Single review: Band of Brothers “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Band of Brothers offers us catchy and radio-friendly melodic rock on its new single.

Sweden has long produced quality melodic rock music, often inspired by classic American rock music. Behind the band name Band of Brothers, we find members of Swedish bands Angeline and Hion Martell. This band plays middle-of-the-road AOR. It’s grown-up music. It’s a very radio-friendly rock that won’t scare anyone’s parents. This single is a guitar-based melodic rock tune from the musical neighbourhoods where Journey, Foreigner and REO Speedwagon live right next to newer bands such as Revolution Saints and Kee of Hearts. It’s safe, but it works. I am all for dangerous, dark and edgy rock, but sometimes it is just good to chill to a catchy rock tune. That is what this is. “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted” sounds like a radio hit, a song made for summer radio and a drive with your new Jaguar along the coast.

Band of Brothers’ single “This Ain’t No Place for the Broken Hearted” will be released on 3rd July. A full-length album will follow in the autumn.

Interview: At home with Tony Franklin | “We will come through this and things will be even better”

Tony Franklin

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English bassist Tony Franklin, aka The Fretless Monster, made a name for himself performing with Roy Harper, The Firm, Whitesnake and Blue Murder. He went on to perform with Marty Friedman, Kate Bush, Quiet Riot, David Gilmour and many more. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Tony in his Los Angeles home to talk about his past, including his many Japan-related projects, but also what’s coming next: an autobiography, an instrumental album and the formation of a new band.

You first became well-known to a wider audience when you played with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) and Chris Slade (AC/DC) in The Firm. Despite working with such established musicians, you stepped up and ensured that your distinctive bass playing wasn’t overshadowed. Was it tricky to be part of such a constellation or did you just get in there and did your thing? “Everything about The Firm was very natural and organic. I simply went in there and played. I’d worked with Jimmy beforehand – with Roy Harper – so we had a working relationship and friendship before The Firm. But I wasn’t asked to be in the band immediately. It was a good few weeks of playing and hanging together before I had any clue that I might be in the band! I decided to do it all on fretless and nobody said anything negative about it, so I just kept going, doing my thing. I think if there was a problem in any way, personally or musically, they would have let me know. It was a real pleasure because I was allowed and even encouraged to be 100% myself.”

What do you remember from working with Marty Friedman on his solo album “True Obsessions” in the mid-90s? “Those were very intense but fun sessions. Marty is very clear about what he wants in his music. I’d never met him before and he pushed me hard, musically, in those sessions. I was able to give him what he needed. It was a real pleasure.”

Tony Franklin

Marty is of course now based here in Japan. You have worked with Japanese artists such as Tadashi Goto and Naomi Tamura and on other Japanese projects. You’re an Englishman in the US, how did you end up working on these Japanese projects? “Because of my history, especially The Firm and Blue Murder – Blue Murder toured Japan in 1989 – I became in demand as a session player in Los Angeles. I played on many Japanese artists’ albums. I did recordings for Kyosuke Himuro and also played live with him in 2009. I toured Japan with Whitesnake in 1997. I also toured with Eikichi Yazawa in 2017. I’ve always loved the Japanese people and culture, so it all just kind of happened naturally.”

What are your thoughts on the future of live music now that most gigs and tours have been halted and seriously impacted musicians’ livelihoods? “It has been a very challenging time for sure, but I have always been an optimist, so I believe we will come through this and things will be even better. Hopefully, it has made us appreciate each other and made us realise how important live music is. During this time, I’ve been exploring new opportunities and possibilities, finishing off a bass instrumental album, writing my memoirs, collaborating with different musicians. I’m getting ready to do some live-stream performances which I’ve never done before. I believe in staying positive and making the best of the situation.”

You have some serious pedigree in the rock music business. But you have also done other work, such as scores for TV shows and producing sample loops and such. Is it all good fun or do you prefer playing live music? “I’ve always loved doing different things creatively. I’m always writing and creating. I was fortunate to grow up listening to and playing many different styles of music – classical, big band, Broadway musicals, pop and of course rock & roll! So, I welcome doing different creative things. It can be challenging but good fun too!”

What do you have going on right now music-wise? “Before the lockdown, I was close to securing a deal for a new band of mine. I’d like to pick that up again. I’ll share the details when it’s time. I’d like to wrap up the bass album, possibly do some shows with that. I’m recording some songs for possible licensing and publishing opportunities. I’m keeping my eye on a few other projects also!”

