Album review: H.E.A.T “H.E.A.T II”

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s H.E.A.T returns with a fabulous new album filled with melodic hard rock of the best kind. This is the band’s best album to date.

Sweden has perhaps produced more melodic hard rock bands per capita than any other country. Among the best of the current Swedish offering is no doubt H.E.A.T. Formed in the Stockholm suburb Upplands Väsby (home to Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen and Candlemass) in 2007, “H.E.A.T II” is the band’s sixth full-length studio album. A what a cracking album it is!

The album kicks off with the smoking high-energy track “Rock Your Body”. Like many of the other Swedish bands, H.E.A.T has great songs and great musicians. What really sets them apart from the pack is frontman Erik Grönwall. He has the voice, energy, attitude and fearless craziness to be a world-class frontman. He’s a proper entertainer who knows how to keep his audience engaged. It’s most evident on stage, but even in the studio, his quality shines through. Just listen to his voice in the intro to “We Are Gods”, a song which is the absolute highlight on this fab album. As part of a proud Swedish tradition, H.E.A.T delivers melodic hard rock filled with great guitars and wrapped in plenty of keyboards. Jona Tee on the keyboards is another of the band’s differentiators. His keyboards play a more prominent role in most of the songs than is usual for other melodic hard rock bands where they are more of a decoration. On a song like “Victory”, for example, we get an exquisite combination of keyboards and guitars. H.E.A.T is not a band afraid of pushing the boundaries. They are a melodic hard rock band, but throughout their career, they have included many different influences in their songs and they are good enough to get away it. Another highlight is the rocking track “One by One”, which no doubt will become a live favourite. “Nothing to Say” is the obligatory big power ballad of the album. Original guitarist Dave Dalone returned to the band a few years ago and his guitar work has matured and really is smoking on many of the songs here. The rhythm section – drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay – is as steady as ever. “H.E.A.T II” is the band’s best album to date. Wow! They’ve done it.

H.E.A.T’s new album “H.E.A.T II” is out today in Japan via Marquee/Avalon and will be released internationally on 21st February via earMUSIC. H.E.A.T will tour Japan again in March.

Gig review: Nervosa kills the silence in Roppongi

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

A fantastic Roppongi evening in the name of thrash metal with high-energy Brazilian trio Nervosa.

Nervosa and Valkyrie at Club Edge, Roppongi, Tokyo on 8th February 2020

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of the more exciting bands in thrash metal in recent years has been the Brazilian trio Nervosa. They’ve been around for a decade, but it is more recently that they have started to become better known internationally. In 2019 they played at the legendary Rock in Rio festival and that created a lot of well-deserved attention for the band. This is the band’s first-ever Japan tour and during their visit, they are playing three separate shows in Tokyo, including this final sold-out night at Club Edge in Roppongi.

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

The evening’s opening act is Osaka thrashers Valkyrie. They give us raw, straightforward old-school underground thrash metal. They do a good job of getting the thrash-loving crowd warmed up ahead of Nervosa’s much-anticipated show. Fronted by the fierce bassist/vocalist Fernanda Lira on bass and vocals, Nervosa also includes the band’s founder Prika Amaral on guitar and drummer Luana Dametto. This is one powerful metal trio. They are so full of energy and talent that they seem to bounce onto the stage as they kick off the first song. The band’s music is excellently aggressive in sharp contrast to how nice and humble the band’s members are. This is fierce thrash metal with attitude. They are fab musicians with a bag full of great songs and they know how to properly entertain their audience.

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They open with “Horrordome” and follow it with “Justice Be Done” and “Intolerance Means War”. What a start! The club is boiling and we get circle pits, stage diving and crowd surfing going from the start. The show continues with “Bleeding”, “Arrogance”, “Hostages”, “Enslave” and “Time of Death”. The setlist is flawless. We get a splendid version of “Guerra Santa”, a song performed in Portuguese which is an anti-religion song about bad deeds being carried out in the name of God. Then we get a couple of the show’s absolute highlights with the phenomenal songs “Kill the Silence” and “Raise Your Fist”. The high-energy, sweaty show continues with relentless energy through the songs “Vultures”, “Masked Betrayer”, “Fear, Violence and Massacre”, “Death!” and “Never Forget, Never Repeat”. They finish a terrific show with their very own thrash metal anthem “Into Moshpit”. The circle pits, stage diving and crowd surfing that have been ongoing during the whole show reach a peak. What a show! What a band! What an audience! This is how I like my Saturday nights in Roppongi! A big thank you to the promoter Metal Justice Tokyo who keeps bringing quality thrash metal acts to Japan. 

Prika Amaral of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

I am convinced that Nervosa will continue to climb higher and win ever more fans as they continue to tour and release new music. They are already planning for their next Japan tour as they had such a warm welcome on this first visit.

Fernanda Lira of Nervosa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Philip Anselmo revisits his Pantera past during Japan tour

Phil Anselmo on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Commander Phil Anselmo lays waste to Tokyo with a fierce revisit of his Pantera back catalogue and the best of his work with The Illegals.

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Extreme the Dojo with Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, King Parrot and Palm at Liquidroom, Ebisu, Tokyo on 28th January 2020

Phil Anselmo’s return to Japan is eagerly anticipated by his Japanese fans, not least because the Japan tour is billed as Anselmo “plays Pantera songs”. Fabulous local hardcore quartet Palm has seemingly relentless energy during their opening set. The band does a terrific job of warming up the audience with its uncompromising and hard-hitting music. They get circle pits going in the audience and it’s a splendid way to kick off this evening. They’re followed by Aussies King Parrot from Melbourne. They have a somewhat slow start but once they warm up, their self-deprecating humour and their peculiar brand of grinding thrash metal get the audience on their side.

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Legend Phil Anselmo walks onto the stage like the commander he is. He is here to command his loyal Japanese metalheads. He and The Illegals kick off the show with the terrific song “Little Fucking Heroes”. They follow it with more songs from The Illegals, “Choosing Mental Illness”, “Bedridden”, “Photographic Taunts” and “Mixed Lunatic Results”. This initial part of the show is rounded off with “The Better” which Anselmo dedicates to former Corrosion of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin who unexpectedly passed away the day before.

Then it is time for Pantera overload. For me, it is a welcome reminder of the time when I saw Pantera, together with Annihilator, open for Judas Priest, 29 years earlier, in Stockholm, Sweden on 2nd February 1991 (although “Domination” is the only song played at the 1991 show which is also performed this evening in Tokyo). They start the Pantera section of the show with “Mouth for War” and follow that with “Becoming”, “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit”, “Strength Beyond Strength”, “Goddamn Electric”, “Walk”, “Domination” and “Hollow”. Anselmo finishes a fab evening with “A New Level” from Pantera’s 1992 “Vulgar Display of Power” album. What a great evening celebrating both Anselmo’s Pantera past and his present with The Illegals. Nostalgia is best done when it is combined with the present. Phil Anselmo is still alive, very much relevant and capable of creating fab new music. According to fan reports, the subsequent Anselmo shows in Nagoya and Osaka were even better than the terrific Tokyo show.

Phil Anselmo on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Album review: Anvil “Legal at Last”

Anvil. Photo: Rudy De Doncker

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian heavy metal trio Anvil returns with a fab new album filled with straightforward metal.

Anvil is a metal band of the seasoned kind. They’ve been around the block a few times and have their boots on the ground. They are the kind of band who, like AC/DC and Raven, keep going no matter what. They do their own unique thing. They’ve hit a few bumps on the road and they get knocked about once in a while. But they ignore the trends and just keep going, just like they always have since they formed in Toronto in 1978. In today’s Anvil, founding members Steve “Lips” Kudlow on guitar and vocals and drummer Robb Reiner are joined by bassist Chris Robertson who has been in the band since 2014.

Anvil’s Robb Reiner with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in Nov 2019.

“Legal at Last” is the band’s eighteenth full-length album and the follow-up to 2018’s “Pounding the Pavement”. As I had hoped, it is an excellent and trend-ignoring heavy metal album. “Gasoline” is the album’s absolute highlight for me. It is a splendid old-school and riff-happy heavy metal track with a world-class guitar solo. Other great songs on this solid album include “Plastic in Paradise”, “Chemtrails” and “Bottom Line” as well as the catchy “Glass House” and the fun “Nabbed in Nebraska”. “Legal at Last” is a true return to form by Anvil. There are more than just a few hints and nods to the band’s classic early albums here, but without sounding dated. This is what I would refer to as proper heavy metal.

Anvil’s “Legal at Last” will be released on 14th February via AFM Records.

EP review: The Rekkening “Payback’s a Bitch”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian raw punksters The Rekkening from Montreal are back with a new EP filled with in-your-face, no-punches-pulled kind of punk rock with attitude.

The Rekkening’s “Payback’s a Bitch” is an EP filled with raw underground punk rock which still manages to be rather catchy among all the attitude and mayhem. There are some hints of metal as well, for example when it comes to the guitar on the track “Fuck Off”. The Rekkening plays in-your-face, no-punches-pulled kind of punk rock with attitude. The EP’s three songs, “Payback’s a Bitch”, “Broken Mind” and “Fuck Off”, are all angry songs. On the surface, these are simple and primitive songs, but the lyrics add a dimension of complexity and the musical metal-infusions make this interesting and a bit different. The Rekkening is led from the front by fierce lead singer Trasee Lynn, who is also the brain behind the emotional and street-tough lyrics. Her style and the song structures at times make this into a weird kind of spoken-word performance with a punk soundtrack added to it. I dig it.

Album review: Serious Black “Suite 226”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Multinational melodic hard rock band Serious Black is back with a fantastic new album.

Serious Black is often called a power metal band, but the band’s music is actually quite varied. The music all lies within the boundaries of the melodic hard rock genre but with bits and pieces borrowed from theatrical rock acts like Avantasia and Ayreon. There’s also indeed a healthy dose of power metal on offer. There are great melodies, plenty of catchy hooks and some fine guitar work. The end result is very enjoyable. I really like this. Serious Black is a multinational metal band with some serious pedigree. The band was co-founded by Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween) in 2014 but there have been quite a few people coming and going since then. The current line-up of the band consists of Urban Breed (vocals), Dominik Sebastian (guitar), Mario Lochert (bass) and Ramy Ali (drums). Their debut album “As Daylight Breaks” was released in 2015 and “Suite 226” is the band’s fifth full-length studio album. Swedish vocalist Urban Breed (ex-Bloodbound, Tad Morose) has a terrific voice made for this kind of music. He also seems to be the one behind the band’s theatrical parts. He’s a showman and he knows how to entertain both visually and musically (something which was evident when Serious Back performed in Tokyo a few years ago). The album opens strongly with the single “Let It Go”. Highlights for me also include the terrific “When The Stars Are Right” and the title track “Suite 226”. “Fate of All Humanity” is straightforward melodic rock and on this solid album it sits comfortably right next to the majestic and dramatic track “Castiel” – which perhaps is where this splendid album hits its peak – and the power-metal track “Heaven Shall Burn”.

Serious Black’s new album “Suite 226” is out today via AFM Records.

Single review: Camp Marshy “Baby (Are You Ready for Some Fun?)”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Camp Marshy is the latest addition to a long line of catchy punk-rock bands from Sweden.

Camp Marshy plays great party punk-rock. This Swedish band’s catchy music has hints of American punk (think a Ramones-like attitude but with a somewhat different sound) and Swedish shout-along punk-rock as well as touches of contemporary punk-rock. In short: This is about having a good time and getting laid. It’s as simple and existential as that. You gotta love the simplicity and the catchiness of Camp Marshy. They have the melodies to shout along to and they have some groove and heaps of energy in their music. And there are terrific Johnny Ramone guitars! This is the kind of band you want to play at your 50th birthday party. Now let’s see where they will take this on their next EP which is due out in the spring. There’s potential here. This is the soundtrack to baby-making in Karlstad in 2020.

Camp Marshy’s single “Baby (Are You Ready for Some Fun?)” will be released on 7th February.

EP review: Rock Island Orchestra “Revolution”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea – of New England and Alcatrazz fame – have released a fab EP by their new project Rock Island Orchestra.

Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea have a longstanding friendship and musical partnership going back to the 1970s. The keyboard wizard and the rock-steady bassist co-founded classic American rock band New England and then briefly played with Vinnie Vincent in Warrior (just as he was about to join KISS). Thereafter, they co-founded Alcatrazz with former Rainbow and MSG vocalist Graham Bonnet. As announced only a few days ago, Shea has now rejoined Bonnet and Waldo in Alcatrazz. Waldo and Shea also continue to play together in New England. On top of all this, the two old friends have now created the terrific project Rock Island Orchestra.

In Rock Island Orchestra we get the best sides of Waldo and Shea. Melodic and heavy, precision as well as spontaneity. They are unfazed seasoned veterans who can still create fabulous new music. Perhaps this band is best summed up as exquisite modern hard rock. The orchestration, production and songwriting are world-class and performed by absolute pros. In addition to Waldo and Shea, the band on this album features vocalist Tommy Fields, guitarist D. Kendall Jones and drummer Spencer Speckman. Rock Island Orchestra’s album is contemporary sounding and yet this is quite timeless classic rock, although with enough variations and twists and turns to keep it interesting. The title track “Revolution” is very here and now. It’s a contemporary kind of grown-up rock. “Won’t Back Down” is the five-track album’s highlight for me. It’s an awesome rather heavy track that manages to still be melodic and performed relatively slowly.

The five-track album is terrific. In addition to the original tracks we get a beautiful version of the Alcatrazz classic “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. Despite lacking both Graham Bonnet and Yngwie Malmsteen (who together wrote and performed on the original), this version of the song is terrific. It would seem a bit risky to try to pull off this re-recording without Bonnet and Malmsteen, but Rock Island Orchestra manages to do it and do it very well. With Waldo and Shea about to release a new Alcatrazz album and having gigs booked with both Alcatrazz and New England, I am not sure what lies ahead for the Rock Island Orchestra. Perhaps there won’t be any time for gigs in the near term, but whatever the future of the band is, the debut EP is fab and well worth buying.

The Rock Island Orchestra EP “Revolution” is out now via Cherry Red Records.

Album review: Battering Ram releases debut album filled with Swedish hard rock

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Battering Ram brings back memories of Swedish hard rock of the early and mid-1980s without sounding retro on its debut album.

Swedish hard rock band Battering Ram was formed in Filipstad, Sweden in 2017 and, following plenty of gigs and a few single releases, the band has now released its self-titled debut album. Battering Ram’s music lives somewhere between the melodic hard rock of today and the more rough and raw hard rock of the early 1980s. The music is not too polished which is a plus for me. The fairly basic and straightforward production is partly why it brings back memories of Swedish hard rock acts of the early and mid-1980s, such as Heavy Load, Torch and 220 Volt. This was a time that can be defined as “pre-The Final Countdown”. It was a time when the Swedish hard rock sound was more related to NWOBHM than AOR. Before that 1986 hit, even Europe had a tougher sound similar to their contemporary Swedish bands. But Battering Ram’s music is not created to be retro. The band somehow manages to sound both early 1980s and 2020. Like many of those Swedish bands did back in the day, Battering Ram walks a fine line between rough hard rock and melodic hard rock. The blend works well. There is a solid foundation in the Swedish hard rock sound of the early 80s, but there are also similarities to contemporary Swedish bands such as Mustasch and Corroded. It takes the best bits from back in the day, without sounding dated, and sprinkles some here-and-now metal on top of it all. “Wanted Man”, “The Sign” and “Coming My Way” are some of my obvious favourite songs on this album, but perhaps the fantastic in-your-face track “Chase the Fire” is the album’s highlight. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Battering Ram has arrived and this band is here to stay.

Gig review: Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa

Majestica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Combining Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica with Japan’s crossover violinist Ayasa results in a great evening of modern melodic metal in Tokyo.

Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa at Shibuya Stream Hall, Tokyo on 12th January 2020

Ayasa and Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The first of two nights in Shibuya for Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa is a great, fun and good-natured evening of melodic symphonic metal. This Sunday evening, the Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica, previously known as ReinXeed, performs its first-ever gig under its new name. Majestica’s main man is vocalist and guitarist Tommy Johansson whose day job is as guitarist in Sabaton. The Sabaton connection no doubt sells a few more tickets to Majestica’s gigs. Personally, I am no fan of Sabaton’s music, but Majestica is very different and much more appealing to me. In Sabaton, Johansson is a guitarist doing his job. In Majestica, he is the main man – he’s the lead singer, the lead guitarist and the main songwriter. Here he gets to shine and be himself.

A sub-genre called symphonic power metal is perhaps not for everyone. It’s melodic, riff-happy, full of energy, fast and soaked in keyboards. Majestica is very good at it. One surprise this evening is that they are performing as a four-piece with no keyboard player on stage. In addition to Johansson, Majestica consists of Chris David on bass and Alex Oriz on guitar. For these Japan gigs, they have recruited drummer Joel Kollberg from Veonity to back them up. Majestica released its terrific studio album “Above the Sky” last year and this evening in Tokyo we get to hear six tracks from the album. They open the show with the title track and also perform “Rising Tide”, “The Way to Redemption”, “The Rat Pack”, “Night Call Girl” and “Alliance Forever”. Additionally, we get to hear the best bits of ReinXeed’s past with songs such as “Welcome to the Theater”, “No Fate”, “Temple of the Crystal Skulls”, “Magic Still Remains” and “We Must Go Faster” as well as a great version of “She’s Gone”, a Steelheart cover.

Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The evening’s second act is crossover violin player Ayasa backed up by a metal band. They perform a terrific instrumental set which is a big step up from when I last saw Ayasa when she opened for Epica two years ago. Her music is dramatic, at times even bombastic, yet also often dreamy. Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai (Destinia, Paul Shortino Band) joins Ayasa and her band on a few songs (including a great version of Destinia’s “Metal Souls”) and shows us why he is a man with a reputation. But Ayasa is the one who shines the brightest. She’s a star in the making and has a chance of taking her music beyond just her domestic Japanese fans. For the encore, Majestica’s Tommy Johansson joins Ayasa and her band to perform the Gary Moore classic “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It’s a fun singalong ending to a great evening.

Majestica and Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima