Album review: The Shiver “Adeline”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Italian rockers The Shiver are back with their fourth album. “Adeline” has quite a mix of influences and styles, all centred around the band’s core quality: the voice of Federica Faith Sciamanna.

The Shiver formed in 2005 and released its debut album “Inside” in 2008, followed by “A New Horizon” in 2010 and “The Darkest Hour” in 2014. The band’s musical roots are in modern alternative rock and they mix this up with a bit of Evanescence-style emotional gothic parts.

The band has an interesting female voice at the centre of the soundscape which makes them stand out from the pack. Perhaps not a coincidence as it is the vocalist Federica Faith Sciamanna who is also composing much of the band’s music. The band seems to be aware of its core strength as the new album contains great melodies built around Faith’s voice.

The Shiver’s music covers a wide area. There is a foundation in dark rock with high energy, but the band’s music has room for plenty of different styles. “Light Minutes” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. On the fantastic track “Miron-Aku” we get some proper heavy rock and on the closing track, the instrumental “Electronoose”, the band manages to combine heavy industrial rock with electro. It seems that the band won’t let genres and expectations stop them from making good music.

The album has a straightforward sound. It’s not over-produced which sadly is so often the case nowadays. Good stuff.

The Shiver’s “Adeline” album will be released on 4th April. The band will tour Europe in April and May as special guests of Sonic Syndicate.

Brand New Conversation: Backstage with Gus G in Tokyo

Gus G backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek guitarist Gus G has had a phenomenal career with Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne. When he recently came to Japan to play a few solo shows, Roppongi Rocks sat down with him backstage for a catch up before his first solo show in Tokyo with Elize Ryd as a special guest.

Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Gus G is best known for being Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and for his work with his own band, Firewind. But he has also played with bands such as Dream Evil, Nightrage, Arch Enemy and Mystic Prophecy. As many other gifted guitar wizards, Gus G has released some solo albums, the latest being 2015’s “Brand New Revolution” which featured guest vocalists such as Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey), Mats Levén (Candlemass, Krux, Therion, Treat, Swedish Erotica) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe, Kamelot).

Performing as a headliner under his own name rather than as a part of something else is relatively new for Gus G. The Japan shows, together with a show in Korea, form Gus G’s first-ever Asian solo tour. “I’ve been trying to build that over the last couple of years. It’s a new thing for me, still, but I enjoy it. It’s a different kind of freedom. It’s still kind of a small project , it’s baby steps. I am very grounded about it. Yeah, I enjoy it. I get to collaborate with a lot of great people, like Elize Ryd and lots of other singers. It’s cool, man” says Gus G.

Gus G backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Having just watched him doing a soundcheck with Elize Ryd, the two talented artists seem to fit very well together. It looks as if they’ve been working together for a long time. But that is not the case. They have never performed together until now. They didn’t know each other before they collaborated on the song “What Lies Below” in 2015 and met for the first time during the music video shoot. “I knew who she was. I was a fan of hers actually, of her voice and what she did with Amaranthe, I really enjoy it. But I never met her before. We wrote the song and I was thinking of her. I thought it would be cool if we had her on this. I didn’t know if was going to fit her range or style, but I just sent her the song I said ‘Hey! This is what I want to do and I like to have you on this.’ She liked the song very much and said ‘I’m gonna sing this’. It’s a good combo. Hopefully we will do some more stuff.”

The two Japan gigs marked the first time ever that Gus and Elize performed live together. “It was just timing. She’s very busy and I am very busy. It just didn’t happen in the past. She’s always somewhere with Amaranthe, running around the world and I am doing the same. I remember when I got these shows offered I thought it would be a cool idea if she came out as I was looking to bring a special guest. I just hit her up and said ‘Hey! What are you doing in March?’ It just happened that she had a few days available and she accepted to come.”

Gus G backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The short Asian tour will be followed by a European tour together with Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, Vince Neil, Sebastian Bach) where Gus G will perform an acoustic set. Apart from that he has no specific solo shows planned this year. “Not in the plan so far. Because this year was planned originally to be a Firewind year, because we just released an album and basically my solo tour finished last year. But, OK, when Japan comes up, you don’t say no to that! Then another great opportunity to go out with Steve Stevens came up, so I am doing that. I am not sure if I am going to do any more solo shows later this year. I’d like to focus on writing another album to be honest. I’m gonna go back and do the rest of the Firewind shows that we have booked, all the festivals and then hopefully go back in the studio and finish up a new solo record and come back in 2018 and then do a full show like this again.”

Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

The set list for the Japan shows are sort of a career retrospective for Gus G. “That was the idea with this. We’ve done all these songs in the past. Every time I’ve changed the set list. Now we had a wide catalogue to choose from. Actually, it wasn’t that hard to put it together, surprisingly. I just said that I’d do a few Firewind tracks, I want to do one Dream Evil song. Sometimes we did two Dream Evil songs on one of my tours, but if you start adding too much, you’ll need a three-hour set list. Plus I do a lot of stuff from my solo records. I want to cover a little bit of everything and now we have a new Firewind album so I wanted to play a couple of new songs, because I am sure some fans would expect that.”

