Album review: Entombed “Clandestine Live”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Reunited Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed’s live version of its 1991 “Clandestine” album is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece. 

My expectations on the reformed/reunited Entombed’s new live release were sky high. After all, this is one of the best death metal bands of all time. Entombed were pioneers in the original Swedish death metal movement. Here they are performing one of their most classic albums in its entirety. I am very pleased that the band and this live album by far exceed those expectations. “Clandestine Live” is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece!

The band’s current line-up consists of Nicke Andersson (drums), Uffe Cederlund (guitar) and Alex Hellid (guitar) from the band’s original line-up that recorded the Tomas Skogsberg-produced “Clandestine” studio album in 1991. New members are Edvin Aftonfalk on bass and Robert Andersson on vocals, both formerly of Morbus Chron. “Clandestine Live” features all the nine songs from the studio album – “Living Dead”, “Sinners Bleed”, “Evilyn”, “Blessed Be”, “Stranger Aeons”, “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns” and “Through the Colonnades” – plus “Left Hand Path”, the title song from the band’s 1990 debut album. It is brutal old-school death metal, yet beautifully melodic at times, in a haunted kind of way. While professionally recorded, this live album has captured the fantastically raw and brutal DIY sound that was an important ingredient in the death metal scene in the late 80s and early 90s. This live performance was recorded on 12th November 2016 in Sweden to mark the 25th anniversary of the studio album’s release. But it sounds as if it could have been recorded in 1991. That’s a good thing and probably what the band has tried to achieve here. The end result is splendid death metal awesomeness. Entombed rocks like it’s nobody’s business. Now the pressure is on for Entombed’s friends and rivals in Dismember to see what they can achieve when they reunite on stage later this year. The absolute highlights on this terrific live album include the exquisite songs “Chaos Breed”, “Crawl”, “Severe Burns”, “Stranger Aeons” and, of course, “Left Hand Path”.

Entombed’s “Clandestine Live” will be released on 17th May via Threeman Recordings.

Entombed. Photo: Anders Norrud

Album review: Suzi Quatro “No Control”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Suzi Quatro is back with a new studio album filled with grown-up rock’n’roll with plenty of blues and some glam rock hints. 46 years after her album debut, she is still in control of her career. 

American artist Suzi Quatro had her heyday back in the 1970s. She relocated to England in 1971 and released her first album as a solo artist in 1973. With “No Control”, her brand new album, she proves that she’s still got it. This is straightforward rock with hints of glam rock and plenty of blues rock. She undoubtedly influenced The Runaways and Girlschool and many other artists back in the day. Her voice still sounds great and on this album, she has backed up her vocal and playing skills with decent songs. The majority of the new songs have been written together with her son, Richard Tuckey. Most of the album consists of catchy grown-up rock’n’roll. The fantastic “Strings” is my favourite track. Other great songs here are “No Soul/No Control”, “Macho Man”, “Bass Line”, “Heavy Duty” and “Going Down Blues”. “Love Isn’t Fair” is a bit of a weird one. It’s not a bad song at all, but to me, it feels out of place as it sounds like some kind of Caribbean-flavoured pop song. I am not sure what the thinking was here. But the rest of the album is solid. I like this mature version of Suzi Quatro. She’s definitely in control.

Suzi Quatro’s new studio album “No Control” is out now via SPV/Steamhammer.

Gig review: Uriah Heep rocks Roppongi

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British classic hard rock band Uriah Heep was formed in 1969. 50 years later they’re better than ever and on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi performing a terrific show.

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

Uriah Heep at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo on 20th March 2019 

With 50 years of gigs and 25 studio albums under their belts, British rockers Uriah Heep are better than ever. Founding guitarist Mick Box still leads the band. The current line-up also features Bernie Shaw on vocals, Phil Lanzon on keyboards, Russell Gilbrook on drums and Davey Rimmer on bass. It’s a terrific version of the band. The trademark Heep sound – classic melodic hard rock with plenty of keyboards and vocal harmonies – is done justice by these fine musicians. This is not least very apparent in the new material.

Mick Box of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

The 70-minute set offers us a terrific blend of classic Heep and some of the band’s newer material. The band’s latest studio album, 2018’s “Living the Dream”, is fantastic. In a short ten-song set we get to hear four songs from the new album: “Grazed by Heaven”, “Take Away My Soul”, “Waters Flowin’” and “Rocks in the Road”. But, of course, we also get some of the band’s classic songs from the 1970s: “Return to Fantasy”, “Rainbow Demon”, “Gypsy” and “Look at Yourself”. Billboard Live is a terrific venue for classic rock bands such as Uriah Heep. Because of the venue’s tiered, multi-level seating, everyone is close to the band and has a great view. 

