Album review: Testament “Titans of Creation”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Yes! The Bay Area heroes in Testament are back with an album that oozes uncompromising old-school thrash metal.

The Testament boys have been around long enough to know how thrash metal is done. Hell, they even helped create the Bay Area thrash scene which has been one of the centres of excellence for thrash metal. Testament’s new album “Titans of Creation” is its 13th studio album since the band was founded in the mid-80s. It is gloriously uncompromising. This is a classic old-school kind of thrash metal that doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s fast, furious, hard-hitting and shredding as much as it should. I love it. They are not trying to do something new here, just more of the same, what they are good at. Testament has always been one of the best thrash metal bands and that position is reinforced with this new album. In Alex Skolnick, they have a multitalented guitar wizard that no thrash metal band has matched since Marty Friedman left Megadeth two decades ago. In Chuck Billy, they have a powerful world-class thrash metal vocalist. In Eric Peterson, they have a terrific songwriter who in recent years has also stepped up as a fab guitarist. The band’s rhythm section – Steve Di Giorgio on bass and Gene Hoglan on drums – is one of the heaviest in the business. As a unit, the current version of Testament is rock solid thrash metal awesomeness. The album is so good and even that it is hard to point to songs that stand out, but some of my favourites include opener “Children of the Next Level”, “WW III”, “Night of the Witch” and the absolute highlight: the smashingly in-your-face track “Curse of Osiris”. Obviously, I expected the band to put out a great, headbanging-friendly album. But it still feels so good to hear them deliver and exceed expectations.

Testament’s new album “Titans of Creation” is out now via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

Album review: Bonfire “Fistful of Fire”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German melodic hard rock band Bonfire is back with a new studio album filled with 1980s-inspired music with riff-happy guitars, plenty of keyboards and great melodies.

Bonfire has built a solid reputation since the 1980s as one of Germany’s leading melodic hard rock bands. Guitarist Hans Ziller remains the bandleader and in the current line-up of the band, he is joined by Alexx Stahl (vocals), Frank Pané (guitar), Ronnie Parkes (bass) and André Hilgers (drums). This is a good and solid album. The song material and soundscape are very 1980s with riff-happy guitars, plenty of keyboards and great melodies. But as my expectations are high, I can’t help but feel that this could have been even better. There are some terrific 1980s-style melodic hard rock songs here. Highlights include the power ballad “When an Old Man Cries”, the energetic rockers “Gotta Get Away”, “Breaking Out” and “Riding the Blade” as well as the good-fun “The Devil Made Me Do It”. I absolutely love the little instrumental guitar piece “Fire Etude” and the dramatic instrumental mini-track “The Surge” serves as an excellent intro to “Gloryland” – the two tracks combined sound like something that Avantasia could have done. But to make this album really great, a couple of additional top-notch songs on the album would have been necessary. As expected, there are some hard rock clichés here, as is evident in song titles such as “Rock’n’Roll Survivors”, “The Devil Made Me Do It”, “Warrior” and “Fire and Ice”. But that is part of the attraction of German hard rock. A terrific alternative acoustic version of “When an Old Man Cries” closes the album.

Bonfire’s new album “Fistful of Fire” will be released on 3rd April via AFM Records.

EP review: Candlemass “The Pendulum”

Johan Längqvist of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish doom masters Candlemass return with an EP of unused tracks from the band’s “The Door to Doom” recording sessions. It is doomy awesomeness.

The Swedish gentlemen in Candlemass have, in my opinion, never released a bad record. Their back catalogue is rock solid and this new EP is no exception. The music on this EP is somewhat less obvious, immediate and accessible than last year’s full-length studio album, “The Door to Doom”, which saw the return of the band’s original vocalist Johan Längqvist. There is an explanation for this: the EP contains left-over material from the recordings of the last album. I get why Leif Edling and his mighty men of doom felt that they should release this music too and not let these recordings disappear into someone’s desk drawer. This is epic music. It sometimes requires the listener to focus and really pay attention. It’s a thinking person’s music. Some of it is instrumental (like the dreamy film soundtrack-sounding song “The Cold Room”) and even experimental, such as the fantastic little bass-only piece “Aftershock”. The tracks “Snakes of Goliath” and “Porcelain Skull” are the most accessible songs here. They are pure trademark Candlemass – combining doomy riffs, slow-ish doom and heaviness with powerful vocals. This EP contains some absolutely brilliant stuff! I love it. As always with Candlemass, the doomy guitars on this EP force their way into my ears and crawl down to my heart and lungs, fully backed up by the heaviness of the spine-rattling rhythm section. In addition to Längquist, Candlemass currently consists of its classic late 1980s/early 1990s line-up: Mats “Mappe” Björkman and Lars “Lasse” Johansson on guitars, band founder Leif Edling on bass and Jan Lindh on drums. They seem to be on a roll and I am loving their musical output.

Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Candlemass’ EP “The Pendulum” is out today via Napalm Records. A Japanese edition is being released by Marquee/Avalon.

Single review: Night “Feeling It Everywhere”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish rock band Night releases a great new seven-inch vinyl single filled with classic rock and some hints of NWOBHM.

Swedish band Night has written two very catchy songs, “Feeling It Everywhere” and “Kings of the Night”, for this new seven-inch vinyl issue. Night started out as a hard rock band heavily influenced by NWOBHM but has evolved into more of a classic rock band with touches of melodic 70s hard rock. There are some echoes of NWOBHM still there, but for the most part, this is classic rock. Music-wise, Night lives in an international musical neighbourhood which is full of Swedish bands. They are perhaps so far one of the lesser-known bands in this heap, but that may soon change as they have proven with these new songs that they are among the very best. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to describe this as the bastard son of fellow Swedish bands The Night Flight Orchestra and Enforcer. That’s how it sounds more or less. Night’s next full-length studio album is expected to be released later this year. In the meantime, this vinyl single will do just fine to keep us happy.

Night’s new seven-inch single will be released on 3rd April via The Sign Records.

EP review: Bombs of Hades “Phantom Bell”

Bombs of Hades. Photo: Susan Wicher

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Bombs of Hades, fronted by multitasking artist Jonas Stålhammar, return with a sensational EP filled with a punky and groovy prog-doom-death metal with a difference.

Sweden’s Bombs of Hades are back with a four-track EP that is nothing short of sensational. It has everything I love about heavy music: great riffs and fantastic melodies as well as attitude. The EP has a glorious underground feel to it but at the same time, it is world-class.

Bombs of Hades’ frontman Jonas Stålhammar is currently also a member of At The Gates, This Lurking Fear and God Macabre and is a former member of Crippled Black Phoenix and The Crown. In Bombs of Hades, where he sings lead and plays the guitar, he gets to be centre stage and deliver his vision of extreme music. Somehow Bombs of Hades manage to combine bits and pieces of death metal with progressive rock, some doom touches and they melt it all down into their own sound. The band’s music grooves like it’s nobody’s business. The production is awesome and really manages to capture the essence of this terrific band. I love it. There are lots of tiny details here and there, some of which it takes a few times to fully discover. My expectations were, of course, high for this EP, but I am blown away at the song-quality and delivery of the four songs featured here. We get two original songs in the form of the in-your-face epic opening of “Phantom Bell” and the equally terrific “Bridge of Sighs”. I can certainly hear some traces of both At The Gates and The Crown here but with a Bombs of Hades twist or two. The EP also treats us to two excellent cover songs: “Kamikaze”, originally recorded by terrific Japanese rockers Flower Travellin’ Band for their cult 1972 “Made in Japan” album, and “Lungs”, originally by American country-flavoured singer-songwriter Townes van Zandt. The choices of covers show us how broad, deep and excellent Jonas Stålhammar’s musical tastes are and it also demonstrates his awesome ability to take terrific songs from other genres and make them splendid Bombs of Hades songs. The highlight for me on the EP, in addition to the awesome title track, is the guitar work on “Lungs”, which is perhaps best described as some kind of weird and wonderful spaced-out guitar jam between Ace Frehley and Phil Campbell. This is as you can imagine a bit different from your normal Swedish death metal band. It’s intelligent death metal with a punk attitude, splendid guitars and terrific melodies.

Bombs of Hades originally formed in 2002 and in 2020 Bombs of Hades’ members are Stålhammar, drummer Magnus Forsberg and guitarist PO Söderback (both of Puffball fame) and Roger Iderman on bass.

Bombs of Hades’ EP “Phantom Bell” will be out on 17th April via Black Lodge Records.

Album review: Lucifer “Lucifer III”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Johanna Sadonis, Nicke Andersson and the rest of Lucifer are back with a third album that is pure magic.

