Album review: Kampfar “Ofidians Manifest”

Kampfar. Photo: Sebastian Ludvigsen

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Kampfar, one of the best extreme metal bands to ever come out of Scandinavia, is back with an epic new album.

The Norwegians in Kampfar always have a terrific atmospheric feeling to their majestically dark and epic songs. There is a foundation here built on black metal with some very Nordic touches to it. There are so many details to be uncovered in their songs that it never gets boring listening to them. Their deep Norwegian roots are not only present in the Norwegian lyrics. They also shine through in their music. Kampfar lives in a cold, windswept Norwegian underworld. But this is achieved with authenticity and not some added layer of faux Nordic folk/Viking theme that we sometimes see from other bands who think it’s a good idea to add some Nordic touches to their image.

Kampfar was founded in Fredrikstad, Norway in 1994. “Ofidians Manifest” is the band’s eighth full-length studio album. A typical Kampfar song combines heaviness, speed and brutality but there is always beauty in there as well. They don’t shy away from using tempo changes, including calm piano and acoustic guitar parts to make their songs even more dramatic due to the sharp contrasts within the songs. There’s also effective use of choral parts on some of the songs. “Ofidians Manifest” is like a beautiful and melancholic soundtrack to the end of the world. The characteristic voice of frontman Dolk is part of what makes Kampfar’s music instantly recognisable. His cold, coarse and powerful voice has Nordic written all over it. It is such a great fit for the music.

“Ofidians Manifest” features seven smashing tracks where the closing track “Det Sorte” is one of my immediate favourites with its epic combination of brutality and beautiful melodies. “Eremitt” is another splendid track on this album which does not have a weak moment on it. But perhaps “Skamløs!” a proper bulldozer song is the winner here. Incredible is the one word that nicely sums up the epic new Kampfar album. 

Kampfar’s album “Ofidians Manifest” is out now via Indie Recordings.

Album review: Whitesnake “Flesh & Blood”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

David Coverdale returns with “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album. He has a bag full of new songs and Tommy Aldridge, Reb Beach, Joel Hoekstra, Michael Devin and Michele Luppi backing him up.

The only constant in Whitesnake is the founder and frontman David Coverdale, who founded the band in 1978 after he left Deep Purple. Since then, he has had a lot of musicians come and go as members of Whitesnake. Among the more well-known former members are Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Don Airey, Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, Adrian Vandenberg, John Sykes, Vivian Campbell, Neil Murray, Steve Vai, Doug Aldrich, Marco Mendoza and Rudy Sarzo. But they are all part of Whitesnake’s rich history. Make no mistake about it, Whitesnake is still very much alive. In the current line-up, we find legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, Blue Murder, Ted Nugent), who first joined the band in the 1980s, as well as guitarists Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken, Alice Cooper) and Joel Hoekstra (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Night Ranger, Cher), bassist Michael Devin (Lynch Mob) and keyboardist Michele Luppi (Secret Sphere, Vision Divine). Coverdale knows how to attract world-class musicians that can back up his Whitesnake vision. The current line-up is no exception. As was the case with some of the earlier line-ups, Coverdale has taken advantage of his band members’ songwriting skills. Great songs and a great band topped off with Coverdale’s voice which is still very much intact.

Style wise we get a bit of everything on “Flesh & Blood”, Whitesnake’s 13th studio album and its 13 original tracks – from blues-rock reminding us of the band’s early days, via the kind of melodic hair metal and power ballads that we heard on the “1987” album, to more mature rock. “Flesh & Blood” is essentially a radio-friendly grown-up rock album.

The album opens with “Good To See You Again”, a typical Whitesnake take on melodic hard rock. “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is good fun and the song is backed up by a recently released video with some hints of the classic Whitesnake videos from the MTV era of the late 80s. Blues rocker “Trouble is Your Middle Name” is a standout track and so is another bluesy hard rock song called “Get Up”. The title track “Flesh & Blood” is another great one which has some serious groove. “Heart of Stone”, which has Coverdale almost talking his way through the verses, is a splendid song. “Well I Never” is a modern take on Whitesnake’s classic sound – but with quite a different approach to the song delivery – and it works great. The ballad “After All” is a terrific singer-songwriter type of song with some Beatles vibes and quite different from the music that Whitesnake would normally do. The massive rocker “Sands of Time” is my favourite track on the album, not least because of the fine guitar work. Some editions of the album also include the fabulous bonus tracks “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” and “If I Can’t Have You”, two tracks that fans should not miss. The Japanese edition comes with an alternative mix of “After All” as a bonus track. 

Whitesnake’s album “Flesh & Blood” will be released on 10th May via Ward Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally.

Album review: Enforcer “Zenith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band Enforcer is back a fabulous melodic heavy metal album which is a bit more varied than its earlier efforts. 

I love pretty much everything about Swedish metal band Enforcer. The band is a terrific modern take on classic 1980s heavy metal – fast guitars, great melodies and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Now they are back with their fifth full-length studio album, “Zenith”. With song titles such as “Die for the Devil”, “One Thousand Years of Darkness”, “Thunder and Hell”, “Forever We Worship the Dark” and “Ode to Death”, Enforcer walks in a well-established heavy metal tradition. But make no mistake about it, this is more Mötley Crüe, Raven, W.A.S.P. and Anvil than the more sinister corners of the heavy metal world. There is nothing scary about Enforcer. Enforcer’s frontman Olof Wikstrand has a great way of borrowing from the past, mainly from 80s metal, and using that foundation to create terrific new music. The result is stunning. Some people lazily refer to this as “retro”. Nonsense! Olof is using a foundation built on the past, but his focus is on creating timeless heavy metal. On this new album, we do see Enforcer walk into some new territories., something which will no doubt see some old fans question the direction. So what? “Zenith” is a smashing metal album. I love everything about it. We get the established Enforcer sound on many of the songs (such as “Searching for You” and “The End of the Universe”), but we also get some new twists and turns with some real diversity in musical style. “Regrets” is an exquisite piano ballad, Enforcer’s answer to Mötley’s “Home Sweet Home”. “Ode to Death” kicks off with an acoustic guitar and, stylistically, it has a few hints of Metallica’s “One”. “Sail On” has a foundation that sounds more 1970s than 1980s. “Breaker of the Chains” and “Thunder and Hell” might be the best songs on this terrific eleven-track album.

Enforcer’s “Zenith” is out today via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

Album review: Zephyra “Fall. Rise. Conquer.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Sweden’s Zephyra serves up a mix of melodic and brutal metal on a new album which also gives us a couple of songs in Swedish and a brave Metallica cover.

Swedish band Zephyra is back with a new album called ”Fall. Rise. Conquer.” The band released its debut album, “Mental Absolution”, in 2014. When they released their second album, “As The World Collapses”, in 2016, I wrote in my review that “Some of what Zephyra does reminds me of Battle Beast and other things remind me somewhat of Amaranthe, although this album is much less polished. Zephyra is perhaps Amaranthe’s unwashed cousins from the countryside.” That still holds true today. But with this new album, they have become more personal, more unique and much more diverse. The opening track, “Dreams Denied”, sets the tone for the new album, the band’s third full-length studio album. It is a great showcase for all that this band is about. They continue to play modern, melodic yet hard-hitting metal with liberal use of keyboards. Kind of a cross-breed of melodic death metal and industrial influences and a few nods to pop as well. Vocalist Åsa Netterbrant‘s voice is at the centre of the band’s sound and her mix of clean singing with some brutal growls fits the band’s music well. Two of the best songs on the album are sung in the band’s native Swedish. The Swedish songs – “Fånge i Frihet” and “Svart Smärta” – are terrific with their perfect balance between brutality, great melodies in the proud Swedish pop music tradition and the added novelty of the Swedish lyrics. There’s also a cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. That is a very risky move, but Zephyra pulls it off. They manage to stay respectfully true to the original song while at the same time making it a track that fits nicely in with the Zephyra sound. 

Zephyra’s album “Fall. Rise. Conquer.” Is out now. 

Album review: Inculter “Fatal Visions”


By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Norwegian band Inculter gives us a classic-sounding 1980s thrash metal assault on their terrific new studio album.

On the new album “Fatal Visions”, Norwegian band Inculter has created a perfect 1980s thrash metal sound, managing to remind us of both the American Bay Area school of thrash and the classic German take on thrash. The result is a terrific eight-track album. While paying tribute to those who walked before them on the thrash metal path, Inculter has taken the foundation offered to them and built their own music. The “Fatal Visions” album follows the 2013 EP “Stygian Deluge” and their debut full-length album “Persisting Devolution” from 2015. “Impending Doom” is an immediate favourite track of mine with its fast guitars and its pounding drums. The relentless pummelling on songs like “Endtime Winds”, “Towards the Unknown” and “Final Darkness” puts a smile on my face. Inculter’s music is brutal and raw and terrific but still with some great melodies. There is a glorious aggressiveness here which makes this fantastic. The music is dark with some blackened death metal influences as an overlay on the classic thrash metal. No doubt this song material will work a treat live on stage. This is some seriously tasty Scandinavian thrash metal. 

Inculter’s “Fatal Visions” is out now via Edged Circle Productions.

Album review: Tronos “Celestial Mechanics”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Tronos, three of our absolute favourite people in the music industry – Shane Embury, Russ Russell and Dirk Verbeuren – offer us something very different and splendidly gorgeous. The result is atmospheric epicness! 

Tronos is perhaps giving us a glimpse of the dark, murky and warped world inside the brains of the two Brits Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Venomous Concept, Bent Sea, Lock Up, Brujeria) and Russ Russell (whose production credits include Napalm Death, Lock Up, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir, At the Gates and much more). It’s like “Alice in Wonderland” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Freddy Krueger chasing poor Alice and killing the Mad Hatter in the process. It’s a twisted and dark mystical tour of an underworld under your skin or a space journey to a galaxy far, far away. Embury and Russell have worked together on many albums over the years, and in Tronos they have also brought in another brother who they know well, Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren. 

The album opener, “Walking Among the Dead Things”, sets the tone for the album. It’s an epic piece of rather complex music clocking in at almost eight minutes. We get plenty of variations in the musical styles on the album’s ten tracks, but somehow they all fit in nicely together. Despite the many various musical influences used to create Tronos, there is not a weak moment on this album. I never get bored. With Embury, Russell and Verbeuren involved, obviously my expectations are sky high, but I didn’t expect this. It’s terrific and so different. Love it! Embury and Russell have spent years putting this album together. The wait has been worth it – the end result is stunning! Tronos’ music is multi-layered dreamy, doomy and epic ambient music. There are some hints of the band members’ more brutal and extreme musical roots, such as on parts of the great track “Birth Womb”. But this is very different and, for the most part, it is not brutal. There are so many variations and twists and turns here that the listener can make new discoveries every time the music is played. In Tronos, Embury is not playing bass, but rather opting to sing lead and play guitar. It shows a different side to this fantastic artist. The dreamy song “Voyeurs of Nature’s Tragedy” is a favourite of mine and the hauntingly doomy “Judas Cradle” is simply exquisite. On one of the album’s best tracks, “Premonition”, we get a fantastic guest appearance by Voivod vocalist Snake. Erica Nockalls (The Wonder Stuff, The Proclaimers) adds both terrific vocals and violin to some of the songs and other guest musicians appearing on the album are Billy Gould (Faith No More), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Venomous Concept). The closing track on the album, Black Sabbath cover “Johnny Blade”, is one of its absolute highlights. This album is simply terrific! This is a beautiful avant-garde masterpiece!

Tronos’ album “Celestial Mechanics” will be released on 12th April via Century Media Records.

Tronos: Dirk Verbeuren, Shane Embury and Russ Russell. Photo: Gobinder Jhitta

Album review: Entombed “Clandestine Live”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Reunited Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed’s live version of its 1991 “Clandestine” album is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece. 

My expectations on the reformed/reunited Entombed’s new live release were sky high. After all, this is one of the best death metal bands of all time. Entombed were pioneers in the original Swedish death metal movement. Here they are performing one of their most classic albums in its entirety. I am very pleased that the band and this live album by far exceed those expectations. “Clandestine Live” is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece!

The band’s current line-up consists of Nicke Andersson (drums), Uffe Cederlund (guitar) and Alex Hellid (guitar) from the band’s original line-up that recorded the Tomas Skogsberg-produced “Clandestine” studio album in 1991. New members are Edvin Aftonfalk on bass and Robert Andersson on vocals, both formerly of Morbus Chron. “Clandestine Live” features all the nine songs from the studio album – “Living Dead”, “Sinners Bleed”, “Evilyn”, “Blessed Be”, “Stranger Aeons”, “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns” and “Through the Colonnades” – plus “Left Hand Path”, the title song from the band’s 1990 debut album. It is brutal old-school death metal, yet beautifully melodic at times, in a haunted kind of way. While professionally recorded, this live album has captured the fantastically raw and brutal DIY sound that was an important ingredient in the death metal scene in the late 80s and early 90s. This live performance was recorded on 12th November 2016 in Sweden to mark the 25th anniversary of the studio album’s release. But it sounds as if it could have been recorded in 1991. That’s a good thing and probably what the band has tried to achieve here. The end result is splendid death metal awesomeness. Entombed rocks like it’s nobody’s business. Now the pressure is on for Entombed’s friends and rivals in Dismember to see what they can achieve when they reunite on stage later this year. The absolute highlights on this terrific live album include the exquisite songs “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns”, “Stranger Aeons” and, of course, “Left Hand Path”.

Entombed’s “Clandestine Live” will be released on 17th May via Threeman Recordings.