Gus does not only have some new Firewind songs with him on this tour. He also has two of his Firewind bandmates – Henning Basse and Johan Nunez – in his solo band. “Henning originally was touring with me before he joined Firewind. So, he knows both sets. Now of course when he’s with Firewind, he’s gonna be more established and known as a Firewind singer than a guy who does sessions. I think we probably have to separate it after this tour. I am thinking of getting somebody else to fill this spot and then Henning can focus on Firewind. But it is like an open family, if I ever need help and I have no singer, I am sure he’s gonna come out. Because he knows all the songs, he knows the set. On this occasion, it really made sense to bring Henning out to Japan because not only can he do all my solo stuff, but as we just have a new Firewind album, it just made sense for him to come out here and we can do a few Firewind tracks as well. Other than that, on the Steve Stevens tour I am going to have another singer.”

Gus G backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Like Michael Schenker, Gus G has found a middle ground between guitar tricks and creating great music that is not destroyed by too many guitar tricks, unlike what sometimes is the case with guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen. “Yngwie is Yngwie, he is a good example. The whole idea with him is to be extreme and with other guys the idea is to play the right notes for the song. That’s two different things. I understand it is not for everybody, the extreme stuff. But for me it’s like, I like to do extreme stuff on the guitar but I like to put it into context. Everything has to have some sort of order in my mind at least. That’s probably why I write so many songs with vocals and I don’t do too many solos. I mean, there is going to be plenty of guitar wankery tonight, believe me. But it’s not gonna be to a point where everybody stops and goes for a couple of pints at the bar and then I keep playing. We don’t have those situations. It all fits in a certain frame within the show.”

Gus G backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With Black Sabbath having recently finished their massive “The End” tour, does Gus have any Ozzy-related work coming up? “I don’t know yet. There is always talk and stuff but I haven’t heard anything from the camp. I am just giving them their time to figure out what he wants to do. I am sure he will let us know. He just finished and I am sure he wants to take a break to think things over how he wants to continue with his solo band. Not just me, but everybody in the band, we’re just waiting to hear what the next thing is.”

Shortly after our interview, Gus G walks on stage and delivers a great career retrospective featuring much of his best work to date. But I am pretty certain his best work is still to come. /

Backstage with Elize Ryd in Japan

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Elize Ryd talks to Roppongi Rocks about working with Gus G, the idea of a solo career and the possibility of Dynazty’s Nils Molin joining Amaranthe.

Elize Ryd and Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

I have met and interviewed Elize Ryd on multiple occasions since her band Amaranthe first visited Japan in 2011. Amaranthe has not only had great success in Japan, they have done well globally with hit records and constant touring. This time Elize is in Japan as a special guest vocalist with Gus G’s solo band. The Ozzy Osbourne and Firewind guitarist is performing two career retrospective shows in Japan covering his solo material but also music from Ozzy, Firewind and Dream Evil. On Gus G’s latest solo album, 2015’s “Brand New Revolution”, Elize Ryd sang on the phenomenal track “What Lies Below”, which Gus and Elize at these special Japan shows are performing live together for the first time.

Observing Elize during the soundcheck with Gus G and the band, it sounds great but it is obvious that she’s not feeling great. All the travelling is taking its toll on the star, although she’s a pro and shows no signs of not being all-in when she walks on stage that evening. After the soundcheck, we sit down with Elize backstage as she’s getting ready for the gig.

Busy schedule for hardworking artist

Fresh off the plane from a major North American tour, Amaranthe did a string of gigs in Sweden before Elize boarded another flight to Japan. It is a tough schedule that she can’t possibly keep up in the long term. “No, it has to stop,” says Elize. “I think that I’ll have to start making some demands. For example, it’s not good to schedule Swedish gigs directly after we return home from the US tour. All of us in the band would have needed at least seven days off. Morten Løwe Sørensen looked like he was dying. All of us were completely destroyed. But somehow we managed. We did three gigs in Sweden but only had two days off during that time. We were laughing at how extremely worn out we were. But that is not something we show while on stage.”

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Cooperation with Gus G

Gus G has known Elize’s Amaranthe co-founder Olof Mörck for many years, which is how he started to appreciate the Swedish singer’s talent. “But I didn’t know Gus. He wrote me and asked if I wanted co-write a song with him. But I was so busy that I never had time to participate in the songwriting process. Then Gus and his songwriters sent me a song that I thought was cool, just like I think that Gus is cool. Then, at the music video shoot, we met for the first time. We immediately clicked and became great friends there and then.” Are we likely to see the duo do more things together sometime soon? “Not that I know. But it feels like we should do like a kind of Tina & Ike thing, do more things together. It would be so much fun. He is such a talented guitarist. We became such great friends and we had so much fun together during those two days,” says Elize when she thinks back to the 2015 video shoot. “We felt that we need to play together more.”

