Album review: Victorius “Space Ninjas from Hell”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power metal band Victorius plays fast and melodic power metal on its new Japan-themed album. It’s good fun.

Power metal band Victorius from Germany performed in Japan a few months ago and won some new Japanese fans with a great stage show. The band’s new album, its fifth full-length studio album, is full of hints and nods to Japanese culture, including songs such as “Ninjas Unite”, “Shuriken Showdown”, “Wasabi Warmachine”, the title track “Space Ninjas from Hell” and the very catchy “Super Sonic Samurai”. The album’s highlight for me is the weird and wonderful track “Nippon Knights”. Victorius is a good fun power metal band. They don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. They sing about space, dragons, wizards and ninjas and they have 80s-sounding keyboards all over the place. They are here to entertain and they do. It’s goofy, cheesy and often over-the-top, but it is very catchy and entertaining.

Victorius’ album “Space Ninjas from Hell” will be released on 17th January via Napalm Records.

Interview: Crazy Lixx | “We try to position ourselves 30 years back in time”

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When melodic hard rock band Crazy Lixx from Sweden recently came to Japan to perform, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band in Tokyo to talk about its music, the importance of bringing fresh blood into the band, the impact of working with Pretty Maids’ Chris Laney and much more.

Swedish melodic hard rockers Crazy Lixx, founded in 2002, has had a following in Japan ever since they released their debut album in 2007. But they never toured Japan until 2019. Co-founders Danny Rexon on vocals and Joél Cirera on drums are joined in the current line-up of the band by Jens Anderson on bass and the two guitarists Chrisse Olsson and Jens Lundgren.

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Coming to play in Japan has been a dream for the band that now finally has become a reality. “Requests started to come after ‘New Religion’. I think we sold more of that album in Japan than in the rest of the world! That’s nine years ago, so it’s been a long time coming,” explains frontman Danny Rexon. Drummer Joél Cirera continues: “We’ve been on our way to Japan before, but a tsunami came between us and Japan when we were in advanced discussions.”

Crazy Lixx’s signature mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal is part of a proud Swedish tradition that the Japanese fans love which was very obvious during the band’s first-ever Japan tour. It’s feelgood party rock with hints of glam and sleaze metal, AOR and melodic hard rock. “It’s a mix of where we all come from and what we listen to. This is the sound that we want, kind of end of the 80s, the big productions,” says guitarist Jens Lundgren as we meet at King Records, the band’s Japanese record label. “We try to position ourselves 30 years back in time, and it’s ’89 we’re at now,” explains Rexon. Lundgren continues: “I don’t think any of us is inspired by sleaze. That’s almost a little dirty word. I think it’s more melodic hard rock. More Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Whitesnake rather than Pretty Boy Floyd!” Rexon adds: “I do like the somewhat negative term ‘hair metal’. Many of those bands around 1989-91 produced a lot of great stuff. That’s where we’re trying to be sound-wise.”

Crazy Lixx is closely associated with “Uffe” Larsson, better known as Chris Laney, the Swedish keyboard player and guitarist in the Danish band Pretty Maids, who is also a producer and engineer at the centre of the recent melodic hard rock wave in Sweden. Danny Rexon explains the importance of Laney for the Crazy Lixx sound: “One of the first sounds I reacted to was the Zan Clan album which Chris Laney produced. It wasn’t until we came into contact with him that I feel we started to create something that sounded decent. We had done a few demos before that. Was it in 2005 that he mixed the ‘Heroes are Forever’ single? That was recorded somewhere else and then we sent it to him. It was around the same time that he started to produce Crashdiet. That’s when we felt – that’s the sound we want! It’s the same sound that he has used with Zinny Zan and such. There was a revival of sorts. I think he has been really important when it comes to the sound of the Swedish bands that appeared around that time.” Cirera continues: “He lifts us. He takes whatever is there and lifts it. He produced our first two albums together with Danny. We used to work with him over a longer time period. Going up to Stockholm to record in Polar Studios and staying there for two-three weeks to get the albums done. But lately, with smaller budgets than before, we’ve had him involved to do the mixing. But even so, we notice how much he still contributes to our sound, even if it’s now done in cooperation with Danny as the producer of the album.”

