Destiny: old-school Gothenburg metal

Living Dead s 1400 1400By Stefan Nilsson

Destiny, the veteran lords of dark metal from Gothenburg, are back in full swing and have two albums in the making.

In the early 1990s, melodic death metal bands like In Flames, At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity put Swedish west coast town Gothenburg firmly on the heavy metal map with the emergence of the legendary Gothenburg Sound. But heavy metal existed in Gothenburg long before that. Among the veterans from Gothenburg’s 1980s metal scene that are still active today are Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee (ex-King Diamond, Don Dokken), Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) and the lords of dark metal, Destiny – one of Sweden’s first proper heavy metal bands.

The Gothenburg Sound explosion in the 1990s didn’t really have any impact on Destiny. “We had already established our sound and band identity before that. But perhaps some international fans got interested in Destiny because we are from Gothenburg,” says Destiny’s band leader Stefan Björnshög.

Formed in 1982, Destiny released its debut album “Beyond All Sense” in 1985. A few years later, in 1988, I went to one of their gigs and was immediately drawn to Destiny’s dark metal. They were very different to the hair metal bands of the day. They didn’t use hairspray, they wore black rather than pink or green and they sounded the way they looked. I loved it.

The band kept touring and released more albums, but in recent years we haven’t heard much from Destiny. Earlier this year they released a great new track, “Living Dead”, and a video to go with it. When the press release landed in my inbox it brought back great memories. I decided to have a chat with Stefan Björnshög about Destiny’s career and what we can expect from the band in the coming years.

”It is rather difficult to describe our music other than ’dark rock’. In many reviews it is mentioned that it is difficult to put us into a specific category. From the very beginning it was very important to me that the music was complicated and interesting, not just hard-hitting rock. Nowadays I think it is equally important that it has some kind of groove, which I think we have managed to achieve more and more. We don’t want to make the same album twice. That’s why our albums sound quite different when compared to each other. But they still have a distinct Destiny sound and style,” explains Björnshög.

Destiny Photo: Lillian Christiansson

Photo: Lillian Christiansson

Destiny is indeed a band that is difficult to put a label on. There are echoes of NWOBHM and at times it sounds power metal-ish. There’s some Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne in there, a pinch of doom, a hint of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate (former King Diamond guitarist Floyd Constantin was a member of Destiny for a few years), some thrash metal guitar shredding, some old German Accept-vibes and a lot of other stuff. It’s Destiny and they call what they do dark metal.

”Personally i listened to Black Sabbath, Rush and many of the bands that were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But it was also Mercyful Fate and American bands such as Savatage and Metal Church that influenced us. The whole idea behind dark metal, as we called it, was that the music should be suggestive and interesting in a similar way to music scores in films, but still be heavy metal. The band wearing all black clothes was an idea that came from our then guitarist Magnus Österman. At that time there weren’t many bands in Sweden that dressed in black. Thus we did something different and stood out from the rest.”

Destiny has been around for 33 years. What are the career highlights so far? ”That we are still around. Hahaha!! Jokes aside, to open for Savatage is hard to beat. Also when we played with In Flames in 1999 and the tour we did with Tony Martin (of Black Sabbath fame) in 2006 are highlights. Our creative process when we write new music is always a highlight as well as any gig we do where we get a positive response from the audience.”

The band’s line-up has seen some changes over the years. The current line-up seems rather strong and it’ll be interesting to see what they can do both live and in the studio. ”Already when we released the second album ’Atomic Winter’ I was the only remaining original member in the band,” says Björnshög. ”It’s difficult to know how long a line-up will last. Several of our earlier line-ups have lasted longer than many contemporary bands. We are about to enter our 34th year and thus I guess it’s not so surprising that we have had some member changes over the years. When one can’t live off music alone there are many other things that come into the equation. Sometimes people have to opt out of being in a band because of their day jobs or family commitments. However, over the years, as far as I can remember, we have only ever fired one person. Everyone else has left for various reasons. I am still on good terms with all ex-members, so we have not had any splits on bad terms. Everybody who has played in Destiny has contributed something. In the current line-up we have Jonas Heidgert (Dragonland) on vocals who joined us in 2012. He’ll sing on both the two forthcoming albums. Guitarist Michael Åberg (ex-Nostradameus) joined us already back in 2005. Drummer Kane Svantesson was originally a member of Destiny in 1994-1997. He plays drums on ‘The Undiscovered Country’ (1998). He rejoined the band in 2013. And I’ve been here since 1982. I am not aware of anyone planning to leave but we are likely to expand the line-up with a keyboard player or another guitarist.”

