Gig review: A sweaty and heavy evening with Machine Head in Tokyo

Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Machine Head returns to Tokyo with a sweaty and hard-hitting modern heavy metal show.

Machine Head at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo, 2nd July 2018

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Three years ago, Californian metal band Machine Head did a terrific gig in Tokyo in front of a crazy crowd of metalheads. Could they possibly top that when they are now back in Japan? Yes, of course. Machine Head always delivers and here in Japan, the band has a very loyal crowd which is with them every step of the way.

This sweaty evening in Tokyo, the crowd is more than ready for the return of Machine Head. Within seconds of the house lights going out, there is a circle pit going on and for the next two hours and forty-five minutes, the craziness doesn’t stop. The crowd screams “Machine Fucking Head” throughout the whole gig and frontman Robb Flynn soaks it all up. He feeds on it and recycles the energy from the crowd. Few bands are heavier live than Machine Head. There are acts that are faster, rawer and darker, but not heavier. Their modern take on heavy metal includes variations, such as slower parts, more melodic parts and spoken parts as well as some serious grooves at times. But most of all this is heavy music that attacks you on all fronts.

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

They open in style with the majestic “Imperium” and follow it with “Volatile”, a song from the band’s latest album, “Catharsis”. They are off to a magnificent start and when then they start playing “Now We Die”, one of the band’s best-ever songs, they have already won this evening. The evening’s set list is untouchable. How could this possibly be improved? We get the ultimate collection of Machine Head songs, old and new, delivered by an on-form band bursting with energy. Robb Flynn, on guitar and lead vocals, is backed up by guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain. Every song is a crowd favourite. “Tokyo! Fuck yeah!” screams Flynn from the stage and I can only agree. What a total metal love fest this is. It’s a volcanic eruption of hard-hitting heavy metal.

In recent years, Machine Head has opted to tour without opening acts and not do festival gigs. Instead, they do their own massive sets billed as “An Evening with Machine Head”. The concept works a treat. When you get this much good stuff from your favourite band, who needs anything else? Few bands out there can match Machine Head live. This is a band that knows how to deliver a quality show to its fans.

Robb Flynn of Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

One of the absolute highlights of the gig is the track “Is There Anybody Out There?” This is Machine Head at its best: combining crushing heavy metal and hints of thrash metal with more contemporary sounds, all melted down into a modern Machine Head track. In the set, we also get fabulous versions of older tracks such as “Ten Ton Hammer” and “Old”. New songs “Beyond the Pale” and “Triple Beam” are other favourites in the set this evening. The crowd keeps going without ever stopping. “You’re at a Machine Head show. You can do whatever fuck you want!” promises Flynn from the stage. And the fans in the audience do whatever they want. They sing along, they chant, they crowd surf, they mosh, they enjoy the music in a very physical way.

A long, sweaty and fabulous evening comes to an end with “Halo”. Let’s hope it won’t take them three years to make it back to Tokyo. The fact that this Japan tour consists of gigs in five Japanese cities shows that there is plenty of love for Machine Head here.

Machine Head on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Album review: Dee Snider “For the Love of Metal”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider is back in action with a great new solo album filled with hard rock songs dominated by his powerful voice.

Dee Snider has always had a powerful voice and been a great frontman. But during the height of his former band Twisted Sister’s mainstream success in the 1980s, his outrageous make-up and attention-grabbing stage clothes oftentimes got in the way of the music. That is not the case with the solo artist Dee Snider.

Following the death of Twisted Sister’s drummer AJ Pero in 2015, the band did a final tour, aptly named “Forty and Fuck It”, before they called it quits in 2016, 40 years after Dee joined the band. Now Dee Snider is focused on a solo career. Having previously released three solo albums, most recently “We Are the Ones” in 2016, he’s now back with a new album filled with hard-hitting hard rock songs with his voice at the centre of it all. That powerful voice combined with strong material and a terrific production make this a terrific album. I really didn’t know what to expect from a Dee Snider solo album in 2018. Is he still up to the task at age 63? Does he still have the energy and the hunger? Oh, yes! Old uncle Dee proves with this new album that he is one of hard rock’s great singers and frontmen and that he is still relevant.

On “For the Love of Metal”, we get a whole bunch of strong hard rock songs. Some of my immediate favourites are “I Am the Hurricane”, “Tomorrow’s No Concern”, “American Made”, “Roll Over You” and the fierce title track “For the Love of Metal”. While this is undoubtedly Dee’s record, he has some great guest appearances, most notably Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz on the splendid duet “Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enemy)”. A great metal version of Dee’s previously released song “So What” comes as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album.

This material will no doubt work a treat live. Performing the album more or less in its entirety and complementing these songs with some of Twisted Sister’s best songs should make a great live set.

