alcatrazz’s new album “Born Innocent” will be released on 31st July via Ward Records. The international edition will be released on the same day via Silver Lining Music.

Single review: Band of Brothers “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Band of Brothers offers us catchy and radio-friendly melodic rock on its new single.

Sweden has long produced quality melodic rock music, often inspired by classic American rock music. Behind the band name Band of Brothers, we find members of Swedish bands Angeline and Hion Martell. This band plays middle-of-the-road AOR. It’s grown-up music. It’s a very radio-friendly rock that won’t scare anyone’s parents. This single is a guitar-based melodic rock tune from the musical neighbourhoods where Journey, Foreigner and REO Speedwagon live right next to newer bands such as Revolution Saints and Kee of Hearts. It’s safe, but it works. I am all for dangerous, dark and edgy rock, but sometimes it is just good to chill to a catchy rock tune. That is what this is. “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted” sounds like a radio hit, a song made for summer radio and a drive with your new Jaguar along the coast.

Band of Brothers’ single “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted” will be released on 3rd July. A full-length album will follow in the autumn.

Album review: Electric Feel Good “Capital City Madness”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dusty Swedish rockers Electric Feel Good are back and they have a new full-length studio album in their backpack. Let’s have a barbeque because this is smoky meat-and-beers music.

This album makes me want to put on a backyard barbeque party. The lads in Electric Feel Good play smoky meat-and-beers music. It’s like a bastardised Swedish countryside version of Americana. As if someone has taken the best bits of US roots rock and given it all “the Hellsingland treatment”. It’s down-to-earth, rootsy, bluesy, dirty, rough, rusty and dusty straightforward rock. Like their friends in Hellsingland Underground, Electric Feel Good comes from Hellsingland in central Sweden. This is a land of blue mountains, valleys, rivers and plenty of mythical forests. Electric Feel Good is a new and great addition to a proud local tradition of storytelling, entertainment and musicianship. The fact that Hellsingland Underground’s frontman Charlie Granberg has done the cover art comes as no surprise and is part of the cosiness of the local creative scene. The joyful blues number “Me, Myself and I” is one of my favourite tracks, not least because of the fab organ and the track’s overall playfulness. The terrific and The Black Crowes-oozing “Getaway Star” is another obvious highlight. But it is the track “Sunshine Mama” that I play when I am dreaming about that barbeque while having a cold beer. I hope these lads can soon play live again because if they ever get to play at that backyard barbeque party, there sure is an opportunity to record and release a double live album. Perhaps they could name it “Live in the Woods” or “Blue Mountain Blues – Live in the Valley”. They could also consider releasing their own brand of barbeque sauce in a brand extension effort. Or partner up with local meat producer Gulo Gulo Charcuterie for an Electric Feel Good sausage.

Electric Feel Good’s second studio album “Capital City Madness” will be released on 30th May.

Album review: Firewind “Firewind”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek guitar wizard Gus G makes a fresh start with a splendid new Firewind album.

Since the last Firewind studio album, 2017’s “Immortals”, Gus G has officially left his gig as guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. He has also made some changes with his band Firewind, which is now fronted by the terrific Herbie Langhans of Avantasia fame. The result? A fresh approach built on Firewind’s legacy of splendid melodies and great guitar riffs. Firewind has always had great singers, but adding Herbie Langhans to the band at this stage of its development is a great move. In Avantasia, Herbie is a cast member, mainly a back-up singer. Here he gets to shine like never before. Of course, he’s sharing the limelight with a famous guitarist. That’s never an easy task for a vocalist. But Herbie pulls it off and does so without overshadowing Gus G or the other band members. Obviously, with Gus G as its founder, Firewind is a guitar band. But the guitars are never allowed to steal the entire songs. Firewind manages to deliver melodic hard rock full of energy and combine it with world-class guitar work without boring or overwhelming the listener. From the exquisite and epic opening song, “Welcome to the Empire”, until the speedy final track, “Kill the Pain”, this album never lets go of its listener. The almost power ballad-like “Longing to Know You” is a highlight on the album. It lets Herbie show off his vocals while at the same time really showcase this band’s musicality. Its slower tempo is also a nice contrast to the album’s faster tracks. “Perfect Strangers” is a very good metal track which has some Accept vibes while “Overdrive” is classic hard rock with both melody and power and phenomenal guitar work. The curiously named song “Space Cowboy” is an interesting and great piece of music which has a classic rock touch to it. The closing track “Kill the Pain” is fast and bursting with energy but still melodic. It’s a great way to close a very good album.

Firewind’s new album “Firewind” will be out on 15th May via AFM Records.

EP review: Camp Marshy “Black Soul, White Shoes & A Leather Jacket”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Camp Marshy is back with a punky party-rock EP. I love the simplicity and catchiness of this band.

Camp Marshy is the latest addition to a long line of catchy punk-rock bands from Sweden. On the band’s new six-track EP, the Camp Marshy boys’ music lives in a rundown neighbourhood not miles away from The Hives, The Ramones and Danko Jones. But this is a tad more gritty and dirty, a bit more countryside factory-floor and hey-the-weekend’s-here-let’s-party-and-get-laid. It’s good-fun party rock mixed with melodic punk rock. The music is related to the Swedish school of punk rock which is built upon high-energy poppy shout-along anthems, although Camp Marshy’s songs are sung in English rather than Swedish. The previously released single “Baby (Are You Ready For Some Fun?)” is an obvious favourite here. The rather Hives-like “Walk of Shame” is also terrific. I love the simplicity and catchiness of Camp Marshy. I want to see this band on stage at a rock club with a cold beer in my hand.

Camp Marshy’s EP “Black Soul, White Shoes & A Leather Jacket” is out now.

Album review: Naglfar “Cerecloth”

Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius of Naglfar on stage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Naglfar combines fierce black metal with melodic death metal touches on “Cerecloth”, its first studio album in eight years.

Sweden’s Naglfar emerged as part of a wave of legendary black metal bands in Scandinavia in the early 1990s. Formed in 1992, they debuted in 1995 with the album “Vittra”. The new album “Cerecloth” is its seventh full-length studio album. It is extreme metal music with great melodies and an epic atmosphere. They combine the best of old-style black metal with borrowed bits from melodic death metal. It is not miles away from the signature sound of fellow Swedes Dark Funeral. It was obviously no coincidence that the two bands from Sweden’s cold and dark north toured Japan together in 2018. Naglfar’s core trio consists of vocalist Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius and guitarists Andreas Nilsson and Marcus Norman. The rhythm section has in recent years been populated by hired guns, both live and in the studio. The album opens with the fantastic title track “Cerecloth”. The band’s music immediately grabs hold of the listeners and never let us go. The splendid “Vortex of Negativity” is my highlight on the album. The track’s combination of relentless energy and constant pummelling is gloriously magnificent! Even a slower song like “Cry of the Serafim” still comes with plenty of heaviness and a sinister feeling. Make no mistake about it, Naglfar’s music is still about “the usual death and destruction” as the band puts it. This album is a solid effort from a terrific band.

Naglfar’s new album “Cerecloth” will be released on 8th May via Century Media Records.

Album review: Chugger “Of Man and Machine”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Chugger is back with a new album filled with groovy extreme metal.

Chugger calls itself a groove death metal band and on its new studio album “Of Man and Machine”, we get treated to a collection of modern and hard-hitting metal songs bursting with energy. Formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2012, it is obvious that they are influenced by 1990s metal – both the melodic death metal bands from the local Gothenburg Sound scene and American groove metal. They have used those influences as a foundation and then taken things further to create their own contemporary-sounding metal. Chugger comes across as an ugly and disturbed child born out-of-wedlock as a result of a drunken threesome between Machine Head, Lamb of God and At The Gates. Sort of. “Of Man and Machine” is the band’s second full-length studio album. Its back catalogue also includes an EP, a couple of singles and a digital live release. The new album has somewhat of a dystopian theme and there is also a decent attempt at being a shock rock band (which is also evident in the band’s visual style). The fierce and furious track “Turning Point” is a clear favourite of mine on this album. Other great tracks are “Flatline” (just listen to Larza Skjuttorp’s bass work on it!), “The Algorithm”, the fast, fierce and furious “Polaris” and the sinister “Beg, Burn, Fear”. Sweden has a proud tradition of great metal bands and Chugger is part of a terrific group of contemporary bands that keeps Sweden at the very forefront of modern metal. 

Chugger’s album “Of Man and Machine” is out now via WormHoleDeath Records.

Album review: Nightwish “Human. :||: Nature.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Tuomas Holopainen and Nightwish are back with a splendid new double album. On “Human. :||: Nature.” the band continues on a journey further away from its metal roots. Here they dig deep into mythology and folklore and epic drama.

On its new album, Finland’s symphonic metal band Nightwish continues on its evolving musical journey by wandering further away from metal and deeper into mythology and folklore. This is a fantastically beautiful double album. It is a labour of love and a boundary-pushing exercise. I am pretty sure that bandleader Tuomas Holopainen is very pleased with the result on this new album, the band’s ninth studio album and its second with current lead vocalist Floor Jansen. I, too, am very happy with the result. I love this kind of epic drama. At times, it’s almost like a polite version of Cradle of Filth.

The main disc contains nine great songs while the second disc contains one very long but stunning song called “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” which has been subdivided into eight shorter pieces. The beautiful “Music” is a terrific song that combines some ABBA (!?) influences and dreamy ethnic vibes, while “Noise” is a more energetic and dramatic whirlwind of a song. A lot of this music is over the top with plenty of epic drama. Some of it is like Avantasia on Red Bull or a less camp Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical with attitude. Like a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings film score. Some parts, like the track “Harvest” for example with Troy Donockley on lead vocals, are very folksy. Is that good or bad? That depends on what you want. I think it is brilliant. But there is also some more “normal” symphonic metal-style Nightwish music here, such as the terrific track “Pan”. The focus on this album is on storytelling, fairytale soundscapes and dramatic musical arrangements, not least with the excellent use of choirs and different vocal styles by Floor Jansen, Troy Donockley and Marco Hietala. It’s very atmospheric and I dig it, but some of this music is a far cry from the metal music that some fans had hoped for. Perhaps this is Nightwish’s equivalent to the 1981 KISS concept album “The Elder”. Or is it an answer to The Who’s rock opera “Tommy”? Who knows? But for now, this is what Nightwish is here and now. It is beautifully brilliant. The combination of the epic music and the powerful voice of Floor Jansen is magical.

Nightwish’s double album “Human. :||: Nature.” will be released on 10th April via Nuclear Blast internationally and via Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Testament “Titans of Creation”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Yes! The Bay Area heroes in Testament are back with an album that oozes uncompromising old-school thrash metal.

The Testament boys have been around long enough to know how thrash metal is done. Hell, they even helped create the Bay Area thrash scene which has been one of the centres of excellence for thrash metal. Testament’s new album “Titans of Creation” is its 13th studio album since the band was founded in the mid-80s. It is gloriously uncompromising. This is a classic old-school kind of thrash metal that doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s fast, furious, hard-hitting and shredding as much as it should. I love it. They are not trying to do something new here, just more of the same, what they are good at. Testament has always been one of the best thrash metal bands and that position is reinforced with this new album. In Alex Skolnick, they have a multitalented guitar wizard that no thrash metal band has matched since Marty Friedman left Megadeth two decades ago. In Chuck Billy, they have a powerful world-class thrash metal vocalist. In Eric Peterson, they have a terrific songwriter who in recent years has also stepped up as a fab guitarist. The band’s rhythm section – Steve Di Giorgio on bass and Gene Hoglan on drums – is one of the heaviest in the business. As a unit, the current version of Testament is rock solid thrash metal awesomeness. The album is so good and even that it is hard to point to songs that stand out, but some of my favourites include opener “Children of the Next Level”, “WW III”, “Night of the Witch” and the absolute highlight: the smashingly in-your-face track “Curse of Osiris”. Obviously, I expected the band to put out a great, headbanging-friendly album. But it still feels so good to hear them deliver and exceed expectations.

Testament’s new album “Titans of Creation” is out now via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.