Derek Riggs' cover art for "Atomic Winter"

Derek Riggs’ cover art for “Atomic Winter”

When it was time to release Destiny’s second album, “Atomic Winter”, in 1988 they managed to get legendary artist Derek Riggs, famous for making many of Iron Maiden’s classic album covers, to agree to do the cover art. “We weren’t really satisfied with the cover for ‘Beyond All Sense’. We wanted to have a more powerful cover for ‘Atomic Winter’. I contacted Rodney Matthews but he didn’t seem to like our lyrics. Earlier we had sent a demo to Rod Smallwood’s management company and I still had their contact details. I called up and got to talk to some secretary. I told her I wanted to talk to Derek Riggs because he was going to make an album cover for us. I must have sounded rather convincing because she gave me his details. When I called Riggs the first thing he said was ‘How did you get my number?’ I told him and then asked him if he would consider doing our next album cover. He asked me to send him some music and lyrics before he would make up his mind. After a while he came back to me and said he wanted to do the cover. We discussed how we wanted the cover and then he sent a couple of drafts that I approved. In 1990 I visited him in London and I asked him what it was that made him to agree to do the cover. He said he liked the name Destiny. It made him curious and when he then liked both the music and the lyrics it was easy for him to say yes. During my visit he gave me the original artwork as a gift. To this day it still hangs framed on my wall. The idea was that Derek would also do the cover for ‘Nothing Left to Fear’ but unfortunately the record company Active didn’t want to pay what he asked. I still have the drafts for the proposed cover artwork,” says Björnshög proudly.

What’s next on the agenda for Destiny? “The plan is to release our much-delayed anniversary album ‘Climate Change’ later this year. We have recorded 14 songs of which five are old Destiny songs from the 80s that have never before been released on any record. Håkan Ring, who sang on our debut album, has written new lyrics for the old songs as we have lost the original lyrics. We have, however, tried to retain as much as possible of the original ideas behind the songs. For one of the songs we only had a very rough recording of half the song from a rehearsal. I thus had to write some new music that we added to the old bits in order to get a complete song. That was a lot of fun. I am really pleased with how the new versions of these old songs, who have only been performed live a few times in the 80s, turned out. I have always thought that these songs were too good not to be released on record. The other nine songs are re-recordings of songs from Destiny’s albums,” explains Björnshög.

“Climate Change” features a number of guest appearances, including session drummer Adde Larsson and German guitarist Veith Offenbächer (Dawn of Destiny) as well as a number of former Destiny members such as Carl Dahlberg, Roger Christiansson, John Prodén, Håkan Ring, Knut Hassel and Anders Fagerstrand.Destiny Climate Change“We are planning to release a new full-length album with nine or ten new songs sometime in 2016. That album will be called ‘Global Warming’ and we have been recording it since 2007. It has taken a long time to complete mainly due to the fact that it took us a few years to find a suitably good singer after Kristoffer Göbel left Destiny, but also because my fiancée passed away in 2012,” explains Björnshög. Therese Hanserot was not only Stefan Björnshög’s fiancée, she was also Destiny’s original vocalist who sang on their very first demo.

“But now we are ready for a comeback. All band members are keen on playing live so we hope to get up on stage as soon as possible. Hopefully we can start with some club gigs and then some festival gigs in 2016. But first we need to finish the last recordings and release the ‘Climate Change’ album. We have also received some offers to release our entire back catalogue as limited special editions on CD but nothing has been decided on this yet.”

Destiny’s dark metal is alive and well and it seems we will get a lot more of it.


Destiny – the band

Stefan Björnshög – bass

Jonas Heidgert – vocals

Michael Åberg – guitar

Kane Svantesson – drums


The albums

Beyond All Sense (1985)

Atomic Winter (1988)

Nothing Left to Fear (1991)

The Undiscovered Country (1998)

Future of the Past (2004)

Beyond All Sense 2005 (2005) /

Hellsingland Underground – moving above ground with forthcoming album

Hellsingland Underground - on tour in Sweden July 2015

Hellsingland Underground – on tour in Sweden July 2015

By Stefan Nilsson

Over the past week I’ve been listening to some of the rough and yet to be finished recording sessions for Swedish rockers Hellsingland Underground’s forthcoming album.

My expectations for this album are of course sky high, but I am pleased to say that, based on what I am hearing so far, this is shaping up very nicely indeed. I have only listened to eight songs from the recording sessions and none of them are yet complete. Apparently the band recorded a total of fourteen songs during their main recording sessions. The new songs are very, very promising. I think that the band’s fourth full-length album, due out later this autumn, may very well take Hellsingland Underground above ground.

Hellsingland Underground’s established sound (Southern-ish rock with a truck load of Nordic melancholy, Thin Lizzy-style guitars and heaps of pop hooks) is obviously still there but the songwriting has developed and we get a great mix of different influences infused into the good old Nordic gloom-drenched rock that we love. We get both rockier stuff and some fine ballads. The lyrics are as always great little stories on their own and when paired with great tunes they’re terrific. As Graham Bonnet Band’s bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone put it when she heard Hellsingland Underground for the first time: “I love a good story and even better when it’s set to good music.” Constant changes in tempo and styles make this music that keeps the listener paying attention because you never know what comes next. The band has grown up but still has the energy to deliver. Simply great stuff.

