Album review: Michael Schenker Fest “Revelation”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Michael Schenker Fest returns with its second studio album of new material plus some special Japanese bonus tracks.

Michael Schenker Fest was born out of the onstage reunion of Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet in Japan in 2015. In the early 1980s, Bonnet briefly, very briefly, fronted MSG. It lasted for one album and a small part of a gig. When Schenker in 2015 did a tour of Japan with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, he had the newly formed Graham Bonnet Band as support act. The two former colleagues reunited for the first time ever for a couple of songs during Schenker’s set. It was a huge success and led to the formation of Michael Schenker Fest which sees Schenker reunited with a whole heap of his old MSG bandmates as well as Doogie White from Temple of Rock.

The new band has toured around the globe ever since, including several successful Japan tours. MSF performs classics from throughout Schenker’s career with MSG, UFO and Scorpions. They released a studio album, “Resurrection”, in 2018 and now they are back with a new studio album called “Revelation”. It’s more of the same of what we have been getting from Schenker and his Fest colleagues. The one notable change is the absence of drummer Ted McKenna who sadly passed away unexpectedly in January during a routine operation. He has been replaced in MSF by two other former MSG drummers, Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips.

The album, obviously, features some fine guitar work by the revolutionary guitarist Schenker, but also the voices of the legendary vocalists Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. There’s also a guest appearance by current Rainbow singer Ronnie Romero on the track “We Are the Voice” (one of the album’s best tracks). The backbone of MSF still consists of MSG alumni Steve Mann on keyboards and guitar and Chris Glen on bass. Musically, MSF continues in the footsteps of MSG. It is melodic classic rock delivered by some of the most legendary names in the rock business. Everybody misses the great Ted McKenna, but the show must go on. His replacements do not only have the same MSG pedigree, but they are also still able to deliver at the top level. Just like the first MSF album, this one has a few new tracks that will fit in nicely with the old Schenker classics in the live set, such as perhaps “Under a Blood Red Sky”, a great rock song sung by Robin McAuley. “Sleeping with the Light On”, “Leading You Astray” and “Headed for the Sun” are also great tunes.

The Japanese edition of the album comes with a few bonus tracks: “Doctor Doctor” and “Assault Attack” (the album’s highlight for me), both recorded live in Japan in 2017 (with McKenna on drums!) and an alternative version of the track “The Beast in the Shadows” with Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki as a guest. 

Michael Schenker Fest’s new album “Revelation” will be released on 20th September by Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally. Michael Schenker Fest will tour Japan once again in March 2020.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/michaelschenkerrocks

www.michaelschenkerhimself.com

Album review: Liv Sin “Burning Sermons”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Liv Sin is back with a terrific hard-hitting yet melodic metal album.

Liv Sin’s frontwoman Liv Jagrell (ex-Sister Sin) has one of those voices meant to sing heavy metal. It is powerful and it comes with plenty of attitude. She’s at the centre of Liv Sin’s music and she leads from the front. Shortly after her former band Sister Sin disbanded in 2015, Liv formed Liv Sin and released the band’s debut album “Follow Me” in 2017. Much of Liv Sin’s music is rooted in proper 1980s heavy metal but it has a modern touch to it as well which means it doesn’t sound dated. “Chapter of the Witch” is a great song. It contains so much good stuff and twists and turns that it puts a big smile on my face. It has terrific energy and the guitars here are fantastic. “War Antidote” is an anthem, a glorious and pompous (in a good way) call to arms of the misfits. “Ghost in the Dark” is the best track on the album and it is Liv Sin’s version of what 80s power ballads were back in the day. On the fab song “Hope Begins to Fade”, Björn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra fame appears on guest vocals. “At the Gates of the Abyss” is the album’s other highlight for me, again with fantastic guitars. It’s great hard-hitting and chest-pounding heavy metal which is also very melodic. It is Liv Sin at its best.

Liv Sin’s new album “Burning Sermons” is out now via Despotz Records. 

www.facebook.com/livsinofficial

www.livsinofficial.com

Album review: Frantic Amber “Bellatrix”

Frantic Amber

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band Frantic Amber returns with a smashing new studio album filled with aggressive vocals and plenty of speedy guitar riffs.

Perhaps this should be classified as melodic death metal, but I’d like to describe it as dark and hard-hitting thrashy metal with both speed and melody. The harsh vocals mix well with the guitar melodies. It’s angry music with great melodies. Frantic Amber is a Swedish band but the current line-up is quite international: rhythm guitarist Milla Olsson and bassist Madeleine Gullberg Husberg are indeed Swedish, but lead guitarist Mio Jäger (formerly of Swedish thrash metal band Ice Age) is Japanese, vocalist Elizabeth Andrews is Danish and drummer Mac Dalmanner is from Colombia. “Bellatrix” is the band’s second full-length studio album following the band’s debut album, “Burning Insight”, which was released in 2015. It’s a great album by a great band where Elizabeth Andrews, who has some serious aggressiveness in her vocals, and Mio Jäger’s guitars stand out. The terrific song “Lagertha” kicks off with the line “I am a Viking!” How can I not like that? I do. It’s one of the best tracks on a very solid album. Sometimes Frantic Amber’s music feels uncompromisingly old-school (not a bad thing in my book), but there are also other influences here, such as when the band makes use of some traditional Japanese instrumentation on the splendid track ”Joshitai”. This is great stuff. A proper metal album to bang one’s head to.

Frantic Amber’s “Bellatrix” is out now via GMR Music.

www.facebook.com/franticamber

www.franticamber.com

Album review: Opeth “In Cauda Venenum”

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Opeth returns with the new studio album “In Cauda Venenum”, a progressive rock masterpiece.

Opeth, as expected, delivers a terrific album that is full of progressive rock music with “In Cauda Venenum”, the band’s 13th studio album. Opeth was originally formed as a death metal band in 1989 and there are still some elements of that in Opeth’s music, but the band’s music has evolved a lot since then. Vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt and his current bandmates seem to be able to create music that often is far removed from their metal roots. Nowadays they create a dreamy soundscape filled with storytelling. I want to live in this weird and wonderful Opeth world. The song material is world-class and so are the musicians. When that is combined with excellent arrangements (not least the use of piano, beefy organs and acoustic guitars) and crisp production, we get pretty close to perfection. The “In Cauda Venenum” album is a beautiful masterpiece, but there are also hints of an evil and sinister soul lurking inside this music. It all adds up to exquisite and intense music.

Some of the music is of the slower kind, but it is very dramatic and it grooves. There are some jazzy elements to a few of the songs as well as folk music touches here and there. The fantastic tracks “Next of Kin” and “Charlatan” are progressive rock heaven with twists and turns around every corner. “The Garroter” kicks off with a flamenco-style guitar and a simple piano before moving into some kind of jazz-rock territory. On ”Continuum” we get some timely explosions of wah-wah guitars. The phenomenal guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (of Talisman, Krux, Arch Enemy, Tiamat, John Norum and Southpaw fame) is in the current line-up of the band together with Martin Mendez (Vinterkrig) on bass, Martin Axenrot (Witchery, Bloodbath, Nifelheim) on drums and Joakim Svalberg (Yngwie Malmsteen) on keyboards and piano.

Wow! What an album. It has it all. Love, love, love it! 

Opeth’s album “In Cauda Venenum” will be released on 27th September via Ward Records in Japan and internationally via Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast. There will be two versions of the album, one in English and one in Swedish. Opeth will tour Japan in December.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Japan in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.opeth.com

www.facebook.com/opeth

Album review: The Dead Daisies “Locked and Loaded – The Covers Album”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

New album of classic rock covers by The Dead Daisies.

Rock veteran collective The Dead Daisies is, after a few very busy years with multiple album releases and constant touring, on a bit of a break. They are filling part of the gap by releasing a compilation album featuring cover songs they have recorded and played in recent years. The album’s highlights include “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s era-defining anthem of dissent from 1969, as well as cool live versions of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. We also get covers of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Beatles, Howlin’ Wolf, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young. The Daisies has always been a band that is all about feelgood music and meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. Music to get a party started. They write terrific original material but have always made a point of also playing well-chosen covers. The Daisies has had a rotating line-up of music veterans coming and going with Aussie guitarist David Lowy the only constant. On this compilation, we can hear John Corabi, Doug Aldrich, Jackie Barnes, Deen Castronovo, Richard Fortus, Marco Mendoza, Dizzy Reed, Jon Stevens and Brian Tichy people with some serious pedigree from Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Dio, Foreigner, Journey and much more. Just like this band is always a joy to see and hear, this album of covers, too, puts me in a good mood. It will do just fine until we get to hear some news about what’s next for the Daisies. 

The Dead Daisies’ “Locked and Loaded The Covers Album” will be released on 23rd August via Spitfire Music.

www.facebook.com/thedeaddaisies

www.thedeaddaisies.com

Album review: Riot “Live in Japan 2018”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

American metal band Riot’s love story with Japan continues with a new live release and upcoming Japan shows.

Riot has a long and proud tradition as one of the best American heavy metal bands. They have also had a great relationship with their Japanese fans and they always seem to come up with great things for the Japanese fans. In 2018 they toured Japan twice. This year we get a new Japanese live release (the band’s third) as well as two special shows in Kawasaki in October.

Riot, founded in New York in 1975, has seen its line-up evolve continuously over the years. Leading the current line-up of Riot (or Riot V as the band is now called outside of Japan) are guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Don Van Stavern who both joined the band in the 1980s. They are joined by Frank Gilchriest on drums, Nick Lee on guitar and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. While the band has no original members left, the current members deliver and are worthy of carrying on with the band name. Most importantly, they play the back catalogue very well, but they are also creating great new music in the Riot tradition, such as the terrific 2018 studio album “Armor of Light”.

This double live album, “Live in Japan 2018”, recorded at Club Citta in Kawasaki in March 2018, gives us all the good stuff from throughout the band’s long career. In 1990, the band recorded the live album “Riot in Japan – Live!!” and in 1998 they recorded “Shine On” during a Japan tour. Only Mike Flyntz was part of those earlier live albums and the setlist is very different on this new live album. Of course, we get some of the obvious classics, including “Thundersteel”, “Warrior” (with LoudnessMasayoshi Yamashita as a guest) and “Swords and Tequila”. But we also get fab newer songs such as “Messiah”, “Armor of Light”, “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fall from the Sky”, “Take Me Back”, “Metal Warrior” and “Land of the Rising Sun”. The 23-track live release is a great showcase of Riot’s past and present. It’s a great band that is still relevant and still delivering at a top-level.

Riot’s “Live in Japan 2018”, released both as a live album and a live DVD/Blu-ray, is out now in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via AFM Records. On 5th and 6th October, Riot will be back at Club Citta for two special shows to celebrate the release of the new live release. Get your concert tickets here: www.clubcitta.co.jp/001/riot-2019/

Here’s Roppongi Rocks live review of one of the two Japan shows in March 2018: https://roppongirocks.com/2018/03/17/gig-review-riot-celebrates-30-years-of-thundersteel-at-club-citta/

www.facebook.com/riotrockcity

www.areyoureadytoriot.com

Album review: Attentat “Punkhjärta”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish punk rock veterans Attentat are back with a great new album. “Punkhjärta” continues a proud Swedish tradition of power pop-infused shout-along punk rock.

Veteran punk rock band Attentat formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1978 and released their debut album “Tatuerade tårar” in 1981. They were one of the leading bands in the original Swedish punk rock scene along with bands such as Ebba Grön, Asta Kask and KSMB. Vocalist Mats Jönsson, guitarist Magnus ”Paddan” Rydman and bassist Cristian ”Crippa” Odin have all been in the band since the late 70s. In the current line-up, they are joined by newer additions Patrik Kruse on guitar and Dennis “Larry” Staaf on drums. The new album “Punkhjärta” (Swedish for “punk heart”) is a terrific take on punk rock of the Swedish kind that was established in the late 70s and early 80s. It is somewhat angry punk rock but with plenty of pop influences and great melodic touches. It’s music with attitude made to sing along to, with lyrics based on everyday observations. The lyrics are all in Swedish as was almost always the case with the early Swedish punk bands. The band’s lyrics are quite simple but they work a treat as they are also very direct. On the new album, we get to hear the Attentat that we got to know and like back in the day. Sure, they are older, perhaps somewhat wiser, and they now sound a bit more mature. But that’s OK. They’re not teenagers any more and neither am I. The standout track for me is the terrifically weird and wonderful “Pissa på”. I love the contrasts and tempo changes and the terrific chorus. “Vad får jag” is another great, but more direct, track in the proud Swedish tradition of shout-along punk rock and power pop, while the emotional and depressing love song “Esmeralda” plays out with a supermarket as a backdrop. What a welcome surprise to see that Attentat is still a very relevant band and one that can still entertain us! 

Attentat’s new album “Punkhjärta” will be released on 23rd August via Busy Bee Production.

www.facebook.com/attentatgbg

www.attentat.nu

Album review: Destruction “Born to Perish”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

German thrash metal band Destruction is once again a quartet. 35 years after their first demo cassette they are as good as ever. “Born to Perish” is world-class thrash metal.

Destruction plays hard-hitting and punishing thrash metal of the German kind. This is world-class thrash metal with deep roots in the 1980s thrash metal scene but with a contemporary sound. The band is still fronted by Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer (bass and vocals) who co-founded the band in 1982. They released their first demo cassette “Bestial Invasion of Hell” in 1984 and their debut studio album “Infernal Overkill” in 1985. The band was early on firmly established as one of Germany’s leading thrash metal bands and they have remained at the forefront of German metal. So, what’s new this time? Terrific Canadian drummer Randy Black (Primal Fear, Annihilator, W.A.S.P.) joined the band during last year’s tour. He’s an animal on the drum stool and a perfect match for Destruction. The band is also no longer a trio – they’re once again a quartet since they added Swiss guitarist Damir Eskic. The new line-up is all we could ever hope for. It’s solid, punishing and tighter than tight.

Having seen Schmier and Mike perform live with Randy in Tokyo last year, my expectations on the new studio album were sky-high. The addition of a second guitarist got me even more excited. I am very glad that the band lives up to and even exceeds my expectations. The song titles are in line what we have come to expect from Destruction: “Born to Perish”, “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten”, “Filthy Wealth”, “Butchered for Life”, “Tyrants of the Netherworld”, “We Breed Evil”, “Fatal Flight 17” and “Ratcatcher”. Musical highlights on this new album include the terrific title track as well as “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten” and “Filthy Wealth”. Most of the songs are gloriously fast and furious. It seems that Black and Eskic have given their German friends an international vitamin injection. “Butchered for Life” is a bit different – starting off as a sinister kind of ballad before exploding into chaos, then calming down again for a guitar solo and then yoyoing back and forth between different styles. It’s a bit different but very good. Destruction delivers crushingly good stuff on this new album. Today’s Destruction is a terrific version of the band and the new songs are up there with the band’s classics.

Destruction’s album “Born to Perish” will be released on 9th August via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

www.facebook.com/destruction

www.destruction.de

Album review: HammerFall “Dominion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall is back with “Dominion”, its eleventh studio album. This band is still all about good-fun and bombastic shout-along melodic heavy metal.

“Dominion” is HammerFall’s eleventh studio album since the band was formed in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Guitarist Oscar Dronjak is the only original member left in the band. Early line-ups of the band featured members from In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Frontman Joacim Cans has been in the band for 23 years now and has sung on all of its albums. The current line-up also features Fredrik Larsson (Evergrey) on bass, Pontus Norgren (Talisman, The Poodles, Zan Clan, Great King Rat, Jeff Scott Soto) on guitar and David Wallin (Pain) on drums.

After all these years, HammerFall has a well-established signature sound which is melodic heavy metal with plenty of power metal and NWOBHM influences. HammerFall plays melodic, high-energy metal. At times it’s bombastic and often humorous. But this band is for real and they are on a heavy metal mission. The new “Dominion” album is more of the same music that we have heard before. They are not reinventing themselves here, but no one wants them to do that anyway. If you like your metal based on the classic 80s metal sound and with plenty of shout-along anthems and plenty of opportunities to play air guitar, this is for you. The track “We Make Sweden Rock” is both fun and terrific at the same time. This is good-fun metal with plenty of echoes of the 1980s but without sounding retro. This is a band that knows what its mission is and the band members are very good at what they do. “Second to One” is a great power ballad complete with emotional vocals, piano and a fine guitar solo. But it is with heavy metal songs such as “Scars of a Generation” and “Dead by Dawn” – with terrific metal guitar riffing – that HammerFall shows us its best side in my opinion. Song titles such as “Battleworn”, “Bloodline”, “Chain of Command”, “Dominion”, “One Against the World” and “Never Forgive, Never Forget” are part of a long and proud tradition of heavy metal lyrics. We Make Sweden Rock indeed. Japan too.

HammerFall’s new album “Dominion” will be released on 16th August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Napalm Records. On 15th September, they will perform in Tokyo.

www.hammerfall.net

www.facebook.com/hammerfall

Album review: Hellsingland Underground “A Hundred Years Is Nothing”

Hellsingland Underground. Photo: Emmy Åhström

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Hellsingland Underground is back with the band’s fifth studio album. This time with a more mature and bigger soundscape with lots and lots of keyboards and piano mixed in with the guitars and Charlie Granberg’s terrific storytelling. The end result is magic.

Known as a terrific and high-energy live band, Hellsingland Underground has always also delivered in the studio. They released their self-titled debut album in 2008 and all their five studio albums are great. Having started off with a combination of Swedish melancholic folk-rock and Southern Americana rock, the band’s sound has evolved on every album. Nowadays they seem to have few if any, musical limits. “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is the follow-up to 2016’s “Understanding Gravity” and here we can hear the band creating great music without worrying about fitting into any specific genre. The band’s current line-up consists of Charlie Granberg (vocals), Peter Henriksson (guitar), Jerry Ask (guitar), Thomas Pettersson (keyboards and piano), Martin Karlsson (bass) and Patrik Jansson (drums and percussion).

I could write about the band’s evolved soundscape where David Bowie now seems to have moved into Neil Young’s garage right next to John Belushi, Joey Ramone, Ray Manzarek and Jon Lord…and Scott Gorham’s guitars still standing there. 

I could write about the smart and beautiful use of various forms of piano, organs and keyboards by what is essentially a guitar band.

I could write about how frontman Charlie Granberg has lifted the band with his production of this set of exquisite new songs. It’s a very cool production where a more mature Hellsingland Underground emerges, with no musical limits. There is a great atmosphere to the songs that without being rushed get some space to breathe. Somehow, the songs still manage to retain that excellent raw energy that drives the band. The main focus remains on the songs that live in a wide musical range stretching from dusty rock via pop and bluesy country rock to I don’t know what. 

I could write about how the background vocals of new guitarist Jerry Ask have added a great dimension to the atmosphere of the songs. 

I could write about very diverse new songs such as “Carnival Beyond the Hills”, “Strangelands”, “Pig Farm”, “Elephant”, “Rainbow’s Gold”, “The Blessing and the Curse” and “Bloodlines”.

I could write about the splendid “Criminal Summer”, one of the most beautiful and best songs of the year so far (The piano! The guitars! The genius “tarararara-oolalalala-ratatatata” vocals!).

I could write about how I grew up in the same neighbourhood as frontman Charlie Granberg and how, in the 1980s, we played in the same rehearsal studio. (Well, “studio” might be too fancy a word to describe the shabby rehearsal space in the attic of the by-then closed-down Fenix cinema in Ljusdal, Hellsingland.) He was a heavy metal drummer back then, but It was always obvious to me that this was a driven man who would choose his own path and make a success of it.

But no. I am not going to do that. I am just going to sit here, with a big smile across my face and enjoy the masterpiece that “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is. The music speaks for itself. I love this band. You should too.

Hellsingland Underground’s new album “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” will be released on 30th August via Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution. 

www.facebook.com/hellsinglandunderground

www.hellsinglandunderground.com