VARIOUS ARTISTS – EMBRACE THE SUN : THE LION MUSIC JAPAN BENEFIT PROJECT

Out now on Lion Music

In what has seems to be somewhat of a trend amongst record labels since the terrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 here we have the first benefit album to be announced in the metal community from Lion Music.

Whilst it may not have been the first to be released when you delve into its 2CD contents you realise that perhaps more care and true feeling has gone into this release than many of its ilk.  For starters the vast majority of the material here was written specifically for this release which sees all label, publishing and artist royalties being donated to the Japan Red Cross.  This key difference to many other benefit albums (which you felt just culled together any old unreleased tracks from artists to get it out as quickly as possible), “Embrace The Sun” lends a higher quality of material, not to mention a more personalised and sincere sound to the music on offer.

With 28 of some of Lion best known names contributing there is a plenty to enjoy here across a wide spectrum of artists on the labels roster with tracks coming from Mattsson, Iron Mask, Anthriel, Dreyelands, Mastercastle, Overdrive and Section A amongst others.

Guitar fans are well catered for with tracks from Milan Polak, Jennifer Batten and Marco Sfogli not to mention the closing guitar jam track which sees contributions from notables such as  Francesco Fareri (Virtual Mind), Daniel Palmqvist (ex The Murder Of My Sweet), Simone Fiorletta (No Gravity), Dave Martone and Borislav Mitic.

Highlights are often and plentiful making this 28 track collection a real joy to listen to.  Personal favourites include  Milan Polak’s excellent “End Of Time” sees guest appearances from Kip Winger, Ron Thal, Pete Lesperance, and Harry Hess, whilst Dreyelands continue the excellent work heard on last years debut with new track “Life Is Worth The Pain”.  Mastercastle throw a trademark metal slant on the album with “Sakura” which has a great vocal performance from Giorgia Gueglio.   MindSplit serve up a tender ballad in “Guardian Angel” and this really strikes a chord of how the devastation seen in Japan has hit people worldwide.  Emir Hot contributes the epic “Fear Of The Storm” with orchestra and backing choirs adding depth to the track whilst Iron Mask see a successful outing with vocalist Carsten Schulz at the mic for “Sons of the Sun”.

The album also showcases some home-grown Japanese talent in new label signing, progressive rockers Early Cross whose melodic prog rock is a classy number, whilst the direct influence of the aftermath in Japan can be heard on Jennifer Batten’s track “Sakura Season” was written after her visit to the country in April 2011.  Despite highlighting these tracks there are moments of enjoyment in all tracks and congratulations go out to all involved.

Overall “Embrace The Sun” not only manages to hopefully make some good money to aid with the recovery in Japan but also serves as a strong compilation album full of great tracks, musicianship and comes highly recommended.

Do your bit and pick up the album now at http://www.lionmusic.com/cd/embracethesun.htm

Rating – 90%

 

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MARTY FRIEDMAN – TOKYO JUKEBOX (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Mascot Records

 When one of the worlds’ best metal lead guitarists decides to release an album in the J-Pop style (that’s Japanese Pop for those not in the know) then you are right to feel a little trepidation.  However, if you look into what makes up J-Pop then you will discover it’s nothing like the pop we know in Europe or the USA.  Manufactured “pop idol” and gangsta rap don’t come into the equation in Japan, but rock does and it appears rock transcends all genre boundaries and fully embraces itself into pop culture – hoorah.   

So former Megadeth fret blisterer Marty Friedman (who is seen as a demi-god in the land of the rising sun) has not only moved to Japan to fully embrace its culture but decided to get himself a piece of J-pop action as it where (arguably the next logical step after moving there) and the results are on his new album “Tokyo Jukebox”, which is instrumental versions of popular Japanese tracks and in all honesty its not half as bad I feared it might be.   The songs were chosen in part by the readers of “Nikkei Entertainment!”, Japan`s all time number one entertainment magazine, which features a popular page on Marty each month for over three years and still going strong.

Essentially this is big guitar melodies over rocking back beats (mostly supplied by  Steve Vai drummer Jeremy Colson), its modern in its approach yet also classic in its melodies and for guitar fiends this is all rather enjoyable, although it does feel a little “novelty” in places thanks to a lot of the programmed backings where it does sound a little karaoke, or should that be guitaroke?  Friedman however sounds more inspired that he did on his last solo album “Loudspeaker”, however whether this will manifest itself into big time spent on my jukebox remains to be seen as although its all good fun when its on I don’t find myself wanting to put it on again, yet when it is on I don’t find myself skipping.