Entombed. Photo: Anders Norrud

Album review: Suzi Quatro “No Control”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Suzi Quatro is back with a new studio album filled with grown-up rock’n’roll with plenty of blues and some glam rock hints. 46 years after her album debut, she is still in control of her career. 

American artist Suzi Quatro had her heyday back in the 1970s. She relocated to England in 1971 and released her first album as a solo artist in 1973. With “No Control”, her brand new album, she proves that she’s still got it. This is straightforward rock with hints of glam rock and plenty of blues rock. She undoubtedly influenced The Runaways and Girlschool and many other artists back in the day. Her voice still sounds great and on this album, she has backed up her vocal and playing skills with decent songs. The majority of the new songs have been written together with her son, Richard Tuckey. Most of the album consists of catchy grown-up rock’n’roll. The fantastic “Strings” is my favourite track. Other great songs here are “No Soul/No Control”, “Macho Man”, “Bass Line”, “Heavy Duty” and “Going Down Blues”. “Love Isn’t Fair” is a bit of a weird one. It’s not a bad song at all, but to me, it feels out of place as it sounds like some kind of Caribbean-flavoured pop song. I am not sure what the thinking was here. But the rest of the album is solid. I like this mature version of Suzi Quatro. She’s definitely in control.

Suzi Quatro’s new studio album “No Control” is out now via SPV/Steamhammer.

Album review: Mötley Crüe “The Dirt – Soundtrack”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mötley Crüe gives us a fantastic collection of old songs on this new movie soundtrack. But the new material falls short of expectations. 

This 18-song soundtrack to the forthcoming movie about the history of LA band Mötley Crüe contains a lot of great, sleazy LA hair metal of the best kind. From early favourites such as “Red Hot”, “Live Wire”, “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks That Kill”, to later – more commercial – mainstream songs such as “Home Sweet Home”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “Dr. Feelgood”, this is all fantastic stuff bringing back some great memories. Personally, I especially like the raw and less polished sound of the early recordings. I love the guitar sound Mick Mars had back then!

Nikki Sixx on stage in Japan in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

BUT, and that is a big but, this soundtrack also contains four newly recorded songs. The news that Mötley Crüe would be recording new music for this soundtrack got many fans excited. At the planning stage, it probably sounded like a great idea to include some new music to avoid this just being a greatest hits collection of songs that the fans already have. In reality, it doesn’t work as the new material isn’t very good. “The Dirt (Est. 1981)” – featuring a guest appearance by rapper Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Tommy Lee in the movie) – is a boring song where Mötley seems to be trying to combine its 80s sound with some contemporary touches. In the process, they seem to have lost their way. The result is confused and not good. The other two new songs, “Ride with the Devil” and “Crash and Burn”, follow the same pattern and it’s just boring music with none of the excitement that the band’s best work has. Then there’s the Madonna cover, “Like a Virgin”. Why on Earth have they decided to do this? It’s terrible. Maybe it is some kind of internal joke.

Let’s ignore the new material and focus on the good old stuff that made us like this band in the first place. Lucky us that we still have the old Mötley Crüe classics to bring back sweet memories of some great shows and parties in the 80s and early 90s. Long live the terrific and decadent legacy of Mötley Crüe!

Both the soundtrack and the movie “The Dirt” will be released on 22nd March.

Album review: Disrated “Celestial Abhorrence”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

The arrival of Disrated’s “Celestial Abhorrence” gives us another great extreme metal debut album by a Swedish band.

Disrated is a new Swedish extreme metal band formed in Stockholm in 2016. The band’s music is punishingly brutal, but with many technical parts and some serious groove as well. Having earlier released a single and an EP, the band’s first full-length studio album, “Celestial Abhorrence”, is now available. Sweden, of course, has a proud tradition of producing terrific extreme metal bands (is it the long, cold and dark winters, the high taxes, the IKEA flatpacks, the Viking heritage or something else?), but it is still a bit of a surprise to hear such fine brutality on a debut album by a new band. There are some great tech death influences here. It is exhausting to listen to technical tracks such as “Angel Maker” and “Blackout”. It’s angry in a “bodybuilder with a master’s degree in architecture” kind of way. Fantastic stuff that demands your attention. It is not exactly background music. The fast and technical track “Gehenna” is my favourite on this album. The music on the album is brutal and quite technically advanced, but the band still manages to retain an underground feeling in much of its music (for example, listen to the track “Dead & Loving It”), which is a huge plus. This is no doubt a band to keep an eye on. Since the album was recorded they have brought in a new lead vocalist. Hopefully that is not something that will slow this heavy freight train down.