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thoughts on possible solo career

Last time I interviewed Elize in Japan (in September 2016 during the Helloween/Amaranthe tour), she said: “If the band at some point decides to take a year off, then I’ll immediately make a solo album. No fucking question about it. Haha!” Where does she stand now on the thinking about a possible solo album? At the Gus G shows in Japan they sell Elize Ryd t-shirts at the merch booth, perhaps a sign that Elize is stepping up the game as an artist in her own right? “I am keen on it now that everyone seems to be doing solo stuff. I have been thinking about it for a long time. Even KISS did solo albums – all of them sounding very different which I thought was funny. Perhaps I should start my own band? I have been thinking about cool band names but then I thought that I should perhaps just use my own name, just like Gus is performing as Gus G. And now with Alissa White-Gluz too. That inspires me. She works as much as I do with Amaranthe. She’s doing so much with Arch Enemy. I am thinking that if she has time to do it, then I should be able to find time somewhere to do it. And I want to get out and perform. I assume that I can’t just release an album. I probably have to think about doing some gigs as well. I don’t think I have to tour all the time, but perhaps do a few gigs depending on the demand. I have an unlimited supply of ideas for this.”

Changes in Amaranthe’s line-up: “Nils Molin is top of the list”

Recently Amaranthe co-founder Jake E decided to leave the band. Elize says she was not expecting Jake E’s departure. “No! The way I feel for the band, this was shocking. I would never want to leave my baby. But I understand that if he has other musical ideas. It’s up to him. No one’s forcing anyone to do anything. It’s like everything in life, you take risks. If you feel that you’re prepared to go for it, then that’s what you should do. If you feel that you have nothing to lose, then it is nothing to dwell on.” Having earlier used Chris Adam from the band Smash Into Pieces as a stand in for Jake E, on the recent Sweden gigs, Dynazty’s Nils Molin has stepped into that role. Based on the first three gigs in Sweden, Molin seems to be a great fit for the band. So, will he now join Amaranthe as Jake’s replacement?

“I hope so!” says an excited Elize. “Nils is top of the list. We had fun with these gigs in Sweden. It was so much fun! He’s a cool and great guy. Thus it would be great to have him in the band. Exciting! It’s great with some new blood.” As is the case with Chris Adam, Nils Molin has a permanent gig as frontman of another band. “That’s the problem. He’s awesome. It sounded really great. His voice fits us really well. He can even reach the high octaves together with me. That was cool! We want him! We obviously would like to have him. We’ll see what happens. We’ll find out. He’s coming with us for the Finland tour.”

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe, who released their latest album “Maximalism” in October 2016, keeps on touring around the world. “I look forward to returning here to Japan to play our new songs. It’s a bit more party like. It’s a different mood on the new songs. It is a great feeling playing them live. They’re supposed to be loud!” says Elize as she’s starting to apply her stage make-up. Soon after our interview ends she walks on stage and delivers another great performance for her Japanese fans. She is a great fit for Gus G. Hopefully we will see more of this cooperation between two terrific artists.

No rest for the wicked. This talented artist will no doubt keep busy with Amaranthe and plenty of other projects. “I’m still young!” says Elize with a big smile. /

Album review: Troubled Horse “Revolution on Repeat”

Troubled Horse. Photo: Oskar Omne

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Troubled Horse has released a fantastic rock album | Like a moody, no fucks given, modern Swedish hard rock version of Uriah Heep.

Troubled Horse’s new album kicks off with an energetic rocker called “Hurricane”. It sets the tone for an album that is like a wonderful cross-breed of other Swedish bands like Horisont, Spiritual Beggars, Soundtrack of Our Lives and Hellsingland Underground. Sort of like a moody, no fucks given, modern Swedish hard rock version of Uriah Heep. All these influences and ingredients are melted down and formed into something terrific they call Troubled Horse. Absolutely great stuff.

This is rock music with great melodies. This is rock you want to shout along to, music that makes you want to dance and drink beer. It has a feeling of a care-free band with a no fucks given attitude. They are here to play great rock’n’roll and nothing else matters. Troubled Horse’s greatness extends beyond great riffs and melodies to its matter of fact lyrics (such as “I know you hate me, it doesn’t bother me though”).

A clear favourite on this rock solid album is “The Haunted” with some great guitar riffs. The album also contains a great cover version of Warren Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up”. This is a sweaty, high-energy album which is rounded off with “Bleeding”, a terrific calmer melancholic track.

While there are certainly some serious 70s vibes here, heaps of stoner rock, classic hard rock and good-old garage rock, this is not a band stuck in the past. Troubled Horse is here and now, they’re relevant, they’re current. More than anything, this is a fab rock band with plenty of love for rock’n’roll.

Formed in Sweden in 2003, they debuted with a seven-inch vinyl in 2010 before releasing their first full-length album “Step Inside” in 2012. Now the follow-up album is here.

Troubled Horse’s “Revolution on Repeat” album will be released on 31st March via Rise Above Records. You should buy the record. You deserve to hear this.