Dee Snider’s solo album “For the Love of Metal” will be released on 27th July via Napalm Records internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Interview: Nicky Renard of Nightstage – the teenager at the heart of a classic American rock band

By Roppongi Rocks

Recently, Los Angeles-based band Nightstage released its debut album “Sunset Industry”, an album recorded in Nashville which is full of classic-sounding American rock music. Nightstage’s core duo, father-and-daughter team Max Foxx and Nicky Renard, is backed up by a band of seasoned music industry veterans from the American rock scene. Roppongi Rocks checked in with 16-year-old co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist Nicky Renard in Los Angeles to talk about her role in the band, the debut album and what’s next for Nightstage. 

You have co-written Nightstage’s debut album. What inspired you when you created this music? “A lot of things. What I mostly set out to do was write music which takes people to a different place in their mind, sort of like an escape. And I guess Nightstage’s rhetoric is to simply write music which we like ourselves and hope that other people have a similar taste. Really, the creative process varies from song to song. With ‘Illusion’s Way’, for instance, I actually had parts of the lyrics and I knew what I wanted the song to be about before I had the music. I composed the music with the lyrics in mind. Usually, though, I’m just experimenting around the guitar when the song hits me, or I guess I should say a part of a song hits me. If something sticks out and sounds particularly good, I’ll record it, just my guitar track. Sometimes I’ll immediately get to work on making a song out of it. Other times, I just keep the riff as it is and share it later with my dad, Max, to see if he comes up with something interesting. If my dad comes to me with a song or a riff, that’s a different story. Then I have to listen to what he’s playing and try and come up with something that fits the song, yet sticks out as having a complementing but separate melody. If what I’m playing isn’t different enough, meaning it only acts as ‘filler noise’, then it wouldn’t even have to be there at all, in my opinion. Lyric writing also has a different process for me. With composing, the music hits me randomly. Lyrics usually come to be by listening to the music over and over again. I try to block everything out and listen to what the song is making me think. I interweave memories, dreams, and thoughts and attempt to put all of that as best I can into a limited number of words.”

When I listen to your music, classic rock acts such as The Eagles, Journey, Tom Petty, New England and Bad Company come to mind. How would you describe Nightstage’s music? “In the band, we call our genre ‘heavy soft rock’, which at this point I’ve started describing as soft rock plugged into a Marshall amp if you get the idea. No, what it really is is soft rock which we turn into heavy rock by adding heavy guitar riffs, groovy basslines, massive drum fills and at times mysterious vocals. I guess everybody has a different interpretation of what our music sounds like. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what our music sounds like and not many people agree with each other.”

You are a young musician and songwriter and in Nightstage you’re surrounded by seasoned veterans who have played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or do you see them as just fellow musicians in a band? “Well, it does put some pressure on me to perform well, but at the same time having such seasoned musicians in the band gives me a great sense of support. There’s nothing better than knowing you have a good, solid band with you on stage. I think we all support each other to put on a great show.”

You are a self-taught guitarist. What made you pick up the guitar in the first place? “It really started when I was thirteen and a half. A lot of changes had happened in my life at that time, but at the same time, it felt like everything sort of was at a standstill. I guess that something just drew me to the guitar at that point. I had been listening to a lot more music at the time. Then, when I started playing more guitar, I realised that playing guitar was what my passion was. I don’t think I would ever have ended up playing another instrument than the guitar. I don’t think the option of playing another instrument was ever something I had in my mind. I remember being nine or so and stumbling across one of my dad’s videos, Deep Purple performing at the California Jam. My mind was blown, seeing Ritchie Blackmore up on that big stage. I thought that being a guitarist had to be the coolest thing you could be.”

You co-founded the band with your father, Max Foxx. Was it obvious for you both to do this together from the start? “In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. It wasn’t ever that we thought ‘both of us play instruments, let’s start a band together’. It came a little more gradually. It started with the two of us just jamming out together and then we got to work on some material we had composed. Just as a fun thing. After a while, though, we decided to work to release a single and that was when it started for real. By the time we had recorded the single, ‘Grovy Lane’, we had a bunch of ideas for more songs, so we made the decision to start working on forming a real band and recording a full album.”

After a lot of hard work with your debut album, it was released a few months ago. Were you nervous about how it would be received by the world? “Actually, not as much as you could imagine. So much had been happening before the release, such as our last-minute re-mixing of the album and rehearsing for our album launch show, that I barely had time to think about how it would be received. It was exciting, obviously, but I always kind of imagined that if I dig the album, other people will probably also like it.”

The album’s out and you’re doing some gigs in the US. What’s next for Nightstage? “We’ve already started working on a new album which we’re aiming to release later this year. Apart from that, we’re planning a US tour and some shows abroad toward the end of the year or early next year.”

Nightstage’s debut album “Sunset Industry” is out now.

Interview: Frax of Venus Mountains | Japan tour in August

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Italian hard rockers Venus Mountains, who released their latest album “Black Snake” earlier this year, have announced a five-date Japan tour. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with vocalist and guitarist Stefano “Frax” Pezzotti ahead of the band’s first-ever Japan tour.

Italian hard rockers Venus Mountains have been around for nearly a decade. They have released an EP and two full-length albums and toured in Europe and the US. Now they are ready to win over the Japanese fans.

Over the years you have toured a lot in Europe and also played in the US. Why have you decided to come and tour in Japan this summer? “We decided to come to Japan because we love it from the very bottom of our souls and after the US tour in 2015 we would like to promote the new album in other parts of the world this time.”

What are your expectations from your Japan tour? “We hope to have good shows and we would like to play every night at our best.”

What can you tell us about the members of the current line-up of the band? “The members are still 75% of the original line-up of 2009 when we were born. We have only changed our lead guitarist in 2015 to the current one, Mick Violence.” In addition to Mick and Frax, the Venus Mountains line-up is completed by bassist Marco “Sexx Doxx” Dossi and drummer Morris Archetti.

Your style of music is a sort of blues-based hard rock with some great melodic touches. At times you sound a bit like sleaze rock and acts like Mötley Crüe or Skid Row. How do you prefer to describe your music? “Yeah, we like Mötley and Skid too. We opened a gig for Skid Row last month in Italy. Each of us has different musical influences. This is the secret in our sound, a mix of heavy classic, hard rock and blues, a cocktail of one-third Motörhead, one-third Mötley Crüe and one-third AC/DC.”

Your lyrical themes seem to mostly be classic rock song issues such as rock’n’roll, partying and ladies. “Mostly we talk about these things, especially ladies. But sometimes we write about war, protest or about our landing from the planet Venus,” explains Frax with a reference to the band’s official narrative of having being formed on the planet Venus in 2009 before they arrived on Earth.

What musical influences do you have? “A lot of bands: Motörhead, AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, KISS and many other bands from 1970 to 1990.”

Is there a big difference between Venus Mountains in the studio and when the band performs live on stage? “We try to do our best to have the same style and sound in the studio and also on stage. Of course, live we try to do crazy things, the special ingredient of the Venus live show.”

Your latest album, “Black Snake”, was released earlier this year. How does this differ from your earlier work? How has the band and the production evolved? “The songs are not really different from the previous album. We obviously talk about other things in other ways and we have paid more attention to details. We took a lot of time for this album but we are happy with the final result. We hope that those who listen to it feels the same.”

You’re working with Volcano Records in your native Italy. Are they working for you globally or do you also work with other local and regional labels in other countries to get your music accessible to fans worldwide? “At the moment we are working with Volcano Records and they are helping us a lot both in Italy and in Europe. Now we hope to find our space here in Japan too and we are happy to be able to bring our music here.”

You can catch Venus Mountains live on stage in Japan at these gigs:

  • Tuesday 14th August: Den Atsu, Tokyo
  • Wednesday 15th August: Crescendo, Tokyo
  • Thursday 16th August: Pepperland, Okayama
  • Friday 17th August: Mojo, Kyoto
  • Saturday 18th August: Panhead Groove, Osaka

Album review: The Night Flight Orchestra “Sometimes The World Ain’t Enough”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Night Flight Orchestra, featuring members from Soilwork and Arch Enemy, is back with another fabulous melodic rock album. Heavy and dark dudes playing sunshine rock!

In The Night Flight Orchestra, vocalist Björn Strid is joined by his Soilwork colleague David Andersson on guitar, the one and only Sharlee D’ Angelo (Arch Enemy, Witchery, Spiritual Beggars, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate) on bass, as well as Richard Larsson on keyboards, Jonas Källsbäck on drums and Sebastian Forslund on guitar. Despite the members’ dark and heavy musical roots, this is sunshine rock. It is a fabulous Swedish take on the type of classic American rock music performed by bands such as Journey, Foreigner, Boston and Kansas. The Swedish heavy metal lads manage to pay tribute to those bands – with a fab retro feel – while at the same time sound modern. The Night Flight Orchestra is a side project for when the band members are not busy with their many other bands and projects. This is a project born out of love for music and the fun of playing together with friends and without any high ambitions. That’s perhaps one of the explanations of why this is so good and laidback. I can’t stop thinking that this would be a killer show for a Las Vegas residency.

Following last year’s terrific album “Amber Galactic”, the band is already back with its fourth full-length studio album. It’s their best album so far. Strid’s voice is equally good at singing this type of soft music to the heavier stuff he does with Soilwork. The sometimes sugary melodies and the 80s keyboards are guilty pleasures that few rockers can resist. This is catchy, quality soft rock, born out of the music of the 70s and 80s but dressed in a contemporary suit.

The album lifts off with the agenda-setting fast rocker “This Time”. The message is loud and clear. Here’s a bunch of friends with an album full of great music that makes you happy. The album’s title track is a celebration of awesomeness and a great choice as the soundtrack to your pool party with umbrella drinks, while “Moments of Thunder” is simply fantastically epic and “Lovers in the Rain” should be a radio hit. “Winged and Serpentine” is one of my favourite tracks and so is “Paralyzed” with its fantastic groove and the interaction of the guitars and keyboards. But best of them all is the Japanese edition bonus track “Pacific Priestess”.

As much as I love dark, heavy music with no hope of any daylight, I’m also a sucker for catchy classic sunshine rock. Summer has arrived here in Tokyo and this is the season’s soundtrack.

The Night Flight Orchestra’s album “Sometimes The World Ain’t Enough” will be released on 29th June via Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Powerwolf “The Sacrament of Sin”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power metal band Powerwolf is back with a good new album and a terrific bonus album full of goodies.

If you like European power metal, Powerwolf’s new album won’t disappoint. It is an album full of singalong anthems. It’s melodic and often-times fast and bombastic. Among the best new Powerwolf songs are the anthems “Nighttime Rebel”, “Killers with the Cross” and “Fire & Forgive”. But my favourite is by far “Nightside of Siberia”, a slightly heavier track. We also get a ballad in the form of the splendid “Where the Wild Wolves Have Gone”. In “Incense and Iron” we get a dose of folk metal mixed in with the usual power metal. Jens Bogren (Opeth, Sepultura, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, Amon Amarth) has produced the album which was recorded in Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, Sweden. It would appear that he has added his magic touch to the Germans’ sound. He seems to succeed with whatever artists he takes on, no matter the musical style. But, the best thing about the new release is that it comes with a bonus CD where other bands perform Powerwolf covers. Hearing Powerwolf tracks performed with the distinct musical flavours of bands such as Epica (“Sacred & Wild”), Amaranthe (“Army of the Night”), Eluveitie (“When the Saints Are Going Wild”), Caliban (“Kiss of the Cobra King”) and Battle Beast (“Resurrection by Erection”) is more than a treat. It actually sounds great. The bands have really taken the Powerwolf songs and made them their own.

Powerwolf’s new album “The Sacrament of Sin” will be released on 20th July via Napalm Records internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Album review: Lucifer “Lucifer II”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lucifer gives us heavy riffs and great melodies on its terrific new album.

Lucifer is back with its second studio album and it is one of this year’s best rock albums. Formed in Berlin, Germany in 2014, by vocalist Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) and former Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings, Lucifer released its debut album in 2015. Jennings left after the first album and Sadonis reformed the band together with Nicke Andersson who somehow manages to help make Lucifer even greater when he’s not occupied with The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, Entombed and all his other commitments. It’s proved to be a fantastic match made in hell. Two creative minds who together have crafted an album that rocks more than one could ever have hoped for. If psych rock can be catchy, this is it. Just listen to the track “Dancing with Mr D”!

Lucifer, one of the most interesting bands right now, manages to combine great songs and fantastic melodies with guitars straight from the 1970s and some fab progressive rock influences. And there’s a thick layer of groovy doom with exquisite psych rock touches. It’s fantastic music. It combines the heaviness of 70s metal with terrific melodies from the 60s hippie pop groups. In short: it’s music to get laid to.

As always when Nicke Andersson is involved, it’s hard to get it wrong. Frontwoman Sadonis is terrific. Her voice was created to sing in this band. A perfect fit. On the album, Nicke performs bass, drums and half of the guitar parts, with the rest being performed by Robin Tidebrink. The band has a laidback attitude. They make it seem so effortless, although no doubt there is a lot of hard work involved in creating such a fine rock album. This band has it all: the songs, the musicianship, the chemistry, the attitude, the style, the image. And it all adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.

The album kicks off in style with “California Son” and goes on into the land of terrific music with the splendid “Dreamer” and straight into “Phoenix”. This is how you open an album, kids. “Before the Sun” is one of the album’s best songs, although there is no sign of any weakness at any stage on this nine-track album. The album closes with the massive track “Faux Pharaoh”. Great rock’n’roll. A new soundtrack to your life right here, right now.

“Lucifer II” will be released on 6th July via Century Media Records.

Interview: Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary Gothenburg Sound death metal band At The Gates has a new guitarist. When the band recently kicked off their world tour in Japan, Roppongi Rocks met with Jonas Stålhammar for a chat about how he joined the band, its musical direction and how he prioritises between the five bands he currently plays with.

The future of melodic death metal band At The Gates, one of the pioneers of the Gothenburg Sound in the early 1990s, was suddenly in doubt as co-founder, songwriter and guitarist Anders Björler left the band last year. Would they call it quits as a band or find a replacement? The choice became easy as the perfect replacement was standing right next to them. Jonas Stålhammar already played with At The Gates’ vocalist Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg and drummer Adrian Erlandsson in another band, The Lurking Fear. Additionally, he currently plays in Bombs of Hades, God Macabre and Crippled Black Phoenix and is a former lead singer for The Crown (a band which also Tompa was a member of at an earlier stage). So, Tompa and Adrian, together with bassist Jonas Björler and rhythm guitarists Martin Larsson, decided to ask Stålhammar to join At The Gates in 2017.

Was it an obvious and immediate yes from you when the question came? “Yes, yes, absolutely! There wasn’t any discussion. It’s four old mates that I have known for 30 years. And to get to play in a band like At The Gates, that is obviously something I want to do,” says Jonas Stålhammar as we sit down at the band’s hotel in Shibuya a few hours before they kick off their new world tour with a terrific gig in Tokyo.

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is Stålhammar’s second visit to Japan. Last year, God Macabre played for its Japanese fans at Asakusa Deathfest. “Yes, it’s my second visit. Tokyo is a completely fantastic place. You never get tired of it! We were very overwhelmed by how enthusiastic people were to see us. It was really special,” explains Stålhammar his first Japan visit with God Macabre in October 2017.

You were already playing with Tompa and Adrian in The Lurking Fear. Is it different to play with them in At The Gates? “The Lurking Fear started really as an excuse to hang out and create music. Both Adrian and Tompa were a bit restless after the last At The Gates tour. Plus they didn’t know what Anders wanted to do. Thus they wanted to fill the time by playing music. That’s really how The Lurking Fear started. Five friends who wanted to play together. But we’re really serious about The Lurking Fear. Lurking is a new band. Sure, we started a bit higher up than many other new bands, but at the same time, it’s still a new band. I had never played with any of them before.”

A brand new At The Gates album, “To Drink From The Night Itself”, was released in May. It’s the first album without the creative force Anders Björler. Anders’ brother Jonas had to take the helm when the new material was created while Tompa has written the lyrics. “Jonas has always written at least 40% of all songs, together with Anders. Earlier it has mainly been those two who have exchanged ideas with each other. Now Tompa has stepped in, mainly when it comes to the arrangements. That’s where Tompa has done most. Jonas has written the music, but Tompa has had an extremely large part in arranging the music. It’s been the two of them that have exchanged ideas for everything.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What has been your contribution to the new album? “In principle, almost the entire album had already been written. It wasn’t like I wasn’t allowed to come with ideas. I chose not to. I felt it was too early. I want to warm up first and play in At The Gates first before I start to come with ideas. That will be for the next album.”

The gig later on that evening is the band’s first on a new world tour. With a brand new album out, it is also the live premiere for new songs. “This gig will be special as we will play another four songs from the new album, earlier we’ve only played one. So, it’s four songs that we have never played live before.”

How do you feel about playing At The Gates classics created by others versus playing the new songs that you’ve helped to create and record? “I love to play the old songs. It’s been a big challenge for me. My style of playing is quite similar to Anders’, especially when it comes to solos. We’ve always thought about this in the same way: more melodic stuff rather than shredding and show-off solos. In that way, it fits in very nicely. But I have never played thrash. I have had to practice that whole thing in order to get the hang of that way of playing music. But I have nothing against it. I like it.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the new album, there are passages in some of the songs on the album, such as parts of “Daggers of Black Haze” and “The Mirror Black”, where we get some different kinds of influences and music mixed in with the normal anger. “Jonas is really into adding a bit more progressive rock, especially in the arrangements. To make it a bit more epic. I am really into it as well.” So, you’re doing an Opeth? “Ha! It won’t be that extreme! It will be a little bit more of that, but there won’t be any 12-minute songs. I very much doubt that. Haha!! We’ll see when the next album’s released.”

“To Drink From The Night Itself” has been produced by Russ Russell (Napalm Death, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir) and features some gloriously punishing tracks. Did he make it even heavier with his production? “Yes, absolutely. Jonas and Tompa really wanted to work with him. During the ‘At War With Reality’ sessions, the band let a number of people do some test mixes to see which ones they should choose. I think Russ was the second best choice then. It was there and then the idea that we should work with him on the next album came about. Plus that The Haunted did their last album with him. And Tompa has worked with him in Lock Up. He was the sound engineer for Lock Up live.”

As is often the case, the Japanese edition of the new album comes with some fabulous bonus tracks. This time a six-track bonus CD. “Yes. Some of that material is also part of the special box edition, the songs with guest vocalists. That was a really fun idea to give the songs a completely different character. They are three very characteristic voices. All three are very different,” explains Stålhammar the guest appearances of vocalists Rob Miller (Amebix, Tau Cross), Per Boder (God Macabre) and Mikael Nox Pettersson (Craft, Nidhöggr, Omnizide). Another well-known guest on the album is King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque who did the guitar solo on “In Nameless Sleep”.

Jonas Stålhammar and Tompa Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

He continues: “Japanese record releases have had bonus material as long as I can remember. I am a record collector and thus I have bought a lot of Japan releases over the years. They always do something different with the releases there which make them attractive.”

At The Gates’ members play in many different bands and projects, how do you all prioritise your commitments? “At The Gates comes first, almost automatically. Of my five bands, At The Gates and Crippled Black Phoenix are the bands that tour. The other three bands are The Lurking Fear, Bombs of Hades and God Macabre. God Macabre, for example, we don’t actively seek gigs. We do gigs that are offered. We just do it to have fun and to spend time together. Bombs is also not doing that much due to some members’ personal circumstances. We’ve never been a hard touring band. With Lurking it’s similar with family commitments. Thus you have to see what’s possible to do. With Crippled, there are some direct clashes. There’s one tour and one festival this year where they have to take in someone else because there is a clash. That’s a band that I don’t want to quit playing with and thus we always try to make it work as best possible.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sometimes Stålhammar can avoid clashes by pulling double duty with two bands during festivals. “With God Macabre and Bombs I’ve done some festival gigs. This summer both Lurking and At The Gates will do three festivals together.”

New guitarist, new album out and a new world tour that has kicked off. What’s coming up for the band? “We have 14 festivals this summer and then there will be two longer tours outside of Europe this autumn. Then, next year, we will tour Europe and some other stuff. We will do those festivals we’re not doing this year.”

Later that evening in Tokyo Stålhammar is on stage with At The Gates and proves why he is a perfect fit for the band.

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Brazilian metal giants Sepultura returned to Japan after a 17-year absence, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with the band’s Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande for a great conversation about creativity and quite a few laughs along the way.

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Sepultura, formed in Brazil in 1984, debuted in 1986 with the full-length album “Morbid Visions”. Sepultura’s current lineup – American vocalist Derrick Green, guitarist  Andreas Kisser, bassist Paulo Jr. and drummer Eloy Casagrande – released the band’s latest album “Machine Messiah” in 2017 on Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Welcome to Japan. It’s been a long time since Sepultura played here in Japan. “It feels great to be back,” says vocalist Derrick Green. “It’s been 17 years since we’ve been here. Way too long! We’re looking forward to the show. Actually, we have a lot of material we want to play. We’re touring on the album ‘Machine Messiah’. Fantastic album! We wanna see everyone there. We’re gonna be playing classic songs as well, so definitely something not to be missed.” Drummer Eloy Casagrande continues: “Oh, yeah. Exactly! It’s my first time here playing with Sepultura and I can’t wait to feel all the energy from the Japanese fans. I’ve heard it is amazing so I can’t wait for that.”

Derrick Green, Stefan Nilsson and Eloy Casagrande in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

You have both helped to create great new music with the band. But when it comes to old songs that were written prior to you joining the band, do you try to make them your own when it comes to drumming and singing or just stay true to the originals? “I think it is a little bit of both,” says Derrick. “For us, we grew up listening to it, being fans of the band. So, there are elements that we wanna hear in those songs that I think a lot of fans want to hear. At the same time, it’s impossible not to make it your own, because you’re putting your stamp on it, your energy. You’re touring the world doing those songs. And you truly believe in those songs, because, as a fan, you believe in those songs. But being in the band, it’s even something more. It really is! You get down to having your own impact on it and how it comes off. It’s a big responsibility and a lot of fun, I have to say. It’s great because it never really gets old. Even doing those old songs over and over and over again. It’s always different though. Each crowd is different. Each scenario is different. Everything is a little bit different, so you’re going after that energy that made you fall in love with music each time you’re on stage.”

Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

“I have the same impression,” adds Eloy. “I hear from a lot of friends that are musicians that play metal music – they say they want to play the same thing every night. They want it to be perfect every night. I don’t agree with that. Every day you are a different person, you are a different musician, so you have to play it differently in my opinion. If I play every show the same, it gets boring. You need to do it differently. You are always involved with the music.”

Derrick – you are an American who moved to Brazil in the 90s to join Sepultura. New country, new language, joining an already established band. Was it a tough task? “It was mind-blowing! I didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time, I’ve been playing in bands and doing music and wanted and desired to play in a band that’s together, that has an opportunity to play in front of a lot of people and to communicate. So, I didn’t want to let that go. OK! This is the time! So, I have to really step up and really happy that the band were open enough to give me the ability to do what I want and also give positive feedback, to grow with them. Because I knew it would take some time for a lot of fans to be accepting of everything. But also for us as a group to get to know each other as bandmates and friends. They had that development for so many years before. I wasn’t expecting it to happen overnight, I wasn’t naïve to that fact. But I was willing to do that process because my whole life up until then has been kind of working for something like that, but I didn’t know it would be Sepultura.”

Legend has it you had some stiff competition for the frontman position in Sepultura from people like Chuck Billy of Testament. “I think that was one thing that really stuck out. I wasn’t trying to do what the last singer had done. I was really doing my own thing. I think I even had some almost-singing parts on the demo that I sent to them. That was something that they felt they could evolve with so they could be different. One person at the label thought I would be a great match for them because I wasn’t trying to imitate somebody that was there before, which would never work. You can’t do that. Fans would know and I would feel that too. It would just be false and fake.”

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Eloy – you were only 20 when you joined the band in 2011. Was it tough to join a legendary band at such a young age? “Yeah. In the beginning, it was very difficult. I had a lot of pressure on my back! To replace those guys – Igor Cavalera and Jean Dolabella, they are incredible musicians, incredible drummers. I was a big fan of Sepultura before I joined the band. It’s impossible to play metal and especially to live in Brazil and not be a fan of Sepultura! So, I was a huge fan of them and when I was invited to the audition, I was totally in shock! To be in the band, it felt amazing and feels amazing until today. This style of music is what I like to play. In the beginning, it was really difficult with the fans, those more ‘true’ fans. Through the years, with the shows and the new albums, I think that I now have 100% respect and support from the fans. That’s really good to have. I also put myself in the position of the guys. They put trust in – almost – a kid. I was like: ‘Hey, guys! Are you sure what you’re doing?’ It’s a normal concern. You always have a little self-doubt.”

How would you describe Sepultura’s current sound? It has evolved and includes so many different influences. You are often touring with thrash metal bands, but I’d say that you are much more than just thrash metal. “I think you’re right,” says Derrick. “It’s hard to really put a label on it. I definitely would like to push forward toward other types of bands…” Eloy suddenly shouts “Country music!” before a laughing Derrick continues: “Something we’ve never done before. Something that is really open as I think that we are. I definitely don’t see us as only a thrash metal band. But I think that’s the beauty of it. I’m glad that we’ve had that ability to branch out and to not be stuck in one mould, which would be horrible! I don’t like when bands get stuck in that mould. Some bands like to be in that, you know, kind of define themselves through that.”

Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Do you feel any restrictions when you write new music? That you have to fit in with what’s expected of Sepultura? “No. I don’t think so at all,” says Derrick. “Especially with this last album. For example, the first song being ‘Machine Messiah’, being a song that has singing on it. We’ve never done that before. To put that out there, I don’t think we had any idea of the reaction. But you know what? This is how we feel. This is how we’re gonna do it. I think that people have to respect that and they do. You can’t go on in fear. It’s something that we love to do, so why be fearful of trying new things? Of course, it can go back in your face, but still, it’s a fight, I think, to do this style of music. It’s something you have to stand up for and really stand behind or not do it at all.” Eloy continues “Yeah, it’s hard. You have to do what your feeling at the time when you’re doing it. Many bands are always searching for what they were in the past or what they wanna be. We’re just living. We just do what we wanna do. If people are gonna like it or not, that’s not our problem.”

Let’s talk about your creative process. How does the band write music? Together or separately? “I think a lot of things come from Andreas and Eloy at first,“ says Derrick. “Andreas has riffs and Eloy has beats that he’s doing at home and then coming to the studio and going over those ideas. Me sitting there and hearing it, thinking of vocal melody. Sometimes Andreas will send me stuff. Really, throwing things out in the studio. They’re playing something and I start screaming, there’s no lyrics or anything, but trying to think of patterns. Actually, a lot of great things come from that, because it’s just a moment. It’s like: ‘Wow! What was that?’ or it is like ‘Oh, that was horrible!’ Haha!! We can go both ways, but there are so many good things coming out of that. It’s really putting yourself out there, which is hard for a lot of people to do. They have to understand that it really is opening up, being vulnerable. I think it’s a great process that really works well. I think it is growing with us. I wanna go with vocal ideas and just come up with that without hearing any drums or guitar. Or vice versa. It’s really great to switch off but this last album and the album before was primarily starting with beats with Eloy and Andreas’ riffs, then putting it together and then me coming on top of that. And then Paulo coming into the mix and it’s slowly building songs. A lot of it has to do with communicating about what the topic of what’s gonna be written about. That adds to the feel of it too. This is ridiculous what’s going on in Brazil right now when we were writing. The politics and the split between different people. How it’s hard to talk to people. Having that energy and expressing that in the music. Little elements of that too that is added to the creating of a song.”

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

In Sepultura’s lyrics one can find some big topics and issues. Existential issues. Do you always think about writing about important themes or is it less planned and just happens? “A lot of it is from reading a lot of different books or seeing certain documentaries or movies and discussing it,” explains Derrick. “Communicating with Andreas, I think the whole concept of ‘Machine Messiah’ came about. We were talking about technology and he was like: ‘Technology is evil, it’s separating us, and robots’. I was like ‘Ah!’ Trust me, you don’t want to be living in the Stone Age.’ There’s a lot of technological advances that’s helped humanity. With technology, humanity can be even better. At the same time, humanity has to look within itself before reaching out into other fields. There’s a lot of repair that needs to be done within ourselves. Certain things came about, like ‘I am the Enemy’. Usually, we are the worst enemy of ourselves and it’s hard to admit that. It’s hard to look at yourself and go: ‘I’m the one that’s fucking shit up!’ Even though there’s always people pointing fingers. But it all starts with: Wait a minute! Let me look at myself first and see what am I doing? That’s like an idea of a song coming about  Trying to find that balance between technology and humanity, is really where it’s at. Hopefully we can get there. A lot of times it is manipulated by military means. You have this great technology and smart minds creating things that kill each other or the planet. I think we can put that energy in another way. Technology can be great: feeding the planet, feeding people, fresh water. There is a balance.”

Your latest album “Machine Messiah” is one of the band’s best ever. It was recorded and produced by Jens Bogren (Opeth, At The Gates, Dimmu Borgir, Soilwork, Kreator, Paradise Lost, Amon Amarth) in Sweden  How big of an impact did he have on the outcome? “Pretty big impact!” says Derrick. “I think it was a mixture of both. We were at a stage where we gave him the demos and a lot of it had already been written before he got hold of it. But his influence was really crucial. He just wasn’t giving us like fillers or things. It was things that really brought the songs to a higher level. He really listened to it, he really felt that this is going to work for the song, completely confident and we believed him. ‘OK, let’s go with it because he knows what he’s talking about.’ He’s a very technical person, I liked this about his past production. Very clean. The sound is so heavy and clear. I felt this would be a change from the last album that we did. I was speaking with Eloy and I was: ‘Man! These producers from Sweden are just so awesome!’ The sound that they are coming out with is so fresh and new. We really should go in that direction on this new album. All that raw energy we had on the last album and creating that into a different sound with somebody on the other side of the world and different views…”

The album was recorded in Sweden. “Yes, it was, in Örebro and Stockholm,” says Derrick. Eloy continues: “He’s a really nice guy. He’s a perfectionist. Everything, each note. Something I really liked as well, he let us do what we want to do. He was never going to change the musicians that we are. Some producers really try to… ‘Oh, I don’t like the feel, I don’t like the way you’re singing that!’ No, he was always trying to achieve the perfection but in your way, the way you are as a musician. I didn’t change any drum parts, which is something I thought was really cool.” Derrick adds: “The input that he gave me was really crucial  As a native English speaker, his pronunciation of certain words and things like that was fascinating. ‘Push this through. It should maybe be said in this way’. It was great to get really deep with him because he was 100% there all the time. And at a time when he wasn’t, it was: ‘Family time. Shutting down shop. I gotta go home!’ Then he would come back and it’s work time in the morning, which we didn’t like. ‘We were like: ‘What? We’re starting at nine in the morning?’ It was a great recording experience.”

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

It seems that songs from the new album dominate the set list on this tour. Is it hard to find a balance between the new exciting material and the old classics? “It seems to have worked out pretty well,” says Derrick. “A lot of people love hearing the new stuff. It’s like a new exciting Sepultura set, instead of “Ah, I kinda knew what they’re gonna play’. I think it’s challenging for us to always play new songs. It’s really difficult at first because we’re putting so much in the studio, we have that moment where we: ‘Oh, holy shit! We did it. It’s done!’ OK, we gotta see how this is going to work in the set list. But it’s been working brilliantly. I think it has these moods in the set. It’s great to play that many songs.”

On the album, you have a cover of a famous Japanese anime song, “Ultra Seven no Uta”, as a bonus track. What’s the story behind you recording that cover? “I think it came from the past we had growing up with that,” says Derrick. “I know in Brazil it was very big. And in the US it was kind of big as well. It was something that we wanted to really experiment with. It was definitely a challenge. I never sang in Japanese before in my life. But we had somebody that was going to the university there, in the city of Örebro. He’s from Japan and we had him come to the studio, Jens arranged this so we could go through all lyrics and everything. It became the most frustrating song by far. I was like: ‘Nah, this is gonna be easy to do!’ Oh my God! But it was a cool challenge and it was something that we wanted to put on. We always do like a cover and we like to do covers that are really interesting, that people can never guess.”

You now have a 14-album back catalogue. Do you ever feel that there is no point in releasing new albums and to just tour the back catalogue as some bands do nowadays when it is tough selling records? “It’s a lot of fun to write new music,” states Derrick. “There’s always ideas that are coming in our heads. Until that stops, we’ll continue creating music. We are artists and I think it’s important as an artist that we continuously create new work. That’s the whole point of even being a musician! When it’s done, it’s done, kind of. Let’s move on. It’s how you learn. As long as it’s fun and we are really into it and there are things coming.”

This summer, Sepultura will play some summer festivals in Europe, then there will probably be more touring in South America. The touring cycle will wind down at the end of this year before work on a new album is likely to start. Sepultura’s current record label is Nuclear Blast and they hope to stay there. “It’s been great working with them,” says Derrick. “I think it is perfect for us there. They really believe in us. It’s been a while since we had a steady label that’s been backing us 100%. We definitely have that feeling with them.”

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks