EP review: Sodom “Partisan”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrash metal band Sodom is back with a new line-up and a brutal new EP. 

Sodom formed in Germany in 1981 and its debut full-length studio album “Obsessed by Cruelty” was released in 1986. Founder Tom Angelripper is still the main man in Sodom and he has now assembled a new line-up of the veteran German thrash metal band. Guitarist Frank Blackfire, who was in Sodom in the 1980s and who has also played in Kreator and Assassin, is back and he brings some of the old-school Sodom sound from around the time of “Agent Orange” with him. The new line-up also features guitarist Yorck Segatz (ex-Beyondition) and drummer Stefan “Husky” Hüskens (ex-Asphyx, Desaster). The new line-up is terrific and combines old-style, classic Sodom with some new vibes and adds some layers and nuances to the Sodom soundscape. This three-track EP features the brand new and brilliant studio tracks “Partisan” and “Conflagration” as well as a live version of “Tired and Red”. The original studio version was on the band’s 1989 classic album “Agent Orange”. Here we get it in a splendid live version recorded at the Rock Hard festival earlier this year. This new EP is fast, dirty, high-energy thrash metal performed just the way we like it. One thing that is very telling about Sodom’s music is that there is very little difference in sound between the studio tracks and the live track. It more or less sounds the same, which is a good thing as Sodom successfully manages to recreate its terrific live sound in the studio. This EP is a very appropriate way to announce that Sodom is back and it has a fabulous new line-up ready to attack.

Sodom’s “Partisan” EP will be released on 23rd November via Steamhammer/SPV. 

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Album review: The Smashing Pumpkins “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Smashing Pumpkins are back with a great new album filled with college rock and alternative pop as well as a near-complete reunion of the original 1988 line-up.

The media coverage of the partial reunion of The Smashing Pumpkins has focused on the absence of bassist D’arcy Wretzky and the back and forth mudslinging between her and leader and frontman Billy Corgan. The current line-up of the band, founded in Chicago in 1988, consists of Corgan and his co-founding members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) as well as guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who has been in the band since 2007.

So, what about the new music? I am very pleased to say that behind all the drama there is great new music. The Rick Rubin-produced new album, which has the somewhat cumbersome title “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.”, is, well, smashing. It is often more pop than alternative rock, but that’s perfectly fine with me as long as it’s this good. “Knights of Malta” sets the scene with strings adding a dreamy background to Billy Corgan’s characteristic voice and a splendid song. “Travels” and “Alienation” are dreamy reflections while “Solara”, perhaps the album’s highlight, is good-old college rock of the best kind. “Marchin’ On” is an energetic rock song but with some of those dreamy touches to it. The album only has eight tracks, but they’re all good. I much rather have shorter albums or even EPs, than albums with filler songs. The album closes with “Seek and You Shall Destroy”, a typical Pumpkins alternative rock song. Having seen a few of Corgan’s alternative band line-ups performing live in Japan over the years (they have been decent), it is good to see a more proper version of the band back together. The original line-up may not be intact, but The Smashing Pumpkins are back in style and are creating great new music again.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ new album “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.” is out now via Napalm Records. 

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EP review: Open Surgery “After Birth Abortion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death metal band Open Surgery is back with an EP that smells like a damp Florida basement in 1989. And that’s a good thing.

Open Surgery is one of our favourite Swedish death metal bands. This is a band that plays proper death metal without making it unnecessary complicated. The new EP continues along the same path as the band’s two previous full-length albums. The band formed in Finspång in rural Sweden in 2012, but its music is of the Tampa, Florida kind. On this six-track EP, the follow-up to 2016’s terrific full-length album “Post Mortem Mutilation”, Open Surgery delivers exactly what I want from them: Smelly, damp underground death metal of the best kind. This is music built on the foundation of old-school death metal. Open Surgery has stayed focused on creating fantastic death metal without adding any modern touches to it. This is death metal that could have been recorded in 1989. Love it. It is an underground Swedish response to Morbid Angel’s classic album “Altars of Madness” from, yes, 1989. Or Obituary’s debut album “Slowly We Rot”, also from 1989. Open Surgery is not merely copying its forefathers from Florida, but rather paying tribute to their groundbreaking work and creating new music based on the same musical foundation. There is nothing fancy here. No trends, no fads, nothing new. Just bloody good old-school death metal from the underground. The EP has six strong and solid tracks. “Altar of Death” is splendid while “Reduced to Broth” is my favourite among the new tracks. This is indeed terrific brutal music that will reduce you to a broth.