Tony Franklin

Album review: Electric Feel Good “Capital City Madness”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dusty Swedish rockers Electric Feel Good are back and they have a new full-length studio album in their backpack. Let’s have a barbeque because this is smoky meat-and-beers music.

This album makes me want to put on a backyard barbeque party. The lads in Electric Feel Good play smoky meat-and-beers music. It’s like a bastardised Swedish countryside version of Americana. As if someone has taken the best bits of US roots rock and given it all “the Hellsingland treatment”. It’s down-to-earth, rootsy, bluesy, dirty, rough, rusty and dusty straightforward rock. Like their friends in Hellsingland Underground, Electric Feel Good comes from Hellsingland in central Sweden. This is a land of blue mountains, valleys, rivers and plenty of mythical forests. Electric Feel Good is a new and great addition to a proud local tradition of storytelling, entertainment and musicianship. The fact that Hellsingland Underground’s frontman Charlie Granberg has done the cover art comes as no surprise and is part of the cosiness of the local creative scene. The joyful blues number “Me, Myself and I” is one of my favourite tracks, not least because of the fab organ and the track’s overall playfulness. The terrific and The Black Crowes-oozing “Getaway Star” is another obvious highlight. But it is the track “Sunshine Mama” that I play when I am dreaming about that barbeque while having a cold beer. I hope these lads can soon play live again because if they ever get to play at that backyard barbeque party, there sure is an opportunity to record and release a double live album. Perhaps they could name it “Live in the Woods” or “Blue Mountain Blues – Live in the Valley”. They could also consider releasing their own brand of barbeque sauce in a brand extension effort. Or partner up with local meat producer Gulo Gulo Charcuterie for an Electric Feel Good sausage.

Electric Feel Good’s second studio album “Capital City Madness” will be released on 30th May.

Interview: At home with Shane Embury

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Shane Embury is perhaps best known as the bassist in Napalm Death. But he is also involved in many other bands and projects across multiple genres, such as Lock Up, Bent Sea, Brujeria, Venomous Concept, Tronos and much more. Most recently he released dark ambient music under the name Dark Sky Burial. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Shane to see what he’s up to now that he’s not able to tour and stuck at home at Napalm House in Birmingham, England.

In normal times, you are very busy with tours and gigs with Napalm Death and your other bands and projects. What are you spending time on now when you can’t perform live gigs in the short term and you are spending more time at home in Birmingham? “We were lucky that Napalm Death finished our latest Campaign for Musical Destruction Tour all intact and that was on March 9th. No one got sick so that was a bonus too. We have been at home and feelings are up and down I guess as situations change from day-to-day! Our tour was successful on many fronts but we had many tours and shows cancelled and I really don’t know what’s in store towards the end of the year. I am an optimist so I hope things will get better to some degree but in what way? I have been home in Birmingham with my family and also working on music at my home studio – a new Lock Up album amongst other things.”

Tell us about your Dark Sky Burial project. How would you describe this terrific atmospheric music? “I have always wanted to cross over into dark ambient – soundtrack inspired music! I love loops and sounds and always have. I did attempt this direction way back in 1994 but was sidetracked with Napalm’s live schedule. Now seems, finally, the right time for me to explore these sonic emotions. I guess I am at a point where I am changing and am uncertain of a few things as we all can be – Dark Sky Burial is very therapeutic for me and I use the stress or depression of the day to inspire.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Sky Burial is very different from most of the other things you’re involved with. Where did the idea to create this kind of music come from? “I have always loved horror movies – minor chord structures – growing up on 1970s UK TV and their early sound innovation must have been a keen influence as I always recorded TV shows on my tape recorder. My friends thought I was weird at school. This first album is only the starting point for me. I have strong visions for the future of how I want it to develop. I have a lot to learn still it’s almost like a joint journey.”

You’re most famous as bassist in Napalm Death. But in recent projects such as Dark Sky Burial and Tronos, you’re demonstrating a much more all-round multi-instrumentalist approach. In Tronos you’re even singing lead. Were you getting bored “just” playing bass and decided that you would do most things yourself on some of the other projects? “Well, I originally started out as a drummer before joining Napalm on bass. Over the years I have got into playing guitar and, I think, with the birth of my daughter I got into singing to her and that certainly helped when Russ and I decided iI should lay the groundwork for Tronos. As the years churn on I become more confident and more enthusiastic. Music was my first love and it’s always been there through the dark times. There’s so much more music in me.”