Gig review: Gus G and Elize Ryd set Tokyo on fire

Elize Ryd and Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ozzy Osbourne and Firewind guitarist Gus G stands firm on his own two feet as a headline act. On stage in Japan he shows that he has a bright future as an artist in his own right.

Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Greek guitarist Gus G has made a name for himself as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and with his work with bands such as Firewind, Nightrage and Dream Evil. In recent years he is also building up himself as a solo artist. While he has played in Japan many times before, this is the first time he is doing headline gigs as Gus G.

Gus G is the best kind of guitar hero. He has extraordinary talent as both a performer and songwriter. Like Michael Schenker, Gus G finds a great balance between showing off what he can do with a guitar and creating great songs. Despite his extraordinary talent, he doesn’t let guitar wankery destroy his songs.

Elize Ryd and Henning Basse on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

With three Firewind members on stage and a great new Firewind album recently released, we do of course get a fair share of Firewind music this evening but also a lot of other good stuff from Gus G’s career so far. This evening’s Gus G show gives us great modern melodic hard rock. The rhythm section – Firewind drummer Johan Nunez and Greek bassist Strutter – is rock solid, while Firewind singer Henning Basse shows us that he has a voice created for this type of hard rock singing. His voice fits the material like a glove.

Elize Ryd and Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

On Gus’s 2015 solo album “Brand New Revolution”, he brought in Swedish vocalist Elize Ryd from Amaranthe on one of the songs, “What Lies Below”. Amaranthe has had tremendous success in Japan over the past six years and it certainly doesn’t hurt Gus G’s popularity to bring along Elize as a special guest for these Japan gigs. She comes with her own Japanese fans as well as a stage presence and vocal skills to lift this Gus G show to another level. Already during the afternoon’s soundcheck it is obvious that that these two talented musicians make a fantastic combination.

Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

This evening in Tokyo, Gus and Elize perform a great version of “What Lies Below”. This is also the first time ever that Gus and Elize perform together on stage. They didn’t even record the song together back in 2015, but met for the first time when they shot the music video for the track. During the gig, Elize also provides vocals on a fantastic version of “Long Way Down” and she gives us a terrific duet with Basse on “Breaking the Silence”. When the band finishes a great gig with Ozzy Osbourne classic “Crazy Train”, Elize rocks out with the rest of the band to the fans’ delight.

Elize Ryd and Gus G on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

The combination of Gus G and Elize Ryd is too good to not continue. I hope that these two Japan shows are not the last thing these two talented musicians will do together.

Gus G – Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan – 22nd March 2017 – set list

  1. My Will Be Done
  2. Burn
  3. Brand New Revolution
  4. Hands of Time (Firewind)
  5. Back on the Throne (Firewind)
  6. Eyes Wide Open
  7. Come Hell or High Water
  8. Vengeance
  9. World on Fire (Firewind)
  10. The Fire and the Fury (Firewind)
  11. The Quest
  12. Drum solo by Johan Nunez
  13. Terrified
  14. What Lies Below with Elize Ryd
  15. Long Way Down with Elize Ryd
  16. Children of the Night (Dream Evil)
  17. Redemption
  18. I Am the Fire
  19. Breaking the Silence with Elize Ryd (Firewind)
  20. Crazy Train with Elize Ryd (Ozzy Osbourne)

Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Gus G solo band members

Gus G – guitar

Henning Basse – vocals

Elize Ryd – vocals

Strutter – bass

Johan Nunez – drums / /

Gig review: Graham Bonnet Band/Alcatrazz: Night of the Shooting Star

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet returned to Japan for a headline tour with a difference. A magical night with Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz in Tokyo.

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What a gig! Having seen Graham Bonnet perform in Japan with Michael Schenker in 2015 and 2016, it was finally time for Bonnet to come back to Japan with a headline show. With a great new album, “The Book”, out and – finally – a proper band line-up, Graham Bonnet returns to Japan as a king holding court. This evening he gives his loyal fans nearly two hours of greatness up on stage.

Graham Bonnet and Beth-Ami Heavenstone on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As the Graham Bonnet Band walks on stage, the sold out venue is already overexcited and ready to rock and be rocked. The band opens the gig with an immediate knockout, the Rainbow classic “Eyes of the World”. Bonnet is as excited as the audience and the band is in top form. This evening quickly becomes a major love fest between a band and its audience. Expectations are sky high but Bonnet and his band deliver. They exceed expectations. Bonnet’s characteristic voice sounds better than ever. He’s 69 years old, but he still has the voice and the stage performance to delight his old fans and attract new ones. Most 25-year old hopefuls don’t have even half the energy that this seasoned veteran displays on stage. The band continues with “California Eyes” from the new album and then they move on with Bonnet’s old solo hit “S.O.S.”. The crowd loves it and the evening is off to the best possible start.

