Album review: Majestica “A Christmas Carol”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

An over-the-top and bombastic Christmas with Swedish power metal band Majestica.

This is a Christmas album by a Swedish power metal band. And it sounds just like one would imagine. I have always found rock bands making Christmas albums to be a bit strange. But, if one wants to listen to some cheery Christmas music around the holidays, why not have your favourite rock band playing it instead of some boring church choir or some piped elevator music? Majestica’s music is catchy, full of energy and very bombastic. Them playing Christmas songs is no different. Compared to last year’s studio album they have added a bit more symphonic touches with the use of orchestral instruments. There are glockenspiel and sleigh bells on this album! This is not only a Christmas album, but it is also a concept album based on the Ebenezer Scrooge character from the Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol” from 1843. To go with the idea of a story carrying on throughout the album, Majestica makes use of multiple voices, including voice actors, guest singers and all four band members (guitarists Tommy Johansson and Alex Oriz, bassist Chris David and drummer Joel Kollberg) contributing vocals. The highlight for me is the theatrical performance “Ghost of Christmas to Come” with its whirlwind Disney-esque musical journey decorated with choirs, an orchestra, comedy action and electric guitars. The album is a bit silly and heaps of good fun. At times this sounds like a yuletide version of Avantasia. This Majestica album will be a good complement to my all-time favourite metal Christmas songs, “Heavy Christmas” by 220 Volt and “No Presents for Christmas” by King Diamond. At the beginning of 2020, Majestica managed to visit Japan for a few shows (read our gig review here) before the global pandemic put a stop to international acts touring Japan. Perhaps they can come back next year for some special Christmas shows?

Majestica’s album “A Christmas Carol” will be released in Japan on 4th December via Ward Records and internationally via Nuclear Blast Records.

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Album review: Cadaver “Edder & Bile”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Norwegian death metal band Cadaver’s latest line-up, featuring Anders Odden and Dirk Verbeuren, has created a ferocious and terrific new album.

Anders Odden founded Cadaver in Norway in 1988 and the band has been active on and (more often) off ever since with different line-ups. They released their first demo tape in 1989 and were subsequently discovered by the members of Carcass and signed to Earache. The debut album, “Hallucinating Anxiety”, was released in 1990 as a split CD also featuring Swedish band Carnage. In this latest version of the band, Odden plays both guitar and bass and sings while Megadeth’s Dirk Verbeuren is behind the drum kit. The combination is both brutal and brilliant. Adding one of metal’s best drummers to the existing Cadaver sound was a brilliant move that took this to the next level. Cadaver’s current sound is a terrific combination of blasting drums and exquisite and terrifying guitar riffs. These two men of metal were clearly meant to play extreme metal together. The album is a musical punch in the face. It knocks you out already at the beginning of the first track, “Morgue Ritual”. Odden has been battling cancer while creating this record and perhaps that is where the music’s very tangible fighting spirit comes from. There is wickedness in the music and an eagerness to bulldoze the listener. On “Circle of Morbidity”, Jeff Becerra (of Possessed fame) appears as a guest and on the ferocious track “Feed the Pigs” we get to hear Kam Lee of Florida death metal legends Massacre. There is an old-school death metal foundation here, but Cadaver is not a band that is afraid to get out of the stinky basement and go for a stroll in the musical neighbourhood. Odden and Verbeuren combine their sheer power and fearlessness with some exquisite melodies. There is a runaway freight train here, but it stops every now and then to listen to the birds along the train tracks. There are also plenty of excellent thrash metal nods in this Norwegian death metal. The track “Final Fight” is an obvious highlight with its many style changes melted into one song.

Cadaver’s new album “Edder & Bile” will be released in Japan on 11th December via Ward Records. Internationally the album is released via Nuclear Blast Records.

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Album review: Revolting “The Shadow at the World’s End”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rogga Johansson is back with yet another Swedish death metal release – this time with Revolting’s seventh full-length album.

Rogga Johansson is a contemporary underground death metal legend. He is a busy and very creative artist with multiple bands and projects going on at the same time. You may know him from Paganizer, Massacre, Megascavenger, Bloodgut, Furnace, Ghoulhouse, Dead Sun, God Cries, Putrevore, Down Among the Dead Men, Grisly, Lobotomy Dept, Humanity Delete, Johansson & Speckmann, Those Who Bring The Torture, Echelon, Eye of Purgatory, Eaten, Monstrous, Bone Gnawer, PermaDeath, Pile of Skulls, Reek, Ribspreader, Severed Limbs, Stass, Svitjod, The Dead Cold, The Skeletal, To Descend, Banished From Inferno, Skeletal Spectre, Carve, Demiurg, The Grotesquery, Soulburn, Sinners Burn, Foreboding, Terminal Grip, The 11th Hour, Graveyard After Graveyard, Deranged, Minotaur Head…or some other band or just know him as a solo artist. This man’s treasure trove of output is vast. Revolting, which was founded in 2008, returns today with its seventh full-length studio album, “The Shadow at the World’s End”. As an artist, Rogga is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. In Revolting he focuses on lead vocals and playing the guitar and is backed up by a drummer and a bassist. This is an album that fits nicely in with the best of Sweden’s proud tradition of death metal bands. This is uncompromising music. It is gloriously terrific for those of us who appreciate raw, stenchy and brutal basement music. Rogga, born in 1976, came onto the scene in the late 1990s, but in his music, we can certainly hear echoes of early 1990s Swedish bands such as Entombed, Dismember and Unleashed. Rogga pays respect to those who have walked before him in the old-school Swedish death metal forests, but without being a copycat. With his vast volume of output, he has found his own sound and style, most of it built upon the firm foundation of old-school Swedish death metal. “The Shadow at the World’s End” is a solid quality album. It has no fillers and could easily be performed live in its entirety. Personal highlights for me include the punishing title track as well as “1888”, “Daggers That Mimic Life’s Pain”, “Carnage Will Come” and “Sorrow As Companion”. The sun doesn’t shine where this music comes from. Dark, cold and damp is the basement where Rogga Johansson creates his music. Rogga delivers once again.

Revolting’s album “The Shadow at the World’s End” is out today via Transcending Obscurity Records.

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Album review: L.A. Guns “Renegades”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels are back with a new L.A. Guns album full of nods to the band’s 1980s Sunset Strip roots while at the same time making the band relevant here and now.

Fans who question changing line-ups of their favourite rock bands miss the point. The point of a band is to create great music for the enjoyment of the fans. Members come and go in almost all bands. It’s how life works. People move on, new blood comes in. Ever since the first version of California rock band L.A. Guns was formed back in the 1980s, the band has seen constant line-up changes with musicians coming and going. At the moment there are two versions of the band out there at the same time. This version of L.A. Guns is led by two of the members from the band’s classic line-up: drummer Steve Riley and bassist Kelly Nickels. In this version of the band, Riley (a former W.A.S.P. drummer) and Nickels (ex-Faster Pussycat) are joined by guitarist Scott Griffin (who joined L.A. Guns in 2007 and who has also played in Bobby Blotzer’s version of Ratt) and new vocalist Kurt Frohlich (ex-Brent Muscat’s version of Faster Pussycat). Discussions around L.A. Guns in recent years have focused a lot on which version is the proper one. I don’t care. I care about the quality of the music that is played for me. This version of L.A. Guns is a very good version of the band. (When I saw the Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis version of L.A. Guns perform in Japan in 2017, they too were very good.) On the new album “Renegades”, not only do we get a talented line-up but the new material is also at the right level. L.A. Guns was always good-fun party rock performed to entertain you. This version of the band carries on that tradition very well. The previously released singles “Crawl”, “Renegades” and “Well Oiled Machine” are on this album backed up by other laidback, yet kick-ass, songs such as “Don’t Wanna Know”, ”Witchcraft”, “Lost Boys” and “Why Ask Why”. With their roots in the 80s Sunset Strip rock scene and its traditions, the band obviously gives us the obligatory ballads in the form of “You Can’t Walk Away” and “Would”. They are alright, but personally, I prefer the rockier side of this band. “All That You Are” is one of the highlights on the album for me and its anthem-like appearance will make it a great new addition to the band’s live set. L.A. Guns is beers-and-chicken-wings music. It works great to get a party started or a fab night out at a rock bar. Sometimes that’s what you need in your life. Rock music is not all about two-hour concept albums by some European prog-rock band that overthinks, overcomplicates and overdoes everything. Sometimes you just need a cold beer, some chicken wings and a good time with some American rock. L.A. Guns has announced some live dates in the US next spring. Hopefully those will happen as they now have some great new songs to add to the back catalogue for their live shows.

L.A. Guns’ new album “Renegades” is out now via Golden Robot Records.

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Album review: Sodom “Genesis XIX”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German thrash metal band Sodom adds some new nuances and influences on the terrific “Genesis XIX”, the band’s 16th studio album.

Bandleader Tom Angelripper, on vocals and bass, remains at the helm of Sodom, a band he founded nearly four decades ago. Guitarist Frank Blackfire (ex-Kreator) has returned to Sodom of which he was a member in the 1980s. Guitarist Yorck Segatz and drummer Toni Merkel complete the current – terrific – line-up of the band. The new album is without compromises. It’s tough, raw, gritty, pissed off and in your face. It is an album created during the coronavirus pandemic and you can hear it. Sodom is a terrific thrash metal band but on this new album, we get more than just hard-hitting thrash metal. It is a rather diverse album with different influences. While we get splendid thrash on tracks such as “Euthanasia”, “Dehumanized” and “Friendly Fire” (quite possibly the top track on this release together with “Sodom & Gomorrah”), a track like “Occult Perpetrator” is quite far from normal thrash and is more some kind of bombastic and epic style of heavy metal mixed with black metal touches. “Waldo & Pigpen” is another track with a difference – it starts off slowly and a bit doomy before moving more into thrash territory and on the track “Indoctrination” we get a terrific punky shout-along chorus. On “Nicht Mehr Mein Land” we get world-class thrash sung in German. Throughout the new album, we hear proof of Sodom as a band that has inspired plenty of death and black metal acts with its sound. Frank and Yorck are two very different but equally gifted guitarists. Combining their diverse talents in the same band works very well for Sodom. I love the new Sodom with a rock-solid thrash metal foundation and with overlays of all kinds of different influences. The many nuances suit Sodom’s music very well. This is an album overflowing with terrific metal.

Sodom’s new album “Genesis XIX” will be released on 27th November via Steamhammer/SPV.

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Album review: Kiyoshi “KIYOSHI5”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fabulous Japanese artist Kiyoshi is back with her fifth solo album, “KIYOSHI5”. There is an exciting raw nerve and edge to her splendid music.

There is something about this artist that I love. She’s different. There is a raw and authentic nerve and real quality to everything Kiyoshi does. She uses the slight imperfections in her music to keep it real and to show us that she is a sincere artist that creates music from the heart. Nothing is overproduced or too polished. On “KIYOSHI5”, her fifth solo album, she continues with her trademark approach of delivering her songs only backed up by a sole drummer and with herself on vocals and bass. There is no guitar and, weirdly enough, you don’t miss it. The bass is her foundation, her oxygen. It is what her career is built upon, but she is also a splendid songwriter and a vocalist with a distinct approach. On the track “No Words” we get fine examples of all three. Sheer awesomeness. Perhaps best known as the fierce bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, Kiyoshi is also an accomplished solo artist. I still remember the day years back when Marty asked me: “Do you know Kiyoshi?” I didn’t. He said I should and he wasn’t wrong. Genre-wise this is Kiyoshi music. It lives somewhere between alternative rock, J-pop, traditional singer-songwriter music and much more. There is a foundation in a sort of classic pop-rock song structure but then fused with terrific bass work and Kiyoshi’s characteristic voice. A year ago, when she released “KIYOSHI4”, I mentioned Japanese artists such as GO!GO!7188 and Anna Tsuchiya as references in my review and in my mind that still holds true on this new album. It is the kind of nervy and edgy Japanese rock that I love. A kind of raw, underground pop music with a punk attitude. It is rawer, less polished and more real than the major and commercially-minded US pop-punk bands. At times it’s perhaps not too far from bands like Garbage and Pixies but in a very Japanese way. Kiyoshi, one of my favourite bassists in the business, shows us some really cool bass work on songs such as “Dance Darling Dance”, “Happy End”, “I’m So Sick” and “Life Goes On”. She is an immensely gifted bassist but she never overdoes it. She knows she’s here to perform and entertain, not just show off her skills. And she succeeds. She mostly sings in Japanese but we do get a few songs with English lyrics as well. “KIYOSHI5” is as good an album as I had hoped. It’s terrific. Kiyoshi never disappoints me.

“KIYOSHI5” is out now. Buy it and while you’re at it, you should treat yourself to a Kiyoshi “No Guitar More Bass” t-shirt as well.

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Album review: Marty Friedman “Tokyo Jukebox 3”

Marty Friedman “Tokyo Jukebox 3”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman never ceases to amaze me. My mind is officially blown, once again, as Marty offers us the third part of his “Tokyo Jukebox” series.

Marty Friedman lives for creating great music and he doesn’t care about any musical boundaries at all. His constant reinventions keep blowing my mind, both with his studio recordings and live shows. Not only does he play whatever style he fancies at the time when he creates new music, he frequently mixes different styles even within songs. With every new release, Marty aims to take his music one step further and he always succeeds. Even when he does covers, he makes the songs his own by infusing his personality into the music as if he had composed them.

“Tokyo Jukebox 3” is an album which mainly consists of Japanese cover songs, most of them delivered in instrumental versions. One of my personal highlights on this album is “Gurenge”, originally a pop hit in 2019 by Japanese pop vocalist LiSA and also used as the theme song for the anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”. On the album, there is also an excellent take on Da Pump’s “USA”. The standard, but annoyingly catchy, J-pop hit gets a proper Marty treatment and he turns it into a really cool instrumental showpiece. We get other covers of well-known pop songs by artists like Momoiro Clover Z, Sekai no Owari and Little Glee Monster. Marty offers us an excellent outlandish and good-fun version of ZARD’s 1993 hit “Makenaide”. Another 1990s hit, Every Little Thing’s “Time Goes By”, comes with some of the album’s finest guitar parts. On this album, Marty has taken a somewhat different approach to some of his guitar work and has managed to come up with some fine and, even for him, unusual guitar sounds.

The album is not all about covers though. There are two Marty songs on it as well. One is the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song”, a song commissioned by the Japanese government a few years ago and on which Marty performs together with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Then there is a new version of “The Perfect World”, here featuring vocals by Alfakyun. This track is the absolute highlight on the album for me. It combines terrific guitar work from Marty, a splendid and groovy rhythm section, a characteristic voice, all fitting inside a wonderful high-energy J-pop/rock song. This version beats Marty’s own original version. It’s a bit edgier. I love it.

Marty has approached this with the idea of making a good-fun album of great music to cheer people up in these dark pandemic times. He succeeds. I hope he will consider doing some special “Tokyo Jukebox 3” live gigs, perhaps playing the new album in its entirety and with the best bits from the two earlier “Tokyo Jukebox” albums. Just a thought…

I never get bored listening to Marty Friedman. I loved the heavy metal he played with Cacophony and Megadeth and I love even more all the unexpected musical directions he has gone off in since moving to Japan. He can still be a heavy metal-style guitar hero, but he doesn’t shy away from playing whatever style he stumbles across. He’s a true artist and someone who ignores what is expected of him and just focuses on taking his music creation further. My expectations on Marty Friedman are always sky high. He is one of the best guitarists alive. He constantly tries new things, always evolving, never standing still. Few artists at his level dare to do these kinds of genre-bending musical creations. But Marty does and he keeps blowing my mind.

Marty Friedman’s album “Tokyo Jukebox 3” will be released in Japan on 21st October via Avex.

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Album review: Anaal Nathrakh “Endarkenment”

Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British extreme metal band Anaal Nathrakh returns with a fabulous new album filled with controlled chaos.

Formed in Birmingham, England in 1999 by vocalist Dave Hunt and multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney, Anaal Nathrakh has always been a bit different. They’re as extreme as they can be, but their music doesn’t really sound like their fellow extreme metal bands. The music is extreme and very entertaining. It’s high-energy. It is also easily recognisable. Anaal Nathrakh has established a trademark sound that sets it apart from other extreme bands. It’s chaotic. Somewhat controlled chaos, perhaps planned chaos, but still chaos. There are fragments of melodic song structures underneath all the mayhem and cacophony. It’s a bit like a musical mosaic. As if someone has taken a bunch of songs, tore them apart, threw the pieces in a mixer and then pieced together whatever came out. Like a musical equivalent to William S. Burroughs’ cut-up literary technique. The result? Bloody fantastic! It’s glorious chaos. It’s not music for everyone. It’s music that demands attention and it needs listeners to concentrate. It’s exhausting but a joy to listen to this music. There are so many nuances, tempo and style changes and twists and turns throughout all the songs that I discover new things every time I listen to the songs. “Punish Them” with its aggression and excellent guitars is one of my immediate and clear favourite tracks on this album. Another is the title track. The album is solid throughout. There are no gaps, no fillers, not even any breathing space. It’s non-stop pummelling. Unlike many other extreme metal bands who tend to put on make up and elaborate costumes, Anaal Nathrakh lets the music do the talking. When they last performed in Japan in 2019, they performed in plain clothes. That’s perfectly fine as this band has some of the finest extreme music in the business.

The Japanese edition of the album comes with a bonus track: it’s an alternative version of the title song, here called “Endarkenment (Total Necro Version)”. It’s a glorious batshit crazy version of a terrific song.

Anaal Nathrakh’s album “Endarkenment” is out today in Japan via Ward Records and Metal Blade Records internationally.

Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Satanic Overdrive gives us cheeky garage rock on debut album

Satanic Overdrive

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Satanic Overdrive is a tongue-in-cheek punky rock’n’roll band from Gothenburg, Sweden. Its debut album is full of Swedish garage rock.

The references to Satan are seemingly there purely for shock value, to get attention for the emerging band Satanic Overdrive. Fair enough – it is hard for new bands to get noticed. Music-wise, this Swedish band is a mix of straightforward garage rock and shout-along punk rock. There is nothing evil or even sinister about this rock band. They call themselves “an occult punk rock’n’roll band” but even that is a load of tosh. They are not occult at all. They are attention seekers, but they are also gifted songwriters. There is a quality there that perhaps gets overshadowed by the references to Satan. I dig their good-fun and high-energy debut album. They’d be better off ditching the Satan references and just be a great and fun melodic punk rock/garage rock band in a proud Swedish tradition. Songs like “Cold Honey”, “Suck It Up”, “Zombie Shakedown”, “Pain Makes You Live” and “Burn” are terrific. It’s the sort of music you want to drink beer to at a summer rock festival. There is very good potential here. In addition to echoes of the Swedish punk rock scene, there are heaps of hints of classic Swedish garage rock bands like The Hives, The Leather Nun and The Nomads.

Satanic Overdrive’s self-titled debut album will be released on 2nd October via Lucifer Productions.

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Album review: Six Feet Under “Nightmares of the Decomposed”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Florida death metal is not dead. Chris Barnes and his Six Feet Under chaps return with an uncompromising new album.

Six Feet Under is a Florida death metal band seemingly, and unsurprisingly, obsessed with the subject of death. From the band name to the album cover, the album title, the song titles (“The Rotting”, “Death Will Follow”, “The Noose”, “Dead Girls Don’t Scream”, “Drink Blood, Get High” and so on), the lyrics and beyond, it’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek and over the top. Six Feet Under was founded in 1993 as a side project to Chris Barnes’ main gig in the band Cannibal Corpse. When Barnes was kicked out of that band, Six Feet Under became his main focus. They released their debut album “Haunted” in 1995 and soon established themselves as one of the biggest death metal bands in the US. The new studio album, “Nightmares of the Decomposed”, is an uncompromising show of strength. In the current line-up of the band, Barnes is joined by two other former Cannibal Corpse members – guitarists Ray Suhy and Jack Owen – as well as two former Vile and Brain Drill members – bassist Jeff Hughell and drummer Marco Pitruzzella. The music is often slow-ish and doomy yet crushing death metal. But there are some faster tracks, such as “Amputator”. The music is extreme and punishing and it has a tremendous underground quality to it. On the surface, initially, some of the music sounds primitive and a bit like meat-and-potatoes, but then there is often a groove in the music and some glorious guitar solos do come into the picture. Those touches make the songs less straightforward, more complex and more interesting. The Japanese edition comes with two terrific bonus tracks, “Violent Eruption” and “Midnight in Hell”.

Six Feet Under’s album “Nightmares of the Decomposed” will be released on 2nd October in Japan via Ward Records and Metal Blade Records internationally.

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