The working titles on the eight new songs I’ve heard are “Earth’s Gonna Shake”, “The Day Is Ruined”, “The War Is Over”, “Reincarnated The Same As I Ever Was”, “How Lonely It Must Be Being You”, “You Saved Me”, “Dizzy Jonsson & The Rovers” and “Golden Haze”. It still remains to be seen which finished tracks end up on the album. But it is clear that the band has enough great new music to release a bloody terrific album in the coming months.

Who knows where this will end once all the recordings have been completed and the album’s been properly mixed? Hellsingland Underground: soon in a record store and on a stage near you.


Hellsingland Underground – the band

Charlie Granberg – vocals and harmonica

Mats Olsson – guitar

Peter Henriksson – guitar

Martin Karlsson – bass

Thomas Pettersson – piano/keyboards

Patrik Jansson – drums


The albums

Hellsingland Underground (2008)

Madness & Grace (2010)

Evil Will Prevail (2012)

Amaranthe – massively addictive

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

When melodic Swedish rockers Amaranthe recently toured Japan for the fifth time in four years, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson decided to sit down with Jake E and Elize Ryd, two of the band’s three vocalists, for an update on the success story that Amaranthe is.

I have followed Amaranthe very closely ever since I experienced their first gig in Japan, at the legendary Astro Hall in Harajuku, Tokyo in July 2011. Their wonderful mix of heavy metal with pop hooks, great riffs, heavy drums, keyboard landscapes and no less than three vocalists is very catchy…and massively addictive.

Jake, Henrik and Elize of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Jake, Henrik and Elize of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

A couple of months after they released their debut album in 2011, they arrived in Japan and the land of the rising sun has had a love affair with this band ever since. It was Japan that really kicked off Amaranthe’s international career. They have twice played the all-important Loud Park festival which helped to put them on the map for Japanese fans.

“Japan has always been very important to us, especially in the early stages of our career,” says Jake E as we sit down at Shibuya O-East in Tokyo a few hours before the band’s gig. “If it hadn’t been for the early success in Japan, I think the record company may have lost interest in us. We sold a lot of albums in Japan. Now that has changed a bit where Japan is one of many important markets for us. Now the US is where we sell most albums. However, Japan overall remains very important and it is always fun coming here. The record company, the fans and everything is awesome here. Everything is so well organised. Some people talk of German precision and efficiency. But they have nothing on Japan. They would get their asses kicked by Japan any day!”

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe is a hardworking band who is also a great live act winning over new fans with every gig they do. And playing gigs they do. The band has basically been on a non-stop tour for the past four years. “If you have chosen to be an artist then you want to be up on stage. You want to develop and you want to have an audience. Then you have to tour and perform,” explains Elize Ryd. “It is also a must if you want to survive as a band. I don’t know what would happen if we ever took a break because we have never tried that. Haha! Someday maybe I get to rest for a bit.”

Jake continues: “It becomes harder and harder to keep touring. Some band members start families, have kids, get girlfriends, relocate or whatever. It gets harder to motivate everybody that we should constantly be touring. But we have to continue. If you take too long of a break some other band will run past you and take your place. That’s how it is. It is very competitive. Our goal is to become a bigger band, to be able to play for bigger audiences and have a bigger show. To get there you have to do the tough early years.”

Henrik and Elize of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Henrik and Elize of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The band has firmly established its trademark Amaranthe sound but it continues to evolve with every new release. On each of the three albums they have released so far one can clearly follow how the band’s sound keeps developing. Thus, what can be expected from the next Amaranthe album? “We won’t know until we sit down and start writing new songs really,” says Jake. “We haven’t really started to write for the next album yet although we have our formula of how Amaranthe sounds. We have established our sound.” Elize continues: “We want to continue to develop in the same direction as we have headed over the past two albums. We want to continue to develop our sound. We want to be more pop and at the same time much heavier. Yeah, more of everything!”

All three of Amaranthe’s albums have been produced by Jacob Hansen in Denmark. Hansen, who has worked with Volbeat, Pretty Maids, U.D.O. and many more, had experience of working well with a few of the Amaranthe members on other projects and bands and thus he became an easy choice for the band. “He really understood us and what we wanted to achieve,” says Elize. “He is so quick when he works in the studio. I don’t know if we would dare trying to work with someone else. He has got to know me as a singer, my voice.” Jake agrees: “He’s great. He really understands us. He gets what we want to achieve. Sometimes I feel that we perhaps should try a different producer. Perhaps give Rick Rubin a call and say ‘Do you want to record us?’ but it isn’t safe to assume that the result would be better with a better known producer who has worked with bigger bands.”

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Most of Amaranthe’s song writing is done by Elize, Jake and Olof Mörck. But with the band constantly touring, when do they get time to actually write new music? “We do a lot of it when we’re home. Record ideas on our PCs or mobile phones. During the tour before heading into the studio for the last album we brought studio equipment with us on the road and actually composed new stuff during the tour,” explains Jake.

With three vocalists in the band with three very different vocal styles, how does that impact the creative process? “We have no limits,” says Elize with a big smile and explains that where other bands sometimes have to limit what they can do with a song due to one vocalist’s limited capabilities, Amaranthe can run wild as between the three vocalists they can do pretty much anything. “We can be as crazy as we like. Because we know that, we probably open our senses even more.”

While the band is still relatively young, Amaranthe has already created quite a back catalogue of great songs. How do they choose what to include in their set lists? “We are really lazy,” says Jake. “Because we are always doing gigs we never ever really get to rehearse anything new. There is never any time to rehearse new songs. There are many, many songs I’d like play live that we have never played live.”

While Amaranthe is a well-functioning unit that is on a roll, they have during several tours had to deal with unavailability of some members who have needed to be temporarily replaced to keep the show on the road. Most recently it was vocalist Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson who took time off as he was becoming a father while Amaranthe toured North America with Olle Ekman (Deals Death) as a temporary replacement. “The individuals are never bigger than the band. Thus the band will keep rolling even if someone breaks a leg. If that happens someone else will step in and the machine will keep working,” explains Jake the band’s approach to keeping the show on the road. “Soon none of us will still be in the band!” jokes Elize. “Jokes aside, I wouldn’t want to see somebody else stand up there on stage singing songs that mean something to me. I want to do it myself. But perhaps if I become a mother sometime in the future, if I don’t work myself to death or become sterile, then I have to be away for a while and the band would tour without me.”

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Ever since the release of the first single “Hunger” Amaranthe has produced a number of rather entertaining and action-filled music videos to go with their music. “We’ve always wanted to make our music videos to be like mini movies. Sort of like trailers to an action movie,” says Jake. “The videos reflect our personalities quite a lot. We are quite playful, like to perform, do some action stuff, fight the evil side. Hahaha! That’s how we are!” says Elize with another of her frequent big smiles.

Amaranthe not only produces great albums and funny music videos, they’re also a great live band. Will we see a live album or DVD at some stage? That’s been missing so far. “We miss it too,” says Elize. “It’ll happen in the future. Perhaps as some kind of bonus to an album. I don’t know if it will happen for the next album or later but at least there are some plans,” says Jake.

Following their successful fifth Japan tour, Amaranthe are touring in Europe again. What’s next for this hardworking rock band? “We will actually do another US tour in October-November,” says Jake and Elize adds that they hope to also be back in Japan before too long. “Then we will start to write new music,” says Elize.

No rest for the wicked. Amaranthe will no doubt keep rocking the world with their catchy melodies for many years to come.

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Elize Ryd and Jake of Amaranthe
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Amaranthe – band members

Jake E – vocals

Elize Ryd – vocals

Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson – vocals

Olof Mörck – guitar

Johan Andreassen – bass

Morten Løwe Sørensen – drums



Amaranthe (2011)
The Nexus (2013)
Massive Addictive (2014)

King Diamond touring “Abigail” with Exodus as support

Gary Holt and Steve "Zetro" Souza of Exodus. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Gary Holt and Steve “Zetro” Souza of Exodus.
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

King Diamond’s “Abigail” from 1987 is undoubtedly one of my favourite metal albums of the 1980s. It’s classic stuff and still King’s best album. What could be better than sitting at home listening to an original vinyl copy of “Abigail”? Well, how about listening to King Diamond performing the whole album live? That is about to happen at least for King’s fans in the US.

King Diamond has just announced a new US tour during which he will perform the “Abigail” album in its entirety. The tour kicks off in Denver on 29th October and ends in Dallas on 5th December. Support on the tour will be provided by thrash metal legends Exodus. With the King Diamond/Exodus tour overlapping with Slayer’s European tour, we can probably assume that Gary Holt (who plays in both Slayer and Exodus) will once again be replaced in Exodus by Kragen Lum from Heathen.

When I interviewed Gary Holt here in Japan in March (when Exodus played the Thrash Domination festival in Kawasaki) he spoke of the difficulties of playing in two hardworking bands at the same time: “It’s hard and most of it has been these guys dealing with my other schedule which takes up a great deal of my time. But they’ve been super supportive and patient with me. There are worse problems I could have. I’m not digging ditches, I’m playing in two legendary thrash bands! The hard part for me is balancing all that with family and my kids and my wife. It’s a juggling act, trying to make sure somehow I leave some time at home for my own sanity.”

Before the Exodus and Slayer tours kick off, both bands will take part in the Motörboat Cruise, departing from Miami on 28th September. “I’m playing four times on that boat. I don’t know what I am doing myself” said Gary Holt during my interview with him. In addition to Slayer and Exodus, the Motörboat Cruise line-up includes Motörhead, Suicidal Tendencies, Anthrax and many more bands.