Mick Box is smiling throughout the whole set. He is still a terrific guitarist and it is obvious he still loves it up on stage. Bernie Shaw has been singing with Heep since 1986 and he is a top frontman and vocalist. The band is tight and they give us some fantastic jamming. “Rocks in the Road” turns into an absolutely amazing jam and “Look at Yourself” is also turned into a world-class jam. A splendid version of “Gypsy” is an obvious highlight in a flawless set. The band finishes with classics “Lady in Black” (with the whole audience singing along) and “Easy Livin’”. With the 50th anniversary reached, it now feels as if this band can now aim for 100 years.

Mick Box and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Stefan Nilsson of Roppongi Rocks after the La Donna show.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman continues with his series of special, one-off shows in Tokyo for his Japanese fans. It’s such a treat for Marty’s fans to see him up close and personal and performing music that is rarely performed by him in his usual shows.

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo on 15th March 2019

Having just completed a successful US tour, guitar hero Marty Friedman appears on stage in Tokyo with an almost completely different band where only fierce bassist Kiyoshi (an insanely talented bassist that Marty should always play with) remains. It’s not only the band that is different. The setlist is also vastly different. These special shows in Tokyo, Marty’s adopted home town, are very special to the die-hard Marty fans. At La Donna in Harajuku, the audience is seated at tables and served food and drinks during the performance. Having seen Marty return to his Hawaii, Cacophony and Megadeth heavy metal roots when he guested NWOBHM veterans Raven for two songs the night before (performing Raven classics “Fire Power and Wiped Out”), it is a big contrast to see him now perform calmer music. But that is Marty in a nutshell – he has so many sides to him as an artist and he keeps evolving. Fortunately for us here in Japan, we get to see Marty do things that fans in other parts of the world rarely, if ever, get to experience. For this splendid evening of emotional compositions, a celebration of the arrival of spring, he is backed not only by Kiyoshi on bass and a rhythm guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist. He also makes great use of a violinist and cellist. This special show is labelled “Brilliant New Era” and Marty describes it as an “orchestral ballad concert”. That sums it up pretty well. He makes his guitar both weep and laugh. Marty’s guitar certainly has a soul and he makes it show the audience its emotions, both its sad and happier moments. The chemistry between him and the other musicians is terrific which allows Marty to focus on his guitar as he knows he has solid backing from the band. 

A couple of the evening’s absolute highlights include a great version of “Tears of an Angel” (with a splendid violin intro) from the 2008 album “Future Addict” and “For a Friend” from 2017’s “Wall of Sound” album. We obviously get to hear both “Yuki No Hana” and “Kaeri Taku Natta Yo”. “Thunder March” from 1988’s “Dragon’s Kiss” album is performed during the encore, but we also get some special deep cuts in this show. Marty is obviously a world-class guitarist, but he is much more than that. He knows how to entertain and charm a Japanese audience with the right mix of terrific music and self-deprecating jokes (all of the talking during the show is done in Japanese). After the show, Marty stays to chat with his fans and signs autographs. He knows what the Japanese fans want and he makes sure they get it. 

The next special Tokyo show with Marty is planned for early July. Date, venue and ticket details to be confirmed.

Album review: Mötley Crüe “The Dirt – Soundtrack”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mötley Crüe gives us a fantastic collection of old songs on this new movie soundtrack. But the new material falls short of expectations. 

This 18-song soundtrack to the forthcoming movie about the history of LA band Mötley Crüe contains a lot of great, sleazy LA hair metal of the best kind. From early favourites such as “Red Hot”, “Live Wire”, “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks That Kill”, to later – more commercial – mainstream songs such as “Home Sweet Home”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “Dr. Feelgood”, this is all fantastic stuff bringing back some great memories. Personally, I especially like the raw and less polished sound of the early recordings. I love the guitar sound Mick Mars had back then!