Graham Bonnet Band on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The set continues with a mix of new and old Graham Bonnet songs mixed with Rainbow and MSG classics. It’s a faultless set list covering a big chunk of Bonnet’s career. As is often the case when Bonnet is in Japan, he offers something very special to his fans. This time the regular set is expanded with a special Alcatrazz section to the delight of the fans. Japan was one of the countries where Alcatrazz was most successful back in the mid-80s. For the Alcatrazz section of the gig, bassist Gary Shea joins his Alcatrazz co-founders Graham Bonnet and Jimmy Waldo on stage. They rock it out in front of a sea of Japanese fans wearing Alcatrazz t-shirts. Seeing the three Alcatrazz founders reunited on stage in Japan brings back memories of the splendid live concert videos  “Metallic Live ‘84” and “Power Live”, both recorded in Japan. The set includes a couple of great Alcatrazz nods to Japan, in the form of “Ohayo Tokyo” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. They finish a powerful set with “Island in the Sun”.

Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the terrific Alcatrazz part of the show, Beth-Ami Heavenstone again takes over bass duty to finish a fantastic night with another Rainbow classic, “Lost in Hollywood”. It’s been a delight to see Graham Bonnet make special appearances with Michael Schenker in Japan over the past couple of years (and it certainly hasn’t hurt his popularity in Japan), but to see him as a headline act with almost two hours on stage is bloody brilliant. But as the new songs performed in this evening’s set proves, there is also a future for Bonnet. This man is not stuck in the past. He now has a band and new material to go on creating and performing fabulous music.

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We already knew that his old Alcatrazz mates Shea and Waldo would deliver, but the rest of the Graham Bonnet Band is also fantastic. Bonnet’s partner Beth-Ami Heavenstone has been part of the foundation of the Graham Bonnet Band from the beginning. She brought in phenomenal guitarist Conrado Pesinato (who previously played with Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous). Pesinato has big shoes to fill as he follows in the footsteps of Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. But he pulls it off and adds his own style to it. The latest addition to the band is new drummer Mark Benquechea. He’s an animal behind the kit and seems to fit the band like a glove. Graham told me the day before the gig that Mark asked for his autograph when he auditioned. Well, he’s a mere fanboy no more. Now he’s a colleague and the way he delivered on stage in Japan, Graham will not want to lose this one. He’s found his drummer.

Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thank you Graham for bringing both Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz back to Japan. Now the question is, how can you top this? Japan has now come to expect something special every time Bonnet turns up in Japan. A Blackthorne session perhaps coupled with Anthem and Uli Jon Roth? I don’t know. We’ll see.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet Band / Alcatrazz – Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan – 16th March 2017 – set list

Graham Bonnet Band
Eyes Of The World
California Air
Night Games
Stand In Line
Into The Night
Desert Song
Since You Been Gone
Assault Attack
All Night Long

Night Of The Shooting Star (intro)
Ohayo Tokyo
Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live
Suffer Me
God Blessed Video
Will You Be Home Tonight
Jet To Jet
The Witchwood
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Island In The Sun

Graham Bonnet Band
Lost In Hollywood

Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

EP review: Alastor “Black Magic”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish doomsters Alastor have arrived on the scene with a great three-track EP.

This is an EP with three rather lengthy tracks that live in a very hazy soundscape. Alastor plays timeless doom rock. It has a stoner feeling to it with small hints of 90s alternative rock (yes, a bit of shoegazing in slow motion among the doom rock). To be more precise this sounds like a cross of early Black Sabbath riffs and heaviness blended with psych rock and stoner rock. Doomy, groovy and dusty, this is a great soundtrack to your life, whether it is miserable or top of the world. “Black Magic” works equally well to get a new day going together with your morning coffee or as a soundtrack to your late-night after party.

Not much is known about this band other than that they are a bunch of musicians from the southern part of Sweden that have created a great EP. The title track is terrific and the other two tracks, the opening track “Enemy” with its extended instrumental intro, and “Nothing to Fear” are almost equally great. The fine guitar work stands out on all three songs. Lyrically and image wise, Alastor has an occult theme going on that fits very well with the music.

The EP has been recorded by Magnus Sörensen at KulturVerkstan and mixed and mastered by Hannes Heed at Black Sword Studios. The music feels timeless while the production sounds fashionably vintage (most likely intentionally).

“Black Magic” will be released via Twin Earth Records on 18th March. /

Former Amaranthe and In Flames members unite in CyHra

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jake E and Jesper Strömblad launch CyHra | Record deal inked, debut album and world tour coming up.

Vocalist Jake E, who recently announced his departure from Amaranthe, has teamed up with guitarist Jesper Strömblad (ex-In Flames, HammerFall) to launch a new modern metal band called CyHra. The band has signed a record deal with Spinefarm Records/Universal.

For CyHra, Jake E and Jesper Strömblad have recruited former In Flames bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Alex Landenburg, who has played with Annihilator, Bonfire, Masterplan and Stratovarius, to complete the line-up.

Jake E on stage in Tokyo in September 2016 during the Helloween/Amaranthe tour. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band is already working on its debut album, which is expected to be released later this year. Based on the great quality of early CyHra demo recordings I’ve heard, this new band will no doubt cause a stir and get attention from both Amaranthe and In Flames fans. This is modern and melodic metal bursting with energy. These four gentlemen have some serious pedigree, but I reckon the best is yet to come for them. Once the debut album is released sometime in the autumn, CyHra plans to do extensive international touring in support of the album.

