Album review: The Dead Daisies “Locked and Loaded – The Covers Album”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

New album of classic rock covers by The Dead Daisies.

Rock veteran collective The Dead Daisies is, after a few very busy years with multiple album releases and constant touring, on a bit of a break. They are filling part of the gap by releasing a compilation album featuring cover songs they have recorded and played in recent years. The album’s highlights include “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s era-defining anthem of dissent from 1969, as well as cool live versions of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. We also get covers of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Beatles, Howlin’ Wolf, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young. The Daisies has always been a band that is all about feelgood music and meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. Music to get a party started. They write terrific original material but have always made a point of also playing well-chosen covers. The Daisies has had a rotating line-up of music veterans coming and going with Aussie guitarist David Lowy the only constant. On this compilation, we can hear John Corabi, Doug Aldrich, Jackie Barnes, Deen Castronovo, Richard Fortus, Marco Mendoza, Dizzy Reed, Jon Stevens and Brian Tichy people with some serious pedigree from Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Dio, Foreigner, Journey and much more. Just like this band is always a joy to see and hear, this album of covers, too, puts me in a good mood. It will do just fine until we get to hear some news about what’s next for the Daisies. 

The Dead Daisies’ “Locked and Loaded The Covers Album” will be released on 23rd August via Spitfire Music.

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Album review: Riot “Live in Japan 2018”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

American metal band Riot’s love story with Japan continues with a new live release and upcoming Japan shows.

Riot has a long and proud tradition as one of the best American heavy metal bands. They have also had a great relationship with their Japanese fans and they always seem to come up with great things for the Japanese fans. In 2018 they toured Japan twice. This year we get a new Japanese live release (the band’s third) as well as two special shows in Kawasaki in October.

Riot, founded in New York in 1975, has seen its line-up evolve continuously over the years. Leading the current line-up of Riot (or Riot V as the band is now called outside of Japan) are guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Don Van Stavern who both joined the band in the 1980s. They are joined by Frank Gilchriest on drums, Nick Lee on guitar and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. While the band has no original members left, the current members deliver and are worthy of carrying on with the band name. Most importantly, they play the back catalogue very well, but they are also creating great new music in the Riot tradition, such as the terrific 2018 studio album “Armor of Light”.

This double live album, “Live in Japan 2018”, recorded at Club Citta in Kawasaki in March 2018, gives us all the good stuff from throughout the band’s long career. In 1990, the band recorded the live album “Riot in Japan – Live!!” and in 1998 they recorded “Shine On” during a Japan tour. Only Mike Flyntz was part of those earlier live albums and the setlist is very different on this new live album. Of course, we get some of the obvious classics, including “Thundersteel”, “Warrior” (with LoudnessMasayoshi Yamashita as a guest) and “Swords and Tequila”. But we also get fab newer songs such as “Messiah”, “Armor of Light”, “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fall from the Sky”, “Take Me Back”, “Metal Warrior” and “Land of the Rising Sun”. The 23-track live release is a great showcase of Riot’s past and present. It’s a great band that is still relevant and still delivering at a top-level.

Riot’s “Live in Japan 2018”, released both as a live album and a live DVD/Blu-ray, is out now in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via AFM Records. On 5th and 6th October, Riot will be back at Club Citta for two special shows to celebrate the release of the new live release. Get your concert tickets here: www.clubcitta.co.jp/001/riot-2019/

Here’s Roppongi Rocks live review of one of the two Japan shows in March 2018: https://roppongirocks.com/2018/03/17/gig-review-riot-celebrates-30-years-of-thundersteel-at-club-citta/

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Album review: Attentat “Punkhjärta”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish punk rock veterans Attentat are back with a great new album. “Punkhjärta” continues a proud Swedish tradition of power pop-infused shout-along punk rock.

Veteran punk rock band Attentat formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1978 and released their debut album “Tatuerade tårar” in 1981. They were one of the leading bands in the original Swedish punk rock scene along with bands such as Ebba Grön, Asta Kask and KSMB. Vocalist Mats Jönsson, guitarist Magnus ”Paddan” Rydman and bassist Cristian ”Crippa” Odin have all been in the band since the late 70s. In the current line-up, they are joined by newer additions Patrik Kruse on guitar and Dennis “Larry” Staaf on drums. The new album “Punkhjärta” (Swedish for “punk heart”) is a terrific take on punk rock of the Swedish kind that was established in the late 70s and early 80s. It is somewhat angry punk rock but with plenty of pop influences and great melodic touches. It’s music with attitude made to sing along to, with lyrics based on everyday observations. The lyrics are all in Swedish as was almost always the case with the early Swedish punk bands. The band’s lyrics are quite simple but they work a treat as they are also very direct. On the new album, we get to hear the Attentat that we got to know and like back in the day. Sure, they are older, perhaps somewhat wiser, and they now sound a bit more mature. But that’s OK. They’re not teenagers any more and neither am I. The standout track for me is the terrifically weird and wonderful “Pissa på”. I love the contrasts and tempo changes and the terrific chorus. “Vad får jag” is another great, but more direct, track in the proud Swedish tradition of shout-along punk rock and power pop, while the emotional and depressing love song “Esmeralda” plays out with a supermarket as a backdrop. What a welcome surprise to see that Attentat is still a very relevant band and one that can still entertain us! 

Attentat’s new album “Punkhjärta” will be released on 23rd August via Busy Bee Production.

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Album review: Destruction “Born to Perish”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

German thrash metal band Destruction is once again a quartet. 35 years after their first demo cassette they are as good as ever. “Born to Perish” is world-class thrash metal.

Destruction plays hard-hitting and punishing thrash metal of the German kind. This is world-class thrash metal with deep roots in the 1980s thrash metal scene but with a contemporary sound. The band is still fronted by Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer (bass and vocals) who co-founded the band in 1982. They released their first demo cassette “Bestial Invasion of Hell” in 1984 and their debut studio album “Infernal Overkill” in 1985. The band was early on firmly established as one of Germany’s leading thrash metal bands and they have remained at the forefront of German metal. So, what’s new this time? Terrific Canadian drummer Randy Black (Primal Fear, Annihilator, W.A.S.P.) joined the band during last year’s tour. He’s an animal on the drum stool and a perfect match for Destruction. The band is also no longer a trio – they’re once again a quartet since they added Swiss guitarist Damir Eskic. The new line-up is all we could ever hope for. It’s solid, punishing and tighter than tight.

Having seen Schmier and Mike perform live with Randy in Tokyo last year, my expectations on the new studio album were sky-high. The addition of a second guitarist got me even more excited. I am very glad that the band lives up to and even exceeds my expectations. The song titles are in line what we have come to expect from Destruction: “Born to Perish”, “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten”, “Filthy Wealth”, “Butchered for Life”, “Tyrants of the Netherworld”, “We Breed Evil”, “Fatal Flight 17” and “Ratcatcher”. Musical highlights on this new album include the terrific title track as well as “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten” and “Filthy Wealth”. Most of the songs are gloriously fast and furious. It seems that Black and Eskic have given their German friends an international vitamin injection. “Butchered for Life” is a bit different – starting off as a sinister kind of ballad before exploding into chaos, then calming down again for a guitar solo and then yoyoing back and forth between different styles. It’s a bit different but very good. Destruction delivers crushingly good stuff on this new album. Today’s Destruction is a terrific version of the band and the new songs are up there with the band’s classics.

Destruction’s album “Born to Perish” will be released on 9th August via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

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Album review: HammerFall “Dominion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall is back with “Dominion”, its eleventh studio album. This band is still all about good-fun and bombastic shout-along melodic heavy metal.

“Dominion” is HammerFall’s eleventh studio album since the band was formed in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Guitarist Oscar Dronjak is the only original member left in the band. Early line-ups of the band featured members from In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Frontman Joacim Cans has been in the band for 23 years now and has sung on all of its albums. The current line-up also features Fredrik Larsson (Evergrey) on bass, Pontus Norgren (Talisman, The Poodles, Zan Clan, Great King Rat, Jeff Scott Soto) on guitar and David Wallin (Pain) on drums.

After all these years, HammerFall has a well-established signature sound which is melodic heavy metal with plenty of power metal and NWOBHM influences. HammerFall plays melodic, high-energy metal. At times it’s bombastic and often humorous. But this band is for real and they are on a heavy metal mission. The new “Dominion” album is more of the same music that we have heard before. They are not reinventing themselves here, but no one wants them to do that anyway. If you like your metal based on the classic 80s metal sound and with plenty of shout-along anthems and plenty of opportunities to play air guitar, this is for you. The track “We Make Sweden Rock” is both fun and terrific at the same time. This is good-fun metal with plenty of echoes of the 1980s but without sounding retro. This is a band that knows what its mission is and the band members are very good at what they do. “Second to One” is a great power ballad complete with emotional vocals, piano and a fine guitar solo. But it is with heavy metal songs such as “Scars of a Generation” and “Dead by Dawn” – with terrific metal guitar riffing – that HammerFall shows us its best side in my opinion. Song titles such as “Battleworn”, “Bloodline”, “Chain of Command”, “Dominion”, “One Against the World” and “Never Forgive, Never Forget” are part of a long and proud tradition of heavy metal lyrics. We Make Sweden Rock indeed. Japan too.

HammerFall’s new album “Dominion” will be released on 16th August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Napalm Records. On 15th September, they will perform in Tokyo.

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Album review: Hellsingland Underground “A Hundred Years Is Nothing”

Hellsingland Underground. Photo: Emmy Åhström

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Hellsingland Underground is back with the band’s fifth studio album. This time with a more mature and bigger soundscape with lots and lots of keyboards and piano mixed in with the guitars and Charlie Granberg’s terrific storytelling. The end result is magic.

Known as a terrific and high-energy live band, Hellsingland Underground has always also delivered in the studio. They released their self-titled debut album in 2008 and all their five studio albums are great. Having started off with a combination of Swedish melancholic folk-rock and Southern Americana rock, the band’s sound has evolved on every album. Nowadays they seem to have few if any, musical limits. “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is the follow-up to 2016’s “Understanding Gravity” and here we can hear the band creating great music without worrying about fitting into any specific genre. The band’s current line-up consists of Charlie Granberg (vocals), Peter Henriksson (guitar), Jerry Ask (guitar), Thomas Pettersson (keyboards and piano), Martin Karlsson (bass) and Patrik Jansson (drums and percussion).

I could write about the band’s evolved soundscape where David Bowie now seems to have moved into Neil Young’s garage right next to John Belushi, Joey Ramone, Ray Manzarek and Jon Lord…and Scott Gorham’s guitars still standing there. 

I could write about the smart and beautiful use of various forms of piano, organs and keyboards by what is essentially a guitar band.

I could write about how frontman Charlie Granberg has lifted the band with his production of this set of exquisite new songs. It’s a very cool production where a more mature Hellsingland Underground emerges, with no musical limits. There is a great atmosphere to the songs that without being rushed get some space to breathe. Somehow, the songs still manage to retain that excellent raw energy that drives the band. The main focus remains on the songs that live in a wide musical range stretching from dusty rock via pop and bluesy country rock to I don’t know what. 

I could write about how the background vocals of new guitarist Jerry Ask have added a great dimension to the atmosphere of the songs. 

I could write about very diverse new songs such as “Carnival Beyond the Hills”, “Strangelands”, “Pig Farm”, “Elephant”, “Rainbow’s Gold”, “The Blessing and the Curse” and “Bloodlines”.

I could write about the splendid “Criminal Summer”, one of the most beautiful and best songs of the year so far (The piano! The guitars! The genius “tarararara-oolalalala-ratatatata” vocals!).

I could write about how I grew up in the same neighbourhood as frontman Charlie Granberg and how, in the 1980s, we played in the same rehearsal studio. (Well, “studio” might be too fancy a word to describe the shabby rehearsal space in the attic of the by-then closed-down Fenix cinema in Ljusdal, Hellsingland.) He was a heavy metal drummer back then, but It was always obvious to me that this was a driven man who would choose his own path and make a success of it.

But no. I am not going to do that. I am just going to sit here, with a big smile across my face and enjoy the masterpiece that “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is. The music speaks for itself. I love this band. You should too.

Hellsingland Underground’s new album “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” will be released on 30th August via Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution. 

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Interview: Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund of Lucifer | “There’s quite a bit of ABBA in Sabbath!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

After a splendidly high-energy Lucifer gig in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sits down backstage with Lucifer’s drummer Nicke Andersson and guitarist Linus Björklund to talk about the evolution of the band, songwriting, tuned-down guitars, the poppy side to Black Sabbath and much more.

The European band, founded by German singer Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) in Berlin in 2014, has evolved a lot between its two albums. Gaz Jennings of British doom band Cathedral played an important part in the band’s early days but with his exit from the band, things have changed a bit musically. The current line-up of Lucifer consists of Sadonis on lead vocals, her Swedish husband Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric) on drums, Austrian Alexander Mayr on bass and Swedish guitarists Martin Nordin and Linus Björklund. Their latest album, “Lucifer II”, was released in 2018.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Welcome back to Japan! “Thanks!” says Nicke Andersson who has been here a few times over the years. “It’s the first time for me,” says Linus Björklund. 

It is hard to accurately describe Lucifer’s style of rock music, but Johanna Sadonis has made it clear that she’s not keen on being called a stoner rock band. “It’s difficult,” says Nicke. “I think the easiest way, a kind of shortcut, is to say it’s a mix between Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac. Done! There’s quite a lot between there. It’s obviously Black Sabbath-influenced, but also quite a lot more than that.” Linus adds: “As long as it’s not stoner rock! We do not want to be associated with that.”

Lucifer has become a new band with different members between its two albums. The band’s sound has also evolved as Gaz has been replaced by Nicke as Johanna’s songwriting partner. “When Johanna founded the band following The Oath’s much too early split, she had a vision for the band. But it became a bit different as she started writing songs with Gaz from Cathedral. When I heard the first Lucifer album, I thought: ‘Damn, this is like Cathedral but with a good singer!’ Haha! No disrespect to Lee. One can immediately hear that it is Gaz from Cathedral. He has a special sound and I like Cathedral, I’m a fan. I think that if Gaz were to write a KISS song, it would still sound like Cathedral!” explains Nicke.

Nicke continues to explain that he liked what early Lucifer sounded like but that he soon saw a chance to get closer to both Johanna (his future wife) and the band. “I really like the first album a lot. It’s a bit of a strange word, but Johanna and I started dating. I was really interested in how it is to write songs together with others. I write songs more or less on my own. When I’ve had help, it’s been with some lyrics, but I’ve never written music together with someone. I’ve had some draft texts with some blah blah and nonsense English and then Dolf or Kenny have written the lyrics,” explains Nicke with a reference to Dolf de Borst and Kenny Håkansson, his songwriting partners in Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters and Entombed respectively. “I was really interested in the songwriting process. I was also very interested in Johanna!” says Nicke with a big smile. “Yes, obviously!” says Linus. Nicke continues: “Then she called and said: ‘Do you know what happened?’ No. ‘Gaz is leaving.’ Oh! She was distraught. They wrote 50-50. During the call, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t so bad. Perhaps I can do something. She thought I was just trying to be nice. But then we said: OK, let’s try! We started sending drafts back and forth. The first song we got sorted was ‘Dreamer’. I immediately thought that this will be great. Melodies and music always come at the same time for me. It’s very rare for me to just come up with a riff. Johanna has told me that it wasn’t the case with Gaz.”

Lucifer’s Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“On some of the songs, the verse and the chorus have the same riff. That is quite unusual,” explains Linus about the old Lucifer songs. Nicke continues: “He thought: ‘Here’s a pile of riffs. Do something with them.’ That must’ve been harder. That’s how it is. Nowadays Johanna says that this is how she wanted to do it then as well, but perhaps she’s just saying that to be nice too… Even if I try to do a hundred riffs, it still turns into some kind of pop thing. I just can’t resist! Let’s go back to Sabbath: all of us in the band like Sabbath a lot. But I think that I, or all of us, like parts of Sabbath that these doom bands seem to have forgotten. I think there is a lot of ABBA in Sabbath!” “Absolutely!” adds Linus, before Nicke continues: “But they ignore that. They’re like – let’s take the heaviest Sabbath riff and make a whole career of it. But I want to catch, or steal, everything, even the poppier parts.”

“Born Again” remains Black Sabbath’s best-ever album. I am dead serious, but Linus laughs out loud before Nicke says: “No, it isn’t. But it is very good and really underappreciated. There are of course other bands than Sabbath, but Sabbath really has parts that people tend to forget about. They’re really poppy and that is why it becomes really heavy when it’s heavy.” 

The two of you were not in the band when the first album was made. Does this have any impact on things when you put together setlists for the gigs? Do you feel like you can skip the old material and focus on the newer songs? “Quite the opposite!” says Linus. “It’s more Johanna,” says Nicke. “We want to play more of the old songs than Johanna as she’s already done a world tour with them.” Linus continues: “We think it is fun to play those songs. She wants to do more new material and we want to keep the old stuff. The band is Lucifer. There are two albums.” Nicke adds: “Thus, we end up with some kind of compromise.” “It is also about respecting the band’s whole career,” says Linus. “The band was formed without us and thus we can’t come in and just… No!” says Nicke. “Apparently, that’s what Brian Robertson did when he joined Motörhead. He didn’t want to play ‘Ace of Spades’…”

You joined an already great band and made some material changes. Were you ever worried about how the fans would react? “We can only play the way we play,“ says Nicke. “I don’t think Johanna was worried. I thought about it. Here comes the pop guy and destroys the whole doom thing! There was more of the mysticism and hocus pocus on the first album. At the beginning when I and Johanna started writing songs, she was like: ‘Shall we skip tuning down?’ No! It has to be tuned down, I said. That’s how it should be.” Linus adds: “It’s important. It gives a whole different vibe to the songs and, once again, Black Sabbath tuned down. Haha!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A few days ago, you were on a large stage at a major summer festival in Sweden. Now you’re here doing a club gig in Tokyo. Do you approach different types of gigs and different audiences in the same way or do you somehow adjust what you do? “No, we only have the songs that we have. There’s no difference” says Nicke. Linus adds: “I believe that we think it is a bit more fun to play at a club because we get a bit closer on stage.” “There’s something special about when a festival is great too. The opportunity to win over a few new fans. But I think it is a bit safer at a club. Nothing bad about festivals, but…” says Nicke. “We have mainly played club gigs together,” says Linus. “I saw a picture from when Kris Kristofferson played Gröna Lund the other day. And that is quite a big stage. They all stood right next to each other, all of them. Because they wanted to keep it tight and they wanted to feel each other. I can relate to that a bit. Sometimes I feel as if we are too far apart from each other on stage.” Nicke adds: “I’ve noticed that at certain festivals where I am supposed to sit and play the drums on some big podium. ‘Hello? Can’t you come up here? I am so lonely up here!’ I think that we, in typical Swedish fashion, find that somewhere in the middle of the two extremes is best.” 

Both Nicke and Linus have other musical commitments outside of Lucifer. Linus plays with the band Vojd while Nicke has numerous bands and projects, including the reformed versions of Entombed and The Hellacopters as well as the splendid Imperial State Electric and much more. Getting it all to fit in logistically isn’t always easy. “The logistics are difficult. But where there’s a will, there’s a way to solve it somehow. But it is tricky,” says Nicke. Linus continues: “We have to plan far in advance. But sometimes we are not doing that and then it becomes hard. But we’re learning all the time!”

Have you been forced to take in fill-in musicians? “I started as a fill-in really“ explains Linus. “When a new line-up was forming, Robin Tidebrink was there. Martin joined at the same time. Martin couldn’t make the first few gigs and I was asked if I could do them. Yes, obviously I can do the gigs. Subsequently, I filled in for both of them for a while. Robin eventually quit the band as he became a father and such. Then I got the question if I could join permanently.” Nicke adds: “But since then we haven’t done it. Not yet…”

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

While you now have a strong line-up, the “Lucifer II” album was basically recorded as a trio. “That was mainly because we couldn’t find the time. We thought: Let’s do this now in order to finish the album“ says Nicke. “Otherwise it would’ve taken even longer. The idea was to get it done faster.” Linus adds: “It is hard to get an album done with a complete band. It is perhaps almost easier when you’re not that many people.” Nicke continues: “But now we’ve recorded bass and drums for a track for the next album and so we have started!” The new song is called “Ghost” and the band performed it live on stage in Tokyo. Playing new songs live before they are recorded in the studio can be a good way to test new music. “For the sake of an album, it would absolutely be best to have performed the album for a year. Isn’t that the way that Bear Quartet does it? It’s not very commercial, but it’s fun that they perform an album for a year, then they record it, release it and they never perform it any more. They then perform new material!” says Nicke. Linus continues: “It’s a weird way to go about it but kind of cool. The album must get better that way.” Nicke adds: “That is obvious!” before Linus continues: “They have played through everything and rehearsed so much and tested the songs and been able to make amendments along the way. That is a luxury!”

What’s next for Lucifer? A new album? It isn’t that long ago since you released your last album. “Much too long ago!” says Nicke. “I feel like it was so long ago. It should be like Creedence. Didn’t they release three albums in 1969? All hits! That’s how it is done! We are aiming for March next year. That’s when it should be released.” Linus adds: “That’s when it will be out. We will work on it this year in parallel with touring and festival gigs…and other bands.” Nicke continues: “We won’t be going into the studio for two weeks and then be done. Rather we’ll be doing bits and pieces here and there.” “We do have the luxury of having two studios in the band. I have one and he has one” says Linus with a nod to Nicke.

They do great studio albums, but Lucifer is also a phenomenal live band where the skills of the musicians are built around the obvious centre of attention, Johanna Sadonis. “We believe that it is very important to be great live. If you can’t deliver on stage you might want to consider not playing at all. It is impossible to not look at Johanna when she’s on stage,“ says Linus of his bandmate who combines a terrific voice with a world-class stage presence.

During August, Lucifer will tour North America. If you’re there, you should go and see them and spot the ABBA influences in Black Sabbath.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Graham Bonnet on new Alcatrazz album | “It will be released in 2020”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Graham Bonnet, one of the best and most iconic voices in rock, has been a frequent visitor to Japan. Recently he was back in Japan for an Alcatrazz tour as well as a guest appearance with Impellitteri. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a brief chat with Bonnet about the reformed Alcatrazz. 

More than five decades have passed since his first hit single. But in 2019, California-based Englishman Graham Bonnet is better than ever. Bonnet’s past includes having fronted Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne and much more during a long and varied career. At 71, he is still here, he’s still singing and he’s still very relevant. In recent years, he has reunited with several of his past bands, including Michael Schenker and Impellitteri. His main touring and recording activities are currently centred around Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Fest, both highly successful, not least in Japan.

This year you have reformed Alcatrazz. What triggered this after a couple of great albums and touring as Graham Bonnet Band? “Three things: The music of the Graham Bonnet Band sounded like it could be a continuation of the Alcatrazz music. We have Jimmy Waldo in the band. He is an original member as well. Also, new guitarist Joe Stump really helps make this band sound like classic Alcatrazz. Add to this the continued request to perform Alcatrazz music and it seemed like the logical thing to do.”

The reformed Alcatrazz performs quite a few Rainbow, Impellitteri, MSG, Graham Bonnet Band and your solo songs. Did you ever have second thoughts about doing this while performing under the Alcatrazz name? “Alcatrazz in the 1980s performed songs I did with Rainbow, MSG and solo. It’s the same thing, there is just more of it in the catalogue now.” 

The new boy: guitar wizard Joe Stump. What a find! How did he end up in the band? “Our manager Giles Lavery was aware of him and found him.”

Initial Alcatrazz gigs have mainly focused on material from “No Parole for Rock’n’Roll”. Will you perform more material from the other Alcatrazz albums at future shows? “I think some songs from ‘Disturbing The Peace’ will go into the set for sure. ‘Dangerous Games’ we did a couple from two years ago in Japan. It’s hard to play everything but we hope to get to it all eventually. We keep the setlist interesting from tour to tour.”

Will you record a new Alcatrazz album any time soon? “It will be released in 2020!”

Since you reunited with Michael Schenker on stage here in Japan in 2015, both your and Schenker’s careers have picked up. What led to that 2015 reunion where Graham Bonnet Band was supporting Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and you also guested his set? “An agreement between our manager Giles and the promoter that I would perform with Michael. Obviously, that got everyone thinking and it became Michael Schenker Fest. It all happened at the same time as we were doing the Graham Bonnet Band albums.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Shibuya

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman and his guitars, a smashing Japanese backing band, a near-flawless setlist and a Rock Fujiyama reunion. Not bad for a Friday night in Shibuya.

Marty Friedman at Living Room Café & Dining, Shibuya, Tokyo on 5th July 2019

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Billed as “Guitar Spirit of Unagi Night”, guitarist Marty Friedman once again offered his fans in Tokyo, his adopted home town, a very special evening in an intimate venue. At the end of the evening, this show has turned into the best Marty Friedman gig I have ever seen.

Rock Fujiyama reunion with Rolly, Kenny Guy and Marty Friedman. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening kicks off in an easygoing fashion with a half-hour Rock Fujiyama reunion. Rock Fujiyama was a TV Tokyo show broadcast in 2006-2007. The show’s hosts included Marty Friedman, Rolly and Kenny Guy and this evening the three men reunite for some storytelling, casual jamming of rock tunes such as “Hound Dog” and “Summer of 69” and plenty of banter. It’s a laidback and very fitting start to a great evening.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

After a brief interval, Marty returns to the stage with his terrific Japanese backing band. Marty opens the set with “Devil Take Tomorrow” followed by “For a Friend”. The setlist is close to flawless. We get emotional Marty, we get funny Marty, we get rocking Marty and – most of all – we get ridiculously talented Marty. He is no doubt one of the best and most original guitarists in the world right now. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a ballad or rocking out, whether he’s playing an acoustic guitar (as he does on a splendid version of “Midnight in Paris”) or shredding away on an electric guitar. He’s still top dog, king of the hill, leader of the pack. His all-Japanese backing band consists of world-class musicians with not least bassist Kiyoshi showing us why she’s one of the best in the business. New drummer Senri Kawaguchi looks rather innocent but she’s a beast behind the drums.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show is basically instrumental and the focus is more on ballads and calmer songs, although we do get some heavier music as well. Combining Marty’s guitar with a string section consisting of a cellist and a violinist creates magical music. There is so much beautiful emotion in many of the songs performed this evening. The absolute highlight of the evening for me is an exquisite and explosive version of “Whiteworm” from the 2017 album “Wall of Sound” where not only Marty but all the band members get to shine. Another standout moment is a perfect version of “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”. Music doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. Other terrific moments include “Lovesorrow”, “Tears of an Angel”, “I Love You”, “Undertow”, “Yuki no Hana” and “Thunder March”. We also get to hear the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song” and “Romance no Kamisama”. Among all the good stuff from Marty’s extensive solo catalogue, Rolly makes a reappearance at the end of the show to perform his recent glam-rock single “Eejanaika”. Marty and the band then close a fabulous show with Marty’s version of Sayuri Ishikawa’s classic enka song “Amagi Goe”.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The sold-out venue, a music, art and dining space in the middle of Shibuya, is excellent for this type of show. People come early and have a bite to eat and a few drinks before the show kicks off. The audience is seated and everyone present is up close and personal with Marty and the band. After the show, Marty joins his fans and spends a long time chatting and signing autographs. Marty knows how to treat his fans well. 

Marty Friedman never disappoints me on stage, but this evening goes beyond that. This is the best show I’ve seen with him. So far…

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Thunder marks 30th anniversary by showing Japan how British rock is done properly

Danny Bowes of Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British rockers Thunder celebrate three decades of rock with special Sit Down/Stand Up shows in Japan showcasing great songs, a great band and the exquisite voice of Danny Bowes.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 9th June 2019

Thunder has over the past three decades matured into one of the best-ever classic rock bands from England. I have seen them live numerous times, first in England 22 years ago and then multiple times here in Japan. This band always delivers. They seem incapable of having an off night. This Sunday evening in Kawasaki the band is as solid as ever with a rhythm section consisting of Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews and vocalist Danny Bowes. On this Japan visit, they have brought along keyboardist Sam Tanner who adds some flair with a great overlay of keyboard wizardry. The Japan shows are divided into two sets – first, a sit down semi-acoustic set which, after a brief interval, is followed by a full-on rock set. Thunder excels at both. 

During the Sit Down set we get treated to “Serpentine”, “River of Pain”, “Bigger Than Both of Us”, “Future Train”, “Blown Away”, “Girl’s Going Out of Her Head”, “A Better Man”, “Empty City” and “Stand Up”. It’s a great collection of bluesy, grown-up songs. It’s a nice and efficient way of getting this evening off to a lovely start. The scaled-back versions of the songs really show us how good the songs are and how good the band is.

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

When the band returns to stage for the Stand Up set, they are ready to rock. Luke Morley is sporting a Flying V-style guitar to show us that now it is indeed time to stand up. They kick off the second half with “Loser” and follow it with “Higher Ground”. This is how proper British rock is done. Danny Bowes is one of the absolute best British voices of rock. Every time he starts singing, I am in awe. That voice, that feeling he has in his voice, is a very rare talent. During a fantastic evening of Thunder music, the absolute highlight for me is “Love Walked In”. But there are many more great moments this evening, including “River of Pain”, “Resurrection Day”, “Black Water” and “Backstreet Symphony”. Basically, there are no dips in this terrific 22-song show. We get some rarely performed songs such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “On the Radio”. They finish a fab evening with an encore consisting of a playful version of Wild Cherry’s classic “Play That Funky Music” and, of course, “Dirty Love”. They may have been around for 30 years, but I hope this band will be with us for many years to come. 

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

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