King Diamond just finished the Mayhem festival tour in the US and Canada with Slayer while Exodus has been touring pretty much non-stop since the release of its latest album “Blood In Blood Out” in 2014. Two great metal bands and live acts on the same bill. Go and see it of you can. It’ll be worth it.

King Diamond / /

Black Temple: dynamic, intensely angry and fookin’ great

Black Temple – Photo: Kristoffer Granath

Black Temple – Photo: Kristoffer Granath

By Stefan Nilsson

Black Temple hasn’t even released its debut album yet but there’s already plenty of buzz about this trio. The fact that it was Anders Fridén of In Flames fame who signed the band to his Razzia Notes label doesn’t hurt the publicity machine around these Swedish rockers.

Black Temple, who will release its debut album “It All Ends” (produced by Magnus Lindberg of Cult of Luna) on 28th August via Century Media Records and Razzia Notes, has now released a lyric video for the track “Oncoming Fire”. It is a dynamic, intensely angry and fookin’ great track! Some of it reminds me of good old Rage Against the Machine but with a modern twist. The tempo, the melodies and the mood keep changing throughout the track. It is a great song packed full of energy. There are so many great little details on this track that keep me listening to it, over and over again. This initial track is very promising and sets the bar very high for the coming album. For those of you who think that there is no new good music out there: You’re wrong.

Black Temple will be supporting In Flames on tour in Europe in October and November. Before that they are doing some Scandinavian gigs during August with The Sword.

Watch the video to “Oncoming Fire” here. /

Review: Graham Bonnet Band “My Kingdom Come” EP


By Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet has been the lead vocalist in major bands such as Rainbow, Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Group. He has also done some great music in his own name. He had his first hit single with The Marbles in 1968. 47 years later, in 2015, he is better than ever.

Bonnet’s latest band is called Graham Bonnet Band and it has just released a digital EP with two new songs and they sound great. Actually, they sound better than pretty much anything he has ever done. Bonnet’s fabulous voice is still intact after all these years. On these studio tracks, just like I experienced on the band’s recent Japan tour, you can really hear that he is enjoying himself.

I suspect that a major part of why this is so good is down to bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who also produced the tracks. Heavenstone and Pesinato are the backbone of Graham Bonnet Band. In this duo (who played together in Hardly Dangerous), Bonnet has found talented musicians who he enjoys playing with. This is no mere backing band to a famous singer. With hard-hitting drummer Chase Manhattan (Behold! The Monolith) having recently arrived in the band, the Graham Bonnet Band is now a proper band. Manhattan joined the band after these recordings and thus the drumming here is handled by Mark Zonder (Warlord, ex-Fates Warning, Joacim Cans). Other guests on these tracks are the two keyboardists Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, Alice Cooper) on “My Kingdom Come” and Eric Ragno (Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Eric Martin, The Babys) on “The Mirror Lies”.

“My Kingdom Come” starts off slowly only to turn into a blistering rock song with a great Pesinato guitar solo. Then it slows down again only to get rocking again and then slow down again. A great Rainbow-ish rollercoaster of a song. It is a song written by Russ Ballard, who famously wrote the Rainbow song “Since You’ve Been Gone” which featured Bonnet on vocals. The second track is “The Mirror Lies”, which the band played during the recent Japan tour. This is a song the band members have composed which shows that there is no need for this band to just rely on Bonnet’s back catalogue.

These are two classy, emotional rock tunes with pop hooks and great melodies. There are of course echoes of Bonnet’s old bands in the mix. The two tracks sound very much like the classic Graham Bonnet we know and love. At the same time, it is modern, full of energy and really great stuff. This is the way we want all of our old favourite artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s to sound in 2015. But most of them don’t.

“My Kingdom Come” is a terrific little EP from a band that we all should keep an eye on. More great things will undoubtedly come from this gem of a band. /

Graham Bonnet Band Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Band onstage in Tokyo.
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Machine Head crushes Tokyo

Phil Demmel and Robb Flynn

Phil Demmel and Robb Flynn of Machine Head / Photo: Mikio Ariga

By Stefan Nilsson

“An Evening with Machine Head” is two and a half hours of mayhem, crushing riffs and metal anthems. What a treat! It is a sensationally great heavy metal evening with Robb Flynn leading his band and their Japanese Head Cases (as Machine Head’s fans are known) in a non-stop metal celebration of Machine Head’s career at Tsutaya O-East in Tokyo on 6th July.

The Bay Area metal titans are this evening so good it hurts. Even before the band appears on stage at Tsutaya O-East in Tokyo, the venue is boiling over. Once the gig gets going, Robb Flynn and his Machine Head give us a knockout performance. They open with “Imperium” from 2003’s album “Through the Ashes of Empires”. Explosive stuff. I don’t think I ever have experienced such a knockout start to a gig. Wow! The sold-out venue goes fucking bananas. And it doesn’t stop. The energy onstage and in the audience is unbelievable. The batteries never run out. Not for the band and not for the audience.

Machine Head onstage in Tokyo.

Machine Head onstage in Tokyo / Photo: Mikio Ariga

The terrific set list this evening has songs from all of the band’s eight studio albums. We get the classics as well as four songs from the band’s latest album, “Bloodstone & Diamonds”, which was released in November 2014. It all works brilliantly and highlights that this is a band that constantly delivers, both with its albums and its gigs around the world.

The band finishes a great night with the classic “Halo”. Bloody hell! This evening with California’s metal titans is heavy, angry, loud and bloody, bloody good. A few times during the gig, the unbelievable response from the Tokyo audience really gets to Flynn. He just stands there on stage smiling while the audience keeps going.

Japanese efficiency ensured that this Tokyo gig which suddenly got cancelled due to Flynn’s ear infection (which landed him in a Kuala Lumpur hospital en route to Tokyo) swiftly got rescheduled four days later. On their first visit to Japan in five years, a venue packed with Head Cases shows Flynn and the band how much they are loved in Japan. I guess it won’t be another five years until we see them here in Japan again.

A few months ago, Machine Head filmed a couple of gigs in Los Angeles and San Francisco for a planned concert DVD. If those gigs were anything close to what we got here in Tokyo, that DVD will be something very special to add to the collection.

Machine Head onstage in Tokyo.

Machine Head onstage in Tokyo / Photo: Mikio Ariga

Machine Head – band members

Robb Flynn – lead vocals, guitar

Phil Demmel – guitar, backing vocals

Jared MacEachern – bass, backing vocals

Dave McClain – drums


Set list – An Evening with Machine Head – Tsutaya O-East, Tokyo 6th July 2015

  1. Imperium
  2. Beautiful Mourning
  3. Now We Die
  4. Bite the Bullet
  5. Locust
  6. From This Day
  7. Ten Ton Hammer
  8. This Is the End
  9. Beneath the Silt
  10. The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears
  11. A Thousand Lies
  12. Darkness Within
  13. Bulldozer
  14. Killers & Kings
  15. Davidian
  16. Descend the Shades of Night
  17. Now I Lay Thee Down
  18. Aesthetics of Hate
  19. Game Over
  20. Block
  21. Halo /

Robb Flynn of Machine Head.

Robb Flynn of Machine Head / Photo: Mikio Ariga

Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock: Live in Japan

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

On 19th June, guitar maverick Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock finished a very successful Japan tour with three sold-out gigs in Tokyo.

Michael Schenker live in Japan comes with a lot of history. He has released several live albums and videos recorded in Japan (“One Night at Budokan”, “The Michael Schenker Story Live”, “The 30th Anniversary Concert – Live in Tokyo”) and done quite a few successful Japan tours over the years with his different bands. This time Schenker is in Japan with his latest band, Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock.

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The band features not only Schenker himself but a stellar line-up of rock royalty: Francis Buchholz (ex-Scorpions) on bass, Herman Rarebell (ex-Scorpions) on drums, Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen) on vocals and Wayne Findlay (MSG, Vinnie Moore) on guitar and keyboards. Former Rainbow, Alcatrazz and MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet, whose band is the opening act on this tour, also puts in a guest appearance on two songs (“Desert Song” and “Assault Attack”) to the delight of the Tokyo audience.

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Schenker loves it up on the stage. He’s a natural performer and showman but he doesn’t say much. He lets his trademark Flying V guitars and his hands do the talking. He is smiling as he kicks off the gig with UFO classic “Doctor Doctor” and he keeps that smile going throughout the entire gig. The audience smiles with him. This is a love fest, guitar hero worship.

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

With a back catalogue like the one Schenker has, there is enough great material to put on a three-day festival. The tricky thing here is to distill that treasure trove down to the 19 songs we get this evening. With no less than three former Scorpions members in the band, it is no surprise that we get to hear some much-loved Scorpions classics (“Lovedrive”, “Coast to Coast”, “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, “Holiday”, and an explosive “Blackout” as a finale). We also get five of the best UFO songs plus some older and newer Michael Schenker tunes. It’s pretty much a career-spanning selection from Schenker and it works a treat. A crowd of rather excited Japanese fans (some coming straight from the office dressed in suits and ties, some in MSG t-shirts) knows all the lyrics. They sing and shout along and play air guitar. This is an evening where Schenker is preaching to the already converted. This is a house full of Schenker fans who know his history and all the albums. With a guitar hero on stage we obviously get the obligatory extended guitar solo. It comes in the middle of UFO classic “Rock Bottom” and it is good, very good.

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Michael Schenker
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Top gig, great stuff, a very enjoyable way to spend a Friday night. Many of us present would be happy to spend every Friday night at a Michael Schenker gig. Long live rock’n’roll. Rock will never die.

Doogie White Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Doogie White
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Set list – Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock – Tokyo 19th June 2015

  1. Doctor Doctor (UFO)
  2. Live and Let Live
  3. Lights Out (UFO)
  4. Where the Wild Winds Blow
  5. Natural Thing (UFO)
  6. Victim of Illusion
  7. Lovedrive (Scorpions)
  8. Coast to Coast (Scorpions)
  9. Vigilante Man
  10. Saviour Machine
  11. Shoot Shoot (UFO)
  12. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  13. Lord of the Lost and Lonely
  14. Desert Song
  15. Rock You Like a Hurricane (Scorpions)
  16. Rock Bottom (UFO)
  17. Holiday (Scorpions)
  18. Assault Attack
  19. Blackout (Scorpions) /

Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Herman Rarebell Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Herman Rarebell
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Francis Buchholz, Wayne Findlay, Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Herman Rarebell Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Francis Buchholz, Wayne Findlay, Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Herman Rarebell
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet: rocking all night long

Graham Bonnet Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

On Friday 19 June, Graham Bonnet – legendary rock vocalist of Rainbow, Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Group – made a triumphant return to Tokyo as supporting act to Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. Japan has loved Bonnet since the 70s. It was here in Japan that Alcatrazz made it big in the 80s. Bonnet rewards his loyal Japanese fans with a first-class performance.

Graham Bonnet is 67 years old but he’s not about to retire and he’s showing no signs of his age as he puts on a hell of a show in Tokyo. From the opening with the Rainbow hit “All Night Long” until the finale with “Lost in Hollywood”, another Rainbow classic, Bonnet gives us a first-class performance. I had expected a good gig this evening. I didn’t get a good gig, I got a bloody great gig that put a big smile on my face.

Graham Bonnet Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Conrado Pesinato of Graham Bonnet Band Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Conrado Pesinato of Graham Bonnet Band
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Bonnet’s in a playful mood during this final, sold-out night of a very successful Japan tour as support act to his former boss, Michael Schenker. Bonnet is dressed in his trademark suit and tie. As fans know, Bonnet was famously fired from Michael Schenker Group in the early 1980s after having drunkenly exposed himself on stage in Sheffield during his first-ever gig with the band. As Bonnet takes off his jacket during the Tokyo gig he reassures us that there won’t be any naked scandal this evening. That’s quite alright with us. Graham Bonnet is a world-class entertainer who doesn’t need any gimmickry to get attention. His voice coupled with great songs, a great backing band and an obvious affection for performing for his fans make this a great gig.

Graham Bonnet Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Photo: Stefan NIlsson

Graham Bonnet
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Despite having been in bands with hard rock guitar heroes such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Schenker, Steve Vai and Ritchie Blackmore, Bonnet is more rock than heavy metal and he’s great at it. The short nine-song set includes five Rainbow songs (all from the terrific 1979 album “Down to Earth”), two Alcatrazz songs, Bonnet’s early 80s solo hit “Night Games” and a great new song called “Mirror Lies” (introduced in decent Japanese by the multi-talented Beth-Ami Heavenstone). The current line-up of Graham Bonnet Band – consisting of Graham Bonnet on vocals, Conrado Pesinato on guitar, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass and Chase Manhattan on drums – does a rock solid job of the old classics and lets Graham Bonnet shine on vocals. He’s still got the energy from his early days and his voice is as good as it ever was.

Beth-Ami Heavenstone of Graham Bonnet Band Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Beth-Ami Heavenstone of Graham Bonnet Band
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Photo: Stefan NIlsson

Graham Bonnet
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Later in the evening, Graham Bonnet reappears onstage as a guest during Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock headline gig. Together with Schenker he performs two songs – “Desert Song” and “Assault Attack” – both from the “Assault Attack” album that Bonnet recorded as Michael Schenker Group’s vocalist in 1982. On “Assault Attack” he is joined on vocals by Doogie White, a singer who like Bonnet has been performing with Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker. Two great, but very different singers. White is more heavy metal than Bonnet’s classic rock voice.

Graham Bonnet Band Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Band
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Band Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Graham Bonnet Band
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Based on what the Japanese audience gets to see, hear and feel this evening, there will be more great music coming from Graham Bonnet and he will be back for more great shows in Japan. This was quite possibly a serious contender for a high position on a future “best gigs of the year” ranking. It was that good.


Set list – Graham Bonnet Band – Tokyo 19th June 2015

  1. All Night Long (Rainbow)
  2. Love’s No Friend (Rainbow)
  3. God Blessed (Alcatrazz)
  4. Makin’ Love (Rainbow)
  5. Since You Been Gone (Rainbow)
  6. Suffer Me (Alcatrazz)
  7. The Mirror Lies
  8. Night Games
  9. Lost in Hollywood (Rainbow) /


Hellsingland Underground: Southern-ish rock with a truck load of Nordic melancholy


By Stefan Nilsson

A move back to his childhood home in small-town Sweden and a story about a mad drug-dealer living in a trailer with his dog and a sawn-off shotgun inspired multi-talented artist Charlie Granberg to form Hellsingland Underground. Roppongi Rocks decided to have a chat with band leader Charlie Granberg about the band and its forthcoming album.

Swedish rockers Hellsingland Underground have already given the world three great albums since they got together as a band in 2006. With 2012’s “Evil Will Prevail” they set the bar sky high. Since then they have been gigging across Europe showing people why they are one of the most enjoyable live acts in rock. Great songs, great storytelling, Thin Lizzy-style guitars, Southern-ish rock with a truck load of Nordic melancholy – it’s all in there in a pretty fantastic mix which makes me smile.

The band is now back in the studio with producer Martin Karlegard to record their fourth album. The result is expected to be released around October and before that the band will be doing some festivals and gigs in Sweden.


After many years living in Stockholm, Charlie Granberg decided to move back to Ljusdal, the little town in Hellsingland in central Sweden where he grew up (with me as one of his neighbours). “This band would never have happened if I hadn’t moved back home. That’s when it all started. During the summer of 2006 I wrote all the songs that eventually became our debut album,” explains Charlie. The debut album “Hellsingland Underground” was released in 2008 and was followed by the limited edition single “Bad, Mean, Yellow & Green” (the single, which was a tribute to local sports club Ljusdals Bandyklubb, is now a rare collector’s item). In 2010, they released “Madness & Grace” and in 2012 came “Evil Will Prevail”, both very solid albums.

“The summer when I moved back home I spent a lot of time with the only two childhood friends still living in Ljusdal. They had become drug addicts while I had been away living in Stockholm. They were telling me all these stories about how they had gotten into trouble, started to do drugs and fucked up their lives during all these years. One story was about a guy they used to buy drugs from who lived in a trailer with his dog and a sawn-off shotgun. I told them it felt very much like “Hellsingland Underground” and then realised it sounded like a great band name. That story also inspired the song “Child of Another Time”.

Most bands hate labels but the world order we live in basically requires things, including rock bands, to be labelled. Northern country rock, a bit of Allman Brothers with Thin Lizzy guitars, pop hooks and a heavy metal attitude is how I would describe Hellsingland Underground. “You fucking nailed it! I couldn’t say it better myself” laughs Charlie.


After nearly a decade of Hellsingland Underground establishing their signature sound by playing countless gigs in Sweden and across Europe and releasing several great albums, what can we expect from the new album? “Nothing too drastic but I feel like we have kept evolving as band with every new album. What’s noticeable this time is that we’re a bit harder with some heavier riffs in the songs. And we have written a long epos called “Reincarnated The Same As I Ever Was” which I almost would like to describe as progressive rock, sort of our own “Bohemian Rhapsody” perhaps… And we have recorded one song in Swedish for the album.”

In April, shortly before the band started to record the new album in a mobile studio in a Swedish castle, keyboardist Henning Winnberg left the band. He was swiftly replaced by local musician Thomas Pettersson. “I’ve known Thomas since he was a young schoolboy. He’s best friends with my younger brother. He’s also been a stand-in keyboardist during some of our gigs over the years. Thus he was the obvious choice for us,” explains Charlie.

Ever since its early days, Hellsingland Underground has been known as a great live act. With four albums under your belt, isn’t it time for some kind of live album or DVD? “Yes, there are plans, both for a live album and a DVD as a matter of fact. We’re just waiting for the right moment to do it.”


With many gigs and tours in Europe over the years, there are many myths and some true stories from the road surrounding the band. “The weirdest memory I have from the road is when we did a gig for prisoners in a German maximum-security prison in Bielefeld. At the start of the gig we weren’t feeling too cocky when the prisoners were looking at us. But after the first song we had them on our side. By the end of the gig they were standing up and shouting. Fantastic!” remembers Charlie.

Charlie Granberg is a multi-talented artist who expresses his creativity in other ways than just his own music. Over the years he has been working with other music acts to design album covers and tour t-shirts. He has also directed some music videos. “I try to work with things that I enjoy doing. Often that means something to do with art or music. The combination of both is unbeatable! Over the years I have done videos for Katatonia, My Dying Bride, The Solution, etc. I’ve also done hundreds of album covers for all sorts of bands. A lot of death metal and other metal – Dissection, Marduk, Backyard Babies, and so on, but also pop bands like The Cardigans.” I think that is why Charlie and his Underground boys keep delivering to the music lovers of the world – they do things they love doing. That shines through ion their music. In a few months’ time we will get to hear what I am confident will be another solid rock album from Charlie Granberg and Hellsingland Underground. Sit tight and wait for the album or travel to Sweden to see the band in action live this summer.