Nikki Sixx on stage in Japan in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

BUT, and that is a big but, this soundtrack also contains four newly recorded songs. The news that Mötley Crüe would be recording new music for this soundtrack got many fans excited. At the planning stage, it probably sounded like a great idea to include some new music to avoid this just being a greatest hits collection of songs that the fans already have. In reality, it doesn’t work as the new material isn’t very good. “The Dirt (Est. 1981)” – featuring a guest appearance by rapper Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Tommy Lee in the movie) – is a boring song where Mötley seems to be trying to combine its 80s sound with some contemporary touches. In the process, they seem to have lost their way. The result is confused and not good. The other two new songs, “Ride with the Devil” and “Crash and Burn”, follow the same pattern and it’s just boring music with none of the excitement that the band’s best work has. Then there’s the Madonna cover, “Like a Virgin”. Why on Earth have they decided to do this? It’s terrible. Maybe it is some kind of internal joke.

Let’s ignore the new material and focus on the good old stuff that made us like this band in the first place. Lucky us that we still have the old Mötley Crüe classics to bring back sweet memories of some great shows and parties in the 80s and early 90s. Long live the terrific and decadent legacy of Mötley Crüe!

Both the soundtrack and the movie “The Dirt” will be released on 22nd March.

Gig review: Raven rocks until it drops in Tokyo

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Proper heavy metal knockout by NWOBHM legends Raven in Tokyo. What a band! What a show! A band that rocks until it drops.

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

Raven at Club Seata, Kichijoji, Tokyo on 14th March 2019

Wow! What a pleasant evening of proper old-school heavy metal. 45 years after the band was founded in Newcastle, England in 1974 by brothers John Gallagher and Mark Gallagher, Raven is still going strong. And they sound better than ever. The latest addition to this powerful trio is American drummer Mike Heller, most famous as the drummer for Fear Factory. He’s a great fit for Raven and has the energy to keep up with the unstoppable Gallagher brothers.

Mark Gallagher of Raven on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening’s show, the first of the band’s two Tokyo shows, is focused on Raven’s first three studio albums: “Rock Until You Drop” (1981), “Wiped Out” (1982) and “All for One” (1983). We get classic songs such as “Take Control”, “Hell Patrol”, “All for One” and “Hung, Drawn & Quartered”. We also get treated to a brand new and unreleased song called “Top of the Mountain”. It is classic Raven and right up there with their best songs. One of the evening’s highlights is a splendid version of the terrific song “Rock Until You Drop”. Other highlights include “Faster Than the Speed of Light” and “Mind over Metal”. Another treat is a medley of The Sweet classics “Hellraiser” and “Action”.

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

Throughout the show, Mark Gallagher shows what a terrific lead guitarist he is. He is such an underrated guitarist that has influenced many of the world’s greatest guitar players. One of them, Marty Friedman, joins Raven on stage for two songs – “Fire Power” and “Wiped Out” – in the middle of the set. It’s great to see Friedman play in-your-face metal. He’s clearly loving it as he can’t stop smiling during the performance. John Gallagher puts on a bass solo with a difference. Treating his bass like a cross of a guitar and a keyboard, he manages to create some fantastic music that one would not expect in a heavy metal bass solo.

Raven and Marty Friedman on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A fantastic heavy metal evening is summed up nicely with a fantastic and sweaty final which includes songs such as “Don’t Need Your Money”, the band’s 1980 debut single, “Crash Bang Wallop” and “Seek and Destroy”.

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

Gig review: Napalm Death – quite possibly the best band in the world

Barney and Shane Embury of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary Birmingham grindcore band Napalm Death, quite possibly the best band in the world, never disappoints live. They just bulldozed Tokyo once again. 

Extreme the Dojo with Napalm Death, Eyehategod, Misery Index and Melt-Banana at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 6th March 2019

Mike Williams and Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The opening acts at this year’s Extreme the Dojo happening – Japanese noise rockers Melt-Banana and American bands Misery Index and Eyehategod – do a great job of getting this extreme music evening going. Misery Index gives us a set filled with punky death metal with some grindcore touches, while Eyehategod (featuring Down drummer Jimmy Bower on guitar) offers us an interesting heavy blues-punk mix of sludge metal and stoner rock topped off with anxious vocalist Mike Williams’ tortured voice and troubled stage presence.

Shane Embury of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening’s headline act, the mighty Napalm Death, has never disappointed me live. This evening is no exception. Meeting the band backstage before the gig, it is obvious they are ready and eager. The band’s non-stop energy, the intensity, the buckets of sweat they produce and their love of performing their music in front of dedicated fans, all shine through in the quality of the performance. Vocalist Barney, bassist Shane Embury, drummer Danny Herrera and live guitarist John Cooke are a tight musical machine and they know where they have each other. Barney doesn’t stand still for a second during the show. He really is an artist giving it his all. The sharp contrast between the extreme music and Barney’s very polite use of the English language (although it is spiced up with a few expletives here and there) is all part of the Napalm Death experience.