Time will tell but for now this is competent enough and Friedman delivers strong lead work over a different format to what many fans may be used to.  Give it a chance.

Rating – 75%



KATSU OHTA OF ARK STORM INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted June 2005

About The Interview.
Katsu Ohta is one of the star players of the blossoming Japanese neo-classical metal scene.  Katsu is the guitarist and leader of Ark Storm who are becoming quite a sensation on the Japanese metal scene, to date only one of their 3 albums have been released outside their native Japan, but we manageed to track down Katsu and find out his thoughts on the band, their excellent latest album ‘The Everlasting Wheel’ and find out what else if going to happen in 2005.

The interview was the first interview done by Katsu in English and to the best of my knowledge perhaps the only one.  It’s been a steady favourite over the years in terms of hits at the old site so its fitting its kept on here on the new home.

Many thanks to Nikki Matsumoto for translating Katsu’s answers and assistance with arranging the interview.

Katsu, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, I would like to congratulate you on “The Everlasting Wheel”; it’s a superb slice of neo-classical metal. When did you start writing for the album?
Thanks to you too. I started writing material for the album back in January of 2004. I came up with about 15 songs in the next 4 months.

What does your writing process normally involve?
It depends really. But I normally come up with a melody for a singer or start chunking a guitar riff and take it from there. One of these 2 patterns normally. And when I hand out a song to the rest of the band, it is usually near completion as far as arrangements and melody go.

How long did it take to record?
It took about 20 days for the recording, not counting the hours of pre-production rehearsals for the recording.

What did set out to achieve with this album?
I wanted to have a meaning and as the album title suggests, the meaning Of eternity was what I had in mind. I wasn’t really concerned about anything else.

I hear a slightly more streamlined and commercial album compared to “Beginning Of The New Legend“, was this an aim of the album?
No, it was not something we intended to do. But we built the whole production with mainly melodies in mind. The melody line was the key for the song writing. So I am not surprised that people feel the sense of commercialism to some degree. We just did what we wanted to do as Ark Storm on our own way. And the result just happened this way naturally. It may fit into the current trend or whatever but it wasn’t aimed anyway intentionally.

How has the reaction been to the album in Japan?
We have been getting quite pleasant reaction from the fans, it’s been really good. The fan basis is growing and getting bigger and bigger day by day  as it seems. But the Japanese HM magazines don’t give us good evaluation, even though the fans are supporting us and spreading bigger.

What are your thoughts now on “Beginning Of The New Legend” and “No Boundaries”?
I feel like there had been so much left undone. I am not satisfied completely with any of those pieces. But that is how I should feel probably. I never ever get totally content with my work. If I ever did, it would be pretty much the end of my aspiration. I always find something new when I’mwriting or playing.

“Beginning Of The New Legend” was released in Europe, are there any plans to release “The Everlasting Wheel” outside Japan?
It’s all up to the record company. But I have not heard anything on that matter.

How did you hook up with the other members of Ark Storm?
I selected them on my own, one by one. I wanted real professionals, you know. Before the release of the first album, it was hard to find right musicians. I wanted the best of the Japanese when the time for the second album was approaching. So I got them now.

What made you want to play guitar?
One of my uncles gave me a real old trashy classical guitar and that was the start.

I see you use Scalloped Stratocasters, what made you start using a scalloped neck and why?
I started it because I liked Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth when he was with the Scorpions. Now I still use scalloped neck all the time because It gives me the vibrato I want.

There’s a couple of Marshall Amps on your website, what models do you use and are there any modifications done to them?
It’s a 1978 Marshall 100w. The guitar technician of my own modifies it mainly on the tones.

What effect / overdrive pedals do you use?
It depends, case by case. But most of the times, I use a DOD or a Tube Screamer by Ibanez. Those two are my main effects.

Does the band have any plans to record a live album / DVD?
There is no plan for it as far as I’m concerned. But I do want to release DVDs.

What else does the band have planned for 2005?
We are going to start another Japanese tour in October.

Anything else you would like to tell the readers of virtuosity one?
I want you to experience Ark Storm, please get your copy anyway you can. And if that will take us there to tour in Europe, the rest will follow. I really really hope to see you at Ark Storm concert.

Katsu, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure. Thanks you all.

Official Ark Storm website – http://home.att.ne.jp/kiwi/arkstorm/