Interview | Chuck Billy of Testament | “We have to stay on the path that we started”

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Three decades on from their debut album, Bay Area thrash metal heroes Testament are still killing it both on record and on stage. One might argue that they are better than ever. “It is what it is now. I’ve done this long enough and I have nothing to prove,” says Testament frontman Chuck Billy as he talks to Roppongi Rocks.

Testament on stage in Tokyo in Feb 2017. Photo: Mikio Ariga

When Testament returned to Japan for yet another successful Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with vocalist Chuck Billy to talk about the band, where they’re at and what’s coming up.

With a fab new album out (“Brotherhood of the Snake”, released in October 2016) and successful touring across the globe, the current line-up of Testament – Chuck Billy on vocals, Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick on guitars, Steve Di Giorgio on bass and Gene Hoglan on drums – is one of its best to date and they are tight. It seems that the band just keeps getting better after all these years. “It’s like wine!” laughs Chuck Billy as we sit down at the band’s Japanese label’s offices the day before they are due to play in Tokyo.

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

One of the weak points for some thrash metal bands, is that they often fail to match their musical skills with a vocalist on the same skill-level. That is not the case with Testament. The veteran Bay Area thrashers have one of the best vocalists in the thrash metal business. Chuck Billy outclasses most of the competition. And it is quite obvious that he enjoys what he does for a living and he is very confident.

That is quite a comeback for someone who in 2001 was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. “As I had my illness and literally thought my music career was done. I looked in the mirror, I was bald, no eyebrows, ballooned up on steroids. I was like: OK, that’s it. I’m done.”

But as Chuck was in the middle of his cancer battle, his friends in the music business put on the now legendary Thrash of the Titans benefit show to raise money for his career treatment in August 2001 with bands including Anthrax, Exodus, Death Angel and Heathen on stage. The evening also saw a reunion of the band Legacy, the forerunner to Testament who had Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocals.

“The whole scene – it was just a weird time for us. After that – the cancer and the Thrash of the Titans benefit show for me – it was the first time we all were on the stage together at the same time for fourteen years or something like that. That kind of opened the door. I think once that door was open, then we had our reunion, the original with everybody, and played for about a year. Something at the point just kind of… There was confidence, being comfortable. It is what it is now. I’ve done this long enough and I have nothing to prove,” explains Chuck.

Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

“Beating the illness and then: Wow! This is trippy. I am getting a second chance here. I am gonna finish what I started with these guys. It is something about that that planted a seed of confidence, made me relax. I didn’t feel like I gotta write heavier than that band, I’ve gotta do this bit… You know what? I couldn’t care less. As long as I am having a good time and I am feeling it with these guys, we’re doing it. And like you said, we’re doing it well together.”

“I think the very first rehearsal we all had back, it was a little rough the first day, but the second day, it was just like BAM! Like we hadn’t missed a beat almost. That to me was like, this is it! Cool! It was really just a comforting feeling. I think that played a big, big part for me personally. Maybe even to this day: stay focused on Testament, what we do and what we did. There are so many bands out there that I love, and love the music and come out so heavy, so new and fresh. But  we can’t do that, we can’t change and shift gears now to do that, or we’ll get criticised. We have to stay on the path that we started or we’re gonna get criticised and then it’s done. So, at that point the confidence kicked in and maybe it focused on the songwriting maybe a little bit to more not trying to write what everybody’s gonna think or to keep up with that band. It’s just what feels good for us. That’s what it came down to I think. Something about that made the record special and unique. The songs stood out on their own. None of our records are the same. They always seem to change and shift in a little way but you always know it’s Testament if you hear it.”

Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

“I think it just kind of grew and I think up to this record… From ‘The Gathering’, wow! We really got praise for that. Man, those were good songs. It was really a turning point where I felt like all the stuff we had before, it was a combination that we finally found a good combo of thrash, blast beats, a little bit of everything. Wow, cool. This is it. How are we gonna top that? Then we kind of strung it out with the reunion and at one point when we were all playing together, I think three years went by – because it was only supposed to be one show, the reunion, and it turned into five years – three years later we said: OK, so, do you guys want to write a record? Yeah, we’ve done enough time together now, a couple of years, let’s do it. And we wrote ‘Formation’ and that came out really strong. I thought we topped ‘The Gathering’ in a sense. Having the other guys be part of the new Testament was right on. Everybody’s finding their way, because with Alex and everybody coming back, they had to train themselves to catch up to speed with us. Then we did that tour and everything was going great and then stepped into the ‘Dark Roots’ record. And again, those songs came out really good, but the record’s a little more polished. Songs are a little mid-paced, it wasn’t as thrash as I would’ve liked it. Then going into this record, that’s when we said: We gotta improve. What do we need to do? I thought: Thrash! There’s got to be a little more thrash! Faster, pick up the tempos. That’s when Eric really kicked in and started gearing up the songs, the tempos.”

Finding that delicate balance between melodic and heavy that is Testament’s signature sound can be hard, but on the latest album they seem to have achieved it. “That was the challenge for me. On this new stuff, the songs were faster paced. The typical Chuck would go: OK, it’s a fast song, I’ll sing fast. I wanted to totally challenge myself and go: Don’t do what you normally do. So on the fast songs, I would say: If it’s shifting, go the other way. Try to find the mid-tempo melody over something fast. Or blasting but I am singing something melodic over it. So that was the challenge for me. I lived these songs for so long. We worked on that thing for like two years and had battles. I had that thing absorbed in my brain but never did the demo, never demoed them up. We did the record and that’s when the lyrics and all the parts and the melodies really came to life…in the studio. That’s when we all kind of went: That was painful…writing this record. I don’t ever want to go through this again. But if it guaranteed the result, I’d give it a shot!”

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Having seen Chuck perform three gigs in Japan since 2015 (two with Testament and one with Metal Allegiance), I am amazed that his voice keeps evolving and getting better. “It’s the relaxing and the confidence. In the early days, it was more melodic singing, carrying the note and the tune and the melody. After that it was more Whaaa! I started singing different and using my voice probably wrong and doing more damage. I noticed after the ‘Demonic’ tour. I’d thrashed my voice, it really bashed it. Thinking: This ain’t good. I really wanted to stick to what I do. Over the years, especially this last one, I really wanted to go back to just be comfortable being me, that’s it. That’s what I just tried to accomplish. And I think I did it. I listen back and I do enough in the right spots, not overdoing it. Everything has its place.”

Chuck’s voice is somewhat more prominent in Testament’s music than is the case with vocals for many other thrash metal bands. “Sometimes I do think about it. I did a soundcheck yesterday. I sat and listened for about a half hour while they just jammed and performed. Man, I gotta go and sing. I don’t want to fuck it up. I got up there and was thinking: You know what? I do add my own thing to the sound of the band live. It’s a whole different thing than in the studio, when you’re getting on stage and you’re in the moment. I don’t know, maybe it’s a natural thing or instinct, I guess.”

Chuck has been fronting Testament ever since he in 1986 replaced Steve “Zetro” Souza behind the mic. It was actually Zetro who recommended Chuck to replace him in the band Legacy, which at that point became Testament. “Yeah, I knew Zet since… He grew up two-three blocks from where I grew up. He was my younger brother’s best friend. They were best chums. When he was in Legacy, all of us friends that grew up in Dublin, went to see Legacy play. Let’s go and check out Zet’s new band. We went down there and we were blown away. Holy shit! Those guys were good. To me the songs were beyond… Are we having an earthquake?!” says a surprised Chuck as the building we’re sitting in starts to sway and shake.

Indeed, Mother Earth has decided to add some rock’n’roll of her own during Roppongi Rocks’ meeting with Testament in the form of a decent-sized earthquake.

Once the shaking stops, Chuck continues: “Zet, he decided to leave and at that time, I‘d just finished taking about two years of vocal training in San Francisco, private lessons. I was like: Yeah, I’m ready! I’ve gotta find a band. The timing was perfect. He was like: I’m leaving to join Exodus. Here’s this guy, Alex Skolnick, call him up. You gotta go and join these guys. After seeing Legacy, those guys were good. I got the demo and really studied the songs lyrically, cause I wanted to audition.”

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

“Understand, I was In some other local groups, nothing serious.  I was more rock’n’roll, like a Dokken or a Ratt, or something like that was more my thing. And the way I dressed and had my hair looking, so they were: I don’t know about that guy. I showed up to the audition. They knew who I was and it was probably a bit intimidating to them. I remember I was 21 and old enough to buy the beer. They weren’t old enough, so I came with a case of beer. Oh, great. He’s in, he can buy us beer! Haha!!”

Chuck’s audition took place in a “little tiny rehearsal room. I had to sing in the hallway because there was no room for me to sing in the same room. It went great, singing three songs and a couple of days later: Alright, got it. Cool. Then we reached out to Megaforce.”

Megaforce Records, headed by Jon Zazula (aka Jonny Z), had released Metallica’s first album and would also later work with artists such as Anthrax, Overkill, Ace Frehley and Manowar. They had already offered Legacy a record deal. Now with a new singer, the band asked if the deal was still valid. “They said: Send us a demo, let’s hear it. So, I did my three-song demo, the same ones I sang, and sent to them. We got a deal  They flew out to see us rehearse all of the rest of the songs. We’re all fired up and excited. Got to the rehearsal the next day and everybody was just shocked, they had been up all night. They had found out that Cliff had passed away the night before,” explains Chuck how the accidental death of Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton impacted the whole scene.

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

“From that point on, once Jonny took us under his wing, it took off from there. When I look back and… What was it about those early days? We put a record out every year. ‘87, ’88, ‘89, ’90, then ’92. We were going, man. That’s what I tell Eric now: We need to do that again. We gotta cut more records as part of this contract. We just keep knocking them out. We start writing right now  I am still kind of in a writing mode a little bit from this record.”

