Interview: Paul Shortino talks about his upcoming Japan shows

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Paul Shortino returns to Japan with a show packed with Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot and King Kobra material.

He made a name for himself with Jake E. Lee in Rough Cutt. He also sang with the Hear ‘n Aid project alongside Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford before he fronted Quiet Riot and later King Kobra. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a chat with American vocalist Paul Shortino ahead of his two Japan gigs on 21st-22nd June.

What can the Japanese fans expect from your upcoming Paul Shortino Band shows in Japan? “The fans can expect a high energy show with lots of fun and great musicianship. I’m so honoured to perform with such talented and humble musicians. Great line-up with Jun Senoue on guitar and keys, Nozomu Wakai on guitar, Shoyo on bass, Louis Sesto on drums and Shigeki Fujii on background vocals.”

Will it be a set list that spans your entire career? “The set list will be songs from the two Rough Cutt records, the Quiet Riot record I recorded and some songs from earlier Quiet Riot to pay tribute to Kevin DuBrow. We will also be doing songs from King Kobra and ‘Back On Track’. I will perform a duet with Shigeki Fujii, doing “Stars” from Hear ‘n Aid, a tribute to Ronnie James Dio.”

The Paul Shortino Band consists of Japanese musicians. How did this band come together? “My wife Carmen was contacted for me to do a symposium and live performance in Nagoya. Jun put the band together. I had worked with Jun Senoue on the Sega game ‘Sonic Adventure’ and recorded the song ‘Dr. Eggman’. I believe Louis Sesto had a lot to do with this. This band is so amazing. We are planning to do some recording and future shows.”

In the 80s, you fronted a Quiet Riot line-up that while it didn’t have any original members, it featured some serious pedigree and skill in Frankie Banali, Sean McNabb, Carlos Cavazo and Jimmy Waldo. What do you most remember from your time with Quiet Riot? “That was a great band. It’s too bad we didn’t do another record. We spent a year working together on the ‘QR’ record. We all got really close working everyday together. We toured South America and Japan and then the band came to a halt. I only wish we would have toured more and would have done another record. However, the band got derailed somewhere along the way and we parted ways.”

You have performed in Japan before, including with Quiet Riot in 1989. What’s your best memory from Japan? “In 1989 Quiet Riot did a promotional tour with Grover Jackson and Charvel guitars. Then we performed in Osaka and Nagoya and three days at the Sun Plaza in Tokyo, where we filmed the shows that later came out on a DVD. That whole experience in Japan was amazing! Seeing Japan outside of touring and performing. Playing to the fans, then experiencing Mount Fuji was beyond words. Big love for the Japanese people and culture.”

You’ve played with several major acts during your career and also had a prominent role in the Hear ‘n Aid project. What’s your career highlight so far? “I feel super blessed to be able to do what I love to do all my life. I know nothing else, except the song in my heart. So, really every aspect of my career has been a true blessing and highlight. I will say that I was very honoured to be a part of ‘Stars’ with everyone involved and the late great Ronnie James Dio. ‘Spinal Tap’ was pretty cool and followed me throughout my career. Haha!”

You appear in the cult move “This Is Spinal Tap!” How did you end up acting in this movie? “Well the way this came about, Rough Cutt was performing, Jake E. Lee was in the band, at the Troubadour, located in Hollywood. The band ran an ad in a local newspaper that we were performing at the Troubadour. The casting crew for ‘This Is Spinal Tap!’ saw the ad and asked Jake, Dave and myself to meet with Rob Reiner. I showed up first dressed in my white leather. Mr. Reiner and wardrobe said ‘We have Duke Fame. No need to interview anyone else!’”

After Japan, what’s next for you? Are you now mainly busy with the Raiding the Rock Vault show in Las Vegas? “Raiding the Rock Vault is an amazing show! I love doing it and will continue to perform in it five nights a week! I am also working with my Rough Cutt band mates, rekindling our relationship, writing songs and hoping to release another CD next year. I am hoping the Paul Shortino Band will be putting out some material of our own in the near future too, and touring with Paul Shortino Band would be fantastic! The difference with Paul Shortino Band is that I get to perform all of the parts of my musical career. It’s a win for my fans and myself. Big love and see you in Japan very soon!“

Paul Shortino Band will perform in Osaka on 21st June and Tokyo on 22nd June. www.creativeman.co.jp/event/psb2017/

www.facebook.com/paulshortinoband

 

 

Interview: Dirk Verbeuren reflects on his first year in Megadeth

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth are better than ever and new drummer Dirk Verbeuren has certainly been a great addition for the band. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met up with Dirk backstage at a recent Megadeth/Anthrax show in Tokyo to talk about the former Soilwork drummer’s first year in Megadeth.

Megadeth has had quite a few terrific drummers in the band’s long career. In 2016, they recruited then Soilwork member Dirk Verbeuren as its new drummer to complement the fantastic line-up of Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson and Kiko Loureiro. Originally it was a fill-in gig as live drummer on part of the “Dystopia” world tour. But after a few months, Dirk was offered a permanent place in the band. A year after Dirk joining Megadeth it is obvious that the Belgian-born and US-based drummer gels very well with the band and has lifted them a level or two.

“It’s been a lot of fun! It’s been, obviously, an unexpected change but a great experience. Like many people who are in this kind of music, I grew up listening to Megadeth, so now to be a part of Megadeth is still kind of unreal at times! Sometimes I’m on stage and I am like: ‘This is really happening!’ Hahaha!” says a very happy Dirk Verbeuren as we meet backstage in Tokyo before Megadeth and Anthrax rock the sold-out venue.

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth’s fans seem to have warmly welcomed Dirk without any of the drama that many other metal bands face when they replace some members. “They’ve definitely been very kind to me, they’ve embraced me. The shoes to fill are big, you know what I mean? People like Gar Samuelson, Nick Menza… Even all the other drummers that played in the band, like Jimmy DeGrasso, Shawn Drover, Chris Adler from Lamb of God who recommended me to the band. Those are all top notch people, so it’s… Yeah, I’m doing my best! Haha!”

Stepping into a legendary band with a vast back catalogue of fantastic songs originally played by some rather fabulous musicians can’t be the easiest task. Do you try to copy the original drumming on the classic Megadeth songs or add your own style to the songs when you perform?

“Well, here’s the thing: the goal for me and what the band expects from me, is to be as true to the songs as I can. It’s a song by song case. Sometimes even a section by section case where I try to figure out what I can do, maybe what I would do, maybe what I can do differently. In other parts I am sticking to the original, pure and simple. A lot of the flair comes from the way one person plays compared to the next. And I play the way I play. I can’t sound like… Even though my groove is kind of similar to Nick Menza’s in a way. I grew up listening to a lot of his stuff too, so it probably kind of influenced me in that sense. In the end, I can’t sound like him. Only he can sound like him. Same with Gar and same with all the other guys. I don’t focus too much, I don’t think too much about that, I just try to honour the songs.”

When the offer came to join Megadeth came out of nowhere, was it an obvious thing to accept? “At the beginning it was supposed to be just a fill-in gig. That’s how I was approached. It only overlapped with, at the time I think it was five or six Soilwork shows that I was missing. I talked to the guys: ‘Are you guys OK with me doing this?’ I’m just filling in.’ ‘Yeah, cool, no problem! Of course you should go and do that’. Then as I was on the road, it turned into ‘Hey, do you wanna join?’ So by that time I had already had some time to sit and think about it. What would I do if they asked me? Because you never know. By that time I had had some thoughts, some conversations with my wife and stuff. Then I was like “Yeah! Haha!”

Soilwork mainman Björn “Speed” Strid early on expected that Megadeth would ask Dirk to stay permanently and told Dirk: “When I heard you play with them at Sweden Rock, I knew he was going to ask you to stay.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dirk was a long-term drummer with Soilwork and leaving that band was not easy but he remains on good terms with his former bandmates, not least because he pointed them in the direction of finding his replacement. “The Soilwork guys have been super supportive about it. That’s cool. No bad blood whatsoever. Bastian Thusgaard recently became full-time, so I’m very happy that all worked out. He’s a great kid, great drummer, very motivated, hardworking. I discovered him because he put on some Soilwork covers online where I was very impressed with his playing. When this happened, I thought of him. I showed the guys a few videos and they were like: ‘Yeah, man. Put us in touch with that guy!’”

In a way it is similar to how Chris Adler recommended Dirk to Megadeth when it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to do that much touring with Megadeth because of his Lamb of God commitments. “Very similar. Also, Kiko as well. I had met him some years ago. I actually saw an Angra show in ’96. At the time I didn’t know him personally. Then he came to see a Soilwork show some years ago in Finland where he was living at the time. We talked a little bit and stuff. So he also, when names came up and stuff, he was like: ‘Dirk is great!’ Yeah, I was warmly recommended. It worked out good,” says a very pleased Dirk.

In my opinion you’re the best extreme metal drummer in the business. Obviously you have the talent and capability to be he drummer in Megadeth, but was there ever any doubt in your mind about your ability to do this with such a big band? Do you feel any pressure in this new role? “Well, thank you very much. That’s very kind of you. Yeah, the first two shows, definitely. There was a lot of stuff going on in your mind. But in the end all you can do is rely on your experience and if something happens, sometimes crazy stuff happens, you trust the fact that you’ll make the right call. Sometimes you have to make a really quick decision: what do I do here? And so far I’ve done pretty good. In the end it’s rock’n’roll, it’s all about having fun and that is still the way I approach it. Actually, it’s even more now than in the past. It’s kind of like I realise how lucky I am to be here doing this, playing music that I like in front of lots of people who are coming to see it. I mean, there really is nothing to worry about, right? It’s not like we’re trying to solve hunger in the world or something. We’re playing music for people to have a good time.”

With a great, and what seems like a stable, line-up of Megadeth, this band can really do something fantastic with the next album. Do you expect to be part of the songwriting from now on? “I don’t know. Obviously I haven’t been in that spot, so I haven’t experienced that. We’ll see how it goes. I’m definitely open to anything. I’ve started recording some ideas, you know, just having stuff in my phone. I look forward to spending time with the guys working on ideas. Obviously a lot of it is centred round Dave. He’s been the main songwriter for the whole time pretty much. Kind of from there we’ll see how it goes. It’s good that I have this period of time, unlike Chris who came in and it was pretty much straight to recording. I think that’s difficult, because you have certain ways of doing things and then all of a sudden there is this band with this whole past. That’s quick adaption. That can be tricky. Whereas with me, I’m probably going to spend at least two years, if not more, playing the songs live. That gives me some time to see the different areas of the band, see the different styles. For example, Gar has a very different style than Jimmy, than Nick, than Shawn and Chris and all the different people. And Chuck! I forgot Chuck Behler earlier. Great drummer too. Actually, I met him. He came to one of our shows last year, on the US tour. Super cool guy. That gives me a chance to take that information in and all these different grooves. Then when it is time to create something, I will definitely tap into that. Because it is a very different way of playing for me than, obviously, Soilwork or any other stuff I’ve done.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo.

Megadeth has an interesting history of the band’s drum techs stepping up to become the band’s drummer. Clearly you thus have ensured that you now have a rubbish drum tech who is not threatening your position behind the kit, correct? “Haha! Well, I have Tony Laureano, so he’s not exactly a rubbish guy. He was Dimmu Borgir and he has played with Nile. I was actually on tour with Tony back in 2002 when my old band Scarve opened for Nile on a European tour. Tony was drumming then in Nile and I was very impressed with his playing. We’ve been kind of friends ever since. I can’t say we were in touch all the time, but we would email ever now and then and I would see him at festivals. I saw him once with Dimmu. He loves teching. He’s a great drummer and he still plays. He still has several projects that are in the works. But he just loves doing this, being on that side. Hey, it’s cool. He’s an awesome guy. Great tech.” (Prior to Dirk joining Megadeth, Tony did a few shows as fill-in drummer for Megadeth, including their headline gig at the Japanese festival Loud Park in October 2015.)

So, what drummers have influenced you? Are you listening to drummer from different genres than metal? “Yeah, I listen to a lot of different things, but I do listen to a lot of metal. I don’t know that I feel that I am the best metal drummer. I like that you think that, it’s very kind, but you know I get a lot of inspiration from metal guys. Like I love Mario from Gojira, I love James from Vader, Tony was a big influence of mine for many years, especially around the Nile years. He was doing a lot of crazy stuff. Sean Reinert. I definitely listen to other styles of music as well. It’s very diverse. If you look at my phone, there’s everything from jazz to electronic to industrial to pop music to rock music, old-school punk. All kinds, even classical music. Sometimes when you come out of a tour or show or something, you just want something completely opposite. Kiko has been showing me a lot of Brazilian cool stuff. He’s a great acoustic player too. Sometimes he’ll sit after the show and just play beautiful things and I just sit there listening to him for an hour because it is so nice and a totally different vibe. The same with drummers. I like to keep things interesting. If you always listen to the same thing, especially as I get older, after a while… I need something else now. So I switch from Napalm Death to Squarepusher to Miles Davis within a few hours.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have always had multiple projects and bands on the go throughout your career. Now that you’re in Megadeth, do you have time for side projects and teaching drums and such? “The focus is Megadeth obviously, but I have been teaching quite a bit when I am not on tour. I have a few students locally and a few Skype students and I really like that part because I love when younger drummers ask questions and wanna learn stuff. I kind of make myself useful in a different way than entertaining people, passing on some stuff I’ve learned. I’ve been doing this pretty much since I was 18-19 years old, so it’s been a while. And, yeah, some side projects. Pretty under the radar stuff, like Bent Sea. It’s purely for fun. No ambition whatsoever, just making noise. I’m just kind of doing my own thing whenever I feel like it. There’s no schedule or business plan, it’s just the old-school way.”

One of the talented and hardworking musicians that Dirk frequently plays with is Shane Embury of Napalm Death and Brujeria fame, who is also in Bent Sea with Dirk. He is in so many bands and projects that he recently ended up performing three sets in a row with three different bands every night. “That’s Shane for you. Great guy. Super humble. Loves music, loves making music with people. We have several things in the works together. But my focus is on Megadeth. It’s obviously where I put everything in right now.”

Following a very successful Asian tour, more touring is coming up for Megadeth. “We first go to the US with Meshuggah. Really good friends of mine. Great band. Tomas Haake is another big drum influence of mine. We’re going out with them for a month in the US and from that we pretty much go straight into the European dates. Then back to the US for the Scorpions tour. It’s a pretty packed year this year.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo.

The much talked about Scorpions/Megadeth tour will bring Dirk together with another fab drummer, Sweden’s Mikkey Dee, the former Motörhead, Don Dokken and King Diamond drummer who joined Scorpions last year. “I love watching that guy play. It’s energising to see. He’s still on fire, man. He plays maybe better than he did before.”