Shane Embury and Barney of Napalm Death backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in 2019. Photo: Aaron Hill, Eyehategod

Are you worried about the future of touring musicians, crew members, venue operators, etc? Do you think that things can go back to normal touring or will things never be the same after the coronavirus? “I don’t think things will ever be quite the same and I don’t think this will be the last pandemic we witness! I have my theories and my wife always tells me what good do they do if they scare our children but, well, these are dark times! Russ Russell had a chat with me at the beginning of this and said that good and bad things will emerge in our cultures from this and I believe that to be true. It’s hard now – in a year’s time, we will look back but in what way? Music has always been there and it will evolve and, hopefully, we can move forward but things will be different.”

What do you have planned music-wise once you can get out of the house? “I have heard there are some Napalm shows on the horizon towards the end of the year, but I don’t know! I personally want to go on tour as soon as I can. This is who I am and that’s just the way it is, but I feel it’s going to be a while. On the recording front, we have a new Venomous Concept album coming out on Season of Mist at some point soon. And of course the new Napalm Death album. I am working on a new Lock Up album as we speak. Also, I recorded a second Blood from the Soul album with Jake Bannon of Converge, Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth and Jesper Liveröd of Nasum, which will be out this year I hope. And a new Dark Sky Burial album soon also. Life’s too short to fuck about.”

Shane Embury of Napalm Death on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: At home with Kiyoshi

Kiyoshi on stage in Tokyo in March 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In these times with no gigs to go to, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with fab Japanese artist Kiyoshi, perhaps best known as the fierce bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, to see what she’s up to. 

Kiyoshi with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2018.

In normal times, you are very busy with tours and gigs with Marty Friedman, as a solo artist and with your other bands and projects. What are you spending time on now when you can’t perform live gigs in the short term? “It’s not much different than usual. To most people, we musicians may seem busy only when we’re doing tours and performing live gigs. But it’s just one part of our musical activities, it’s not everything. Of course, I miss the stage so much though. My main work is to make my own musical creations, so I’m actually busier off-stage than on-stage. I’ve been writing songs, learning about equipment and software for music and trying out new ideas for designs and videos. There’s a lot to do.” 

Some artists are doing virtual performances or Q&As for their fans. Are you doing something like that while you’re stuck at home? “Yes, a little bit. I posted a couple of long blogs and uploaded videos for my fans to enjoy. I also participated in the virtual jam, but it’s no match for the fun of the real jam.”

Are you worried about the future of touring musicians, crew members, live house/venue operators? Do you think that things can go back to normal touring or will things never be the same after the coronavirus? “I’m very worried, especially about the tour crew and the people working at the venue. Musicians can’t have live shows without them. We definitely need their help. I’m always deeply grateful for their support. It would be very sad if we lost our place to perform after this pandemic had passed. I think the world will never be the same as it was before. It will take a very long time to be able to do normal touring again, I guess.”

You have released several great solo albums in recent years. Are you already working on new solo material? “Yeah, of course! Composing all the time. But I’m not in a hurry to release it. I’m concerned that I may not be able to record in the studio smoothly with the same scheduling as before. It’s a good time to look for new and better ways to do things.”

Marty Friedman and Kiyoshi on stage in Harajuku, Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As a solo artist, you have focused on you playing bass and singing and only backing that up with a drummer. It is amazing what you have been able to do without any guitarist. Where did this idea come from? “It’s very natural for me. The only instruments I can play are the bass and piano so I’ve always made songs by humming along with playing them. Making rhythm tracks and over-dubbing some basses on it, that’s enough to make the sound gorgeous. What I want in my music is very simple, I don’t need too many sounds. There are a lot of cool two-piece bands in the world – like The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, Blood Red Shoes and Royal Blood – that inspire me. Guitar is cool and would be nice if I could play it, but I’m not interested in practising guitar. I don’t know why…”

In your career so far, you have covered many different musical styles and excelled at all of them. What kind of music do you prefer to listen to for inspiration? “I listen to so many kinds of music. Something old/new, intense/quiet, famous/minor, whatever. Lately, I’ve been listening to overseas indie artists a lot. Their unique ideas are very interesting. I prefer works that feel the power of DIY to works that are over-produced by someone else.”

Which bass players have had the biggest influence on you as a musician? “It’s hard to pick one person, but Les Claypool! He is my God. He is very original. The lead in the music he makes is always the bass. I’m very influenced by him as a bassist-vocalist and songwriter. When I was a beginner, I wanted to get the chord stroke skills he used to do, so I practised it over and over again. His music is a different style than mine, but you can find a lot of his influences in my music.”

You are one of my absolute favourite bass players. You have such a fierce and powerful way of playing. When you play in another artist’s band like you do with Marty Friedman, do you sometimes have to hold back in order not to take over too much or do you always approach your playing and performances the same way? “Thank you for saying that. Fortunately, all the musicians I work with say to me, ‘Don’t hold yourself back. Just be yourself.’ So I don’t hold back to anyone on any stage and I can perform like a beast whenever I want to. But I don’t really want to stand out on stage at all times. It may seem surprising… The bass is the “base”. I’m a bass player, so the most important job is to support the base of the songs. There is a little difference between me as a solo artist and just as a bass player. Bassist Kiyoshi is a player and solo artist Kiyoshi is like a player-manager. It’s very hard to be in front of the mic the whole time and have to control the bass line and the melody at the same time, but it’s super fun. Seeing the audience swing to my music is the greatest happiness. Either way, the initiative is always in music. I believe that music will teach me everything I need to do.”


Album review: Firewind “Firewind”

Gus G backstage in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Greek guitar wizard Gus G makes a fresh start with a splendid new Firewind album.

Since the last Firewind studio album, 2017’s “Immortals”, Gus G has officially left his gig as guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. He has also made some changes with his band Firewind, which is now fronted by the terrific Herbie Langhans of Avantasia fame. The result? A fresh approach built on Firewind’s legacy of splendid melodies and great guitar riffs. Firewind has always had great singers, but adding Herbie Langhans to the band at this stage of its development is a great move. In Avantasia, Herbie is a cast member, mainly a back-up singer. Here he gets to shine like never before. Of course, he’s sharing the limelight with a famous guitarist. That’s never an easy task for a vocalist. But Herbie pulls it off and does so without overshadowing Gus G or the other band members. Obviously, with Gus G as its founder, Firewind is a guitar band. But the guitars are never allowed to steal the entire songs. Firewind manages to deliver melodic hard rock full of energy and combine it with world-class guitar work without boring or overwhelming the listener. From the exquisite and epic opening song, “Welcome to the Empire”, until the speedy final track, “Kill the Pain”, this album never lets go of its listener. The almost power ballad-like “Longing to Know You” is a highlight on the album. It lets Herbie show off his vocals while at the same time really showcase this band’s musicality. Its slower tempo is also a nice contrast to the album’s faster tracks. “Perfect Strangers” is a very good metal track which has some Accept vibes while “Overdrive” is classic hard rock with both melody and power and phenomenal guitar work. The curiously named song “Space Cowboy” is an interesting and great piece of music which has a classic rock touch to it. The closing track “Kill the Pain” is fast and bursting with energy but still melodic. It’s a great way to close a very good album.

Firewind’s new album “Firewind” will be out on 15th May via AFM Records.

EP review: Camp Marshy “Black Soul, White Shoes & A Leather Jacket”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Camp Marshy is back with a punky party-rock EP. I love the simplicity and catchiness of this band.

Camp Marshy is the latest addition to a long line of catchy punk-rock bands from Sweden. On the band’s new six-track EP, the Camp Marshy boys’ music lives in a rundown neighbourhood not miles away from The Hives, The Ramones and Danko Jones. But this is a tad more gritty and dirty, a bit more countryside factory-floor and hey-the-weekend’s-here-let’s-party-and-get-laid. It’s good-fun party rock mixed with melodic punk rock. The music is related to the Swedish school of punk rock which is built upon high-energy poppy shout-along anthems, although Camp Marshy’s songs are sung in English rather than Swedish. The previously released single “Baby (Are You Ready For Some Fun?)” is an obvious favourite here. The rather Hives-like “Walk of Shame” is also terrific. I love the simplicity and catchiness of Camp Marshy. I want to see this band on stage at a rock club with a cold beer in my hand.

Camp Marshy’s EP “Black Soul, White Shoes & A Leather Jacket” is out now.

Album review: Naglfar “Cerecloth”

Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius of Naglfar on stage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Naglfar combines fierce black metal with melodic death metal touches on “Cerecloth”, its first studio album in eight years.