In today’s Testament line-up, there are three members who have left the group and come back: Alex Skolnick, Steve Di Giorgio and Gene Hoglan. Kind of bringing in new old blood, or perhaps old new blood, to the band’s creative process. “Everybody’s bringing their own style to this group. They all have their own thing. But when we perform as the band Testament, we play these songs, it’s something different. Me and Eric create a lot of it, it’s basically: here’s a lot of the tracks, especially on this record. Gene, he hadn’t even heard me sing a song going into record this record. Haha!!”

Testament has now released eleven studio albums. With such a vast and great back catalogue, it can’t be easy to pick songs for the gig set lists. “It’s very tough. When it comes down to it, it always goes back to these old songs. Today we were saying: the American tour is coming up, we’re going to play some songs we haven’t played in a while. I’m sure that’s the intention, but I’m sure we’ll go back and play what we have done… Yeah, it’s really tough. You gotta take that seat that if I was watching a band I was paying to go and see, I would wanna see those classics. If that’s what you grew up with, that’s what you wanna hear. You gotta do that. No matter how many times you’ve played them. You have to.”

Chuck Billy of Testament in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Testament has been touring regularly in Japan for three decades. Their first Japan gig was in front of a seated audience. “It was our first time having an audience sitting. We’re up there, young and thrashing. They’re just sitting there,” laughs Chuck who also remembers that many of their fans came straight from their office jobs with briefcases and everything. “I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Since that first encounter with Japan, Testament has focused on playing clubs and festivals in Japan where the audience can be more lively.

With Eric and Chuck the only two constant members of the band, many members have come and gone over the years. Testament has had people from other bands such as Anthrax, Exodus, Slayer and Megadeth in the band. “We’ve been a stepping stone for drummers!” says Chuck. “At some point we just had a revolving door, I guess me and Eric just keep playing. We’ve been fortunate to have great guitar players and drummers as fill-ins along the way. We have fun.”

Chuck Billy of Testament on stage in Tokyo | Photo: Mikio Ariga

With a successful Japan tour completed, what’s next for this hardworking thrash metal band? “Right after we get home from this, we start writing. We have all of March off and then April we hit the road. 37 shows. Us, Sepultura, Prong. It’ll be a good package,” says Chuck of the line-up for the US tour. “Then, June we will have off, somewhere in July we will continue writing. We got a couple of shows in July in Europe and then a short run in August. Then we’re doing a major headline tour at the end of the year in Europe. We haven’t done that in a while, so it’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Testament fans can expect to hear the results of the band’s songwriting sometime in 2018 when the new album is expected to be released.

Interview: Gus G will return to Japan to perform a special career retrospective

Gus G and Elize Ryd

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Guitar hero Gus G is about to return to Japan for a couple of very special solo gigs in Tokyo and Osaka on 22nd and 23rd March. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Gus G, perhaps most famous as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, ahead of the tour.

You are about to return to Japan for some solo shows. What is your best memory from previous visits to Japan? “I have so many great memories from my visits in Japan. From the early days of Dream Evil, to Firewind‘s headline and co-headline runs with Kamelot, then my own clinic tours and of course two amazing visits with Ozzy. Every time has been memorable and special.”

Gus G

Japan adores guitar heroes. Do you find the Japanese fans different in any way from your fans at home in Europe? “Japanese fans are very loyal, polite and show their appreciation in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. They show up at the hotels and train stations when we travel from city to city with special gifts, they’re always very discreet and cool. And they know their music too, they love the details.”

What can the Japanese fans expect from your Japan shows? “I think for those that plan to attend, they’re in for a treat! This is more than just a solo show, it’s a career retrospective. My show will run almost two hours and me and my band will be playing lots of stuff from both my solo albums, lots of Firewind material, Dream Evil, Ozzy and maybe some surprises as well! You definitely shouldn’t miss out!”

Your band Firewind has a great new album out and you have a few Firewind members in your solo band. Thus, can the Japanese fans expect to hear some Firewind favourites during your Japan gigs? “Absolutely! We will play some older Firewind material, but also songs from our new album “Immortals”. And as you said, we have a new singer, his name is Henning Basse. Henning will be fronting my solo band in Japan as well. He toured with me before he joined Firewind, but since he joined the band, this will probably be the last time he will play with my solo band, as he will be concentrating on Firewind’s shows and I’ll be using different singers. So, I think this is another reason why these shows in Japan will be special.”

You are bringing Elize Ryd as a special guest for the Japan gigs. How did your cooperation with her come about? “I’ve always loved her voice, her presence and her band Amaranthe. We collaborated on my solo album ‘Brand New Revolution’ on a song called ‘What Lies Below’. We’ve always wanted to play that on stage together and now we finally will have the chance to do it for the first time in Japan!”

Gus G will perform at Club Quattro in Tokyo on 22nd March and at Club Quattro in Osaka on 23rd March.