Open Surgery’s new EP “After Birth Abortion” will be released on 17th December via BVR Records.

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Album review: Electric Boys “The Ghost Ward Diaries”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish groove masters Electric Boys are all grown-up on fab new album. 

Sweden’s Electric Boys burst onto the scene with their terrific Bob Rock-produced debut album “Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride” in 1989. They made a reputation for themselves with the hit single “All Lips ‘N’ Hips” and plenty of touring. I loved the debut album and I went to see them in concert for the first time in 1989. I was very impressed with them already then. Twenty years later, in 2009, I saw Electric Boys’ vocalist and guitarist Conny Bloom and bassist Andy Christell when they toured Japan as members of Finnish glam rock band Hanoi Rocks. That was Hanoi Rocks’ farewell tour. A few years later, when Bloom and Christell had reformed Electric Boys’ original line-up with drummer Niclas Sigevall and guitarist Franco Santunione, they brought in their former Hanoi Rocks colleague Jolle Atlagic to share drum duties with Sigevall.

The grown-up 2018 version of Electric Boys sounds great. It is easy to recognise the band many of us grew to love in the late 80s, but it is also evident that they have matured and let some other influences help shape their songs. Vocalist and guitarist Conny Bloom is the main driver behind the songwriting and who leads the band from the front on stage, but he is part of a terrific band. The foundation of Electric Boys’ sound is still groovy rock with some funk influences, but this mature version of the band mixes it all up with blues rock, melodic hard rock, classic rock and much more. It is a bit like Hawkwind meets Atomic Swing meets Trapeze meets Tom Petty. It’s all good and it is often playful. It is intelligent rock with exquisite melodies performed by a splendid rock band. 

The majestic “Love is a Funny Feeling” is an obvious favourite of mine with a great arrangement of a fabulous song. “You Spark My Heart” is a beautiful love song which goes from being ballad-like to sudden explosions of catchy rock. The first single “Hangover in Hannover” is a terrific rocker where classic Electric Boys meets Hanoi Rocks. The catchy track “First the Money, Then the Honey” also has terrific echoes of Hanoi Rocks while “Rich Man, Poor Man” is a fantastic blues rocker with plenty of soul. Old fans won’t be disappointed with this new Electric Boys album. The band also has a great chance to broaden its fanbase with this more mature sound.

Ladies and gentlemen, Electric Boys are back. It’s time to put your dance shoes on and let your hair down. 

Electric Boys’ new album “The Ghost Ward Diaries” will be released on 23rd November via Mighty Music.

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Album review: Reece “Resilient Heart”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Accept and Bonfire vocalist David Reece returns with a strong solo album. 

American vocalist David Reece is best known as the singer who bravely replaced Udo Dirkschneider in Accept in the late 80s. Later he would also front another already established German hard rock act, Bonfire. But make no mistake about it, Reece is no mere fill-in guy. He is a great singer and here he is back with a solo album where we not only get to enjoy his powerful voice, we also get great melodic hard rock songs.

On “Resilient Heart” David Reece has teamed up with the Danish musicians Marco Angioni and Martin Jepsen Andersen (guitars), Malte Frederik Burkert (bass) and Sigurd J. Jensen (drums). Angioni and Andersen have also worked with Reece on the songwriting and the result is a solid melodic hard rock album. “Perfect Apocalypse” is the standout song on this great album for me. From the very start of the song with its 1980s sounding keyboards, via the heavy guitar riffing, to the great melodies, the runaway energy and Reece’s splendid vocals to top it all off, it’s an excellent song. “Any Time at All” is a very catchy contemporary sounding rock track. “Karma” is another big song with plenty of attitude while “Forest Through the Trees” is a beautiful piano-based power ballad. The album is even and it is solid. It’s great to hear David Reece in his own right without having to compare him to predecessors in various bands. This is David Reece being David Reece. It seems that his new Danish partners have given Reece a vitamin injection. Let’s hope that this successful partnership will last beyond just this album.

David Reece’s album “Resilient Heart” is out now via Mighty Music. 

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Gig review: An evening of Marty Friedman deep cuts in Tokyo

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A very special instrumental evening with Marty Friedman in Tokyo: An intimate venue, die-hard fans, a terrific set of songs and a band that matches its leader. 

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo on 30th October 2018

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Several times this year, guitarist Marty Friedman has put on special shows at La Donna, an intimate venue in central Tokyo where a lucky few fans get to sit up close and personal with Marty and his band. “We’re all friends here,” as Marty says in Japanese about the cosiness of the La Donna shows. This time, the Friedman show is billed as a “Sparkling Autumn Night” and, as hoped, we get a splendid show with goodies from Friedman’s varied career. Many of the songs performed this evening do not feature often in Friedman’s regular shows. 

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This special show – well over two hours of music and Marty anecdotes (all in Japanese) – kicks off with “For a Friend” from 2017’s splendid studio album “Wall of Sound”. It is followed by “Tibet” and “Angel” from his 1992 solo album “Scenes”. From the same album, we also get the terrific songs “Valley of Eternity” and “Night” a bit later in the show. From the 2006 album “Loudspeaker” we get the beautiful “Devil Take Tomorrow” and from 2003’s “Music for Speeding” we get “Lovesorrow”. The evening continues with a seemingly never-ending delivery of exquisite songs.

The entire show is instrumental with Friedman backed up by a fab band that includes the insanely talented bassist Kiyoshi and hard-hitting drummer Chargeeee. Being a second guitarist in a band with Marty Friedman can’t be an easy gig, but Yuya Komoguchi delivers and even gets to perform some guitar solos. There’s also a fabulous string and piano trio of musicians which adds a dimension to Friedman’s usual band set-up. 

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One obvious highlight of the show is “The Ninja”. Before Friedman made it big with Megadeth, he played with Cacophony, a band based around the twin guitars of Friedman and Jason Becker. “The Ninja” is a track from Cacophony’s 1987 debut album “Speed Metal Symphony”. Other personal favourites in the set include “Arrival” and “Bittersweet”, both songs from 1994’s “Introduction” album. From the 1996 album “True Obsessions” we get treated to “Farewell” and “Rio”. This is a show so packed with old favourites, some terrific deep cuts and other special treats, that I have a big smile on my face during the whole show. We also get treats like “Tears of an Angel” from 2008’s “Future Addict”, “Kaeritaku Natta Yo” (originally by Ikimono-gakari), “I Love You” (originally by Yutaka Ozaki) and, of course, the Mika Nakashima cover “Yuki no Hana”. 

Marty Friedman closes a fab evening with a jam-filled section that kicks off with “Thunder March” from his first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” from 1988. What a night! What a treat for the die-hard fans who get to experience this.

Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Edu Falaschi and The Dark Element in Tokyo and Osaka

Edu Falaschi on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Former Angra, Nightwish and Sonata Arctica members unite for an interesting double bill of melodic metal on a recent Japan tour.

Edu Falaschi and The Dark Element at Shinjuku Blaze, Tokyo on 6th October and Esaka Muse, Osaka on 7th October 2018

The Dark Element

Anette Olzon on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

It is exactly 7pm when the intro starts playing and the members of The Dark Element come up to the stage. It is remarkable how the Japanese fans love Nordic metal. When Finnish guitarist Jani Liimatainen and Swedish singer Anette Olzon together enters the stage, the audience salutes them with loud screams and horns up all over the room. Liimatainen has been coming to Japan almost every year since the first time he played here with his former band Sonata Arctica. It has, however, been ten years since the Japanese fans have had the opportunity to see former Nightwish singer Olzon in action and they clearly missed her talent. Opening both the Tokyo and Osaka shows with “The Dark Element”, a song that mixes a lot of electronic music with metal, Olzon shows us that even after all this time away from the stage, her energy and passion are still the same. With a powerful-yet-sweet voice, she sings, dances and interacts with the fans like no one else. With “Last Good Day” and “Dead To Me” the band encourages everyone to dance, sing and jump along, although in Osaka the audience is shyer and prefers to enjoy the show quietly. When the band makes a brief pause for some gear changes, Olzon talks to and jokes with the audience as if all of the people there were close friends of hers. Then she announces the beautiful “Here’s To You“, a song full of mixed feelings and a great melody that makes Olzon give an intense and emotional performance on both nights. With an impressive interpretation of each verse, she puts her heart out, telling the story behind the lyrics with every movement of her hands and body. It is definitely the highlight of both the Tokyo and Osaka shows.

Jani Liimatainen and Anette Olzon on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

During “Halo” something unexpected happens with Anette headbanging along to the music. For those who have been following her career since her Nightwish days, it is a nice and somewhat funny surprise, as she has never been known for headbanging during her symphonic metal years. With “The Ghost and the Reaper” and “My Sweet Misery”, the two singles of The Dark Elements debut album, the band proves that even playing very few shows and not rehearsing a lot, they are all well engaged and prepared for whatever comes. The Tokyo night is the first show of Jere Lahti as new The Dark Element drummer, but the chemistry he has with the whole band, especially with the bassist Jonas Kuhlberg, is so strong that it seems he has been in the band since day one. In Osaka, the stage space and the lights are a little limited. However, the energy and heat of both the band and the audience make the Osaka show a perfect end for this tour. With this tour, Anette Olzon surprises me with her amazing performance. But when it comes to her, my expectations are always very high. Even if after all these years of little musical activity by her, I almost thought that she had lost her passion for music. Fortunately, she proved that I was terribly mistaken. 

Edu Falaschi

Edu Falaschi on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

“In Excelsis”, the opening intro of the “Rebirth” album, starts Edu Falaschi’s show. With the whole band ready to destroy the Tokyo stage, a beautiful light illuminates the flag behind Aquiles Priester while my attention is caught by the nervousness of the guitarist Diogo Mafra. He seems to be breathing too fast and I can almost see his chest pounding while he tries to stay calm. Following the intro, the band starts playing “Nova Era”, one of the most acclaimed songs written by Edu Falaschi during his Angra era. The audience in Tokyo is singing so loudly that it becomes hard to hear the music itself. When Falaschi enters the stage, the audience pushes to the front and every single person in the room is now jumping and singing so happily that it is clear that no one cares about being a little smashed. By the first notes of the song, it is noticeable how Edu has been working hard on recovering his voice and it feels like I am listening to his voice from the original recording. With “Acid Rain”, “Angels and Demons” and “Running Alone”, the band leads the audience to madness, with lots of headbanging and jumping. After many fast songs, Edu takes an acoustic guitar, taking the fans 14 years back in time with the ballad “Wishing Well” from the album “Temple of Shadows”. This song is about hope and belief and Falaschi’s voice gives it an emotional touch. Just like Mafra, Edu seems to be very nervous and his hands are shaking. It is impressive to see how well he performs the whole song while handling both guitar and vocals, just like a true artist always does. In Osaka, the whole band seems a bit more relaxed. Opening the show with “Winds of Destination”, this time all the attention is on keyboardist Fabio Laguna. Laguna plays a long, beautiful and sad part all alone with only Falaschi’s voice as support. Their joint performance is phenomenal. No one can sing this song with the same intensity as Edu, just as no one can play it as hard as Laguna. It is very pleasant to see them playing together again, reminding us how good they are together. “Heroes of Sand” is performed with a lot of emotion at both shows. This is probably the main masterpiece of Falaschi’s career as a songwriter. Again, his voice just slips through every note beautifully. It has been eight years since the last time Edu performed in Japan and 11 years since Priester and Laguna were here. Both the musicians and their fans had clearly longed to be reunited.

Edu Falaschi with his band on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Then, Falaschi presents his latest release, “The Glory of the Sacred Truth”, a song written especially for an EP with the same name that was released only in Japan in September and recorded with the “Rebirth of Shadows Tour” line-up. This song is a gift from Edu to all of his fans worldwide for never giving up on him, even in the darkest of times when he struggled with voice loss. It is about always thinking positive and having faith in yourself. Although the whole band’s performance on this song is awesome, it is impossible to not get impressed (again!) with Aquiles. That he is the best power metal drummer of all times is already known to the fans of the genre, but to watch him performing live, especially this song that has a drum intro, is something else. The man is literally an octopus; it is hard to think how he can do all of that with only two arms and two legs. It is not surprising that the whole venue, in both Tokyo and Osaka, bows down to him after this song. “The Shadow Hunter” shows the quality of the guitarists Falaschi has chosen to follow him on this journey. With an acoustic intro, Roberto Barros plays each chord with such ability that the whole world stops to watch him. Then, when the electric guitar enters to make the song heavy, Barros and Raphael Dafras show why Falaschi describes them as “the best guitar couple of Brazil.” He is definitely right about that.

With another pause, this time for Edu to present his awesome band, the audience cheers every musician with a warm welcome, making each of them thrilled to be in Japan and of course, saluting Priester and Laguna like the old days. By the end, Priester takes the microphone and presents Falaschi as “the best Brazilian metal songwriter ever” and both the Tokyo and Osaka audiences go crazy, screaming his name all over and cheering him just like they did eight years ago. With “Rebirth” Falaschi and his band show gratitude for all the years of support and gets all the fans to sing the words with him. The band closes both nights with the fast track “Spread Your Fire”, performed in a rather heavy version. The highlight here is the bassist Dafras, playing faster than the speed of light and making things even more insane. This Japan tour was a terrific celebration of Edu Falaschi’s Angra years.

Edu Falaschi on stage in Osaka. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Ace Frehley “Spaceman”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following his successful Japan tour last month, Ace Frehley is back with a new studio album full of good stuff.

Spaceman is back and he told you so. I am not sure if it is the just announced final KISS world tour that has got him to up his game or what (he has said he’d like to take part in that tour). But the fact of the matter is that 2018 is the year of original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. His recent Japan shows were awesome (certainly a contender for live shows of the year in Tokyo). During the Japan tour in September, he didn’t play any songs from the new album. Hopefully, he will come back for that because with this new album he has some great new music to add to his back catalogue of classic rock.

The whole new album has that great laidback Ace Frehley touch. Many of the songs remind me of songs Ace did with KISS in the 70s and on his self-titled solo album from 1978. “Spaceman” is a terrific Ace Frehley album which opens with the splendid “Without You I’m Nothing”, a very typical Frehley song combining fab guitar work with his characteristic laidback approach to singing. “Rockin’ with the Boys” is kind of an Ace Frehley answer to the KISS classic “Beth” (although it is not a ballad). “Off My Back” is an obvious favourite of mine. “I Wanna Go Back” is another. “Bronx Boy” is an answer to “New York Groove”. While this is an album of all new material, dedicated KISS and Frehley fans will find plenty of nods to his musical heritage. “Mission to Mars” is a smoking rocker of a track while the exquisite “Pursuit of Rock and Roll” is a new “Rock Soldiers”. The nine-track album closes with the jam-tastic instrumental piece “Quantum Flux”.

It’s so great to hear Ace back at the top of his game. He’s still a guitar wizard and he has some fab new songs for his fans. Ace is indeed back and he did tell you so!

Ace Frehley’s new album “Spaceman” is out on 19th October via eONE.

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Gig review: A melodic hard rock evening in Tokyo with Treat

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Nearly four decades into their career, the members of Swedish melodic hard rock band Treat return to Japan with a great new album and a killer setlist.

Robert Ernlund of Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Treat at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, 4th October 2018

Following the band’s successful tour of Japan last year, Treat has produced a great new album (“Tunguska”, out via Frontiers Music internationally and King Records in Japan) and is now back on the road. Opening the Tokyo gig with “Skies of Mongolia” (from 2010’s comeback album “Coup de Grace”), Treat takes control of its loyal Japanese audience from the very first note of the show. The audience is with them and it is obvious that this will be an enjoyable evening of “hard rock with melodies” as founding band member Anders “Gary” Wikström likes to describe the band’s music. They continue the gig with “Nonstop Madness” from 2016’s “Ghost of Graceland” and we’re off to a great start.

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Treat’s current line-up is its best ever. It is the same line-up that they had at the end of the 1980s – Anders Wikström on guitar, Robert Ernlund on vocals, Patrick Appelgren on keyboards and former Talisman drummer Jamie Borger. The only new addition is bassist Pontus Egberg who joined Treat in 2016. Egberg, who is also the bassist in King Diamond and has a background in bands such as The Poodles and Lion’s Share, has added some spice to Treat’s musical casserole. He’s a world-class bassist, but also a great backup singer and, perhaps best of all, he performs some serious dance moves on stage. Robert Ernlund’s voice is intact. It has matured but it is still stunning. Musically, this band has never been better. When Wikström’s guitar malfunctions in the middle of the fantastic “Rose of Jericho”, the band carries on regardless. Absolute professionals. Appelgren on keyboards and Egberg’s groovy bass save the song. The show must go on.

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

The evening’s setlist is close to flawless. We obviously get some of the old classics, such as “Ready for the Taking”, “Party All Over”, “Conspiracy” and, of course, “World of Promises”. But a big part of the set list is made up of songs from the three most recent studio albums. The evening’s highlights for me include the strong opening with “Skies of Mongolia”, a powerful version of “Riptide” and, of course, “Ghost of Graceland”. The newer material is more mature and the sound has evolved. But it is still trademark Treat music and somehow the old and the new fit well together in the current live show. Having seen all of Treat’s Japan tours since they reunited, it is obvious that this great band is getting even greater. They are better than ever and they will no doubt be back in Japan soon again.

Treat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

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