Barney of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They open the set with the hard-hitting “Multinational Corporations” and follow it with “It’s a M.A.N.S. World”. This evening we get a fine setlist with some of our favourite Napalm Death songs, including “Practice What You Preach”, “Continuing the War on Stupidity”, “Life?” and, of course, “Scum”. From the band’s most recent studio album, 2015’s “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”, we get to hear “Smash a Single Digit” and “Cesspits”. Additionally, we get a couple of terrific covers – Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and Anti Cimex’s “Victims of a Bomb Raid”. It’s a set based on controlled chaos delivered by a superb band of grindcore masters.

Barney of Napalm Death. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This was another terrific performance by what is quite possibly the best band in the world. No doubt they will be back to perform for their ever-growing number of loyal Japanese fans.

Interview: Angela Gossow explains why Arch Enemy’s Black Earth project is exclusively for Japan

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Black Earth is a celebration of the early days of Swedish metal band Arch Enemy. With a Black Earth compilation album about to be released and a new Japan tour around the corner, Angela Gossow explains to Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson why this is a Japan-only affair.

In 2015, Arch Enemy brought up former members Johan Liiva (vocals) and Christopher Amott (guitar) onstage during their gig at the Loud Park festival in Japan. It was a reunion of the band’s original line-up that pleased the fans. In 2016, Black Earth, as this Arch Enemy side project was named, did a full tour of Japan (documented on the special live release “20 Years of Dark Insanity”). Then, in 2017, Black Earth appeared as a secret act at that year’s Loud Park festival. Now Black Earth is getting ready for a full tour of Japan once again. Roppongi Rocks checked in with former Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow, current manager of both Arch Enemy and Black Earth, to have a chat about the thinking behind this exciting reunion.

“The idea for the Black Earth project started back in 2015 when Michael Amott realised that the 20th anniversary of the debut Arch Enemy album ‘Black Earth’ was about to take place the following year,” explains Angela Gossow to Roppongi Rocks. “After thinking things through how to properly celebrate this important landmark of his career, he talked to original Arch Enemy members and co-founders Johan Liiva and Christopher Amott and it was decided to put together this new side project under the Black Earth banner where they would play the music from the first three Arch Enemy albums, as true to the original versions as possible. The very successful Japan tour in 2016, as well as their surprise set at Loud Park 2017, was something that they enjoyed very much, as did the fans! Now the guys are gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1999 album ‘Burning Bridges’ with an extensive tour of Japan again! They will play that album in its entirety as well as digging into the old-school songs from ‘Black Earth’ and ‘Stigmata’. They also have two newly composed songs that are available on the “Path Of The Immortal” compilation album which will come out in Japan on March 20!”

Black Earth has been a Japan-only affair, which has made these shows even more special to the Japanese fans. Angela Gossow explains why: “The reason for the Black Earth band only performing in Japan is quite simple, the members have a limited time in their busy schedules to do this and they choose to perform exclusively in Japan – so far – due to the fact that Japan is where they had their first success in the 90s with the first three Arch Enemy albums and tours. With the exclusive Black Earth concerts and material that is released in Japan they wish to say thank you for the long-time support of the Japanese fans for a journey that has lasted over twenty years now!“

Johan Liiva and Christopher Amott of Black Earth performing in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Black Earth – consisting of Michael Amott (guitar), Christopher Amott (guitar), Johan Liiva (vocals), Daniel Erlandsson (drums) and Sharlee D’Angelo (bass) – will do a total of nine gigs in Japan in May. The tour will take them to Tokyo, Nagoya, Sendai, Hokkaido, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Osaka. Full tour dates and ticket info from Creativeman Productions can be found here:

Black Earth’s “Path Of The Immortal” compilation album will be released in Japan on 20th March via Trooper Entertainment. Additionally, the current line-up of Arch Enemy will perform at the Download Japan festival on 21st March.

Album review: Disrated “Celestial Abhorrence”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

The arrival of Disrated’s “Celestial Abhorrence” gives us another great extreme metal debut album by a Swedish band.

Disrated is a new Swedish extreme metal band formed in Stockholm in 2016. The band’s music is punishingly brutal, but with many technical parts and some serious groove as well. Having earlier released a single and an EP, the band’s first full-length studio album, “Celestial Abhorrence”, is now available. Sweden, of course, has a proud tradition of producing terrific extreme metal bands (is it the long, cold and dark winters, the high taxes, the IKEA flatpacks, the Viking heritage or something else?), but it is still a bit of a surprise to hear such fine brutality on a debut album by a new band. There are some great tech death influences here. It is exhausting to listen to technical tracks such as “Angel Maker” and “Blackout”. It’s angry in a “bodybuilder with a master’s degree in architecture” kind of way. Fantastic stuff that demands your attention. It is not exactly background music. The fast and technical track “Gehenna” is my favourite on this album. The music on the album is brutal and quite technically advanced, but the band still manages to retain an underground feeling in much of its music (for example, listen to the track “Dead & Loving It”), which is a huge plus. This is no doubt a band to keep an eye on. Since the album was recorded they have brought in a new lead vocalist. Hopefully that is not something that will slow this heavy freight train down.

Gig review: Watain and Anaal Nathrakh

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Roppongi Rocks spends a Friday night in Shibuya filled with extreme metal performed by Watain, Anaal Nathrakh, Ethereal Sin and Hybrid Nightmares.

Watain, Anaal Nathrakh, Ethereal Sin and Hybrid Nightmares at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo on 1st March 2019 

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

A Friday night in Shibuya can mean anything. I choose to spend it at an Evoken de Valhall-produced brutal music fest. It turns out to be an evening filled with corpse paint. Three of the four bands on the bill sport some form of corpse paint. Nothing wrong with that if you have the attitude, skills and work ethic to back it up.

Seth Maelstrom and Yama Darkblaze of Ethereal Sin on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Enthusiastic Australian extreme metal band Hybrid Nightmares is the evening’s opening band. Walking on stage at 5:30pm on a Friday may not be optimal, but the Aussies do a good job of getting this evening going. Japanese extreme metal band Ethereal Sin, fronted by Yama Darkblaze, follows and they seem to be getting better every time I see them live. They combine extreme metal with pagan metal influences and Japanese cultural touches. They can perhaps best be described as a Japanese take on Cradle of Filth. This evening they give us a solid set that proves this band is here to stay and it is one of the more interesting metal bands in Japan at the moment.

Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Anaal Nathrakh, the only band on the bill tonight not wearing make-up, is also the best part of this evening for me. They open an energetic show with “Obscene as Cancer”. Vocalist Dave Hunt and guitarist Mick Kenney formed the band in England in 1999. Throughout the band’s career they have relied on bringing in session guys and touring musicians rather than adding permanent members. Among the musical highlights of this evening’s set are the fantastic “Forward!”, “Submission is for the Weak” and “Do Not Speak”.

Mick Kenney of Anaal Nathrakh on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While musically this sounds quite different, there are some obvious similarities here with another extreme band from Birmingham, Napalm Death. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Napalm’s Shane Embury has also played with Anaal Nathrakh in the past. An Anaal Nathrakh show is a high-energy affair mixing brutal music with constant (and very British) onstage banter between songs. It’s like a terrifically brutal musical version of the British TV shows “Fawlty Towers” and “The Young Ones”. I love it! The band encourages and gets several stage divers to become willing participants in the chaos. They finish a terrific set with “Idol”.

Pelle Forsberg of Watain on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish black metal band Watain last toured Japan in 2015. Since then the band has released the great album “Trident Wolf Eclipse” in 2018. This evening, the band performs four songs from the latest album as well as the expected old favourites. They open strongly with “Storm of the Antichrist”, “Nuclear Alchemy” and “The Child Must Die”.

Erik Danielsson of Watain on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The highlight for me of the 12-song set is no doubt “Sworn to the Dark”. This Watain classic is one of the best extreme metal songs of all time. Another highlight is a splendid cover of Bathory’s 1985 classic “The Return of Darkness and Evil”. They close a solid set with the majestic “The Serpent’s Chalice”. The band is as sinister as always. We get a stripped down show with no fire, pyro or blood, but the band manages to still come across as sincerely evil with the help of a few upside crosses, some banners and the band members themselves and, of course, the punishing music they perform. The fact that the band is more or less performing in darkness for most of the set underpins the band’s dark yet often surprisingly melodic black metal.

Sworn to the dark: Watain performing in the dark on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks