Album review: Venom Inc. “Avé” | Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back in action

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom’s Mantas, Abaddon and Demolition Man are back as Venom Inc. with fab new material on new album.

When old bands reunite and produce new music, you never really know what to expect. Often the result is not great. So, what is the result when British extreme metal pioneers Venom get its line-up from 1989-92 back together again? A fantastic album of great heavy metal by an explosive trio of veterans who manage to combine their past glories with a modern sound and terrific new material.

In Venom Inc. founding Venom members Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on drums have again teamed up with vocalist and bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (who fronted Venom during the 1989-92 period when the albums “Prime Evil”, “Temples of Ice” and “The Waste Lands” were released). What a great trio of heaviness. Two years after they reunited in 2015, they have now created a comeback album that beats all expectations.

There are some great, heavy riffs and a dark groove throughout the album. Best of all, there are great songs. The album brings back memories of the classic Venom days back in the 80s and early 90s, but this is much more than that. With “Avé”, Venom Inc. shows us that this trio is still relevant. This is very much a contemporary band, here and now, not some has-beens stuck in the past.

The opener, “Avé Satanas”, is very strong and announces that this is a band that will claim back its spot in the heavy metal race. There’s great energy on tracks such as “Metal We Bleed”, “The Evil Dead” and “War”. “Dein Fleisch” has a sinister vibe to it, both musically and lyric-wise. “Time to Die” is fantastic. “Preacher Man” is one of the stand-out tracks on the album and it has a bit of a Judas Priest flavour. “I Kneel to No God” is simply epic. Many of the songs are a bit longer than your average metal song and that allows Venom Inc. to really live out their musical ambitions to the full and without compromises. There are no dips on this album. A bloody great album closes with “Black N Roll” and, yes, the title is fitting. It has a touch of Motörhead to it.

This is a fantastic album straight through. Venom Inc. has truly arrived with this album. Die-hard Venom fans may not want to admit it, but Venom Inc. is actually far better than anything that Venom has ever done (OK, maybe I’ll make an exception for “Countess Bathory”).

Venom Inc.’s album “Avé” is out now via Nuclear Blast.


Album review: The Lurking Fear “Out of the Voiceless Grave”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Lurking Fear’s much-hyped debut album lives up to the expectations. It’s bloody awesome death metal by a bunch of professionals.

The new death metal band The Lurking Fear’s debut album “Out of the Voiceless Grave” is a brutal album without any compromises. It’s an assault on your senses by a bunch of Swedish extreme metal veterans. The Lurking Fear has a stellar line-up of extreme music royalty: Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates, Disfear, The Crown, Grotesque, Skitsystem, Lock Up, Nightrage) on vocals, Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre, Bombs of Hades, Crippled Black Phoenix, The Crown, ) on guitar, Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem, Embalmed, Sarcasm) on guitar, Andreas Axelson (Tormented, Disfear, Marduk, Edge of Sanity, Necronaut) on bass and Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted, Riket, Nemhain, Brujeria, Cradle of Filth, Netherbird, Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre, Skitsystem) on drums.

Tomas Lindberg on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Comparisons with At The Gates are impossible to avoid. But The Lurking Fear lives at the more inaccessible end of the musical world which also houses At The Gates. It lives next door to early Morbid Angel. It’s fast, brutal and heavy. High-energy bulldozing metal with some King Diamond-esque horror movie references here and there. There are also fab melodies underneath all the brutality and at times the tempo slows down for a breather. I love this album. It makes me want to start a one-man mosh pit right here at Roppongi Rocks headquarters.

Adrian Erlandsson on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

For the most part, this is Insanely brutal and aggressive, like a high-pressure cooker. But don’t let the death metal typhoon on the surface fool you. This is multi-layered intelligent, yet brutal, music with many nuances.

Picking out favourite tracks on such a solid album is hard. “Vortex Spawn” is a splendid physical assault. “The Infernal Dread” is terrific and so is “With Death Engraved in Their Bone”.  “The Starving Gods of Old” is one of my clear favourite songs on this album. It sort of sounds like a death metal version of a Napalm Death song performed by an early version of Morbid Angel in a speed metal tempo. “Tentacles of Blackened Horror” starts as a “normal” song, only to explode into fucking mayhem once the vocals start. Insane brutality. Splendid! The album closes with the track “Beneath Menacing Sands”, a five-minute masterclass in death metal. Well, there are no weak spots on this album. What a debut album The Lurking Fear has arrived on the scene with!

The Lurking Fear’s album “Out of the Voiceless Grave” is out on 11th August via Century Media Records.

Album review: Kee of Hearts | Kee Marcello and Tommy Heart

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Kee Marcello and Tommy Heart have teamed up in new band Kee of Hearts which has resulted in a catchy AOR album.

Kee of Hearts is a new band in Frontiers Music’s artist roster with plenty of pedigree and talent. Swedish guitarist Kee Marcello made a name for himself in the 80s with glam rockers Easy Action before he joined Europe in 1986 as John Norum’s replacement, just in time for the band’s “The Final Countdown” world tour. German singer Tommy Heart has fronted Fair Warning since they were founded in 1991 and has also sung with the likes of Uli Jon Roth and Soul Doctor.

In addition to Marcello and Heart, the band consists of Swedish bassist Ken Sandin (Swedish Erotica, Alien, Kee Marcello Band, Jim Jidhed) and Italian drummer Marco Di Salvia (Pino Scotto, Human Regression, Polarized, Node, Perpetual Fire, Valas).

If you’re into fine AOR-type of melodic rock, Kee of Hearts won’t disappoint. Marcello’s guitar playing is as fine as ever and Heart was born with a voice made to sing melodic rock.

The album opens strongly with “The Storm”, a melodic rock song which is almost power metal-esque. “Crimson Dawn” has a classic Europe touch to it with Marcello’s guitar bringing us back to the late 80s. On many of the album’s tracks, such as “Bridge to Heaven”, we get big doses of good old American-tinged AOR. But there is also plenty of Northern European melodic hard rock influences on this album. “Edge of Paradise”, one of the album’s strongest tracks, could comfortably have been a song by Treat. “Learn to Love Again” also lives in the same musical neighbourhood.

The Japanese edition of the album contains an scaled down, acoustic version of the song “Invincible” as a bonus track.

The Italy-based Frontiers Music label has developed into a melodic hard rock power house. Its in-house producer, Alessandro Del Vecchio, has his hands all over this album. This is a release that is an obvious Del Vecchio production released by Frontiers.

There is nothing dark or dangerous here. This is radio-friendly and catchy melodic rock with great pop hooks and some fab guitar work. It’s good-natured rock music.

Kee of Hearts’ album “Kee of Hearts” will be released in Japan on 30th August via Marquee and internationally on 15th September via Frontiers Music.

Album review: Bob Kulick “Skeletons in the Closet”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Guitarist Bob Kulick brings in his rock star friends as guests on a solo album filled with melodic rock with some great twists.

Bob Kulick has seldom been at the centre of attention. He has often preferred to be creating music behind the stars rather than being a star in the limelight himself. KISS fans obviously know his great history with the band, including playing guitar on several KISS albums and contributing as a songwriter. He also introduced his brother Bruce Kulick to KISS who ended up hiring him to be the band’s lead guitarist for 12 years. The Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Bob Kulick has during his more than 50 years in the music business also played with Meat Loaf, W.A.S.P., Lou Reed, Michael Bolton, Blackthorne with Graham Bonnet and so much more.

“Skeletons in the Closet” is Kulick’s first solo album. The album’s ten tracks are a mix of new and old material – all of it good, some of it great – plus a twisted take on the James Bond “Goldfinger” soundtrack. With so many different musicians involved, this is a very varied album, but for the most part it resides within the melodic hard rock frame. Some of the album is perhaps a bit too middle of the road AOR for me (although I am fully aware that there are plenty of fans that like that), but the good bits are great and overall this is a very good album. Kulick’s guitar work is, obviously, first rate and he calls on some serious rock star friends to help him on this album.

With Kulick’s wide-reaching connections in the music business, it comes as no surprise that his album features some great guest appearances by people such as Bruce Kulick (KISS, Grand Funk Railroad, Union), Eric Singer (KISS, Black Sabbath, Badlands), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot, W.A.S.P.), Robin McAuley (MSG), Jimmy Waldo (New England, Alcatrazz, Quiet Riot, Graham Bonnet Band), Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Dio), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) and many more.

“London”, with Dee Snider on vocals and Frankie Banali on drums, is the album’s stand-out track. This is not only a fab song with great musicianship on display. It also showcases what a great singer Snider is. It’s epic. The best Snider has ever done. Under all that Twisted Sister make-up, big hair and showmanship, there’s a great singer with a distinctive and powerful voice. Matched with Kulick’s guitar and Banali’s drumming it becomes something very special.

“India”, originally done by Kulick’s old band Murderer’s Row, has a great drive and some fab instrumentation, including Kulick playing a sitar. “Player”, with Last In Line’s Andrew Freeman on vocals, is a fabulously rocking song. On “Guitar Commandos” (originally done by Skull, another Kulick band), we get Bob and Bruce Kulick trading guitar licks.

After over 50 years in the music business, Bob Kulick steps into the limelight with his first solo album. Let’s hope he will also do some live shows with this material.

Bob Kulick’s “Skeletons in the Closet” will be released on 15th September via Vanity Music.

Album review: The Good The Bad and The Zugly “The Worst Four Years”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Good The Bad and The Zugly (GBZ) is high-energy, good-fun Norwegian punk rock of the best kind.

I may be a Swedish metal guy in Japan, but going back a few generations, Roppongi Rocks has deep and proud Norwegian roots. Thus a Norwegian punk rock band singing about heavy metal kids is right up my alley.

The Good The Bad and The Zugly (GBZ) gives us terrific, high-energy and good-fun punk rock on their new album. Because of the never-ending energy, some of the music gets close to being hardcore, but mainly this is fast and very catchy punk rock, the kind you shout along to. The kind of music that works a treat as a soundtrack to your pre-party rituals at home on a Friday night. The kind that wins new fans at summer festivals. The kind that is so full of energy it spills over and you just can’t sit still while listening to it.

“The Worst Four Years” is a compilation album consisting of the band’s early vinyl singles as well as the Bransjvelter compilation track “I’m Fucked Up” and “It’s a Burning Hell” (a previously unreleased cover of a song by Swedish noise rockers Brainbombs). The material on this album all predates the band’s earlier full-length albums “Anti-World Music” (2013) and “Hadeland Hardcore” (2015).

Being a metal guy at heart, GBZ’s great track “Heavy Metal Kid” makes me laugh out loud of pure joy. Sometimes music doesn’t have to solve all the problems of mankind. Sometimes music can be less serious and just about a bunch of punk rockers playing to entertain themselves and their audience.

The song “Fucking is Awesome”, a live favourite among the band’s fans, says it all, really, about GBZ and what they are focused on.

The Good The Bad and The Zugly’s “The Worst Four Years” is out now via the Fysisk Format label in Norway.

Album review: Ursinne “Swim with the Leviathan”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ursinne arrives on the scene with a splendidly fierce and beautifully inaccessible death metal album.

With tons of pedigree, new band Ursinne demands my attention. It gets it. And the band’s debut album lives up to the high expectations.

Legendary Bolt Thrower vocalist Dave Ingram (who has also played with Benediction, Hail of Bullets and Echelon) has teamed up with Sweden’s Jonny Pettersson (Henry Kane, Wombbath, Just Before Dawn, Ashcloud) to form Ursinne. After the band finished recording this debut album, they have also added bass player Sonia Nusselder (Ecocide, Shade of Hatred, Sepiroth) as a band member.

Ursinne gives us what we want: brutally great old-school death metal, no modern rubbish. People who like proper death metal will love this, others won’t as this is probably too inaccessible for them. That’s OK.

I love the no-compromises head-cleaning attitude in this music. This is meat and potatoes death metal music. No fancy stuff, just proper music done right. Flawless execution by a couple of veteran pros.

Most of the album is like a bulldozer hitting you without any warning. But there are some variations here and there. On the track “Devil May Care”, we get an interesting melody as a nuance underneath the sheer brutality. “Bullet Bitten”, one of the album’s best tracks, Is dedicated to Motörhead legend Lemmy whose voice also appears in a spoken word format on the track. We also do get a bit of variety with a few fun and unexpected cover songs: “Crazy Horses” (The Osmonds), “Turning Japanese” (The Vapors), “Spellbound” (Siouxsie and the Banshees) and, with Massacre’s Kam Lee as a guest, “Monsters in the Parasol” (Queens of the Stone Age).

Ursinne’s debut album is fantastic in a Bolt Thrower kind of way. I am just sitting here smiling as I listen to the album. Fierce. Thank you for the music and for getting the wax out of my ears.

Ursinne’s debut album “Swim with the Leviathan” will be released on 20th August via Transcending Obscurity Records.

Album review: Accept “The Rise of Chaos”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The German metal veterans have still got it. With “The Rise of Chaos” Accept gives us a fab new heavy metal album.

Accept was one of the heavy metal bands in the 80s that I kept listening to. With albums such as “Restless and Wild”, “Balls to the Wall” and “Metal Heart”, they became favourites and made it into my vinyl collection. 38 years after their debut album, they are still going strong, now with a slightly more international line-up. Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes are still the backbone of this band and they still deliver a great dose of traditional heavy metal.

The two things with this new Accept album, the band’s 15th studio album, that suddenly hit me after I have listened to it a few times are: 1) I love it – it’s great and timeless Accept-style heavy metal, and 2) I don’t miss Udo Dirkschneider.

As is the case with many bands from the 80s who are still active, there are constant arguments going on among die-hard fans about original vocalist Udo Dirkschneider no longer being in the band. As much as I love the legendary frontman Udo, I have accepted (!) that he has moved on and Accept has also moved on. It is worth remembering that Accept released an album without Udo already back in 1989: “Eat the Heat” with the terrific David Reece on vocals. The current vocalist Mark Tornillo, who joined the band in 2009, does a fantastic job fronting the band. This is his fourth studio album with the band and he is now an important part of what Accept is. This is also the first album with new members Uwe Lulis (guitar) and Christopher Williams (drums).

Tornillo has a great voice that fits very well with Accept’s trademark heavy metal built around constant guitar attacks. The songs on the new album very much live in the same territory as the classic Accept albums from the 80s, but they still manage to not sound dated.

“Analog Man” has a great old-school touch to it. It kind of sounds like it could’ve been a bonus track from 1983’s “Balls to the Wall” album. “Die by the Sword” has some fantastic guitar work and other clear favourites are “World Colliding” and “Carry the Weight”. The terrific track “Hole in the Head” is a modern, heavy-yet-catchy metal track that still has a firm foundation in the classic Accept sound.

This is a solid metal album with ten tracks and without any fillers. Most Accept fans (those not completely snowed in on the Udo issue) will no doubt love this. They should. It’s bloody good. In summary, on this album we get a terrific collection of new songs delivered by a great band that hasn’t forgotten its 80s heavy metal roots without getting stuck in nostalgia.

Accept’s “The Rise of Chaos” album will be released on 4th August by Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan. Accept will tour Japan again in September.

Album review: Marty Friedman “Wall of Sound”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Guitarist Marty Friedman is back with a beautifully explosive and genre-bending solo album. As usual, he does it his own way.

The best way to listen to this major new work from Marty Friedman is alone in a pitch-black room with the volume cranked up. That way all your senses will be open to the beautiful invasion that “Wall of Sound” is.

The album is a natural follow-up to 2014’s “Inferno”, but here Marty is taking it a step further out into the unknown and unexpected. There is so much beautiful music of all kinds on this album that it deserves and demands your full attention. There are countless small quirks, twists and turns in the music. You’ll discover something new every time you listen to the album. It is a hard to define, genre-bending album. Marty fits in a whole heap of different styles within each song. Some of the songs have so many changes, it’s hard to know if you are still listening to the same song when you are at the end of it.

There is, of course, some great trademark Marty shredding going on here and there, which brings back sweet memories of the good old Megadeth days (such as on the track “Self Pollution” for example). But there are also ballad-like parts with violin, cello and piano and all sorts of different styles and instruments that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Marty.

Marty Friedman. Photo: Takaaki Henmi

“Self Pollution” and “Sorrow and Madness” are two of my favourite tracks, while “Whiteworm” has some fabulously varied guitar work and tempo changes. “Pussy Ghost” is a bit out there and perhaps even the best track on the album. “Something to Fight”, with vocals by Norwegian avant-garde band Shining’s Jorgen Munkeby, stands out like a punch in the face. It has an aggressive intensity. At the other end of the musical spectrum, “The Soldier” kicks off solemnly with a lone cello. The track has a spectacular dreamy air about it.

Marty has brought in some fantastic guests for this new album, such as Jinxx from Black Veil Brides (who plays some beautiful violin on “Sorrow and Madness”) and Shiv Mehra of Deafheaven (“Pussy Ghost”). The guests all make some serious marks on the songs where they appear, which is not a surprise as Marty involved them in the songwriting and evolution of the songs into the final recorded versions.

All the songs, apart from “Something to Fight”, are instrumental. “Wall of Sound” is obviously a solo album by a great guitarist. But this is not all about guitar wankery. This is a beautiful album of at times unexpected music based around a great guitarist.

Marty Friedman’s “Wall of Sound” album will be released on 2nd August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally on 4th August via Prosthetic Records. Marty will tour North America during August.

Album review: Alice Cooper “Paranormal”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Veteran shock rocker Alice Cooper is back with some smoking new music! Producer Bob Ezrin brings back some magic from the 70s to the new album.

I have always liked Alice Cooper. Most of Alice Cooper’s music is good old-fashioned rock’n’roll dressed up with some theatrics. Even at his most commercially sounding period in the 80s (“Poison” and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”), he was always good fun and a top entertainer. On his new album, “Paranormal”, he’s back in fine form.

The first single from the album, “Paranoiac Personality”, is an in-your-face track with an attitude. It does, however, still got some of that “Poison” kind of commercial appeal about it. But most of this album is Alice Cooper sounding like Alice Cooper sounded back in the 70s, probably at least partly due to the fact that Canadian producer Bob Ezrin (KISS, Deep Purple, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith) is once again back working with Alice Cooper. Ezrin produced some of Alice Cooper’s most classic albums in the 70s, including “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell” and “Welcome to My Nightmare”.

Among the new songs, “Fireball” stands out as a great rock tune with a heavy 70s smell. In “Holy Water” we get Alice performing an almost Broadway-esque number. It works a treat. Alice pulls it off. In “Dynamite Road” we get some great storytelling coupled with fine guitar work. In “The Sound of A” we get some spaced out psychedelic rock from the 60s. Fabulous!

In addition to the ten new songs recorded in Nashville, we get a bonus disc with two brand new songs (“Genuine American Girl” and “You and All of Your Friends”) which were written and recorded together with original Alice Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce. These two songs are great and up there with the best songs that the original band did back in the late 60s and early 70s.

The bonus disc also features live recordings of classics such as “School’s Out”, “Billion Dollar Babies” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. The six live tracks were recorded in Columbus, Ohio, USA in 2016 with the current line-up of Alice Cooper’s band, including fierce guitarist Nita Strauss who has added some great energy to Alice Cooper over the past few years.

Celebrity guest musicians on the studio recordings of the album include U2‘s Larry Mullen, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Roger Glover of Deep Purple.

Alice Cooper’s new album “Paranormal” is out on 28th July in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via earMUSIC. Alice Cooper will perform at the Loud Park festival in Japan in October.

Album review: Hirsh Gardner “My Brain Needs a Holiday”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New England drummer Hirsh Gardner is back with another fabulously varied solo album filled with uplifting, catchy and melodic rock music. The Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock is back.

With “My Brain Needs a Holiday”, Hirsh Gardner gives us a rock-solid album of good-natured melodic rock music. Best known as the drummer for classic American rock band New England, Canada-born Hirsh also played in Warrior (basically New England minus John Fannon plus KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent) and also played an important part in the early work on what became the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album.

In a doomy and gloomy world, Hirsh Gardner is the Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock. He makes the world a better place and he is without doubt one of the nicest guys in rock. He’s also a drummer who can sing (his harmonies in New England are legendary) and play multiple instruments. He’s quite a songwriter too.

This album is full of great stuff. It is very Hirsh: diverse, out there, melodic, funky, uplifting and catchy rock. Some of this is like a modern-day version of Slade, sort of (especially the jolly title track). But it is so varied it is hard to put labels on it apart from the obvious one: “Hirsh Gardner”.

Right now my favourite tracks on the album include “Lost in the Darkness Tonight”, “Git It Back”, “Do Me Do Me” and “If U Need t’ Talk”. The great “Shadows” has a somewhat scaled-back production which I love. It’s kind of a demo-like soundscape in which a fantastic song roams around. The ballad “Diamond Moon” is stunningly beautiful, a bit like if Lionel Richie had fronted Journey (which he didn’t). We also get two decent cover songs, “Sister Jane” (originally by French-Vietnamese prog rockers Tai Phong) and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Hirsh Gardner in Tokyo in November 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album has a very slick production. Not a surprise as Hirsh has made a name for himself as a music producer in the Boston area. Hirsh has wisely used his musical brother Jimmy Waldo on keyboards and backing vocals throughout this album. Jimmy has not only played with Hirsh in New England and Warrior, he too has done work with Vinnie Vincent and also played with Alcatrazz, Quiet Riot, Blackthorne and Graham Bonnet Band. Among the guest artists appearing on the album are guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Art of Anarchy, Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford).

The album comes with a bonus disc which is a remastered version of Hirsh’s first solo album, “Wasteland for Broken Hearts”, originally released in 2002.

I love this man and his music. He makes me upbeat, happy and want to scream: Hooray for everything!

Hirsh Gardner’s “My Brain Needs a Holiday” will be released on 25th August via Escape Music (Europe) and GB Music (rest of world).