Sweden’s Naglfar emerged as part of a wave of legendary black metal bands in Scandinavia in the early 1990s. Formed in 1992, they debuted in 1995 with the album “Vittra”. The new album “Cerecloth” is its seventh full-length studio album. It is extreme metal music with great melodies and an epic atmosphere. They combine the best of old-style black metal with borrowed bits from melodic death metal. It is not miles away from the signature sound of fellow Swedes Dark Funeral. It was obviously no coincidence that the two bands from Sweden’s cold and dark north toured Japan together in 2018. Naglfar’s core trio consists of vocalist Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius and guitarists Andreas Nilsson and Marcus Norman. The rhythm section has in recent years been populated by hired guns, both live and in the studio. The album opens with the fantastic title track “Cerecloth”. The band’s music immediately grabs hold of the listeners and never let us go. The splendid “Vortex of Negativity” is my highlight on the album. The track’s combination of relentless energy and constant pummelling is gloriously magnificent! Even a slower song like “Cry of the Serafim” still comes with plenty of heaviness and a sinister feeling. Make no mistake about it, Naglfar’s music is still about “the usual death and destruction” as the band puts it. This album is a solid effort from a terrific band.

Naglfar’s new album “Cerecloth” will be released on 8th May via Century Media Records.

Album review: Chugger “Of Man and Machine”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Chugger is back with a new album filled with groovy extreme metal.

Chugger calls itself a groove death metal band and on its new studio album “Of Man and Machine”, we get treated to a collection of modern and hard-hitting metal songs bursting with energy. Formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2012, it is obvious that they are influenced by 1990s metal – both the melodic death metal bands from the local Gothenburg Sound scene and American groove metal. They have used those influences as a foundation and then taken things further to create their own contemporary-sounding metal. Chugger comes across as an ugly and disturbed child born out-of-wedlock as a result of a drunken threesome between Machine Head, Lamb of God and At The Gates. Sort of. “Of Man and Machine” is the band’s second full-length studio album. Its back catalogue also includes an EP, a couple of singles and a digital live release. The new album has somewhat of a dystopian theme and there is also a decent attempt at being a shock rock band (which is also evident in the band’s visual style). The fierce and furious track “Turning Point” is a clear favourite of mine on this album. Other great tracks are “Flatline” (just listen to Larza Skjuttorp’s bass work on it!), “The Algorithm”, the fast, fierce and furious “Polaris” and the sinister “Beg, Burn, Fear”. Sweden has a proud tradition of great metal bands and Chugger is part of a terrific group of contemporary bands that keeps Sweden at the very forefront of modern metal. 

Chugger’s album “Of Man and Machine” is out now via WormHoleDeath Records.

Album review: Nightwish “Human. :||: Nature.”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Tuomas Holopainen and Nightwish are back with a splendid new double album. On “Human. :||: Nature.” the band continues on a journey further away from its metal roots. Here they dig deep into mythology and folklore and epic drama.

On its new album, Finland’s symphonic metal band Nightwish continues on its evolving musical journey by wandering further away from metal and deeper into mythology and folklore. This is a fantastically beautiful double album. It is a labour of love and a boundary-pushing exercise. I am pretty sure that bandleader Tuomas Holopainen is very pleased with the result on this new album, the band’s ninth studio album and its second with current lead vocalist Floor Jansen. I, too, am very happy with the result. I love this kind of epic drama. At times, it’s almost like a polite version of Cradle of Filth.

The main disc contains nine great songs while the second disc contains one very long but stunning song called “All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World” which has been subdivided into eight shorter pieces. The beautiful “Music” is a terrific song that combines some ABBA (!?) influences and dreamy ethnic vibes, while “Noise” is a more energetic and dramatic whirlwind of a song. A lot of this music is over the top with plenty of epic drama. Some of it is like Avantasia on Red Bull or a less camp Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical with attitude. Like a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings film score. Some parts, like the track “Harvest” for example with Troy Donockley on lead vocals, are very folksy. Is that good or bad? That depends on what you want. I think it is brilliant. But there is also some more “normal” symphonic metal-style Nightwish music here, such as the terrific track “Pan”. The focus on this album is on storytelling, fairytale soundscapes and dramatic musical arrangements, not least with the excellent use of choirs and different vocal styles by Floor Jansen, Troy Donockley and Marco Hietala. It’s very atmospheric and I dig it, but some of this music is a far cry from the metal music that some fans had hoped for. Perhaps this is Nightwish’s equivalent to the 1981 KISS concept album “The Elder”. Or is it an answer to The Who’s rock opera “Tommy”? Who knows? But for now, this is what Nightwish is here and now. It is beautifully brilliant. The combination of the epic music and the powerful voice of Floor Jansen is magical.

Nightwish’s double album “Human. :||: Nature.” will be released on 10th April via Nuclear Blast internationally and via Ward Records in Japan.