Live DVD/album review: King Diamond “Songs For The Dead Live”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

King Diamond returns with a glorious live release of his best music and plenty of horror-themed theatrics. 

If you like your metal filled with haunted drama and horror-themed theatrics, King Diamond is where it’s at. This career-spanning live release is flawless, a real feast for King devotees. King Diamond has always been about combining theatrics and drama with splendid music – putting on a great show while performing great music. On “Songs For The Dead Live” we get just that. Behind the make-up, imagery and all the stage props, there is indeed excellent music. It’s heavy metal, with many haunting atmospheric parts and some progressive influences. On this release, we get two almost identical sets: one recorded live at The Fillmore in Philadelphia in 2015 and one at the outdoor Graspop festival in 2016. As expected, we get a splendid show by the veteran Danish singer and his band. The setlist is superb. We get all the good stuff we could possibly hope for, including “Welcome Home”, “Sleepless Nights”, “Eye of the Witch” and “Halloween”. In addition to King classics, we get a nod to his past with the fantastic Mercyful Fate songs “Melissa” and “Come to the Sabbath”. We also get to hear King’s album “Abigail” from 1987 performed in its entirety. What a treat! King’s voice is in fine form and he delivers his characteristic falsetto singing better than ever before. But his vocal range is extensive and we get the full range here. The band is rock solid and features three Swedes: guitarists Andy LaRocque (Swedish Erotica, Death, E.F. Band) and Mike Wead (Mercyful Fate, Hexenhaus, Candlemass, Memento Mori, Abstrakt Algebra) and bassist Pontus Egberg (Treat, Lion’s Share, The Poodles, Zan Clan). American drummer Matt Thompson (Shaolin Death Squad, Legacy of Disorder) completes the line-up. The newest addition is Egberg who has brought some serious groove to King’s rhythm section in recent years.

King Diamond’s “Songs For The Dead Live” is out now via Metal Blade Records. The Japanese edition, consisting of 2 DVDs of the two shows and a CD with the audio from the Philadelphia show, will be released in Japan on 27th February via Ward Records.

Gig review: 10cc at Billboard Live Tokyo

10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Gouldman and his 10cc put on a superb night of timeless hits at Billboard Live in Roppongi. 

Graham Gouldman of 10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

10cc at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo on 28th January 2019

Graham Gouldman co-founded 10cc in 1972 and he is still leading the band from the front. While 10cc has not produced any new material since 1995, they continue to tour the world playing their extensive back catalogue. And what a treasure trove of fabulous songs the band has. 10cc is a band that is hard to define musically as they take so many different influences into their music, but essentially it is a soft rock band with its roots in the British pop and rock invasion of the 1960s. With a background as a songwriter for acts such as The Yardbirds and The Hollies, Gouldman is not only a world-class songwriter, he is also a fabulous musician (he was Ringo Starr’s bassist on two tours in 2018) and a producer (among many other things, he has produced The Ramones).

Graham Gouldman of 10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

In the current line-up of 10cc, alongside bassist and vocalist Graham Gouldman, we find long-time members Rick Fenn (Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman, Nick Mason) on guitar and drummer Paul Burgess (Jethro Tull, Camel). They both have been in the band since the 70s. Newer additions are Keith Hayman (Cliff Richards) on keyboards and Iain Hornal (Jeff Lynne’s ELO) on vocals, keyboards, percussion and guitar. Hornal, who gets to do a fair bit of the lead vocals in the show, does a stellar job.

They open the evening’s 70-minute set with “The Wall Street Shuffle” and continue with “Art for Art’s Sake”. The gig continues in the same fashion with hit after hit until they finish in triumph with a rather tasty and jam-tastic version of “Rubber Bullets”. One of the highlights of the set is the fantastic “Dreadlock Holiday” with its reggae vibe. There is not a weak part during the entire set. Since the very foundation of the band, 10cc has been populated with multi-instrumentalists. The current line-up is no different with several members swapping instruments with each other during different songs throughout the show. What a superb night of timeless hits delivered by a splendid live band. 

10cc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Album review: Mourning Sign “Contra Mundum”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish melodic death metal with progressive influences on reunited Mourning Sign’s third album.

Mourning Sign originally formed in Sweden in 1992. Having been active for a number of years in the mid-1990s, the band then disbanded. The band reformed in recent years and now they have released “Contra Mundum”, their third full-length studio album. It is a great album filled with quite brutal yet melodic death metal with some progressive parts. There is some fantastic atmospheric soundscapes, especially on the terrific tracks “Nest of Vipers” and “Sights of Woe”. The fantastic guitars on “Who Will Crown the King” make that my favourite song on this album. Overall this is a great album. Perhaps we could get a little more variation of songs on the next album. Now it is a bit like a death metal version of AC/DC. On the one hand, there is a great formula here that delivers, but it doesn’t change much. On the other hand, it’s rather good, and so perhaps we don’t need the variation? 

Mourning Sign’s album “Contra Mundum” is out now via Orchestrated Misery Recordings.

Album review: Skunk Anansie “25LIVE@25”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Skunk Anansie celebrates turning 25 with a new live album that brings back terrific memories of London in the 1990s. 

I saw Skunk Anansie open for KISS in Finsbury Park in London in 1997. The Skunks were perhaps not an obvious choice to open for KISS, but it was a great choice (Rage Against The Machine, Thunder, 3 Colours Red and L7 were also on the bill that summer evening). Skin and the boys owned the stage and the audience like it was nobody’s business. Inspiring a large crowd waiting for KISS is not the easiest of gigs. Skunk Anansie’s brand new live album “25LIVE@25” brings me down memory lane, back to London in the 1990s, the city that was my home for a decade.

Skunk Anansie always had excellent songs that gave them hits and fans. But they have also always been a great live band where fierce powerhouse lead-singer Skin gets to shine while being backed by a groovy band. Skunk Anansie is perhaps best defined as an in-your-face 90s British alternative rock band with punk attitude, great songs and a terrific frontwoman in Skin. They always brought in a wide range of influences into their rock music. They made it work and they became a musical melting pot mirroring the diversity of their hometown London. On this splendid live album we get all the goodies from back in the 90s, including “Intellectualise My Blackness”, “I Can Dream”, “Charity”, “Selling Jesus”, “Little Baby Swastikkka”, “Weak” and “Hedonism” as well as newer material. The album sounds terrific but also unpolished, like a live bootleg with great sound. And that is a good thing. “Yes, It’s Fucking Political” is a song title which nicely sums up what Skunk Anansie is about. They never shy away from bringing up social issues and other sometimes controversial topics they feel strongly about. That is part of what makes this such a great band, a talented band full of adrenaline and attitude. The band disbanded in 2001 but reformed some years later with the same line-up they’ve had since 1995: Skin on vocals, Martin “Ace” Kent on guitar, Richard “Cass” Lewis on bass and Mark Richardson on drums. Based on this live album, they’re as good now as they were back in the 90s. Nostalgia? Yes, but this band is also relevant here and now and they have a future. 

Skunk Anansie’s “25LIVE@25” is out now via Boogooyamma.

Album review: Corroded “Bitter”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Corroded is back with a new album filled with modern metal combining heavy riffs and beautiful contemporary-sounding melodies.

“Bitter” is Corroded’s fifth full-length album since they formed in 2004. Corroded plays a kind of modern, contemporary metal. It is built around heavy guitar riffing while at the same time there are splendid melodies. It also has a dreamy atmospheric layer on top of the music on many of the tracks on the album. It reminds me a bit of fellow Swedes In Flames, only better. I’d say that Corroded creates the music that In Flames tries to do.

The massive track “Cyanide” comes at you in a suggestive way and keeps your attention throughout with its tempo changes and rollercoaster of a song structure. It’s a great piece of modern, melodic metal which isn’t afraid to take in influences from all sorts of places. “Breathing” is a modern rocker of a song that could be a radio hit while the terrific “Burn” grooves along like it’s nobody’s business. “Black” is a great song mixing heavy guitars with what sounds like goth influences. Here vocalist Jens Westlin gets to showcase his pipes. The rest of the band consists of Thomas Andersson on guitar, Bjarne Elvsgard on bass and Per Solang on drums. Overall this is a great and modern metal album by a band that is here and now without any trendy retro shenanigans.

Corroded’s new album “Bitter” is out on 25th January via Despotz Records.

Album review: Carnal Forge “Gun to Mouth Salvation”

Carnal Forge. Photo: Jens Rydén

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish thrash metal band Carnal Forge is back with its first full-length studio album in 12 years.

Following a few years of relative inactivity, Carnal Forge has regrouped and produced a terrific new album called “Gun to Mouth Salvation”. The energy is back and the band has channelled that energy into some fantastic new songs. Originally formed in Sala, Sweden in 1997, the band kept itself busy for over a decade with touring and album releases before they took a break. The new album is the band’s first full-length album since 2007’s “Testify For My Victims”. The current line-up consists of Tommie Wahlberg on vocals, Petri Kuusisto on lead guitar, Jari Kuusisto on rhythm guitar, Lars Lindén on bass and former Nightrage drummer Lawrence Dinamarca. This is dirty, hard-hitting thrash metal. Musically it is not too dissimilar to the thrash/death music created by The Haunted and that is certainly not a bad thing. The fast song “Reforged” is one of the album’s highlights. “King Chaos” is another terrific punishing track, while “Hellride” indeed sounds like a ride in hell and “The Stench” is a freight train of a song. Splendid!

Carnal Forge’s album “Gun to Mouth Salvation” will be released on 25th January via ViciSolum Productions.

Gig review: Voivod

Voivod’s Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Canadian cult rockers Voivod give their Japanese fans a weird and wonderful night of spaced-out music. 

Voivod at Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo on 18th January 2019

Voivod’s Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What a weird and wonderful show Canadian cult rockers Voivod put on in Tokyo this evening. Founded in Quebec, Canada 36 years ago, the band has released 14 studio albums so far, most recently 2018’s “The Wake”. The band has seen a number of line-up changes, including having former Metallica and Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted as a member for a number of years. The current line-up features original drummer Michel “Away” Langevin and vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger. They are joined by Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain on guitar and bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche. 

Voivod’s Away on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As a band, they have a terrific combination of wackiness and cheekiness. But they back that up with terrific music. Voivod’s musical style is best described as…Voivod. The band’s record label Century Media Records calls them “Canadian progressive sci-fi metal innovators” while the band has described itself as “cosmic-metal warriors”. The band’s music is all over the place. It’s hard rock, thrash metal, speed metal, progressive metal, jazz metal, avant-garde metal… Their style is always evolving. There are twists and turns around every corner and this is what makes this innovative band so interesting.

The evening’s setlist is very tasty and it is evident that the band members are loving it up on stage. The whole set is performed with big smiles on their faces. They open with “Post Society” from the 2016 EP and follow it with “Ravenous Medicine”, a classic from the 1986 album “Killing Technology”. The band’s anthem “Voivod” is an obvious highlight of the evening. “Iconspiracy” from the new album is another one. The set is a fabulous mix of new and old and it highlights the band’s broad musical world. They close a splendid evening of music with the Pink Floyd cover “Astronomy Domine”.

Voivod’s Snake and Rocky on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Just as I think that Voivod’s stage show somewhat reminds me of a Napalm Death gig, I notice that none other than Napalm Death frontman Barney is standing next to me at the gig. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Voivod’s Chewy, Rocky and Snake on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators

Slash. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks (archive photo)

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Slash puts on a great show in Tokyo focused on his solo material.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators and H.E.R.O. at Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba, Tokyo on 17th January 2019

The evening kicks off with promising new Danish rock band H.E.R.O. as support act. They have just been signed by Sony Music Japan and their short set gets them noticed and no doubt creates some interest in their debut full-length studio album which will be released in April.

I first saw Slash live with Guns N’ Roses in 1991 on the “Use Your Illusion” tour. Since then I have seen him numerous times solo. What sets this evening’s gig apart from all the previous ones, is that he is no longer relying on playing old Guns N’ Roses hits. This evening we only get one GNR song, “Nightrain”. We also get one Velvet Revolver song, “Fall to Pieces”, but the show is primarily built around Slash’s solo material. It is a fantastic night of good-fun quality rock’n’roll delivered by a world-class band. Unlike in Guns N’ Roses, here Slash gets to do what he wants. He can be more relaxed and have a more laidback approach. It looks like he is having more fun and it feeds into the music too. Slash has a fabulous and very tight band. It’s the same line-up as when they last toured Japan four years ago: vocalist Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), bassist Todd Kerns (Bob Kulick, Hookers & Blow, Sin City Sinners), drummer Brent Fitz (Union, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper, Bruce Kulick) and guitarist Frank Sidoris (The Cab).

They open the show with “Call of the Wild”, a track from the latest album, “Living the Dream”, and follow it with crowd favourite “Halo”, one of the best songs from Slash’s solo catalogue. Other highlights of the 22-song show include the terrific “World on Fire” and “Shadow Life”. In the splendid “Wicked Stone” we get one of a series of excellent extended guitar solos by Slash. The man and his guitar are in love and they are having a good night. If one were to look for areas of possible improvement, perhaps we could wish for a little more variation in the song material. A majority of the songs are of a similar kind. We do get a couple of slower songs and a few songs that are a bit more blues rock, but for the most part, Slash’s show is made up of guitar-based melodic hard rock. Having bassist Todd Kerns sing lead on a couple of great songs (“We’re All Gonna Die” and “Doctor Alibi”) is a smart move. It mixes things up and Kerns is a hell of a showman – his stage moves reminds me of Gene Simmons in the 1970s. A great evening of rock finishes with the catchy “Anastasia” and one more fantastic guitar solo by Slash.