Megadeth opening for Scorpions was a tour package that was rather unexpected. “Scorpions at the time was one of the biggest hard rock bands before thrash really existed. It’s not often Megadeth will open for somebody. It’s kind of like an interesting bill. I think it’s going to be really cool. Big venues. It should be a really interesting tour.”

It is time for Dirk to warm up for the first of two sold-out Tokyo shows with Megadeth. As he walks on stage a couple of hours later, he is a beast behind the drum kit proving that he was the right pick for the job.

www.facebook.com/dirkverbeurendrummer

www.dirkverbeuren.com

www.facebook.com/megadeth

www.megadeth.com

Album review: Old James “Speak Volumes”

Old James. Photo: Tammy Raybould

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The fabulous Brian Stephenson (Annihilator, Skull Fist) is back with his own trio and a jam-tastic debut album from Old James. Love it.

The multi-talented vocalist, musician and composer Brian Stephenson has earned his stripes in bands such as Annihilator, Skull Fist and Aggressor. In Old James, an explosive rock trio in which he plays bass and sings, Brian is joined by his brother Chris Stephenson (Cauldron, Enforcer, Skull Fist, Aggressor) on drums and Andy Thompson on guitar. Now the trio has its debut full-length album, “Speak Volumes”, ready. It rocks and you should buy it.

This Canadian trio of musicians just jam their way through this terrific album. It seems almost effortless, but there is obviously heaps of talent and hard work behind this album. “Speak Volumes” is an album that has a live-in-the-studio kind of feel. It sounds like a bunch of chums playing away in a rehearsal studio, putting it on tape and releasing it as an album. Fabulous!

Old James is intense, riff-happy and hard-hitting blues-based rock music with groove and attitude. But most of all, it is a trio which loves what it does.

Brian Stephenson on stage in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Words As Weapons” is an immediate and obvious favourite song. It has everything: fast pace, some funky parts, a terrific bass line, a whole lot of jamming, tempo changes and Brian’s fantastic voice and personality. Those of you who have seen Brian perform live on stage know what his personality can do to a song. He can make an average song great by simply adding himself. In my review of a Skull Fist gig fronted by Brian in Tokyo last year, I wrote: “Stephenson looks like a young Sebastian Bach. He dominates the stage like Bruce Dickinson. He manages to sound like Ian Gillan, Bon Scott and himself in the same song. He’s a class act – he’s got the moves and the vocal talent and he is so clearly enjoying himself up on stage. This is what any band should want from their vocalist.” And that was him as a stand-in vocalist in someone else’s band. Old James is a trio with Brian at the centre, performing their own music.

The rawness, freshness and roughness of the songs on this album make this terrific. “Salutations” is another smash in the face with a piece of fab rock music. “Kill Off The Rose” has a Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe to it and so does “Eugene”, while “Master Imploder” kicks off as an AC/DC rocker which turns into high-energy boogie rock.

Brian Stephenson is the real deal. With his presence, charm and raw talent, he commands your attention. Whatever he does on stage or in the studio, it always impresses me. He has so much talent that he’s probably faced with extra charges for being over the baggage limit when he flies.

But Old James is not all about Brian. His younger brother Chris is a fab drummer who has played with Brian in many other bands over the years and the album features some fantastic guitar work by Andy Thompson. The trio gels brilliantly. They’re tight like a rush-hour Tokyo commuter train.

Old James’s “Speak Volumes” is out on 5th June. Get your record players ready.

www.facebook.com/oldjamesband

www.oldjames.ca

Album review: Slimfit “1” | Tom Petty-esque rock from the blue mountains of Hellsingland

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slimfit plays Tom Petty-esque grown-up rock on their catchy debut album “1”.

Ljusdal is a small town in Hellsingland, deep in the Swedish countryside. Basically it’s a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I grew up in that town and played bass with some local punk, rock and heavy metal bands. I wasn’t any good. But a few of the other local musicians of the same generation actually had talent. Best known among my contemporaries are perhaps rockers Hellsingland Underground, melodic hard rockers Angeline and composer, lyricist, musician and record producer Peer Åström, who went on to work with Madonna, Celine Dion, Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al Yankovic. Just like I grew up with the above-mentioned names as friends, so did the lads in Slimfit.

Slimfit – consisting of Jens Schulstad on guitar and vocals, Daniel Hogdin on bass and Stefan Martinsson on drums – has been around as a band for quite a few years, doing plenty of gigs locally and regionally. They have earned their stripes as a hardworking local party band that will play weddings in the summer and after ski sessions in the winter, and everything in between. Now the trio has a debut album ready full of original and rather catchy songs.

In a way this is similar to Hellsingland Underground in so far as that it is rock music with a firm foundation in fine melodies and great songwriting. Musically Slimfit plays grown-up rock music with some country music influences (but without going too far into the haystacks). There are certainly a few nods here to artists like Kris Kristofferson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Dire Straits, but more than anything there are echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with an added touch of Nordic melancholy.

There’s great potential here. Especially the band’s songwriting skills stand out from the pack. “Turn It Up Louder” and “Take a Ride” both have hit potential and “Can You Feel It” (with a fabulous Joy Division-like bass line at its heart) is sure to become a live favourite. This is non-threatening and radio friendly rock for grown-ups. It’s great. With some added danger and naughtiness on the next album, this will be explosive.

Slimfit’s debut album has been co-produced by Johan Dereborn and recorded in Dereborn’s studio in Sweden. The band will celebrate the release of its debut album “1” with a local release party on 3rd June.

www.facebook.com/slimfitljusdal.com / www.slimfitljusdal.se

Album review: The Night Flight Orchestra “Amber Galactic”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Soilwork and Arch Enemy members get together for some catchy classic rock fun on the new album by The Night Flight Orchestra.

Featuring members from bands such as Soilwork and Arch Enemy, one might get the wrong expectations when putting on the new album by The Nigh Flight Orchestra. This is no death metal album, but a very different kind of rock music. This is more in line with classic rock and progressive rock from the 70s, but without sounding dated. It reminds me to a degree of 70s artists such as Manfred Mann, Boston, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult and Journey, but with a contemporary touch to it. This is the band’s third album, following 2012’s “Internal Affairs” and 2015’s “Skyline Whispers”. They deliver plenty of classic rock with pop-like catchiness on this splendid album.

Some of the tracks, such as “Midnight Flyer”, “Gemini”, “Domino” and “Something Mysterious”, are fabulous good-natured tunes, far removed from the doom and gloom of death metal. “Sad State of Affairs” has a bit of a KISS vibe to it with a 70s-style Ace Frehley guitar all over it. What a great side project this is for these musicians. Lots of fun and great tunes. My standout favourite is “Star of Rio” which chugs along like a beach party with free-flowing drinks.

The band consists of Björn Strid (Soilwork) on vocals, Sharlee D’ Angelo (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Witchery and formerly of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate) on bass, David Andersson (Soilwork) on guitar, Richard Larsson (Von Benzo) on keyboards, Jonas Källsbäck (Mean Streak) on drums and the most recent addition Sebastian Forslund (Kadwatha) on guitar and percussion.

The Night Flight Orchestra’s “Amber Galactic” is out now via Nuclear Blast.

www.facebook.com/thenightflightorchestraofficial

Gig report: Suomi Feast | A celebration of Finnish metal

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Finland remains a world power in heavy metal. The Nordic country is home to major acts like Nightwish, Children of Bodom and Amorphis, but there is much more to the Finnish metal scene. On Sunday 22nd May, Suomi Feast, a mini Finnish metal festival, took place in Shibuya, Tokyo with the five Finnish metal acts Insomnium, Whispered, Brymir, Dark Flood and Re-Armed. Roppongi Rocks’ Caroline Misokane was there.

Ares

Ares. Photo: Caroline Misokane

With six acts on the bill, Suomi Feast kicked off already in the afternoon. Japanese melodic death metal band Ares entered the stage to warm up the crowd before the Finnish invasion. At the first note of Takeshi Higashimura‘s guitar, the venue went crazy. The show went fine with the crowd responding well to every request of clapping hands and banging heads. Although it wasn’t a long set, it was enough for these Kansai guys to show what they are made of. When they left the stage, I felt more than satisfied with the amazing sound and a will to see them again and again.

 

 

Re-Armed

Re-Armed. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Next band to enter the stage was the Finnish extreme metal band Re-Armed. Coming from Kerava, the four guys were really excited being in Japan for the first time, promoting their latest album, “The Era of Precarity”. Between jumps and amazing guitar solos by Jussi Venäläinen, vocalist Jouni Matilainen gave us his all. By the third song, inflatable balls were thrown from the band to the fans and the show became a piece of fun interaction, with especially Matilainen engaging with the crowd. The extremity of Re-Armed’s songs allowed the audience to form the first circle pit of the night. It was somewhat small in size due to the limited space at the Duo Music Exchange venue. However, this was not a problem for such an excited crowd which wanted to be an active part of the show.

Dark Flood

Dark Flood. Photo: Caroline Misokane

When the curtain fell for the third act of the evening, the guys in Dark Flood were already there while their epic intro was being played. With a powerful riff combined with the drums of Tuomas Jaatinen, “Misery is Music” opened up a long-awaited spectacle to the Japanese audience. Tero Piltonen has one of the strongest guttural voices in Finnish metal and his performance couldn’t be better. Combining his harsh screams with the soft yet powerful voices of Ville Ruumensaari and Kalle Ruumensaari, the trio gave Shibuya an unforgettable experience. Dark Flood is that kind of band that when on stage, they make you forget your name with the intensity of their performance. The greatest moment was during “Deadline”, which is a song where a perfect duet between Ville and Kalle makes the base for the aggressiveness of Tero. They finished their dark show with the track “Summer” and proved that 21 years of waiting was worth it for the Japanese fans.

Brymir

Brymir. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Probably one of the most awaited bands of the night, Brymir made a triumphal beginning with their single “For Those Who Died”, a powerful heavy song starting with the screams of Viktor Gullischen. Now, the crowd, which had been warming up since the opening act Ares, showed what they are made of and the room was completely filled in heat, aggressiveness and passion for Finnish heavy music. This great band was welcomed by Japanese fans singing along and banging their heads. The band’s guitarist Joona Björkroth, who is also the guitarist of Battle Beast, was unable to be in Japan as he’s currently touring in the US with Battle Beast. He was temporarily replaced by Antti Nieminen (IA, Stormic) who, together with the band’s other guitarist Sean Haslam, stole the show with the most amazing guitar solos I’ve ever heard. With these guitarists striking performances, they caught the audience’s attention from the beginning to the end of the show. Brymir could not possibly leave Japan without playing their anthem “Ragnarök”, and when they did, the whole venue went to Finland in a typical Finnish feast with lots of fun, alcohol and good music. Expecting to come back as soon as they can, Brymir created a beautiful part of their history in Japan and surely are already missed.

Whispered

Whispered. Photo: Caroline Misokane

When Whispered entered the stage.it was an important moment for the band who describe themselves as playing Samurai metal, and also for the Japanese fans who feel very honoured in seeing how the culture of their country has inspired and influenced Jouni Valjakka to create his music. With the strength of “Chi No Odori”, Whispered started a memorable show, showing their abilities with their instruments and the power of Jouni’s voice. Jouni tried to speak some words in Japanese, but as the time was very limited the band preferred to not talk too much and play as many songs as they could instead. For every song with a Japanese title, like “Sakura Omen” and “Keisei”, the crowd went delirious while Jouni and Mikko Mattila delighted themselves in strong solos and energetic riffs. Kai Palo is a guy who not only takes care of the four strings of his bass, but he’s also a guy who doesn’t want to see anyone dull while his band is playing, which means that he was clapping hands, banging his head all the time. And when he wasn’t, he was asking the audience to do that. The technical abilities of Whispered are among the best of Finnish bands, but these guys from Tampere show with every single note that they play, that a good band is not only about technique. It has to have power, glory, feeling and a lot of passion too. If you’ve checked them out once and didn’t like their sound, you should check them out live, because after that it is impossible to not say that Whispered is one of the best Finnish bands of all time.

Insomnium

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

The evening’s headliner Insomnium has a strong relationship with the Japanese audience. It has been two years since their last visit to Japan, but even if they had been here last month, people would still wait for them like it was their first ever time in the land of the rising sun. Their latest epic album, “Winter’s Gate”, released in 2016, has had a great response from all over the world. It is not hard to understand why when they hit the stage and open their set with “Winter’s Gate pt.1”. The album contains only one song divided into seven pieces and this evening they perform the entire album. As “Winter’s Gate” has its slow parts, we saw the Joensuu guys coming and going off the stage during the first hour of the set. After introducing guitarist Jani Liimatainen (Sonata Arctica, Cain’s Offering, Stratovarius, Paul Di’Anno) who is replacing Ville Friman on this tour, vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen took everyone back to “Above the Weeping World” with “The Gale”.

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

Jani and the other guitarist Markus Vanhala (Omnium Gatherum) gave an extra flavour to the night as they joke with each other all the time, trying to show who is the best guitar player and even playfully sabotaging for each other. Niilo is the best Finnish death metal singer there is and he can still surprise me with the quality of his vocals. When combined with the clean voice of Jani, it was almost impossible to keep my tears from falling down. Heaviness, energy, humour and plenty of feeling are words that best describe what happened in that moment. With lyrics full of sadness and darkness, Insomnium takes the listener on a trip into the depths of the human mind. The crowd got the opportunity to breathe a little after an intense gig, before the band came back to perform an encore. They revived two classics from the “Shadows of the Dying Sun” album, starting with “Primeval Dark” and then, after thanking and saluting the crowd, finishing the amazing show with “While They Sleep”, maybe one of their best songs ever.

Insomnium. Photo: Caroline Misokane

The five Finnish bands gave Shibuya a musically extreme dark night and brought with them a little piece of the cold lands of Finland to Japan, proving once again that the two countries can make a perfect marriage, at least when it comes to heavy music.

Once again the Evoken de Valhall Production deserves to be congratulated for bringing to Japan bands that most of the other promoters have forgotten. It was a memorable night and I can only guess that, just like me, everyone who attended Suomi Feast already wants more.

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Album review: The Leather Nun “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” | Glasnost, Soviet tanks and rock’n’roll in Estonia

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Back in 1988, Swedish garage rockers The Leather Nun helped bring down the Soviet Union. Now you can add this piece of history to your record collection.

Ever wondered how the mighty Soviet Union came crumbling down? It all seems to the fault of a bunch of Swedish rockers. Rock’n’roll power.

In August 1988, Swedish cult garage rockers The Leather Nun played at Glasnost Rock ’88, the first-ever international rock festival in the Soviet Union. The massive three-day festival’s headliners were Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd and Big Country, and on the bill were other acts such as Steve Hackett, Leningrad Cowboys and Sky High.

Now The Leather Nun’s gig at the festival has been released as a live album. What we get on this album is a bunch of Swedish rockers rocking Tallinn, Estonia as the Soviet Union starts to crumble around them. Soviet tanks were present outside the festival grounds, adding a bit of nerve and excitement to this historic event.

The Leather Nun came to perform in Estonia following a successful US tour. Finnish state television filmed the festival and now fans can hear The Leather Nun’s historic gig. The gig features the best of the band’s output at that point, including “I’m Alive”, “Prime Mover”, “Lust for Love”, “I Can Smell Your Thoughts” and “Jesus Came Driving Along”. The Leather Nun plays dirty garage rock far removed from any trends or fads. It’s a bit like Elvis Presley jamming with Motörhead. Like a hungover Billy Idol in slow motion. Or Johnny Thunders before his morning coffee.

The Leather Nun’s “Vive La Fete! Vive La Révolution” is out now on Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution.

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Album review: Iced Earth “Incorruptible”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Iced Earth is back with its 12th album and yet a new line-up. The album’s killer though. Solid North American heavy metal.

Iced Earth, founded in Tampa, Florida in 1985, has more ex-members than most other bands. The list of ex-members includes major names such as Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Yngwie Malmsteen), James MacDonough (Megadeth), Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Death, Obituary, Autopsy) and Jon Dette (Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Heathen). In the current version of Iced Earth, guitarist Jon Schaffer is the only original member who is still in the band. It doesn’t matter, because on their new album, “Incorruptible”, they sound better than they have in a long time. This is great stuff. The current line-up of the band – Jon Schaffer on guitar, Stu Block on vocals, Jake Dreyer on guitar, Luke Appleton on bass and Brent Smedley on drums – delivers above expectation.

“Incorruptible” is the band’s 12th studio album since they debuted in 1990 with “Iced Earth”. Musically they live in in the same neighbourhood, but not in the same house, as Queensrÿche. This is no nonsense modern heavy metal. It has elements of both power metal and thrash metal. It’s melodic yet rather heavy. It’s big music, even bombastic at times, but in a good way. Iced Earth matches its heavy metal music, mainly created by Schaffer, with tales about Vikings, pirates and whores. “Seven Headed Whore” is my favourite track on the album. The track takes fast thrash metal (with angry, pissed off vocals and aggressive guitars) and combines that with a dramatic chorus in a gothic Sisters of Mercy kind of way. “The Veil” sounds epic while on the fab mainly instrumental piece “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” we get some Native American influences. “Black Flag” is simply heavy metal greatness in a Manowar kind of way. “Clear the Way” and “Raven Wing” are other terrific songs. The album has influences from all over the place but they all melt down to a very solid heavy metal album by a great metal band.

Iced Earth’s “Incorruptible” will released on 16th June via Century Media.

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Gig review: Treat – Swedish melodic rockers better than ever

Treat posing in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

A fab evening of melodic hard rock with Swedish favourites Treat. They are still relevant and better than ever. The addition of King Diamond’s bassist Pontus Egberg has breathed new life into this classic 80s band.

Robert Ernlund of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Having previously toured Japan on their own in 1990 and in 2015 as opening act for Europe, now Swedish melodic rockers Treat are back in Japan for two club gigs. The loyal Japanese fan base is still there and the fans seem to really like today’s version of Treat and not just looking for a trip down memory lane.

Jamie Borger of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

During their heyday back in the 1980s they released four solid albums and they could easily just tour as a nostalgia act with the old material from the 80s. But that is not what Treat is about in 2017. They have two great new albums (“Coup de Grace” from 2010 and “Ghost of Graceland” from 2016) filled with great songs. To a large extent it is the newer material that makes this a top gig. Of course the Japanese fans love to hear old favourites, but they are equally enthusiastic about the newer songs.

The newer material works brilliantly live. This evening they open with three newer songs – “Ghost of Graceland”, “Better the Devil You Know” and “Nonstop Madness” – before they play the classic “Ready for the Taking” from 1989. It’s a brave set-list decision that pays off. Treat’s newer material is great and the audience already knows all the words to the newer songs too. By taking this approach, Treat sends a signal that they are here and now and that they are still relevant.

Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Original members Robert Ernlund on vocals and guitarist Anders “Gary” Wikström on guitar definitely still got it. Robert’s characteristic voice is intact. His voice combined with Anders’ fine guitar playing and songwriting have always been the foundation of the Treat sound. Jamie Borger (Talisman, Jeff Scott Soto) on drums and Patrick Appelgren (Power) on keyboards, who both joined the band in the late 80s, are still there. Bassist Pontus Egberg (best known as King Diamond’s bassist but who has also played with The Poodles, HammerFall, Lion’s Share and Zan Clan) is a fabulous addition to the band who joined in 2016. He’s by far the best bassist Treat has ever had and he makes Treat sound better than ever, not only with his magnificent bass playing but also by providing key backup vocals throughout the set. What a find!

Treat. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

As often is the case when bands tour Japan, Treat wants to treat (yay!) their fans to something special this evening. They do that in the form of a splendid medley of six songs from the 1987 album “Dreamhunter”. The medley is followed by another special: the song “Inferno” performed live for the very first time.

Anders Wikström of Treat. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi.

Treat finishes a great evening of melodic hard rock with two old favourites from the 80s: “We Own the Night” and “World of Promises”. Over an hour and a half we get a great mixture old and new Treat. They are not only still able to perform the old songs but they also keep creating new material that is as good, if not better, than the original songs form the 80s.

Treat – Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, 17th May 2017 – set list

  1. Ghost of Graceland
  2. Better the Devil You Know
  3. Nonstop Madness
  4. Ready for the Taking
  5. Paper Tiger
  6. Do Your Own Stunts
  7. Sole Survivor
  8. You’re the One I Want
  9. Take Me on Your Wings
  10. Best of Me
  11. Dancing on the Edge
  12. Outlaw
  13. Inferno
  14. Love Stroke
  15. Roar
  16. Get You on the Run
  17. Conspiracy
  18. Skies of Mongolia
  19. We Own the Night
  20. World of Promises

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Gig review: Megadeth and Anthrax – Two of the Big Four take on Tokyo

Dirk Verbeuren and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

If you can’t get another round of The Big Four gigs, a great alternative is to get two of the four for a fabulous evening of world-class thrash metal. Veterans Megadeth and Anthrax are better than ever as they once again perform in Tokyo.

Scott Ian of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following a short opening act set by local Japanese artist The Kanmuri, Anthrax walks on to the stage for a nearly one hour set of pure energy and attitude. Led on stage by vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarist Scott Ian, the band members are in a great mood and rock out with so much energy that you worry that something might explode or catch fire.

Scott Ian of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Joey Belladonna of Anthrax. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I saw them live for the first time in 1990 (opening for Iron Maiden in Stockholm), I have loved Anthrax’s style of thrash metal which has a bit of a punky hardcore-like side to it, a bit like Suicidal Tendencies. This evening in Tokyo that music works great and we get some serious audience participation in old favourites such as “Among the Living”, “Madhouse”, “Antisocial” and “Indians”. As it is a shorter set, we only get two songs from the latest album, 2016’s “For All Kings”: “Breathing Lightning” and “Blood Eagle Wings”. Anthrax delivers a flawless set bursting with Anthraxness. It’s a kick-ass performance. Now Anthrax has been to Japan several times in recent years, but mainly for festival appearances and now as special guests. Let’s hope that we soon can get some headline shows by Anthrax in Japan.

David Ellefson of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth are better than ever. The current line-up with founders Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson plus Kiko Loureiro and Dirk Verbeuren, not only rivals the classic “Rust in Peace” era line-up from the 1990s (which featured Nick Menza and Marty Friedman), but it is actually better. Last time Megadeth played in Japan, as headliner at the Loud Park festival in October 2015, Kiko had already joined the band, but Dirk only came onboard in 2016. And what an addition he is! He takes this band to a whole new level with his drumming. Anyone who has followed Dirk in his many previous bands, including Soilwork, knew what to expect. He’s the best extreme metal drummer in the world and he is such a great fit for Megadeth.

Kiko Loureiro of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

David Ellefson of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth’s latest album, 2016’s “Dystopia” is a fabulous album showing that Megadeth are back in business. The album introduced Angra guitarist Kiko to the Deth fans. He’s a fantastic guitarist who can handle many different styles and he is as phenomenal live on stage as he is in the studio. But the “Dystopia” album does not feature Dirk (it was recorded with Lamb of God‘s Chris Adler behind the drum kit). It’ll be very exciting to hear what the new Megadeth with Dirk behind the drum kit can achieve on the next album. Live this line-up is absolutely killing it.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Tokyo, we get a killer set-list featuring obvious classics from the 80s and 90s, but also no fewer than seven songs from “Dystopia”. Yes, the album is that good and live the songs sound even better. Megadeth are back and they are better than ever!

Shortly before the gig, when I meet Megadeth backstage, we are reached by the sad news that Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell has been found dead. Dave Mustaine, who knew Cornell personally, decides that Megadeth should pay tribute to Cornell by performing Soundgarden’s “Outshined”. Mustaine delivers an emotional version of the song together with his fearsome foursome.

What a night! Long live thrash metal and long may the veterans be delivering at this level. Cheers for the music, Megadeth and Anthrax.

Anthrax – set list at Zepp DiverCity, Tokyo – 18th May 2017

  1. Among the Living
  2. Caught in a Mosh
  3. Madhouse
  4. Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
  5. Breathing Lightning
  6. Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)
  7. Blood Eagle Wings
  8. Antisocial (Trust cover)
  9. Indians

Megadeth – set list at Zepp DiverCity, Tokyo – 18th May 2017

  1. Hangar 18
  2. Wake Up Dead
  3. In My Darkest Hour
  4. The Threat Is Real
  5. Sweating Bullets
  6. She-Wolf
  7. Conquer or Die!
  8. Lying in State
  9. Trust
  10. Poisonous Shadows
  11. Fatal Illusion
  12. A Tout e Monde
  13. Tornado of Souls
  14. Post American World
  15. Dystopia
  16. Symphony of Destruction
  17. Peace Sells
  18. Outshined (Soundgarden cover)
  19. Holy Wars…The Punishment Due

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