Album review: Accept “The Rise of Chaos”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The German metal veterans have still got it. With “The Rise of Chaos” Accept gives us a fab new heavy metal album.

Accept was one of the heavy metal bands in the 80s that I kept listening to. With albums such as “Restless and Wild”, “Balls to the Wall” and “Metal Heart”, they became favourites and made it into my vinyl collection. 38 years after their debut album, they are still going strong, now with a slightly more international line-up. Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes are still the backbone of this band and they still deliver a great dose of traditional heavy metal.

The two things with this new Accept album, the band’s 15th studio album, that suddenly hit me after I have listened to it a few times are: 1) I love it – it’s great and timeless Accept-style heavy metal, and 2) I don’t miss Udo Dirkschneider.

As is the case with many bands from the 80s who are still active, there are constant arguments going on among die-hard fans about original vocalist Udo Dirkschneider no longer being in the band. As much as I love the legendary frontman Udo, I have accepted (!) that he has moved on and Accept has also moved on. It is worth remembering that Accept released an album without Udo already back in 1989: “Eat the Heat” with the terrific David Reece on vocals. The current vocalist Mark Tornillo, who joined the band in 2009, does a fantastic job fronting the band. This is his fourth studio album with the band and he is now an important part of what Accept is. This is also the first album with new members Uwe Lulis (guitar) and Christopher Williams (drums).

Tornillo has a great voice that fits very well with Accept’s trademark heavy metal built around constant guitar attacks. The songs on the new album very much live in the same territory as the classic Accept albums from the 80s, but they still manage to not sound dated.

“Analog Man” has a great old-school touch to it. It kind of sounds like it could’ve been a bonus track from 1983’s “Balls to the Wall” album. “Die by the Sword” has some fantastic guitar work and other clear favourites are “World Colliding” and “Carry the Weight”. The terrific track “Hole in the Head” is a modern, heavy-yet-catchy metal track that still has a firm foundation in the classic Accept sound.

This is a solid metal album with ten tracks and without any fillers. Most Accept fans (those not completely snowed in on the Udo issue) will no doubt love this. They should. It’s bloody good. In summary, on this album we get a terrific collection of new songs delivered by a great band that hasn’t forgotten its 80s heavy metal roots without getting stuck in nostalgia.

Accept’s “The Rise of Chaos” album will be released on 4th August by Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan. Accept will tour Japan again in September.

Album review: Marty Friedman “Wall of Sound”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Guitarist Marty Friedman is back with a beautifully explosive and genre-bending solo album. As usual, he does it his own way.

The best way to listen to this major new work from Marty Friedman is alone in a pitch-black room with the volume cranked up. That way all your senses will be open to the beautiful invasion that “Wall of Sound” is.

The album is a natural follow-up to 2014’s “Inferno”, but here Marty is taking it a step further out into the unknown and unexpected. There is so much beautiful music of all kinds on this album that it deserves and demands your full attention. There are countless small quirks, twists and turns in the music. You’ll discover something new every time you listen to the album. It is a hard to define, genre-bending album. Marty fits in a whole heap of different styles within each song. Some of the songs have so many changes, it’s hard to know if you are still listening to the same song when you are at the end of it.

There is, of course, some great trademark Marty shredding going on here and there, which brings back sweet memories of the good old Megadeth days (such as on the track “Self Pollution” for example). But there are also ballad-like parts with violin, cello and piano and all sorts of different styles and instruments that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Marty.

Marty Friedman. Photo: Takaaki Henmi

“Self Pollution” and “Sorrow and Madness” are two of my favourite tracks, while “Whiteworm” has some fabulously varied guitar work and tempo changes. “Pussy Ghost” is a bit out there and perhaps even the best track on the album. “Something to Fight”, with vocals by Norwegian avant-garde band Shining’s Jorgen Munkeby, stands out like a punch in the face. It has an aggressive intensity. At the other end of the musical spectrum, “The Soldier” kicks off solemnly with a lone cello. The track has a spectacular dreamy air about it.

Marty has brought in some fantastic guests for this new album, such as Jinxx from Black Veil Brides (who plays some beautiful violin on “Sorrow and Madness”) and Shiv Mehra of Deafheaven (“Pussy Ghost”). The guests all make some serious marks on the songs where they appear, which is not a surprise as Marty involved them in the songwriting and evolution of the songs into the final recorded versions.

All the songs, apart from “Something to Fight”, are instrumental. “Wall of Sound” is obviously a solo album by a great guitarist. But this is not all about guitar wankery. This is a beautiful album of at times unexpected music based around a great guitarist.

Marty Friedman’s “Wall of Sound” album will be released on 2nd August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally on 4th August via Prosthetic Records. Marty will tour North America during August.

Album review: Alice Cooper “Paranormal”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Veteran shock rocker Alice Cooper is back with some smoking new music! Producer Bob Ezrin brings back some magic from the 70s to the new album.

I have always liked Alice Cooper. Most of Alice Cooper’s music is good old-fashioned rock’n’roll dressed up with some theatrics. Even at his most commercially sounding period in the 80s (“Poison” and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”), he was always good fun and a top entertainer. On his new album, “Paranormal”, he’s back in fine form.

The first single from the album, “Paranoiac Personality”, is an in-your-face track with an attitude. It does, however, still got some of that “Poison” kind of commercial appeal about it. But most of this album is Alice Cooper sounding like Alice Cooper sounded back in the 70s, probably at least partly due to the fact that Canadian producer Bob Ezrin (KISS, Deep Purple, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith) is once again back working with Alice Cooper. Ezrin produced some of Alice Cooper’s most classic albums in the 70s, including “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell” and “Welcome to My Nightmare”.

Among the new songs, “Fireball” stands out as a great rock tune with a heavy 70s smell. In “Holy Water” we get Alice performing an almost Broadway-esque number. It works a treat. Alice pulls it off. In “Dynamite Road” we get some great storytelling coupled with fine guitar work. In “The Sound of A” we get some spaced out psychedelic rock from the 60s. Fabulous!

In addition to the ten new songs recorded in Nashville, we get a bonus disc with two brand new songs (“Genuine American Girl” and “You and All of Your Friends”) which were written and recorded together with original Alice Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce. These two songs are great and up there with the best songs that the original band did back in the late 60s and early 70s.

The bonus disc also features live recordings of classics such as “School’s Out”, “Billion Dollar Babies” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. The six live tracks were recorded in Columbus, Ohio, USA in 2016 with the current line-up of Alice Cooper’s band, including fierce guitarist Nita Strauss who has added some great energy to Alice Cooper over the past few years.

Celebrity guest musicians on the studio recordings of the album include U2‘s Larry Mullen, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Roger Glover of Deep Purple.

Alice Cooper’s new album “Paranormal” is out on 28th July in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via earMUSIC. Alice Cooper will perform at the Loud Park festival in Japan in October.

Album review: Hirsh Gardner “My Brain Needs a Holiday”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New England drummer Hirsh Gardner is back with another fabulously varied solo album filled with uplifting, catchy and melodic rock music. The Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock is back.

With “My Brain Needs a Holiday”, Hirsh Gardner gives us a rock-solid album of good-natured melodic rock music. Best known as the drummer for classic American rock band New England, Canada-born Hirsh also played in Warrior (basically New England minus John Fannon plus KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent) and also played an important part in the early work on what became the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album.

In a doomy and gloomy world, Hirsh Gardner is the Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock. He makes the world a better place and he is without doubt one of the nicest guys in rock. He’s also a drummer who can sing (his harmonies in New England are legendary) and play multiple instruments. He’s quite a songwriter too.

This album is full of great stuff. It is very Hirsh: diverse, out there, melodic, funky, uplifting and catchy rock. Some of this is like a modern-day version of Slade, sort of (especially the jolly title track). But it is so varied it is hard to put labels on it apart from the obvious one: “Hirsh Gardner”.

Right now my favourite tracks on the album include “Lost in the Darkness Tonight”, “Git It Back”, “Do Me Do Me” and “If U Need t’ Talk”. The great “Shadows” has a somewhat scaled-back production which I love. It’s kind of a demo-like soundscape in which a fantastic song roams around. The ballad “Diamond Moon” is stunningly beautiful, a bit like if Lionel Richie had fronted Journey (which he didn’t). We also get two decent cover songs, “Sister Jane” (originally by French-Vietnamese prog rockers Tai Phong) and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Hirsh Gardner in Tokyo in November 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album has a very slick production. Not a surprise as Hirsh has made a name for himself as a music producer in the Boston area. Hirsh has wisely used his musical brother Jimmy Waldo on keyboards and backing vocals throughout this album. Jimmy has not only played with Hirsh in New England and Warrior, he too has done work with Vinnie Vincent and also played with Alcatrazz, Quiet Riot, Blackthorne and Graham Bonnet Band. Among the guest artists appearing on the album are guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Art of Anarchy, Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford).

The album comes with a bonus disc which is a remastered version of Hirsh’s first solo album, “Wasteland for Broken Hearts”, originally released in 2002.

I love this man and his music. He makes me upbeat, happy and want to scream: Hooray for everything!

Hirsh Gardner’s “My Brain Needs a Holiday” will be released on 25th August via Escape Music (Europe) and GB Music (rest of world).

Interview | Treat: “We’re not a jukebox band!”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic hard rockers Treat recently toured Japan for a third time, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band for a chat about the balance between being a nostalgia act versus creating new music.

Melodic hard rockers Treat had their heyday in the 1980s, releasing their debut album “Scratch and Bite” in 1985. Quickly becoming a name in their native Sweden, they were invited to open for W.A.S.P. during their first tour of Sweden in 1984 and did the same for Queen and Gary Moore in 1986. The band then made an international impact when they had some airplay on MTV of the video for “World of Promises” and were invited to play the Monsters of Rock tour in Germany in 1988 with the likes of Iron Maiden, KISS and David Lee Roth.

In 1990 they toured Japan for the first time, but shortly thereafter melodic hard rock was no longer flavour of the month. Vocalist Robert “Robban” Ernlund left the band. He was replaced by former Swedish Erotica and future Yngwie Malmsteen and Candlemass vocalist Mats Levén. With Levén, the band put out a great record but commercially it didn’t make much of an impact and the band soon thereafter called it quits.

In 2006, in conjunction with the greatest hits album “Weapons of Choice” being released, the band reformed and has since put out two great records of melodic hard rock, 2010’s “Coup de Grace” and 2016’s “Ghost of Graceland”. In January 2015 they finally returned to Japan for a few gigs as special guests of fellow Swedish rockers Europe. That laid the groundwork for their recent return for two great gigs in Japan in 2017.

The current line-up of the band is the same as they had in the late 80s: Anders “Gary” Wikström on guitar, Robert “Robban” Ernlund on vocals, Jamie “Jompa” Borger on drums and Patrick Appelgren on keyboards. Having used a couple of different bassists, last year they recruited Pontus Egberg as a permanent member. He is also a member of King Diamond and Kryptonite and was previously in The Poodles, Zan Clan and Lion’s Share. As I watch Treat perform live the day after the interview, it is obvious that Egberg brings this to a whole new level. He’s a rock-solid bassist who also knows how to perform on stage.

Pontus Egberg of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Earlier I played in The Poodles and we toured together, The Poodles and Treat, around 2010,” explains Egberg. “Thus, we know each other from then and earlier too. When it was time to make a new album, ‘Ghost of Graceland’, I got a call from Mr. Wikström who wondered if I could help them by playing bass on the album. And that’s how I joined. Since then we’ve been out playing a bit in Europe and at home in Sweden too. It’s worked great so far.”

The loyal fan base in Japan is still there. In Japan, Treat’s albums have been licensed by local record company King Records. “It’s an important market for all artists,” says Patrick Appelgren. “That’s how it is. It’s very different from the European and American markets. Here you still sell physical albums.”

Band leader Anders “Gary” Wikström continues: “The Japanese fans had waited a long time for us to come back and play. Yes, there was an audience for us here. We didn’t really know if the audience still existed, but they were here and then it is up to us to nurture that audience. We need to come here more often and follow up properly. To come here and play is something we obviously like to do. It’s hard to beat the impressions we get when we come here.”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

So why did the band decide to reunite in 2006? “Anders and I sat in car on our way to Sweden Rock,” says Jamie Borger. “Yes, we were going to check out Mötley Crüe,” adds Wikström. “I thought that we could have another go with this band. It’s fun. All of us had continued with music so it wasn’t impossible,” says Borger who during Treat’s hiatus played with Talisman. “It was quite simple to get everything to work again music wise. When we all got together in the rehearsal studio it really clicked once again.”

Jamie “Jompa” Borger of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Robert Ernlund continues: “I didn’t realise there was still any interest in Treat. But we had fan clubs all over the place. What? Still? Unbelievable! When we got touring in Europe and played a song from ‘Organized Crime’, everyone was singing along. Shit!”

Having fun has always been at the centre of how Treat operates. “When we started to work on the greatest hits album it was kind of a test,” explains Appelgren. “That’s when we realised it was fun to play together and be around each other again. That resulted in us doing a new album and then one more album. If it wasn’t fun…” Wikström continues: “In the 80s we had pressure on us to tour to promote an album. Today it is all about performing, connecting with fans. That’s a goal in itself. That’s a big difference. That’s why it is important that we’re having fun. Otherwise there won’t be any music.”

Treat is a band with experienced musicians who keep themselves rather busy not only with Treat but also with working with other artists as producers, sound engineers and musicians. Thus, Treat rehearsals are few and far between. “We rehearse when we have something specific coming up,” says Wikström. “You sort of have to trust that everybody is rehearsing on their own. It’s not like when we played with the band full-time. Then we met in the rehearsal room to have something to do. Today we’re so busy that we have to schedule things properly.” Appelgren adds: “We’re experienced. When we were 20, we lived in the rehearsal room.” Egberg continues: “As everyone has so many other things going on, it’s a necessity that everyone deals with this professionally and that they have done their homework when we meet up for rehearsals. Otherwise it would never work.”

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2013, after a great reunion album and some successful touring, the band took a bit of a break. “We were actually a bit unsure if we were going to continue,” explains Wikström. “Should we or shouldn’t we? Unlike many other acts, we never did a farewell tour. For us it’s a lot about inspiration when we make music. We are not a jukebox band! We don’t just tour and play old songs from the past. I don’t think that is justifiable, Treat without any new music to showcase. We want to show people that we are active. Music comes first, then playing, then touring. That’s the order it has to be in. We can’t just fall back on our old songs. I love playing songs we did 30 years ago that people still like. It’s fantastic. But it can’t be just that. Whenever we have added newer songs in our set list, we’ve had stronger and better gigs. Many people have told us that we are one of the very few bands whose new songs are as good, or even better, than back in the day.”

With a back catalogue consisting of seven full-length albums, Treat has plenty of great songs to choose from. “It’s hard,” says Wikström. “But it sort of leaves many wanting more which is an advantage.” One way of dealing with this dilemma is to play medleys, such as the “Dreamhunter” medley they performed on the Japan tour. “We have to do it that way,” says Wikström.

The response to the newer songs has been great at the live shows. “When we play some of the old hits, we get a nostalgic reaction from the audience, but the newer songs have really worked well,” explains Egberg. Ernlund continues: “They’ve been growing on people. Take the ‘Coup de Grace’ album, it’s really grown on people and properly landed. The new album too, slowly but steadily. The more we play the more they have become part of the Treat catalogue.” Borger adds: “These gigs that we are doing now, we kick off with three new songs in a row, before we look at the back catalogue. We’ve planted them there to show that we actually have great new songs that we can play. It feels great, they’re great songs and that’s why we start with them.”

Patrick Appelgren of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How does the band create new music? “The engine is Anders and the rest of us contribute our own things. All of us have some unique abilities and that’s how we try to get the best out of all of us,” explains Appelgren. Ernlund continues: “With this record, ‘Ghost of Graceland’, we were in a situation where we had to ask ourselves if we should continue or not. Then one day Gary calls and says he has ten songs. Oh, OK! Then we worked on it from there.”

“In the end it is the personal touch which all of us put into the music,” says Wikström. “That is very important for how any band is defined as a band. I understand that very well from my work as a music producer. Nowadays it is very easy to create music on your own and then call it a band or a project or whatever. That’s how many are doing things now. That’s why it is even more important for us to use a proper studio where we meet up. It is a kind of a pep talk for ourselves: now we’re making a record, laying down the drum tracks with everybody there together. Even if we don’t record the entire album there and then, it serves as a morale boost by getting everyone focused on working together. That’s how you have to do it in order to catch the feeling we had when we recorded albums in the 80s when there were big budgets to make albums, when you went away abroad for two months with the whole band staying at a hotel. You can forget about that nowadays as there is no budget for such things. But one can recreate that feeling a bit by meeting up and do things together.”

How does Treat create new music but stay within what is expected from the classic Treat sound? “It sort of happens naturally,” says Appelgren. “It depends a lot on the musical arrangements. How I play my keyboards, what Jompa does with his drums, how Robban sings. It’s the way it all interacts, that’s what makes it Treat.”

Wikström elaborates on Treat’s creative process: “It’s kind of brutal. If I have a couple of song ideas in my back pocket that I show the rest of the band, it is very clear if it doesn’t fit. Then those ideas won’t make it. That’s how it is. If people don’t get turned on by the song idea, then I just put them to the side. Somehow we all feel what kind of things can be worked on together to arrive at our finished songs. I also think about this technically: writing things that will fit well with Robban’s singing. It has to fit or it won’t be much fun because his voice will front this. The vocals are a key component in our songwriting.”

Robert “Robban” Ernlund of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A live DVD, “The Road More or Less Traveled”, recorded at the record company Frontiers Music’s own festival in Italy last year, was released earlier this year.

“There have been big gaps between the albums. We get punished for that. We need to make more frequent releases to keep things cooking,” says Wikström.

Treat’s summer is filled with festivals and gigs in Europe. “I will also try to sit down during the summer to start work on a new album,” says Wikström. “I’m at least going to start so that we have a chance of getting the new album released during next year.”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They have an existing record deal with Frontiers Music for the next album too. “They love what we do!” says Wikström and Egberg continues: “They almost have a monopoly when it comes to melodic hard rock nowadays.” Appelgren adds: “They’re an indie label which is almost a major in this category. It is a bit of a monopoly but they have really succeeded. They have really managed to attract bigger artists away from the majors.”

While Frontiers has its own festival, they don’t seem to have moved into producing tour packages, despite their extensive artist roster. “It is almost surprising that they haven’t done that, taking a couple of acts and get them on the road on a tour together. It should be a good business idea for them,” says Egberg.

During their third Japan tour, Treat shows us that they are better than ever. Their newer material is great and with the addition of Pontus Egberg on the bass and back-up vocals they have got a heavy vitamin injection. This is definitely no mere nostalgia act.

Album review: Barb Wire Dolls “Rub My Mind”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Barely a year after their last album, Barb Wire Dolls are back with a new studio album packed with attitude and catchy tunes.

There’s something about Barb Wire Dolls’ sound that I love. The band has plenty of attitude but also the skills to back it up. “Rub My Mind” is the band’s third album and it builds further on the achievements of 2016’s album “Desperate”.

Originally from Greece, the band relocated to Los Angeles in 2010 and got discovered by the late Lemmy, who signed them up to Motörhead Music.

Musically this is quite different from Motörhead. It’s somewhat closer to Lemmy’s other band, The Head Cat. Barb Wire Dolls have crafted an easily recognisable signature sound. If we need to mention references, it is perhaps best described as the Ramones meets Blondie with some The Cramps and Transvision Vamp thrown into the mix. It’s catchy, melodic punk rock crowned by Isis Queen’s characteristic vocals. Her voice is addictive.

The politically charged “Back in the USSA” is fantastic. Another clear favourite of mine on this new album is “If I Fall” and the emotional “Gold” is a treat.

Barb Wire Dolls are a hard-touring band. The experience of countless gigs around the world shows in their new material. The band knows what it takes. Currently they are touring North America as part of the Vans Warped Tour package.

Barb Wire Dolls’ “Rub My Mind” is out now on Motörhead Music.