Album review: Devil’s Gun “Sing For The Chaos”

Devil’s Gun. Photo: Lars Andersson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Devil’s Gun returns with a new album filled with classic-sounding heavy metal. 

Sweden has a long tradition of producing great metal bands in pretty much all metal sub-genres. In recent years, many Swedish bands with a sound based on classic 70s and 80s heavy metal have emerged. Among them is Devil’s Gun. The band released its first full-length studio album “Dirty ‘N’ Damned” in 2016 and now the follow-up album is ready. Devil’s Gun plays heavy metal of the good old classic kind. There are many echoes of the classic Accept sound here, the way they sounded in the 80s. Joakim Hermansson’s vocal style seems to be heavily inspired by Udo Dirkschneider, the legendary former Accept frontman. Genre-wise there is nothing new here. But that’s perfectly OK. This is a shout-out to the 80s metal that many of us grew up with and it is executed well. While the style is clearly 80s heavy metal, this is no tribute band or mere copycat. This is great new music built on a foundation of 80s metal. There are a lot of Accept vibes here, but there are also some echoes of American 80s bands such as Mötley Crüe and W.A.S.P. on songs such as “Queen of Destruction” and on some songs, such as “Bad To The Bone”, we get a bit of a Judas Priest vibe. We also get a few nods to AC/DC here and there. The lyrics are classic metal: “Killer Machine”, “To The Devil”, “Tear Down The Wall”, “Lights Out”, “Electrical Shock”, “On The Road” and so on. Only the interestingly named song “Alligator Fuckhouse” stands out from the standard heavy metal formula. Metalheads – it is time to stretch your necks because when this album is released, it’ll be headbanging time! Now I just need to find my old air guitar and dust it off. Love it!

Devil’s Gun’s album “Sing For The Chaos” will be released on 12th April via Black Lodge Records.

Album review: Epitimia “Thread”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Russian band Epitimia gives us atmospheric black metal mixed with pagan metal and acoustic folk music pieces on new album. 

The atmospheric black metal band Epitimia was founded in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2008 and “Thread” is the band’s fifth studio album. The acoustic folk music influence is a major part of Epitimia’s music. It helps making this into an interesting cross of acoustic folk music, pagan metal and more straightforward black metal. It feels as if the band has taken two, or perhaps even three, different musical foundations and merged them into songs. The black metal parts are rather depressing music, while the pagan influences and the acoustic folk bits are somewhat more hopeful in nature. The mix is weird and wonderful. There are certainly some interesting contrasts in the songs. The fact that all the lyrics are sung in Russian adds to the far-from-mainstream-music feeling. The crossover works. It is perhaps an acquired taste and certainly not for everyone, but I love the underground touches and the weird but successful mix of styles. Some might argue that Epitimia could benefit from better production, but I think otherwise. The DIY-sounding production is part of the whole package. This is Epitimia. They are supposed to be like this. Take it or leave it. I dig it. 

Epitimia’s “Thread” is out now via Naturmacht Productions.

Album review: Toto “40 Tours Around The Sun”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Toto has been around since the 1970s and on the band’s new live release they show us that they have still got it after four decades of touring.

American rock band Toto has a reputation as a band made up of professional session players who wanted an outlet for their own music. A band of musicians loved by other musicians. Despite a bit of a revolving door when it comes to band line-ups over the years, Toto is always a band of pros. Toto always delivers. Guitarist Steve Lukather has been part of the Toto journey since the beginning and co-founder Steve Porcaro (keyboards) is also there, although he has come and gone a few times over the years. Vocalist Joseph Williams, who originally sang for Toto in the 80s, is back behind the microphone and they have a great touring band in place. 

Toto’s new live release, “40 Tours Around The Sun”, recorded during the band’s European tour in 2018, is being offered in multiple audio and film formats. It’s a terrific show they put on. As always, Toto gives us pop and rock with some funk, some soul, a pinch of jazz, some world music, a bit of prog and so on. We get many different musical influences in what essentially boils down to slick soft rock. The instrumental “Dune (Desert Theme)” is a majestic piece of music and one of the highlights for me on this new live release. We obviously get the hits “Africa”, “Hold the Line” and “Stop Loving You”. But we get much more than that. From the band’s self-titled debut album from 1978, we get “Hold the Line”, “Angela” and “Girl Goodbye”, and we also get many more great songs from throughout the band’s career. Steve Lukather’s guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is phenomenal. On songs such as “Make Believe” and “Rosanna”, with full-blown instrumentation with saxophone, keyboards and everything, Toto is in its element. These slick musicians are indeed world-class but they also have a feeling for how to put all the parts together. On “No Love” we get saxophone player Warren Ham delivering some tasty music on a harmonica which turns into one of the best moments on this release. “Africa” is also delivered to us in a jam-tastic version.

Toto’s “40 Tours Around The Sun” is out now via Ward Records in Japan. Toto will perform eight shows in Japan between 14th and 27th February.

Gig review: Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia – Metal Souls Live

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Destinia’s music is classic heavy metal and hard rock in the tradition of Dio, Rainbow and Whitesnake. For a special Metal Souls Live performance in Tokyo, Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai brings together Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza and Ronnie Romero on stage. 

Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya on 21st January 2019

Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura 

Nozomu Wakai is one of Japanese rock’s most promising guitar players. Having got himself into the spotlight with his initial Destinia full-length studio album and a follow-up EP, he then continued to build a fan base as guitarist in Mari Hamada’s touring band. He also teamed up with singer Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot, Rough Cutt, King Kobra) for gigs in Japan with the Paul Shortino Band in 2016 and 2017.

Ronnie Romero on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura 

For Nozomu Wakai’s latest Destinia album, 2018’s “Metal Souls”, he put together a dream team consisting of Ronnie Romero (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Lords of Black) on vocals, Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, The Dead Daisies, Blue Murder, John Sykes, Ted Nugent) on bass and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, John Sykes, Ted Nugent) on drums. The album was well received and soon the idea was bandied about to perform the album live at a special show in Tokyo.

Tommy Aldridge on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

What a powerful band Destinia is. Drummer Tommy Aldridge has more drums in his blood than perhaps any drummer out there. The combination of Aldridge and bassist Marco Mendoza is explosive. The two gentlemen have anchored many bands together over the past few decades and it shows. Ronnie Romero has a powerful voice and with this trio added to the guitar playing of Nozomu Wakai we have something terrific. The song material is outstanding which, of course, also helps. Japanese guitarist Nobu Doi, one of Wakai’s high-school friends, has been added to the Destinia live band and, while seemingly a bit shy in the limelight on stage, he lets his guitar do the talking and does a fine job backing up his friend.

Marco Mendoza and Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

This evening Nozomu Wakai is clearly very happy to be at the centre of a star-studded Destinia. Getting the love from his Japanese audience seems to overwhelm him a few times during the set. The audience is very switched on. They know most of the lyrics to the Destinia songs. We get to hear all the ten tracks from last year’s “Metal Souls” album, including the splendid “Be A Hero” and “Judgement Day”. We also get three songs from the first Destinia release from 2014: “Requiem for a Scream”, “Still Burning” and “Ready for Rock”. To the delight of the audience, Tommy Aldridge also gives us a superb version of his trademark bare hands drum solo.

Destinia closes the evening’s show with some classic songs: Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”, John Sykes’ “Please Don’t Leave Me”, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Over the Mountain” and Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Loving”. Wakai performs these songs with a big smile on his face. Standing on stage performing such classics with some of the musicians from those bands is a dream come true for the young Japanese guitarist.

The question now is obviously: what’s next for Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia? I hope that more people will get a chance to experience this line-up of Destinia live on stage. It could be perfect for some of the European rock festivals for example. Based on the initial success of the debut gig, I also hope we will get to see Destinia on stage here in Japan again. Whatever happens with Destinia, you will soon get the chance to hear Nozomu Wakai play on a forthcoming Shortino album. Nozomu Wakai is a guitarist and songwriter you should keep an eye on. This is only the beginning!

Destinia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Etsuo Kawamura

Album review: We Are The Catalyst “Ephemeral”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish band We Are The Catalyst gives us modern and catchy metal with pop melodies on its third album. 

Formed in 2012, Swedish band We Are The Catalyst has already had some initial success with tours in the UK and China and well-received record releases. An EP release in 2013 was followed by the band’s debut full-length studio album, “Monuments”, in 2014 and a second album, “Elevation”, in 2016. Band members Cat Fey (vocals), Kenny Boufadene (guitar and vocals), Joni Kaartinen (bass) and Håkan Strind (drums) have previously played together in the band One Without. Now they’re back with the rather catchy “Ephemeral”, their third album featuring twelve shiny new tracks. We get very modern-sounding melodic metal combining plenty of keyboards with guitar riffs and heavy drums. It’s the sort of contemporary blend of metal and pop that narrow-minded listeners often brush off as “not metal and so I can’t listen to it”. For those of us who are a bit more curious and open-minded, we can discover some good new music on “Ephemeral”.

We Are The Catalyst is the kind of band that has a chance of making it big as they can potentially appeal to a much larger mainstream audience than more “pure” metal acts. The band lives in that contemporary Swedish musical world that houses diverse acts such as Smash Into Pieces, Amaranthe, CyHra, In Flames, Ghost and much more. It is a world where fitting into a specific genre is secondary to creating modern melodic music. As much as I love my old-school metal stuff that fits within certain limits, it is refreshing to hear some of these newer acts focus on creating music and not worrying about being “true” or anxious about fitting in. The focus here is on writing great melodic songs that are then performed in an appealing fashion of back and forth between pop and in-your-face metal riffing. Some of the songs are built up in a similar way to the classic hard rock power ballads of the 1980s where a song continuously builds up to reach a crescendo and then is brought down to start over again. It works very well. The voice of Cat Fey is a great fit for this music – or perhaps the music was written to fit in with her vocals. Either way, the combination works well.

The album opens with what sounds like a bit of a Lacuna Coil-flavoured catchy pop/metal song called “Over Pale Waters”. It’s a potential radio hit. It sets the tone for the album which continues in a similar fashion throughout. “Innan Allt Faller”, one of the album’s best songs, is sung in the band’s native Swedish, whereas the album’s other songs all have English lyrics. “Alone Against The World” is another track that will work well in the band’s live show. The album closes with what is my favourite track, the dreamy “Dust”. This is a promising band that we all should keep an eye on. They have another UK tour this month and, hopefully, they will keep touring as that is the way that this band will go to the next level.

We Are The Catalyst’s album “Ephemeral” will be released on 13th February.

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.