Interview | Schmier of thrash metal veterans Destruction | “We’re not ready to start a blues band yet!”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When German thrash metal band Destruction returned to Japan to kick off their Asian and Australian tour with a show in Tokyo, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met with vocalist and bassist Schmier backstage before the gig.

Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Schmier (vocals and bass), who co-founded thrash metal band Destruction in Germany in 1982, recently lost their drummer Vaaver. Thus they turned up with hard-hitting German-based Canadian drummer Randy Black (ex-W.A.S.P., Annihilator, Primal Fear) as a fill-in drummer for this tour. Not a bad substitute.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

A day before the Tokyo gig, Destruction did a very exclusive fan event where they performed a full rehearsal show in a studio in Tokyo in front of a small group of dedicated fans who also got to hang out with their favourite band. A meet and greet deluxe! “The VIP thing is something that all promoters do nowadays,” says Schmier as we sit down in a basement backstage in Meguro in central Tokyo shortly before the band is due on stage in front of a sold-out venue. “I understand. It’s good for them to make a little extra money. They have a lot of risk with the shows. But for us and also for the fans sometimes, it is not very satisfying. I think the meet and greet we did yesterday was like a two-hour exclusive with the band in a small room. The fans could express their song wishes and could hear us fuck up and make funny jokes. We did like a meet and greet afterwards with autographs and taking pictures with my bass. It was very intimate. It was also for us quite fun because Japanese people are very well educated so they don’t behave like too crazy… It was very smooth and interesting for us. It’s more difficult to play in front of 20 people than in front of 2,000. Because people are so close to you and they stare at you. It’s a funny experience. We never did this before but I would do this again, any time. It was good value for money for the kids. Basically you get a full set of concert and some extra in a very private atmosphere. And the studios here in Japan are very good, so the sound is amazing in there.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Destruction’s latest album release was 2017’s “Thrash Anthems II”, a collection of re-recordings of some of the band’s classic songs. “Since the reunion, we always include one bonus track, like an old song that we have re-recorded. Since that time, people have started to ask for more songs like this. Then we did the ‘Thrash Anthems I’. For us as a band, it’s great because we can play the songs the way they are meant to be. Some of the old songs were recorded when we were 17 and young, and don’t sound so well, not so tight. Of course, they have the special spirit of the 80s, but as a band nowadays, of course, we can play those songs much better. We try to catch the original spirit and put the songs into the new century. A lot of the young fans actually like it a lot. Because with the old albums, they cannot relate to them so much sometimes, because you’ve had to have lived in the 80s to understand how it was back in the day. Everybody doesn’t like re-recordings, but we do what we want and it’s our songs. We can do whatever we want. Those people who don’t like it don’t have to buy the album! But in general, we have had a lot of good reactions to ‘Thrash Anthems II’ as well.”

With such a vast back catalogue, putting together set lists that will please everyone can’t be easy. “Of course, the classics have to be there. There are a certain number of songs that we cannot change because it’s what people want. When we kick out a song, we will see on the internet, two days later, people complain. When we play a show and we see that songs get great reactions, we keep them in. When we bring in new or old songs again that don’t have so much reaction, we take them out again. Over the years we’ve had a huge selection of songs that we could play. Sometimes we were asking people ‘What do you want to hear?’ Then we just rotated it. It’s something we can’t do now because of Randy. This is his first show, he had to learn 18 songs or so. That’s a lot of work. We will keep the set list a little bit open. This set now focuses a little bit on ‘Thrash Anthems’ and the classics of course. We always try to find the right mix of old and new. When I go and see the bands I like and they don’t play the classics, I am very sad. I saw Accept and they’re not playing ‘Fast as a Shark’. My life’s ruined! It was a fantastic show but they didn’t play ‘Fast as a Shark’! So, I know how the fans feel.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Randy Black, not only a fabulous drummer but also a very nice guy, is much more than just a normal fill-in drummer. How did he end up touring with Destruction? “A few years ago, we did this American tour with Sepultura and Randy filled in for Vaaver because he had a baby break. His wife was pregnant and then he wanted to be there for the birth. So, when we came to this moment now that we have to see how we go on with a new drummer, we called Randy and said: ‘Are you free? Are you interested?’ We knew he could play the songs alright and we know the guy since many years. He’s a very professional drummer. We said: ‘Let’s do this together!’ and he’s going to help us out for the summer with the festivals, also Sweden Rock, and maybe also do the September shows in Greece and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Until then we should know what’s going on. We will also audition two or three more guys that we have in our mind that could fit well. It’s not so easy. We need a guy that’s experienced. There are some great young drummers, but young drummers are too flaky. We need somebody stable. I hate to change drummers every five years or ten. Vaaver was in the band for eight years, but he has chosen to go with his family, which I totally understand. Randy is a great gut. Who knows? Maybe he is going to stay with us. We will see.”

When you write new music for Destruction, do you feel any restrictions? Do you feel that it has to fit in with what’s expected of the band? “When Mike and me put it together it sounds like Destruction anyway. And we’re not ready to start a blues band yet. I think that the definition of Destruction was always crazy riffs with speed and a little punk attitude. I think it just naturally comes out of us when we start writing. Of course, stuff changes a little bit over the years, but basically, we still write songs the same way. We just had a little fine tuning of the way we write and record nowadays. We still record very spontaneously. When we have new songs and ideas, we record them right away. I think we ignore what’s going on in the music world and just do what we like best. I have my other project, Panzer, where I do more heavy metal stuff so I can live in that world too. So, I don’t have to mess it up with Destruction.”

Destruction was formed as a trio, then had two guitarists for a while, before reforming as a trio again when Schmier came back into the band. Did the band ever have any thoughts on adding a second guitarist again? “A second guitarist is like a relationship with two women, you know? It’s quite fun for a little while, but then you start to have problems because everybody wants to write, everybody wants to put stuff in. And for Destruction, it was the end, basically, because I got kicked out of the band. So, two guitarists is something we thought about, should we have a second guitar player, because it is kind of interesting of course to have a second guitar. But on the other side, I have a lot of bad memories about the split of the band back in the day. Also, being a trio is kind of unique nowadays. It doesn’t happen that often anymore that you’re seeing a power trio playing this kind of music. We grew up with Motörhead and Venom and Triumph and Rush and all those bands being a three-piece. When you see us live, I don’t think you’ll really miss a second guitar.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

What drives you now, after all these years, to keep creating and performing music and to continue touring? “I’ve always loved being on the road. I’m in Japan now. I would never have come to Japan otherwise if it hadn’t been my job. I enjoy going to Singapore and Thailand and seeing those countries. Not everybody likes it, that’s why people stop playing music. I’m lucky that I have a tolerant girlfriend and I enjoy this. I really like going on tour. We don’t do so long tours, we do maximum four-five weeks and then we go home to be normal again and get energy. But we love to be on the road. Writing new music is, of course, a very creative process and, I am not a father, but it must be like having a child. A new album is something you work on hard, put a bit of love into it and in the end, it comes out and you’re excited and you’re proud. The whole process of writing an album gives you so much joy also. It’s why I still love this.”

Now you’re touring Asia and Australia, then you have some European touring. What’s coming up after that? Are there plans for a new album? “Yeah, we will start writing after the summer. Then decide, whenever we have the drummer, when to do the album. We talked to the label already that it’s possible to maybe release in the beginning of 2019. That should be possible. We can’t guarantee it right now because the drummer issue has not been solved. But I’m not worried about finding a drummer. There’s a lot of great drummers out there and now we have Randy also. I could totally imagine us playing the album with him. He’s a very tight drummer. It’s also a nice next level for us.”

The band is currently signed with German independent label Nuclear Blast and they are happy there. “I think we signed for life! At least the boss said that once when he was drunk. Haha!!! They’re the best. We’ve been on many different labels before. We left Nuclear Blast actually for several years when Nightwish and all those bands were getting so big on the label that I was like: ‘Oh my God, there’s too much!’ They are selling a couple of hundred thousand albums and you’re a little thrash band. It’s hard to get recognition. But on the outside it’s… I’m glad I came back. We came back after six years and they were like: “Ah, you wanna come back to us?’ Please take us back! They are the best people, also on a human level. They’re really great people and they are dedicated. The boss is a little crazy but he’s not a typical record-label asshole boss. He cares about the bands too and that’s fantastic! It’s a great having a boss like this and I hope he’s not gonna sell the label like everybody else did with Roadrunner and Century Media. They all sold the label to the industry and then the whole charm was gone. Hopefully that is not gonna happen to Nuclear Blast.”

Shortly after our chat, Schmier, Mike and Randy walk on stage and deliver one of the best gigs of the year in Tokyo. Proper German thrash metal delivered by a veteran band that still got it. What a show in front of a sweaty Tokyo crowd loving it. Thrash attack indeed!

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Sepultura bulldozes Tokyo as the Machine Messiah rolls into town

Andreas Kisser of Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Brazilian metal masters Sepultura returned to Japan for an explosive Tokyo gig. The Machine Messiah crushed Tokyo!

Sepultura and United at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo, 23rd May 2018

When Sepultura returns to Japan after a 17-year absence, the expectations are high, very high. Can they meet and even exceed those expectations? Yes, they can and they do!

United on stage. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Japanese veteran thrash metal band United, who will release the new album “Absurdity” in July, does a fine job of getting the audience warmed up. As an opening act, we get a short set made up of fan favourites such as “Cross Over the Line”, “Mosh Crew”, “Violence Jack” and “Sniper”. Now I am really looking forward to hearing the band’s new album.

When Sepultura then enters the stage, the energy is there and so is the excitement. The band opens the show with a knockout trio of songs: “I am the Enemy”, “Phantom Self” and “Kairos”. Bloody hell! Sepultura is not only great, the band is perhaps better now than ever before. Yes, they sound that good. They’re also not stuck in the past. The show is built on a foundation of newer material and it’s brutally awesome.

Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

This evening we get what must be close to a perfect set list with the best songs from the band’s latest album, 2017’s splendid “Machine Messiah”, as well as favourites from throughout the band’s career. Old-school Sepultura fans get their treats in the form of “Territory”, “Desperate Cry”, “Inner Self”, “Refuse/Resist” and “Arise”. Highlights for me this evening include fierce versions of “Sworn Oath”, “Against” and the terrific cover of Titãs’ “Policia” (originally released as a B-side on the “Territory” single). Long-term members Andreas Kisser on guitar and Paulo Jr. on bass are still in fine form after more than three decades in the band. The Brazilian band’s American vocalist Derrick Green is a world-class frontman. He’s got it all: he looks the part, he has the stage presence, the never-ending energy and a voice that was made to sing Sepultura songs. The band’s latest addition, drummer Eloy Casagrande, who joined in 2011, is a fierce musician that drives Sepultura’s music along at speed and with glorious heaviness. He’s quite a find and a must in order to deliver Sepultura’s heavy music live. In the instrumental piece “Iceberg Dances”, Green gets a break while the rest of the band gets to shine. As an encore, we get the classic “Slave New World” before the band invites United singer Masatoshi Yuasa to help them perform the song “Ultraseven no Uta” for the very first time. The band recorded a cover of this old Japanese anime theme song as a bonus track for their latest album. We then get the phenomenal “Resistant Parasites” before they close the set with “Ratamahatta” and “Roots Bloody Roots”. What a full-on high-energy knockout show by a terrific metal band that is more relevant and able than ever. Let’s hope it won’t take them another 17 years before they return to Japan.

Sepultura on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Squeeze Me, I’m Yours – an interview with Glenn Tilbrook

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Formed in London in 1974, British rock band Squeeze is still going strong. “We needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past,” explains Squeeze’s founder and frontman Glenn Tilbrook as he sits down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Roppongi.

“It’s good to be here. It’s really great to be here. One of my favourite countries in the world!” says Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze as we sit down in the band’s dressing room before the first of two shows at Billboard Live in Tokyo.

Tilbrook’s Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford is missing from this tour but the rest of the members of the latest line-up of Squeeze are here: Stephen Large (Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, Johnny Depp, Duffy) on keyboards, Simon Hanson (Death in Vegas, Hall and Oates, The Quireboys, The Dogs D’Amour, Rick Wakeman) on drums, percussionist Steve Smith (Dirty Vegas) and, the latest addition, bassist Yolanda Charles (Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, Aztec Camera, Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart). It’s a terrific version of the band.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Tilbrook has toured in Japan numerous times, sometimes with Squeeze and sometimes as a solo artist. “We didn’t come here until 1993 the first time. Difford and I came back once, I think -97. Since then I’ve come back… I’ve done a lot of solo work here. I really enjoy doing that but it’s lovely to be able to have the band too.”

Squeeze formed in Deptford in the southeast part of London in 1974. The band’s local DNA seems to have shaped the band’s look and sound as well as its song lyrics in the early days. “Yes, that is what shapes us. It was a very different time. It was economically quite depressed. Where I was growing up, there was still a lot of bomb sites around and they didn’t all disappear until late seventies, early eighties. It’s an atmosphere, let’s put it that way. I think that that time informed our writing a lot in the early days.”

Musically Squeeze is all over the place – rock, pop and much more. It’s a band that is hard to define. “I think that there was all sort of stuff that went into Squeeze. I mean certainly, for instance, my favourite guitarist and one of my favourite songwriters from that point will be Jimi Hendrix. Something not a lot of people would link with Squeeze, but I think he had a wonderful melodic sense and also the tone of his playing. His playing is just amazing. I still think he’s amazing. I think that Squeeze has always drawn on the different characters in the band and everyone’s different taste has always made it something different.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have a long-standing creative partnership with Chris Difford. Do you write together or separately and then send ideas to each other? “We always write separately. Since the band’s been back together, I’ve been more involved lyrically. I wasn’t involved lyrically at all previously. Normally I would start off with a lyric of Chris’s and I put a tune to it. It’s always lyric-driven.”

That’s a bit different from how many other songwriters work. “It is, I found out. But, you know, if you learn to use a knife and a fork a certain way and it turns out not to be the way everyone else does it, that’s just how you’re stuck. Well, it works for us.”

You’ve had other strong creatives and musicians in the band in the past, such as Jools Holland, Gilson Lavis (Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton) and Paul Carrack (Roxy Music, Roger Waters’ The Bleeding Heart Band, Mike and the Mechanics, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ringo Starr). How did that impact the creative dynamics for you and Chris? “They brought really fantastic things to the table. I still love what they did. Gilson, our original drummer, was an incredible drummer. But they couldn’t do what this band does today. The band has moved on and I believe that change is always good and necessary. When you hear the band, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a proper band, it has a force and a dynamism all of its own, that Squeeze has never had before. It’s been different and really brilliant, but it’s never been like this. It’s great to be in this band. I’m really proud of it, still.”

Squeeze’s newest member is splendid bassist Yolanda Charles who joined last year. Was she a deliberate choice to make Squeeze relevant, contemporary, groovier and funkier? “It really is down to her playing. The fact is, she can do anything. She has her roots in jazz, really. Although I am not a jazz player, I love jazz and some of my writing sometimes veers that way. To have that informing how we play stuff is amazing. For instance, we play ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, which is an old Squeeze song. Squeeze didn’t play on it, we just sang on it. But Yolanda’s bass playing really drives it along. It’s the best version we’ve ever done. We’ve been through a few changes. We weren’t gonna make them but just found out that we had to because people couldn’t be there. And then it’s worked out. It’s been really good.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018.

In recent years you’ve produced some great new music with Squeeze. Were you ever tempted to just keep touring with the old hits? What drove you to write new Squeeze material? “I think that we needed to write, we needed to prove ourselves. Certainly, to me, we needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past. I am immensely proud of our past. I love it. But if we were just doing that, I think we’d go stale.”

The new material is fab and fits in well with the classic songs. “It does work. The sets now feel like completely integrated between new and old. That’s the aim, to say: Look, we were there then and we are here now and it’s all good. That’s what’s so exciting about it. You can take the audience with you or, there have been a few times in the past where we’ve left them behind and that’s not a good thing to do. So, yeah, you have to find the balance and that always takes a while when you have a bunch of new songs to see how they integrate into everything.”

You have been doing gigs in Australia, Singapore and now Japan on this leg of your tour. What’s next for Squeeze? “We have some dates in the UK in summer, we’re doing some festivals, and then going back to the drawing board.”

So, will there be a new Squeeze album next year? “There could well be. I just don’t know until we sit down and chat about it.”

You’re 60 years old now. How do you deal with the pressure of life on tour? “I just have to look after myself and get plenty of rest, otherwise I can’t sing. My voice is in good shape and vocally, this Squeeze is such a strong line-up. Everyone can sing and it sounds fantastic.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Overkill “Live in Overhausen”

Overkill onstage in Japan in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Overkill live in front of a fired up German thrash metal crowd? Yeah, that works. Overkill’s new live album “Live in Overhausen” is brilliant.

New Jersey’s Overkill has always been a great thrash metal band with an attitude and terrific songs. Live they have always been entertaining and even a step up from the studio experience. The current line-up of the band is rock solid and here on this live recording from Germany, we get Overkill at its best in front of a loyal German audience.

The band’s co-founders Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (vocals) and DD Verni (bass) are better than ever. Backed up by long-serving guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer, this is a tight thrash machine that delivers the goods. On this recording, the band is joined by stand-in drummer Eddy Garcia (Blitz introduces him with the words “We call him the Mexicutioner!”). At the time of the recording, Overkill’s current permanent drummer Jason Bittner had not yet joined the band.

They kick off the album with “Coma” followed by “Infectious”. With that, we’re off to a great start and the 21-song recording just keeps on delivering highlights. In “Soulitude” Overkill somehow manages to sound like Iron Maiden. “Thanx for Nothin’” is my favourite track on this splendid live album. Other highlights include “There’s No Tomorrow”, “Hammerhead”, “Bare Bones”, “Live Young, Die Free”, “Feel the Fire” and the insanely brilliant and rarely performed “Kill at Command”. There is so much good stuff on this album it is hard to write the review as I can’t sit still. I am doing a one-man circle pit around my computer keyboard and my one-man wall of death nearly knocks over my PC screen. Playing air guitar, throwing metal horns in the air, headbanging and typing a review on the keyboard all at the same time is tricky and painful. But this album deserves it. They finish off this high-energy live album with the obvious “Overkill” and “Fuck You“.

Bobby Blitz is one fine and effective thrash metal captain, a skull crusher. He takes his German fans with him on a showcase where Overkill demonstrates why they are one of the world’s top thrash metal acts. Great, great stuff for thrash fans. Blitz and the boys clearly love performing for the German fans. Blitz salutes the audience with the words: “Metal is in your blood, isn’t it? It’s in your heart and your motherfucking soul! Deutschland, you make me proud to call myself a metalhead!”

Overkill’s “Live in Overhausen”, recorded in Oberhausen, Germany in 2016, will be released in multiple formats, including CD, Blu-Ray and DVD. It will be released on 18th May via Nuclear Blast internationally and via Ward Records in Japan.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Overkill’s Blitz in Japan in 2017.

Interview: H.E.A.T | Into the great unknown soundscape

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic rock band H.E.A.T released its latest album “Into the Great Unknown” last September, they divided their fan base with a partly new musical direction. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with the band in Tokyo to discuss the thinking behind the album and the return of original guitarist Dave Dalone.

Following the 2015 “Live In London” live album, which featured quite a lot of rock’n’roll, H.E.A.T’s new album, “Into the Great Unknown”, the band’s fifth studio album, is more focused on melodic rock and even some pop. The new catchy side caught some fans by surprise.

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We were aware that there would come a reaction once we were finished with recording the album,“ says vocalist Erik Grönwall. “Personally, I don’t think we planned too much about the direction. It was more because we, during the break, all sat and wrote new music on our own. When we are around each other all the time and write music as we did with the previous albums, we inspire and influence each other. Now spending time with different groups of friends, we get introduced to new kinds of music, get new influences. Then we jointly put together the new album.”

Bassist Jimmy Jay continues: “You almost fight with yourself to not limit yourself. You don’t want to be boxed in. A fan should be wondering ‘What’s next?’. I think that is fun with this album.” Drummer Crash adds: “It’s boring to set limits. It’s fun to do whatever we want to do. I think we have done that.”

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I was the one who was the most sceptical towards this album. I was siding with the not-yet-convinced fans,’ says Grönwall. “When the reactions started to come in, I was like: I knew it! Then when the fans started to come round and like it and the reviews were great, I thought: It’s not that bad after all. Now I think this album’s great!”

Were the band members worried about how the new album would be perceived by the fans? “I’ve been worried ahead of all the album releases,” says Crash. “When we released ‘Time on Our Side’ as the first single from the album – it stood out a lot. That single probably set the tone for what impression people would have of the album. Had people heard ‘Bastard of Society’, the opening track on the album, then there may have been a smoother transition in some way. Now it was like a bomb going off. It is a fantastic song, it’s nothing we regret, but I can understand the initial reactions. But it feels great that we are engaging so many people.” Grönwall adds: “I still claim that ‘Time on Our Side’ is the best release we’ve done when it comes to its reach. It became a talking point.” Jimmy Jay continues: “A lot depends on how one chooses to package things. If you take ‘Time on Our Side’ as an example. At the demo stage that was more of a hard rock song. It had several different shapes before we chose to package it in the electronic style that we did on the album.”

H.E.A.T’s live set now contains more and more newer material. “Naturally we now play more from the three most recent albums with Erik. We’re playing fewer and fewer songs from the first two albums. We do play quite a lot from the latest album. It’s fun playing new stuff,” says Crash. “It’s becoming harder for every new album,” says Grönwall of choosing set lists.

What musical direction will the band take from here? “It’ll be a surprise. For us too!” says Crash, who then adds: “We have a rough sketch of a plan to get back into the studio and record already this year. We want to keep the tempo up. No more two-year breaks!” The latest album was recorded in Thailand and produced by Swedish producer Tobias “Tobbe” Lindell, best known for his work with bands such as Europe, Sister Sin and Hardcore Superstar. “The reason it was recorded in Thailand was that we had a great budget! Haha!!!” jokes Grönwall. Crash continues: “Tobbe, the producer, lives in Thailand and had some connections. It’s not that much more expensive and so it’s not as if we went out and wasted loads of money.”

Crash of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We also got quite a lot of time to let things settle in and we could continue to produce at home. It was more detailed,” adds Jimmy Jay about the production of the album. “It is in contrast to how ‘Tearing’ was. That album sounded very ‘live’. On that album, we tried to retain the live feeling. I can catch myself sometimes when I listen to ‘Live in London’. On, say, ‘Inferno’, it’s hard to know which version is studio and which one is live. It is a very similar sound,” says Crash.

With guitarist Eric Rivers exiting the band as they began the work on the new album, original guitarist Dave Dalone returned to the band after a few years of absence. “It just kind of happened,” says Dalone. “From our side, when there was a need for a guitarist, we went through what alternatives there were. We realised that Dave is the best!” says Jimmy Jay. Crash adds: “Keep it in the family! An hour after Rivers said he was leaving, I finally realised that he’s gone. Then the four of us sat down and the first thought that came up was Dave. Should we ask Dave back? That’s how we started to discuss.” Does Dalone see any difference with the band this second time around? “Yes, it feels a bit different now. Personally, I think I needed that break. It feels better now,” explains Dalone. Most of the material for the new album had already been written by the time Dalone was back in the band but he added his bits and pieces where he saw fit. “Someone writes the basic outline and then we all sit and create together in the studio. All of us are involved in songwriting all the way,’ explains Grönwall.

H.E.A.T will now continue to do more gigs during the spring and summer. “And we will perhaps go out on another tour in the autumn,” says Crash, before they start to properly work on the next album. Who knows what we’ll get next time? No doubt it will be quality, no matter what genres H.E.A.T decides to tackle.

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia “Metal Souls”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai teams up with Ronnie Romero, Tommy Aldridge and Marco Mendoza on new Destinia album.

Nozomu Wakai has already made a name for himself as a young guitar wizard here in Japan. Perhaps the biggest hope in Japanese heavy metal since Akira Takasaki of Loudness emerged on the scene nearly four decades ago. Wakai has released a couple of albums and has also performed with Mari Hamada’s band and Paul Shortino Band (led by the legendary Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino) and has guested Lords of Black during their Japan tour last year. Now he’s ready to take on the world with Destinia and he’s doing it together with Lords of Black’s vocalist Ronnie Romero, who is also the current frontman of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The rhythm section on this album consists of drummer Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers Band, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy) and bassist Marco Mendoza (The Dead Daisies, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, Blue Murder). Not a bad little line-up of international rockers.

The title song kicks off the album and sets the tone. “Metal Souls” is an album that lives somewhere between European power metal and American AOR. Most of all it has loud echoes of 80s power metal and is dominated by Wakai’s guitar playing and Romero’s powerful voice. Destinia plays very melodic metal, but – in a power metal kind of way – it is often performed at speed, with plenty of keyboard soundscapes and fiery guitar solos. The international version of the album is being released by the Italian label Frontiers Music. That is no coincidence as Frontiers has almost monopolised the AOR/melodic metal genre in Europe. Destinia fits in well musically with Frontiers other artists. “Raise Your Fist” is AOR of the kind popular in the 1980s: melodic rock, singalong chorus, keyboards, big hair and a fiery guitar solo. “Rain” is a fab song and my other favourites on this album are “Promised Land” and “Be a Hero”. If you like melodic metal, fine guitar work and a powerful voice, Destinia is for you. The members of the band line-up performing on this album are very busy with other bands and projects and, thus, I wonder if Wakai will put together a new line-up of the band for touring. I am hoping that he will take this music on the road, or at least do some special shows with Ronnie Romero.

Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia “Metal Souls” album will be released on 23rd May in Japan via Ward Records and on 13th July in Europe via Frontiers Music.

Album review: At The Gates “To Drink From The Night Itself”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Records

Gothenburg sound creators and melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates are back with a new guitarist and a fabulous new album.

Yes, the new At The Gates album is as good as I had hoped. “To Drink From The Night Itself” has been produced by Russ Russell (Napalm Death, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir) and features some gloriously punishing tracks. It’s terrific! It’s a knuckle-duster knockout! There is not one weak moment on this majestic album of death metal awesomeness. It’s now a decade since At The Gates reformed and they are still top of their game, still kings of the hill of death metal. Since their last studio album, 2014’s “At War With Reality”, guitarist Anders Björler has left the band and been replaced by Jonas Stålhammar. I don’t know, perhaps I just feel relieved that this album exceeds my high expectations. I am not sure if I had any real reason to have been worried. Perhaps Anders Björler’s departure as he wrote much of the material on the previous album? For the new album, his twin brother Jonas Björler stepped up to write the material together with vocalist Tomas Lindberg.

There was no need for me to worry. This solid death metal album slaps me in the face with a wet fish and wakes me up. Yes, Sir, I can boogie to this music. At The Gates has done it again! They not only own the Gothenburg sound, they created it and they are taking it into the modern era with a contemporary version of the deep-rooted death metal of 1990. The “new boy” in the band comes with the right pedigree. Bombs of Hades, God Macabre, The Lurking Fear and The Crown are just a few of the bands that Jonas Stålhammar has been a member of. It seems he is an obvious choice for At The Gates.

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. However, on the whole, this is an album which is a bit darker and more sinister than its predecessor. Lyrically the band has built stories based on themes from German writer Peter Weiss‘ book “The Aesthetics of Resistance”. The band has walked down the appropriate path. It’s old-school, at times more death metal than melodic death metal, but it’s timeless and often contemporary sounding. The title track is one of the album’s best tracks. It’s sheer death metal brilliance. But there’s plenty of other good stuff on this album. “In Death They Shall Burn” is a nice head-cleaning track that I particularly like. “Palace of Lepers” is another fabulous song and so is “A Stare Bound In Stone”. On the track “In Nameless Sleep”, King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque appears as a guest.

Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At The Gates’ album “To Drink From The Night Itself” will be released on 18th May via Century Media internationally and Trooper Entertainment in Japan. The band will tour Japan again at the end of May.

Gig review: Classic Bay Area thrash metal attack in Tokyo by Death Angel

Mark Osegueda and Rob Cavestany of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel slays Tokyo with a fine evening of classic Bay Area thrash metal.

Mark Osegueda of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel, Neuroticos, Pornostate at Unit, Daikanyama, Tokyo, 9th May 2018

This was a lesson in how it’s done. Death Angel not only knows how to do it, the band gets on with it and delivers a splendid evening of world-class thrash metal. I had high expectations of this fine band, but the band’s show in Tokyo exceeds them.

Following warm-up sets by opening acts Pornostate and Neuroticos, the Tokyo audience was fired up and ready to thrash. Neuroticos is a Japanese-Brazilian death metal band which is a reliable act to warm up an audience eager to crowd surf and mosh. I have previously seen Neuroticos open for Krisiun and Venom Inc and they always deliver the goods. This evening is no exception.

Mark Osegueda and Ted Aguilar of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How do you like your metal cooked? When it comes to thrash metal, I want it uncooked, raw. Well, this evening in Tokyo, the gentlemen in Death Angel serve up a raw feast of Bay Area thrash metal of the best kind. Formed in 1982, Death Angel was a vital part of the early Bay Area thrash metal scene which also included bands such as Exodus, Testament and Trauma as well as Metallica whose members relocated to the Bay Area before hitting it big after recruiting Cliff Burton from Trauma and Kirk Hammett from Exodus. Hammett was also the producer of the first Death Angel demo in 1985. From the first notes to the very end of this evening’s gig, Death Angel delivers flawlessly. This is a band in such fine form it is remarkable. They arrived in Japan the same day as the gig, but if they are tired or jetlagged, they’re certainly not showing it. There is so much energy on stage that it spills over to the audience who feeds on and recycles that energy right back to the band.

Ted Aguilar and Mark Osegueda of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They kick off the set in style with “Father of Lies” from their latest studio album (2016’s “The Evil Divide”) and proceed with giving Tokyo a lesson in how thrash metal is done. We get the classics – such as “Seemingly Endless Time”, “Voracious Souls” “The Ultra-Violence”, “Mistress of Pain” and “3rd Floor” – but also a lot of newer material, including “The Dream Calls for Blood”, “Caster of Shame” “The Moth”, “Breakaway” and “Lost”. The band proves that it can still create terrific new music. Actually, as much as I like the old-school thrash of the 80s, I think that Death Angel’s newer material beats the crap out of its earlier songs.

Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of Death Angel – which features founding member Rob Cavestany on guitar and legendary vocalist Mark Osegueda as well as newer additions Ted Aguilar on guitar, Damien Sisson on bass and Will Carroll on drums – is ridiculously good. They’re in such fine form and so full of energy that it reminds me of a volcano eruption. The band has a fine back catalogue of music which they clearly love to perform. They are loved by the Japanese fans and will no doubt be back. Thrash metal and Japan has a long tradition of friendship and love.

Will Carroll and Damien Sisson of Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Death Angel finishes its gig with an encore consisting of two favourites from “Ultra-Violence”, the band’s 1987 debut album; “Evil Priest” and “Kill as One”. What an enjoyable evening in the name of thrash metal. Thank you for the music and entertainment, Death Angel.

Death Angel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: Grá “Väsen” | A cold and dark soundtrack to the end of the world

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Funeral frontman Heljarmadr returns with Grá’s new album: a fabulously dark, cold and dramatic Nordic soundtrack to the chaotic end of the world.

When vocalist Heljarmadr is not busy with Dark Funeral, he is fronting Grá, another splendid Swedish extreme metal band. Grá was founded in 2010 and “Väsen” is the band’s third full-length studio album. Grá has some of its roots in black metal, but on “Väsen” the band shows us that these dark minds are capable of much more than that. The characteristic voice of Heljarmadr obviously reminds us of Dark Funeral, but musically this is quite different.

Lyrically, Grá performs in both its native Nordic tongues and in English. The Nordic identity is very much part of what this band is about. There is a foundation here built on the frozen landscapes of the north and plenty of references to Norse mythology. The music is often extreme. We get chaos and sorrow, yet there are many melodic parts, mainly of the haunting kind. There is a great use of keyboard soundscapes, adding more horror to the furious attack of the guitars and drums. “Krig” is the album’s standout track. It is full of hatred, preparation for battle and destruction. It is rivalled by “King of Decay” as the album’s best track. “The Devil’s Tribe” is another smashing track on this album. It keeps going back and forth tempo-wise and it has a rather evil spirit about it. Pitch black, certainly no rays of sunshine here. Splendid! The title track “Väsen” is also a highlight for me on this eight-track album where we get a lone acoustic guitar breaking in among the electric mayhem.

Overall “Väsen” is a terrific album of eerily extreme metal from Sweden. Great stuff. The future is bleak, all hope is gone. But at least we have a splendid soundtrack to listen to while the world falls apart. Or something of quality to play at your funeral.

Grá’s new album “Väsen” is out now via Carnal Records.