Album review: Butcher Babies “Lilith”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Butcher Babies returns with a an angry, in-your-face album filled with attitude and some good melodies.

Butcher Babies is a band that has a lot of things counting against them. In the early days of the band, the two female vocalists Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey performed bare chested with only their nipples covered by black tape. Not the easiest thing to overcome if you want to be taken seriously as vocalists and as a band. Many metal heads seem to dislike them (at least in public) and consider them gimmicky and fake. My guess is that many of those thinkers haven’t heard much of the band’s music. Well, it seems that they have put their clothes back on, stopped the drug use and decided to focus on the music. Good choice, because it seems to make wonders to their artistic output.

It’s not fashionable to dig this but I sort of do. Power to them. There is certainly some room to improve on some of the material, but there are some fab songs here. This is modern, angry metal with some great melodies. There are some metalcore vibes here and there, as well as some small nods to bands such as Arch Enemy and Amaranthe and plenty of good melodies under the harsh and angry surface.

The album kicks off with “Burn The Straw Men”, a typical trademark Butcher Babies song, full of energy, hooks and a shout-along chorus. “Headspin” kind of sounds like a pop song by Avril Lavigne. OK for what it is. Could have gotten air time on MTV if anyone still watched music shows on TV. “Korova” is a terrific and energetic song, combining sheer power with a great melody. A piece of arena rock. “#Iwokeuplikethis” is a good brutal and fast song, while In “The Huntsman” we get a great combination of angry brutality and pop hooks. “Controller” is pure energy while “Oceana” is a crossover song with metalcore and all sorts of modern metal melted together to create an interesting song. “Look What We’ve done” is Butcher Babies’ take on a power ballad. Could have been a radio hit if anyone still listened to radio. “Pomona (Shit Happens)” seems to exist to piss people off (yay!). There is always someone who will find the use of swear words upsetting. “Underground and Overrated” is perhaps the song title of the year. The title is better than the song, which isn’t bad though. But, together with the title track “Lilith”, it is one of the weaker songs on an album filled with quite a few good songs. The album was produced by Steve Evetts (Warbringer, Havok, Devildriver, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sick Of It All, Sepultura, Hatebreed, Suicide Silence, The Cure).

Butcher Babies is a band full of contradictions and strange turns. But it is also a band with attitude and some interesting modern metal to back it up. Overall this is quite a good album of modern metal. I love the energy and no-fucks-given attitude. Despite the shit storm facing them, I hope Butcher Babies will stick around. They’re entertaining and they have some good music..

Butcher Babies’ “Lilith” album is out now via Century Media Records.

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Loud Park gig report: Black Earth

Black Earth’s Sharlee D’Angelo with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson backstage at Loud Park after Black Earth’s secret gig.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Original Arch Enemy line-up reunites once again in Japan for a secret gig at Loud Park.

In 2015, during Arch Enemy’s appearance at the Loud Park festival in Japan, they did a special section where they reunited the original Arch Enemy line-up. Guitarist Christopher Amott and vocalist Johan Liiva came onstage to join their former bandmates to perform some early classics. The move was such a success that in 2016, the original Arch Enemy line-up did a full Japan tour under the name Black Earth (named after Arch Enemy’s 1996 debut album). That Japan tour was a massive success. It was documented and recently released as a special live album and DVD.

At this year’s Loud Park, Black Earth turned out to be an unannounced secret act to the audience’s delight. There is definitely no shortage of love for Arch Enemy here in Japan. Rumours were circulating the night before that Arch Enemy mainman Michael Amott was in Japan. Thus, a large crowd was in front of the stage at 10:30am on Sunday 15th October to find out what the secret act was and if indeed Amott was part of it. For those in the audience with good eyes, it was easy to spot Michael Amott’s signature guitar on the side of stage just before the gig. Then Amott walks on stage together with his brother Christopher, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, drummer Daniel Erlandsson and Johan Liiva and the crowd goes wild. The rumours were indeed true.

Black Earth opens with a knockout version of the splendid “Bury Me An Angel” from the band’s debut album. We then get treated to “Dead Inside” and “Diva Satanica”, both from the “Stigmata” album. “The Immortal” (from “Burning Bridges”) follows and then we get to revisit “Stigmata” with the song “Beast of Man”. “Silverwing”, another terrific song from “Burning Bridges”, is performed before they close their short set with “Fields of Desolation” from “Black Earth”. An intense, short and fabulous gig on a Sunday morning in Japan.

With Liiva back on vocals, we are reminded that Black Earth is a very different band from what Arch Enemy later became with Angela Gossow or Alissa White-Gluz on vocals. They are three very different singers who have all been great with Arch Enemy.

Black Earth – what a great secret act to add to Loud Park. With the Black Earth live-DVD and a new Arch Enemy studio album both just released, it makes a lot of sense for Michael Amott and his men to do this secret gig. Arch Enemy will return to Japan for headline gigs during 2018 as part of their “Will To Power” world tour.

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Loud Park gig report: Cradle of Filth

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth finally made it back to Japan for a great but short festival gig. They will be back in Japan in May for headline gigs.

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Expectations were high when Cradle of Filth returned to Japan after a long absence. With a splendid new album out and what seems like a strong band line-up, the gig at Loud Park on Sunday 15th October was the start on a major world tour for the band.

Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At the Loud Park festival at Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo, It’s a short festival gig for Cradle of Filth, so this afternoon Japanese fans are treated to a “best of” set of Cradle favourites such as “Beneath the Howling Stars”, “Dusk and Her Embrace”, “Born in a Burial Gown”, “Nymphetamine (Fix)”, “Blackest Magick in Practice” and “Her Ghost in the Fog”. Sadly we only get one song, the terrifically haunting “Heartbreak and Seance”, from the new fabulous album “Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay”.

Richard Shaw of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Band founder and frontman Dani Filth is in fine form and clearly enjoys performing for his fans. His possessed singing style works a treat with Cradle’s music. It’s sinister, insane, beastly and entertaining at the same time. He knows what he’s good at and how to deliver that to his fans. The current line-up of the band is tight. Drummer Martin “Marthus” Skaroupka is a long-serving member, but the rest of the band (Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Smerda on guitars, Daniel Firth on bass and Lindsay Schoolcraft on keyboards and vocals) are newer additions. Having had the same line-up for the past two studio albums and tours, it seems to be a stable line-up that will hopefully survive for the long term.

Cradle of Filth will return to Japan in early May for three headline gigs in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Based on the Loud Park gig, we can have even higher expectations on the headline gigs in May.

Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Brujeria

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Brujeria’s Shane Embury backstage after the Brujeria gig.

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

International Latino death-grind metal band Brujeria finally made it to Japan with their mayhem of an energy-packed show.

In the afternoon of Saturday 14th October, many extreme music fans start to gather in front of the Big Rock Stage of the Loud Park festival to witness a historical moment; a time many of us have been waiting for too long. We are about to see the Mexican grindcore masters Brujeria playing in Japan for the very first time in 28 years of activity. I personally thought that I would have to cross the ocean to see them destroying some Latin American country someday. Thus this was definitely one of the shows I wanted to see the most at Loud Park.

As the intro of “Brujerizmo” starts playing over the loudspeakers, guitarist Anton Reisenegger comes to the stage and starts interacting with the crowd before slaying their ears with his riffs. Vocalists Juan Brujo and Fantasma then show up. A huge circle pit forms in the middle of the audience and the destruction begins.

I never thought a band singing in Spanish could be so popular among Japanese metalheads, but as the gig progresses, people get more and more into the show. When the band plays an old classic like “Colas de Rata”, insanity takes control of the Loud Park family.

What I love the most about Brujeria’s live show is that they speak in Spanish with their audience most of the time and call their fans “cabrones”, no matter where they are playing. While Fantasma presents new songs, like “Viva Presidente Trump”, in English, Juan Brujo only interacts in Spanish during the performance. The audience is so excited during the gig that even though many of them do not understand a word of what is being said, they respond very well. Brujeria’s set rolls on with more classics, such as “Anti-Castro” and the amazing “Marcha de Odio”, a brutal, old-school song that every Brujeria fan considers an anthem.

Most of Brujeria’s songs are about politics, but there are also some about drugs. Juan Brujo directs his fellow band members with his microphone as the guitar riffs of Reisenegger and Shane Embury make a perfect marriage with Nicholas Barker’s drumming in “Consejos Narcos” and “La Ley de Plomo”.

To finish this outstanding performance, the band chooses to play “Matando Gueros”, one of their best known songs and also one of the heavier ones. With a captivating chorus, everybody in the audience screams along as Saitama turns into a little part of Mexico. With Brujeria’s first Japan gig a great success, we can expect them to come back to Japan in the not too distant future.

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Loud Park gig report: Michael Schenker Fest

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker brought Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley as well as their old MSG colleagues to Japan for another terrific trip down memory lane.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker has long been a crowd favourite in Japan. He frequently tours Japan and performs in front of sold-out venues. This time he is headlining a rock festival with his Michael Schenker Fest, a touring band made up of old colleagues from MSG.

Gary Barden and Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In June 2015, Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time during a Japan tour of Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Graham Bonnet Band. In 2016 they returned to Japan and performed together again, this time with Michael Schenker Fest which also featured two other legendary MSG singers, Gary Barden and Robin McAuley. That resulted in great shows and a live DVD. In 2017, they are back in Japan and Michael Schenker Fest headlines the big Loud Park festival on 15th October. It is once again an MSG love fest.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In addition to the three former MSG vocalists and, of course, Michael himself, we also get Ted McKenna on drums, Steve Mann on guitar and keyboards and Chris Glen on bass. It is essentially the same show and mainly the same songs as we saw last year, but when it is this good, who cares? Michael Schenker Fest gives the Japanese audience what it wants. The execution is flawless. We get a bunch of veterans who seem to find joy in playing together again. No drama, no rivalry, only a bunch of great musicians having fun doing what they do in front of their loyal fans. I am sure there are long rehearsals and much planning behind this show, but it seems so effortless. Like a bunch of friends jamming it away. There is so much experience and pedigree in this group of musicians, not just from MSG, but also from artists such as Scorpions, UFO, Rainbow, Alcatrazz, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Ian Gillan, The Sweet, Gary Moore, Survivor, Lionheart and much more.

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following tours around the globe this and last year, the former MSG gang is a well-oiled machine. The three vocalists all still got it. They have voices that can deliver and they do as the band pumps out classics from Schenker’s long career. The band is in top shape and Michael Schenker is so clearly enjoying himself up on stage. The constant sparkle in his eyes and the big smile on his face when he plays his guitar in front of his fans are priceless.

Graham Bonnet on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The bulk of the set is of course made up of MSG classics, including some of my personal favourites such as “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “Assault Attack”, “Save Yourself” and “Bad Boys”. But we also get one Scorpions song (“Coast to Coast”) and the UFO songs “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor” finish another Japanese triumph for Michael Schenker. Splendid, inspirational.

Robin McAuley on stage with Michael Schenker Fest at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Michael Schenker on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Opeth

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive rockers Opeth returned to Japan for another triumphant gig.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is the middle of a typical autumn day when people start gathering in front of the Big Rock Stage on Saturday 14th October to see the Swedish progressive masters Opeth’s gig at the Loud Park festival. The air becomes a little thick, yet very energetic as the on-stage screen displays the band’s name. Opening the night with the amazing “Sorceress” from their latest album, the riffs of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson take the crowd to another world with Mikael’s voice lightning the dark atmosphere of this song.

Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Continuing the show, they turn back 12 years in time with “Ghost of Perdition”. Heavy screams, violent drumming by Martin Axenrot and a good bass job by Martin Mendez are mixed with slow vocals and keyboards, showing why Opeth has been considered one of the best, if not the best, progressive death metal bands of all time.

Martin Mendez of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next comes “The Wilde Flowers”, also from the “Sorceress” album, bringing another set of beautiful vocals from Mikael and also the backing vocals of Joakim Svalberg, which make a great difference in the song together with the band’s technical yet very emotional performance.

 

After that, a brief pause is made for some interaction between Mikael and crowd, with some jokes and thanks and many “I love you” coming from the audience. Then Mikael announces a ballad, which he believes will be one of the few ones played during the two-day Loud Park festival. The ballad is “In My Time of Need” from “Damnation”, a controversial album at the time considered by some fans as being too soft, but I believe it was the beginning of a transition consolidated in the 2011 album “Heritage”. This song is very deep and emotional. The lyrics are about a lonely person who is in need of someone who is not there. Mikael really knows how to share the feelings of the song with people. When he sings, he puts his soul out for everyone to see it and cherish it. It is impossible, even for the die-hardest death metal fan, to not get moved by it.

Martin Mendez and Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unfortunately while they are preparing to play “Cusp of Eternity”, a member of their crew comes and whispers something in Mikael’s ear and I can hear some words in Swedish before he announces that they only have 14 minutes to finish the show. Thus they will have to cut a song from the set and play “Deliverance”, the last one, which is 14 minutes long. Of course it isn’t the best news for the crowd, but it is a festival gig and we all know such things can happen. Starting with a heavy combination of all instruments and then Mikael’s violent screams, this song travels between dark and heavy moments to soft and light ones, showing all their abilities as musicians and giving the listener a delightful moment. As they don’t have enough time to say a proper goodbye, when they end the song Mikael thanks the fans and walks off stage, leaving their fans already longing for a headline tour as soon as possible. This was definitely one of the best performances I have seen in my life.

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Overkill

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal veteran band Overkill delivers another Japanese knockout at Loud Park.

DD Verni of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New Jersey thrash metal band Overkill has had a loyal following in Japan since the 1980s. Last time they played Japan in 2015, they conquered the Thrash Domination festival in Kawasaki with Exodus and Sodom. This time they are even better. With a fab new album out – “The Grinding Wheel”, their 18th studio album – the band is as good as ever. The energy is spilling over as they hit the stage at the Loud Park festival on 14th October.

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The core duo of vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist DD Verni are still steering this steady thrash metal ship. They write all the music and lead the band from the front. Long-serving guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer are by now firmly rooted in the band. They are good custodians of the Overkill legacy while at the same time helping create new classics. The newest addition, drummer Jason Bittner, is a vitamin injection for the band. He has honed his skills with bands like Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, Shadows Fall and Toxik. Being the drummer in an energetic band like Overkill is no walk in the park. Bittner is up to the job.

Dave Linsk of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s a short festival set but a great gig, one of the best of the two-day festival. They open frenetically with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” from their latest album “The Grinding Wheel”, which was released earlier this year.

Derek “The Skull” Tailer of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During the short set we get 80s classics “Rotten to the Core”, “Hello from the Gutter”, “In Union We Stand” and “Elimination”, but also the newer songs “Electric Rattlesnake” and “Ironbound”. The performance is flawless. The band is so fired up that you can touch the energy on stage. The audience loves it. This is how thrash metal should be done.

Overkill closes a fantastic gig with “Fuck You”, a terrific cover version of a The Subhumans song that Overkill has made its own and released on an EP back in 1987.

DD Verni and Jason Bittner of Overkill on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Gene Simmons Band

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gene Simmons is still going strong at 68 as he performs KISS classics with his solo band.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As KISS seemingly is slowing down a little bit, its members have more time for their own projects. Gene Simmons has teamed up with a bunch of Nashville-based musicians to form the Gene Simmons Band. The band is great and when they’re not on tour with Simmons, they perform as Thee Rock N’ Roll Residency.

Gene Simmons Band opens this festival appearance at Loud Park on Sunday 15th October very strongly with “Deuce” followed by “Parasite” and Simmons’ showpiece number “I Love It Loud”.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Simmons is 68 years old, but he can still deliver on stage. His voice is intact and sounds as good as ever. At Loud Park he exclusively performs KISS songs. There is no time for any of his solo material. The set is dominated by KISS classics from the 1970s: “Cold Gin”, “Do You Love Me”, “Shout It Out Loud”, “Calling Dr. Love”, “Watching You”, “She” and “Let Me Go Rock ’N’ Roll”. We also get the fab “War Machine” from 1982’s KISS album “Creatures of the Night” and the perhaps less expected songs “Wall of Sound” from the 2012 KISS album “Monster” and “Got Love for Sale” from 1977’s KISS album “Love Gun”.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japan being one of the best markets for KISS throughout their long career, Simmons is performing in front of loyal fans at Loud Park and he makes the most of it. Twice he gets a crowd of local fans up on stage to party it out. The KISS anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite”, of course, closes a great gig by a veteran who can still deliver.

It’s been two and half years since KISS last toured in Japan, but this Gene Simmons gig certainly was a good treat for the fans. In January, Simmons’ KISS colleagues Paul Stanley and Eric Singer will perform 12 gigs in Japan with their Soul Station project and Simmons will be back in Japan in April as part of his Gene Simmons Vault Experience. It is not yet clear if he will do any performances during that visit.

Gene Simmons on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Loud Park gig report: Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With a great new album out and perhaps the best backing band ever, original shock rocker Alice Cooper took the stage at the Loud Park festival on Saturday 14th October.

Check Garric, Alice Cooper and Tommy Henriksen on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

No one is shocked by Alice Cooper any more. But his show is entertaining and backed up by great music performed by a top-notch band. Five decades into his career, Alice Cooper is in fine form and still delivering in the studio and on stage.

At Alice Cooper’s gig at the Loud Park festival at the Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo, we get some fake blood, we get a Frankenstein’s monster and we get the infamous beheading of Alice with a guillotine. But this is more good fun and tongue-in-cheek humour than a horror show.

Nita Strauss, Alice Cooper and Tommy Henriksen on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Alice is in top form and he is performing in front of a large crowd of loyal Japanese fans. It’s a festival gig and time is short, so Alice gives us a concentrated best-of show.

Alice and his band open with the terrific modern classic “Brutal Planet” and they continue with “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels”.

At this gig we get old-school Alice in “I’m Eighteen”, “I Love the Dead”, “Only Women Bleed” and “Halo of Flies” From the somewhat more polished late 80s/early 90s period we get “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein”. The different periods of Alice’s career blend nicely in a live setting.

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The terrific Alice Cooper band – Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen on guitars, Chuck Garrick on bass, Glen Sobel on drums – has been greatly topped up in recent years with the addition of third guitarist Nita Strauss. Wow! This is a guitar slinger who knows how to treat that guitar. She’s not only a phenomenal guitarist, she’s also got charisma and knows how to do all the stage moves an audience want from their guitar heroes. Because she has two other guitarists in the band, she’s freed up to deliver some terrific guitar wizardry that adds plenty to many of Alice’s old favourites.

Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss on stage with Alice Cooper at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What about the new album? Sadly at this shorter festival gig, we don’t get to hear any of the new songs from Alice’s latest solo album. Hopefully Alice will return to Japan for a full show where we get to hear the new songs live.

He finishes a great gig with a playful version of classic “School’s Out” with the band incorporating part of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” into the performance. Splendid!

Great show, great fun, a fantastic band and an Alice Cooper delivering. This is what festival gigs are all about.

Alice Cooper on stage at Loud Park. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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