Lucifer is a band that never disappoints me. They always deliver. Formed in Berlin in 2014, Lucifer has evolved to become a Swedish band fronted by a German vocalist. Lucifer’s new album, its third full-length studio album, is as good as I had hoped. Having collaborated with Cathedral’s Gaz Jennings on the first album, the band’s founder and leader Johanna Sadonis has in recent years formed a tight and creatively awesome relationship with Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric). The couple married in 2018 and on this new album they continue their terrific musical partnership. In the current line-up of Lucifer, they are joined by Linus Björklund and Martin Nordin on guitars and Harald Göthblad on bass.

Lucifer’s third album is a continuation of 2018’s “Lucifer II” which was quite different from the debut album. Nicke Andersson’s influence is obvious. Nicke on his own is splendid and when you combine his talents with Johanna Sadonis’ qualities, you get magic. The Lucifer soundscape is dreamy, the doomy and a bit hazy with nods and hints to the rock of yesteryear. It is a wonderful mishmash of rock from the 70s while still sounding relevant here and now. “Lucifer III” is a bit less immediate and not as accessible as its predecessor, but that’s also why it’s even better. It isn’t music you just put on in the background while you’re washing dishes or doing the laundry. This is a fab rock music that demands – and deserves – your attention. By all means, you can have it on in the background while you’re grilling meat on the barbeque in the garden, but you risk screwing up the dinner. This is music you should ideally listen to in absolute darkness.

As often is the case when Nicke Andersson is involved, this is world-class music with heaps of playfulness and fun stuff in the mix. Song titles such as “Leather Demon”, “Coffin Fever”, “Flanked by Snakes” and “Cemetery Eyes” hint at the wordsmith qualities of Lucifer. Lucifer is a band that consists of educated musicians, people who know where their roots are and how you take such inspiration to create something new. Few people in the music industry are as clued up as Nicke. When I interviewed him here in Tokyo during Lucifer’s Japan visit last year, he summed up Lucifer’s sound as: “I think the easiest way, a kind of shortcut, is to say it’s a mix between Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac. Done!” He also noted that “there’s quite a bit of ABBA in Sabbath!” which sums up his analytical mind rather well. He knows his stuff, but at the same time, he lets playfulness be a central part of his music creation. Whatever led the paths of Nicke and Johanna to cross, we are forever grateful.

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lucifer’s new album “Lucifer III” will be released on 20th March via Century Media Records. The Japanese version is being released by Trooper Entertainment.

Album review: Soundtruck “Voodoo”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Soundtruck gives us Southern rock-inspired bluesy hard rock straight from Athens, Greece.

Soundtruck’s sound is bluesy hard rock meets middle-of-the-road radio rock. There is nothing dangerous here, nothing threatening, just decent rock performed by a great rock band. The band members see themselves as influenced by Southern rock acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and Blackfoot and there is certainly plenty of that in the mix, but I feel that this is a bit broader than that. The guitars stand out on most tracks. There are some great guitar parts throughout the album and they are performed by guitar players (Vassilis Panagopoulos and Greg Apostolopoulos) who do not try to dominate the whole songs. “Heading Your Way” is solid stadium rock complete with a great guitar solo while “The Train” sounds like if it were the B-side on Bon Jovi’s Western-inspired hit “Wanted Dead or Alive”. “The Calling” has a hint of Monster Magnet in it with its groove, heaviness and great guitars. “Voodoo Woman” is rather jam-friendly in a Southern rock kind of way. “Stay” is a calmer track, bordering on an AOR power ballad. Overall, this varied nine-track record is a great rock album. Decent Southern hard rock from Greece, who would’ve thought?

Album review: Erik Lazaroff & Hökarna “Under hökens vingar”

Erik Lazaroff & Hökarna. Photo: Joe Hutt

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What a treat! Erik Lazaroff & Hökarna is a great new Swedish rock band with a recently released debut album. A terrific sound which combines Pugh Rogefeldt and Roky Erickson and blends it all with scoops of Blue Öyster Cult and November.

Erik Lazaroff & Hökarna is a new Swedish band playing rock with Swedish lyrics and a sound firmly stuck in the 70s. There are echoes here of Marc Bolan and T-Rex, Uriah Heep and similar British rock acts and some blues influences. Lazaroff himself mentions Blue Öyster Cult and Roky Erickson among his inspirations. But Lazaroff’s music primarily carries on a Swedish tradition of rock music from the 70s – think the rockier parts of Pugh Rogefeldt’s back catalogue and hints of Swedish bands from that era such as November and Solid Ground. On songs such as “Under hökens vingar” we get that fantastic jam-friendly kind of vibe. Music played by musicians who are not in a hurry to finish a song but rather have some fun with their instruments. They are here to entertain and they are good at it. There are plenty of fantastic songs here, such as “Kärleksbensin”, “Black Mamba”, “Häxkonst”, “När du fryser” and “Pansartåg”. “Innanför mitt skinn” is my personal highlight on the album. It is very catchy, has great guitars and manages to have a retro feeling while still being relevant and without sounding dated. Mainman Erik Lazaroff is the band’s vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. His band, Hökarna (Swedish for The Hawks), is a very competent bunch of musicians. Together they have created a debut album that sounds terrific. Old but new. Simple on the surface, yet complicated underneath. Effortless-sounding but no doubt an album which has demanded a lot of effort and dedication.

Erik Lazaroff & Hökarna’s debut album “Under hökens vingar” is available through Lightning Records and is distributed by Sound Pollution Distribution.

Album review: Conny Bloom “Game! Set! Bloom!”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Electric Boys’ frontman Conny Bloom, one of Sweden’s few proper rock stars, is back with a splendid new solo album.

Ever since the 1980s, Conny Bloom has been one of Sweden’s few proper rock stars. Having made a name for himself with first Electric Boys and then Hanoi Rocks, he is now combining fronting a rejuvenated Electric Boys with a very interesting solo career. His solo work in recent years has been focused on music sung in Bloom’s native Swedish. It is rather different from Electric Boys, but it is equally good. Bloom’s solo work is an eclectic mix of singer-songwriter stuff, blues rock and other 60s and 70s-infused rock. Mainly it’s more rock and pop than the hard rock of Electric Boys and Hanoi Rocks. For those of us who understand the Swedish lyrics, it is obvious that Bloom is a proper storytelling wordsmith with humour as one of his main ingredients. While the lyrics are mainly on the funny side, most of them are also based on everyday situations. The street poetry of “Flyttkarl” is worthy of a literature prize of some sort. “Jag tror jag trollat bort mig själv” is a terrific song clocking in at 6.42 minutes. It’s hazy and jam-friendly rock – like something The Doors could have done if they had camped out in the Swedish countryside. “Gånglåt från Kärrträsk” is a splendid instrumental track combing folk music roots with haze rock. “Rulla på” is the album’s highlight for me. It’s very catchy but in a not annoying and rather understated way. The whole album has an air of playfulness about it. This is an artist who has had fun creating his solo album. The result is great.

Conny Bloom’s new solo album “Game! Set! Bloom!” is out today via Target Records.

Album review: David Reece “Cacophony of Souls”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Accept and Bonfire vocalist David Reece is back with a new heavy metal solo album.

Vocalist David Reece made a name for himself by briefly fronting German hard rock acts Accept and Bonfire. He has also been part of other bands such as Bangalore Choir and Sainted Sinners. He’s now back with a new solo album called “Cacophony of Souls”. Reece is not reinventing anything here. But he’s doing what he does best – making great metal music which combines his powerful voice with heavy guitar riffs. This is metal music that works well as a soundtrack to your everyday life. The track “Blood on Our Hands” kicks off with guitars that remind me of Reece’s past as vocalist for Accept. “Metal Voice” is another great metal song with Accept vibes while the album’s title track is a bit different and stands out in a good way. “Another Life Another Time” is the album’s power ballad hidden among the rockier songs. My favourite track is “Collective Anaesthesia” which somewhat reminds of Avantasia. Much of the material on the album will no doubt fit in well among Reece’s back catalogue for his live shows. He now has quite a treasure trove of songs to pick from. On this album, Reece has once again brought back former Sinner guitarist Andy Susemihl, who has also played with another former Accept vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider, in the band U.D.O. Susemihl does a phenomenal job on the album but without overshadowing anything else. In Reece’s band, we can also find his old Sainted Sinners bandmate Malte Frederik Burkert on bass and Italian drummer Andrea Gianangeli.

David Reece’s new album “Cacophony of Souls” will be released on 13th March via El Puerto Records.