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rexon continues: “I think to myself: ‘What does Uffe want from me?’ I remember when we were recording background vocals on the first album. I thought he was joking when he said: ‘Sound like a drunk!’. If you want it to sound like a choir of drunk football hooligans, which it does in a lot of hair metal, then it has to be like that. I’d never thought about that. It was more like, let’s record as many takes as possible until it sounds right. No! If you sing clean and proper every time then it won’t work. You have to add something more deliberate. There are many of those small tricks of the trade that I still use. He’s definitely, as a producer in the beginning and now still as someone doing the mixing, a mentor.”

In the early days, the band, which was co-founded by guitarist Vic Zino who would later leave them for Hardcore Superstar, spent a few years honing its craft by gigging as much as possible in its native Sweden. Cirera, Rexon and Zino had played together in various local bands before they founded Crazy Lixx. “Us three played together long before that,” says Cirera. “Danny got an idea: ‘Fuck this! Now I want to play the kind of music I liked when I was young.’ An important reference point at that time was Skid Row, especially the ’Slave to the Grind’ album. Then after two-three years, we realised that there were other bands also doing the same thing. Crashdiet were definitely pioneers. They were the first band to release an album properly,” explains Cirera how a new generation of bands in Sweden emerged around that time.

Bassist Jens Anderson, who joined in 2012, continues: “I wasn’t part of the band in the beginning, but I listened to them as a fan. From my point of view, I noticed that Crazy Lixx played a lot of gigs. They travelled around in a van in Sweden and played gigs. They were on the road playing gigs all the time. That’s how they got really tight and good. From a very early stage, Crazy Lixx was one of the local bands that sounded better than the others.” Cirera takes over: “We’ve done the dog years! All the boys have done it in the bands they’ve played in previously, but we’ve been working really hard with Crazy Lixx. Sometimes we drove 2,000 km in three days to do three gigs for gas money with ten people in the audience who would then hopefully tell their friends.”

“Young people today ask: how can we do it?” says Rexon. “I don’t think that this way of doing it works any more. We did it and it worked relatively well. We thought we had a bit of a slow start as we didn’t release an album until 2007. We had members come and go. Get into a van, hit the road and play gigs! What?! Nowadays there are hardly any venues to play. I think we were among the last bands that could kind of force it in this way.” Jens Lundgren, who joined in 2016, says: “The songs you released as demos were very good. Some of the demos also sounded really good, perhaps even better than what many today compile and release as a five-track EP. A good song will always be a good song. At some stage, people will get to hear it. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you had great songs already back then in the beginning.”

Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While Rexon and Cirera have been there from the start, Crazy Lixx has seen a number of members come and go over the year and yet the band has managed to keep its musical identity and sound. “The foundation has always been with Danny,” says Cirera. “It was Danny who started the project. It was his vision. Danny has been the main songwriter through all the years and thus the Crazy Lixx core has remained.” Rexon continues: “I’ve always looked up to bands that have managed to keep most of the line-up intact. That’s how you want it to be. But there are so many factors outside of your control impacting this. Many people look at the old bands and say ‘Aerosmith – they’ve been together for a long time!’ Yes, but there’s been a financial incentive in a completely different way. We have to force ourselves to get through this. The financial resources for this are very small. Do we have the strength to do it? We’ve only really fired one member. The others have left for various reasons on their own initiative.”

“One advantage now”, says Lundgren, “is that perhaps my and Chrisse’s musical tastes are in line with Danny’s. The predecessor guitarists did perhaps push quite a bit to do more 70s rock on a certain album, more riff-based and it was perhaps not that well received by the fans. We don’t push for anything else. We want the same.” Rexon takes over: “There the songwriting changed. We felt rather quickly when they came on board that we had confidence in them. We are a bit closer to each other.” Cirera adds: “Every change in the line-up has led to something. When Vic left, we completely understood him. Hardcore Superstar! He got a chance to skip the van and get on a tour bus instead. And perhaps even make a living from it as well. We understood his decision fully. But because of that, we brought in Adde who was a really good guitarist and we did ‘New Religion’ where everything worked very well and the album was well-received. Then Jens joined the band and took us up a notch. It has led to something and with these two guys coming in”, says Cirera pointing at Lundgren and Olsson, “we’ve noticed that we have a completely different kind of union. We have felt that over the past three years we have a whole different way of hanging out and a different kind of communication. We’re happier to rehearse and the skill level is as high, if not higher, than previously. When Adde and Edd left the band, we sat down and wondered if we should continue or not. Jens had been a stand-in for some of our earlier guitarists.” Anderson continues: “Yeah, you weren’t too keen on starting to hold auditions for new members. Me, as the youngster in the band, just thought that this can’t be the end!”

You play feelgood, party rock. It’s music as entertainment, but you never cross the line like, say, Steel Panther does. How do you ensure you don’t become too comical? “For us, humour is very important,” says Anderson. “We’re always having fun together. We mess around with each other but we do care a lot about the music being extremely well-made. But it’s not about us taking ourselves too seriously. Just take a look at our music videos! They’re always a bit funny. We’re trying to do something cool because that’s how we are. The music that we listen to – many of those artists, if you look behind the scenes, they’re just fun guys that happen to have long hair and are great musicians.”

Do you feel that you have to stay within certain parameters when you write new music? To live up to the expectation of what you’re supposed to sound like? “The record label never gets involved!” says Rexon. “We are held very loosely by them. We just give them the final product and they release it. I guess they might have had some opinion in case we were extremely… Soon we will start playing grunge! No, it’s more us who are a bit strict with ourselves. When we really think that we are pushing the musical boundaries, in reality, we aren’t. Our music is quite narrow. However, on the new album, I think we have broadened ourselves a bit. There are a few songs that are more pop than anything we’ve done before and there are more keyboards than previously.” Lundgren adds: “An album with all the songs exactly the same falls flat. You need some dynamics – in both directions, some a bit tougher stuff as well as some softer stuff.”

The band’s latest studio album, “Forever Wild”, was released as recently as May 2019, but the band is already thinking about the next album. “We are very slow when it comes to recording albums,“ explains Rexon. “It takes more or less a year for us. For the most recent album, when we started to record the first few songs, we didn’t even have all the songs written. Therefore, we need to start thinking about things now. If we want to have an album out in 2021, then now is the time.”

In 2020, Crazy Lixx will continue its world tour in support of the “Forever Wild” album with gigs in Australia and Europe.

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gig review: Opeth | Two hours of prog-rock perfection in Tokyo

Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive hard-rock band Opeth always do things on its own terms. In Tokyo, Opeth gives us an evening of prog rock, metal and a few songs in Swedish. It’s quirky and beyond great. Sheer brilliance!

Opeth at Zepp Tokyo, Odaiba, Tokyo on 6th December 2019

Musically, Opeth moves in a fabulous world that combines prog rock with hard rock and more. For those not used to this kind of musical melting pot, it might at times sound a bit quirky and unconventional. Perhaps so, but it is also terrific music performed by an exquisite rock band.

The last time Opeth played Japan, they played a shortened set at a festival. This evening at Zepp Tokyo, they play a headline gig with no opening act. The focus is fully on Opeth and nothing else. We get two hours of rock perfection. Since their last Japan visit, they have released a spectacular new album, “In Cauda Venenum”. That album was released in two versions, one in English and one in Swedish. This evening, to my (Swedish) delight, the band plays a few of the songs in their Swedish versions, including the magnificent songs “Hjärtat vet vad handen gör” and “Allting tar slut”. It takes guts, skills and attitude to perform rock in Swedish to a foreign audience. Opeth, obviously, pulls it off in style.

The band walks on stage to a backing tape of “Livets trädgård” before they kick off the gig with an exquisite version of “Svekets prins” from the latest album. The band is technically impeccable and this evening they are in a good mood. That, combined with a treasure trove of fantastic songs, make this a very good evening. They also have a world-class light show that makes this a total experience. Opeth’s lead vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt is sort of the Bob Dylan of Swedish rock. He plays music on his own terms. Trends and expectations don’t come into it. His unwillingness to compromise is one of the reasons why this band is so outstanding and why they never disappoint. The rhythm section is rock steady and consists of bassist Martin Méndez and drummer Martin Axenrot (Bloodbath, Witchery, Nifelheim). Keyboardist Joakim Svalberg played with Yngwie Malmsteen before he joined Opeth in 2011 and he is a great fit with his key wizardry. Led guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (Talisman, Arch Enemy, Southpaw, Krux, Tiamat, John Norum) always manages to exceed my high expectations. He knows how to add a heavy metal guitar solo to a prog-rock song, but he is equally good at playing the slower and more emotional parts of Opeth’s music.

At the Tokyo show, we get to hear older favourites “The Leper Affinity” and “Hope Leaves” as well as more recent songs “Lotus Eater”, “Nepenthe” and “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”. The highlight of the evening for me is the terrific “Moon Above, Sun Below” from the 2014 album “Pale Communion”. The encore is absolute world-class with modern classic “Sorceress” and the unbeatable “Deliverance”. Simply sheer brilliance. Rock perfection!

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

EP review: Tragedy In Hope “Smile at Death”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A Russian version of Cradle of Filth? Yes. Tragedy In Hope is extreme and yet melodic metal. It is dramatic, bombastic and very good.

Russia keeps producing very interesting and great metal bands. Tragedy In Hope from St. Petersburg is, while not unique, a very good band. The music on this new EP sounds like a Russian version of Britain’s Cradle of Filth. That’s not a bad thing. While they seemingly have taken their whole sound and image from Cradle, they do their own version very well. The “Smile at Death” EP sounds very similar to Cradle’s recent sound. It is extreme and yet melodic metal. It is dramatic, bombastic and very good. The roots are in symphonic black metal but the songs twist and turn and take off in many directions. The EP opens with the brilliantly haunting and creepy little piece “Alone in the Woods” before we get some serious mayhem in “Smile at Death” and “Pierce the Heavens”. “Grim Love Story” is an epic piece of music and the EP’s best song. The production is great. If you ever wished for a Russian version of Cradle of Filth, here you go.

Gig review: KISS brings a farewell extravaganza to Tokyo Dome

KISS on stage at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American rockers KISS say farewell with a spectacular final Tokyo show as part of their End of the Road World Tour. Great music combined with a terrific show.

KISS at Tokyo Dome on 11th December 2019

The KISS members are in fine form. Having been forced to cancel the Australian tour due to frontman Paul Stanley being sick, backstage before the Tokyo show, Stanley and fellow band members Gene Simmons (bass and vocals), Eric Singer (drums and vocals) and Tommy Thayer (lead guitar) seem very eager to get back on stage to prove that they still got it. And, yes, they most definitely do. What a show!

Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson with KISS backstage at Tokyo Dome before the show.

KISS opens the show with three classic songs from the 1970s: “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce”. The huge audience at Tokyo Dome loves every bit of it. The show is over-the-top with lights, pyro, smoke, confetti, oversized balloons, fire breathing, blood spitting and band members ziplining over the audience and being lifted up and down, in and out, throughout the show.

The setlist is somewhat predictable but outstanding. We get a few songs from the 80s – “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine”, from the rather heavy 1982 studio album “Creatures of the Night”, as well as “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Crazy Crazy Nights” from the band’s no make-up period. There’s also a sample of later material in the form of “Say Yeah” and “Psycho Circus”. But the majority of the evening is unsurprisingly dedicated to the band’s heyday of the 1970s and classic songs such as “Cold Gin”, “God of Thunder”, “100,000 Years”, “Let Me Go, Rock’n’Roll”, “Calling Dr Love”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”. KISS is a machine. This is a massive production which has been planned carefully. But there’s still room for playfulness, such as the guitar jamming during “Lick It Up” and Eric Singer’s comical but excellent drum solo. Paul Stanley, as he’s done on some previous Japan gigs over the years, gives us a little solo performance of Kyu Sakamoto’s 1960s hit “Ue o Muite Aruko”.

Tommy Thayer on stage with KISS at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Band leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have been leading KISS from the front since 1973 and they still have the energy, talent and drive to deliver a world-class show. Their current bandmates Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer both add greatly to the band’s vocal abilities, more so than any previous line-up of the band. Singer sings lead on two songs, “Black Diamond” (one of the evening’s highlights) and “Beth”, and both Singer and Thayer are contributing background vocals throughout the show.

Paul Stanley, Yoshiki and Tommy Thayer on stage during the encore. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

KISS first played in Tokyo in 1977 and have played quite a few shows in Japan since then. For this last-ever show in Tokyo, the band obviously has a surprise ready for the Japanese fans. For the encore, Japanese artist Yoshiki of X Japan fame is brought on to the delight of the fans. First, he plays the piano when Eric Singer sings “Beth” and then he takes over Singer’s drum kit for “Rock and Roll All Nite”. The show is more than two hours long and it is a great way for the band to say farewell to its Tokyo fans. Yes, KISS is a circus, an over-the-top extravaganza. But they also have great songs and performance skills to back that up. The complete package is outstanding. 46 years into the band’s career, KISS is still going strong, very strong. The world tour will continue until July 2021 when the final show will take place in New York City. Catch the tour if you can. It’s a rock show you don’t want to miss before the band retires.

Interview: Tommy Thayer of KISS “I’m still really enjoying the ride”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The final KISS tour of Japan will kick off this weekend. KISS lead guitarist Tommy Thayer called Stefan Nilsson at Roppongi Rocks headquarters for a chat ahead of the much-anticipated tour. “We’re geared up and ready to go. Japan is going to be amazing!”

Legendary American band KISS, America’s number one gold record award-winning group of all time, is currently in the middle of a multi-year farewell world tour. Co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are joined by long-time members Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer on this tour that will mark the end of a 48-year journey for the band.

Your involvement with KISS long pre-dates you becoming a permanent member of the band. I guess your first connection with KISS was when Black N’ Blue opened for KISS in 1985. Gene then produced a couple of your albums. How did you land that support slot on the “Asylum” tour? “Haha! That’s a great question. We have to go back in time to 1985. Black N’ Blue had just finished our second record called ‘Without Love’. We did it up in Vancouver, British Columbia with Bruce Fairbairn producing. And funny enough it was Bob Rock, who became an important producer himself, he was actually engineering and mixing the record at the time. We made a great record. I remember, not long after that, our manager Warren Entner had called me and he said ‘Hey, Tommy. I’ve got some great news! Guess what? You are going to be opening for KISS on their ‘Asylum’ tour!’ starting a couple of months from then. I put the phone down and I couldn’t believe it that we were actually going to be opening for KISS on tour because KISS had been one of my favourite bands growing up and had a big influence on me obviously and was really important to me. I almost had to pinch myself, that I wasn’t dreaming, that our band was actually going on tour opening for KISS! That’s how it all started and that’s how I got to know those guys. We started the tour in Little Rock, Arkansas in November 1985. We probably did 24-25 shows in November-December 1985. That’s really where I got to know Gene and Paul and at the time Bruce Kulick was the guitar player and Eric Carr was the drummer.”

“Hot in the Shade” in 1989 was the first KISS album you were involved with. You co-wrote two songs and I understand you also played on the recordings of those songs. You also were involved with three more KISS studio albums – “Revenge”, “Carnival of Souls” and “Psycho Circus” – before you actually joined the band. Did this make it easier to then officially become the band’s lead guitarist? “Yeah! I think it definitely did. By the time I became the official guitar player of KISS in early 2003, I had had all this experience with the band for years before that even happened. So it was a very natural, comfortable thing for me to become a band member when it actually happened. You’re right. After I got to know Paul and Gene and the band on that opening slot on the ‘Asylum’ tour, we asked Gene Simmons to produce our third record which became ‘Nasty Nasty’, which he did, and then he acted in our fourth record also. The relationship just really evolved from there and I got to know Gene a lot better. The thing that was attractive to me was how conscientious he was about producing and how dedicated he was to do a great job. He would fly back and forth on days off from the KISS tour to come and rehearse and do pre-production with us in Los Angeles. This happened a lot, so I was rather impressed with his dedication. After Black N’ Blue ran its course, in the early 90s… Actually, rewind a little bit to the late 80s, when Black N’ Blue ran its course, he asked me to come and write some songs with him for that KISS album that they were preparing for. That became the ‘Hot in the Shade’ record. We ended up co-writing two songs, one was called ‘The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away’ and the other one was called ‘Betrayed’. Then of course, when they did ‘Revenge’ in the early 90s, I was really part of the team at that point. Not in the band, but I was working behind the scenes for the band. Part-time to begin with and then full-time not long after that. I was around. When it came to doing background vocals on the ‘Revenge’ album, they asked me to come in and sing with them because they needed some more singers for the background and they knew I could sing well. So I did. Although, when they did ‘Carnival of Souls’, I was in the studio as well helping out. So, you’re right, I had a lot of experience with them already and it made it a lot easier to actually become a band member when it actually happened. Also, a lot of people ask me ‘Did you have to audition to become the lead guitarist of KISS?’ and that sort of thing. It really wasn’t like that at all. It was more just a natural transition. Paul and Gene pulled me aside one day and said ‘Tommy, you should start growing your hair long again. We’re gonna need you on stage!’”

You’re a good fit for the band – you’ve added something and kept the band alive. “I appreciate that. Well, I think I’ve been part of it, that’s for sure.”

Your first show performing on stage with KISS was in Jamaica in 2002. What do you remember from that gig? “Correct. Early 2002. At that point, I really wasn’t officially in the band though. This was a transitional point where Ace was on his way out and they were having problems. It came to a point where he wasn’t even going to show up for a couple of shows, supposedly. So, they asked me to come in and play. That was my first gig, this private show down in Jamaica. Trelawny, Jamaica, February 2002. It was really just a fill-in, I wasn’t officially in the band then. It was an important thing, an important gig obviously for me because it was the first time I was really on stage playing in KISS. That was a mindboggling experience, to put it lightly.”

The end of touring for KISS will be in July 2021. It’s some 19 months away, but there’s a date set. “Yeah! Haha!!”

How do you feel about the end of the final KISS tour getting nearer? “Well, it’s interesting. We’re about a year into the ‘End of the Road’ world tour now. It’s been a phenomenal experience already. It’s the biggest tour KISS has ever done. The production, the show, the stage… Everything is over the top as you have probably seen or heard. So, we’re not even half-way there yet. I’m still really enjoying the ride and getting used to the fact that this is the last tour. We’ve just been having a ball doing it. But, sure, now that we have announced that final date, it does add a little more context to the whole tour, where people see that, OK, there’s where we know it’s going to end and then this is how much time we have left. Now there’s a little bit of a countdown. And we have an official clock. If you go to, there’s the countdown clock showing how many days and hours until the very last show, which is kind of a fun thing, but it adds a perspective and a context to the whole thing. It feels more real, even though, conceptually we knew that, but now we know specifically when that is going to happen. It adds a little more emotion to it now. It’s something we’re proud of and we’re celebrating getting to the last show. But it is also going to be sad.”

You are still a young man, you’re 59: do you already have plans for what you will do after KISS? “You’re right. I am the young guy in the band. Haha! I’m not even out of my 50s yet, so I feel I’ve still got things to do in my life, particularly in music. When KISS ceases to tour anymore, I can see myself continuing in the music business, maybe even doing projects with KISS. Obviously, not touring like they’re doing now, but maybe being involved in some other way like I have been for 25 years now. There’s a lot of opportunities, a lot of possibilities and I don’t know specifically what they are yet. Time will tell.”

What’s your best memory from your many years with KISS so far? “Well, it’s been a lot of them. You know, I remember standing on stage with my guitar playing ‘Black Diamond’ at Madison Square Garden a few years ago. It suddenly dawned on me how amazing this was, to be there and what a lucky, fortunate person I am. I mean, every kid in the world dreams of being the lead guitarist of KISS. And here I am, the one who’s doing it. It doesn’t get any better than that! I grew up with KISS, air-guitaring KISS albums in my parents’ living room before I barely played guitar. It’s an amazing ride and I have been able to live that dream that every kid dreams of.”

Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer of KISS with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2015.

Paul Stanley has been ill recently and you were forced to cancel your Australian tour. Has he recovered and is now able to do the Japan tour? “Japan is happening! He’s had some throat infection and some things where he literally couldn’t talk and that’s a problem obviously. I know how sad we all are that we had to cancel the Australian dates. We’ve never done that before. I’ve never experienced that. As you know, Gene and Eric and I still went to Australia a few days ago to do this special promotion that we really wanted to make good on, playing for the sharks. Along the way, I met a lot of fans down there, even in the short period that we were there. I told them how badly we feel and it’s just something we’ll make up for. It’s just so rare that something like that happens. But we’re geared up and ready to go. Japan is going to be amazing! We are really looking forward to it.”

The last time you were here in Japan, you had a Japan-specific hit single (”Yumeno Ukiyoni Saitemina”) where you teamed up with the Japanese band Momoiro Clover Z. They also joined you on stage at Tokyo Dome for the encore. Do you have anything special planned for this time? “Well, the special thing is it’s going to be the last time we play in Tokyo. I think that’s going to be the unique aspect of it. This show, like I said, and I’m sure you’ve heard or seen photos and videos, but the show is phenomenal and the stage is bigger and badder than anything we’ve ever done. I know that everyone always says that, but it truly is. It’s an exceptional show and something we have been very proud of. We’ve put a lot of preparation and rehearsal into making sure this is special. That’s the show that we are going to bring to Tokyo. It’s going to be over the top and something that all our Japanese fans are gonna love!”

Excellent. Thank you for talking to us. We look forward to seeing you on stage here in Japan! “Stefan, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure talking to you today too.”

KISS will tour Japan from 8th-19th December with shows in Sendai, Tokyo, Morioka, Osaka and Nagoya. Full tour details here:

Album review: Mats Karlsson “The Time Optimist”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

220 Volt guitarist Mats Karlsson shows us a different side on his first-ever solo album.

Swedish musician and songwriter Mats Karlsson is best known as a founding member of the hard rock band 220 Volt. Forty years since being founded the band is still active but somehow Mats has found time to write and record a solo album. He has always been a great songwriter and guitarist, but here we get to hear a somewhat different side of the musician Mats Karlsson. His 220 Volt heritage shines through in some of the music, for example on the straightforward rock song “Function over Fashion”. But “The Time Optimist”, Mats’ first-ever solo album, is a rather varied album. Mainly it is focused around grown-up, mature rock music. Some of it lives in AOR territory, some in a singer-songwriter valley and some of this music moves around in blues-rock land. “Megalo Seitani” offers us some reggae-infused pop-rock in a relaxed beach holiday mood (yes, it has a bit of 10cc‘s “Dreadlock Holiday” about it) while “Natural High” is a catchy rock song and “Stop the World” features some fine guitar work. The tracks “October 28th” and “Heather” partly make me think of what we heard on Hellsingland Underground’s most recent album. “Real Gone” is music for an enjoyable car ride while “DayDreamer” is Tom Petty-esque. The whole album has a laidback kind of feeling. But this is not lazy music, just a great record created by someone skilled at making things sound effortless. I dig it.

Mats Karlsson’s solo album “The Time Optimist” will be released on 6th December.

Gig review: Marty Friedman in Yokohama

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman, quite possibly the best guitarist in the world, always has a few tricks up his sleeve when he’s performing. He always delivers and he always pushes the limit. What a guy! What an artist!

Marty Friedman at Motion Blue in Yokohama on 26th November 2019

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But I still am. Surprised and in awe of a master artist. There is nothing that Marty Friedman can’t do with his guitar. Every time I see him perform he comes up with something new. This evening in Yokohama, in a beautiful venue inside the Red Brick Warehouse down by the water, Marty Friedman manages to give us plenty of emotional ballads but he also gives us some full-on metal and, most surprisingly, Argentine tango. And he pulls it off like the world-class guitarist and artist that he is. Having made his name as a heavy metal guitarist with Cacophony and Megadeth, since relocating to Japan, Marty has been active in a wide variety of musical styles, both as a solo artist and as part of various projects. In recent years, Marty has put on some very special intimate gigs for Japanese fans with setlists that vary quite a lot from what he plays when he’s on tour in other parts of the world. The entire show is instrumental (it’s billed as an orchestral concert) with Marty and his guitars at the centre of it all. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars and manages to give us a great and very varied show. The audience largely consists of diehard Marty fans who know every song and every note.

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

He opens the evening with the beautiful song “Lovesorrow”, from his 2003 album “Music for Speeding”, followed by his splendid cover of Yutaka Ozaki’s “I Love You”. One of most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, the song “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”, gets an outing here and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. Another one is when Marty treats us to some Argentine tango with the song “Adios Nonino”. Different, but very good. Marty isn’t afraid of taking his skills and his guitars into for him new territories. He also gets closer to his metal roots with some serious heaviness on the exquisite “Whiteworm” from his 2017 solo album “Wall of Sound”, before he ends the evening with “Dragon Mistress” and, of course, “Thunder March”.

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

Throughout the show Marty is using hilarious self-deprecating comments between the songs – all of it delivered in Japanese. He also picks out an audience member who gets to come up on stage and play a song with Marty and his terrific band. While Marty frequently rotates members of his backing band, he is always backed up by world-class musicians. This evening in Yokohama, he has a backing band consisting of drums, rhythm guitar, keyboards, cello and violin, all of them played by ridiculously good musicians. For me, bassist Toshiki Oomomo is the standout performer and a rock-solid bassist. He’s a very different bassist from Kiyoshi (Marty’s regular bassist), but he’s equally good. In addition to occasionally playing with Marty’s solo band, he has played with Marty in the fab metal band Metal Clone X and he also played on several tracks on Marty’s “Inferno” album.

What a night! What a band! What a collection of songs! Ladies and gentlemen – Marty Friedman! What a privilege it is to experience him in concert up close and personal.

Marty Friedman will tour Australia in December with shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra. Get your tickets here:

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

Album review: Molly Hatchet “Battleground”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American Southern hard rockers Molly Hatchet are back with a live album. With no original members left in the band, some diehard fans will hate this album, while newer fans may actually find this a decent album of live versions of old and new Molly Hatchet songs.

The original members of the band are long gone. Today’s Molly Hatchet consists of musicians who have joined the band in later stages of the band’s career. Guitarist Bobby Ingram, who joined the band in 1986, is the driving force behind the current version of the band. Personally, I don’t care much about if a current line-up of a long-lasting band has enough, or any, original members in it or not. I care about what it sounds like. Is the music good? That’s what matters. On this live album, we get a mixed bag, but overall it’s decent versions of some terrific songs. The 19 tracks on “Battleground” were recorded live during the band’s recent tours in Europe and the US. Molly Hatchet remains an active international touring act with a loyal audience. On some of the classic songs on this live album, the absence of founding guitarist Dave Hlubek, who died in 2017, is obvious, but some versions of the old classics, such as “Whiskey Man”, are very good. As is evident in some of the newer material – such as “American Pride”, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” and “Justice” – the current version of the band has the skills and opportunity to be more than just a band playing old Molly Hatchet classics. Molly Hatchet’s “Battleground” will be released via SPV/Steamhammer on 29th November as a double CD and a triple-LP with a gatefold album cover.

Album review: The Babes “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes, some of the nicest and hardest working people in Australian rock, are back with a full-length studio album packed with good-fun rock’n’roll.

JD Ryan and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes is good fun, meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. It’s dusty, catchy and its shout-along friendly. It’s music to drink beer to and, in a best-case scenario, get laid to. It’s underdog rock somewhere between AC/DC and Mötley Crüe if that makes sense (it does to me). It has the guts and foundation of AC/DC but also the sexiness and glitz of bands like Mötley Crüe. It’s full-frontal, good-fun hard rock performed by some of Australia’s nicest people. Some bands are dreaming of big things happening and getting a break. The members of The Babes don’t dream. They plan, work hard and get it done whether it comes to gigs, album releases or touring internationally. The Babes is a hardworking band not afraid of getting some dirt under their nails. The Adelaide-based band consists of the three siblings Moni Lashes on drums, Donna Dimasi on guitar and Corey Stone on bass plus the unstoppable vocalist J.D. Ryan. Earlier this year they toured Japan for the first time and proved to me and many other new Japanese fans that this band is able to deliver live as well as in the studio. After the successful Japan tour, they toured Australia and also went to the Middle East to perform for the Australian troops. A national service of rock’n’roll! The title track of the new album, “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”, is nothing short of an anthem for the band. It sums things up nicely. Most of the songs on the album are high-energy songs. It’s sweaty rock’n’roll meant to be performed live on stage in a club. “Doghouse” is my immediate favourite song on the album. It’s hard not shouting along, headbanging and doing some air-guitar playing when this song comes on. Brilliant stuff! Another great track is “Riding Home” which has a somewhat different sound and some slower parts to it but is no less great. It’s like an early 90s power rock music video on MTV. But this is a solid hard rock album with twelve great tracks.

The Babes’ album “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars” is out now. Buy the album and catch this great band live.

Donna Dimasi of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks