Okay, I’m a little late to the party on this one, as this album actually was released at the end of 2015. But there’s a reason for that. Katana’s excellent first two albums, ‘Heads Will Roll’ (2011) and ‘Storms of War’ (2012), were released via Listenable Records and readily available at the time. By contrast, on ‘The Greatest Victory,’ the Swedes elected to forge their own path without the involvement of a conventional record label. As a result, the album (at least in physical format, for CD junkies like me) is available solely through the band, to the best of my knowledge, which means paying hefty transatlantic shipping fees (the CD itself, it bears noting, is fairly priced). So I waited a few months to see if physical availability might increase on this side of the pond, to no avail. Still jonesin’ for some new Katana, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a copy from the band. Now here we are …
Thankfully, I’m pleased to report that ‘The Greatest Victory’ was worth every penny. The elements that I loved from the first two albums remain fully intact here, from the killer Dimitar Nikolov cover artwork to the magnificent Andy La Rocque sound job to the excellent songwriting tag team of Tobias Karlsson (guitars) and Johan Bernspang (vocals) to the occasional foray into Japanese-themed lyrics (the controversial “Yakuza” and “Shogun”) to the glorious twin guitars of Karlsson and Patrik Essen that sometimes recall classic Maiden or even a touch of Weikath/Hansen mischief. Katana continue to put their best foot forward, standing proudly for traditional heavy metal done right. Straight out of the gate, Katana make a compelling statement with the devastating one-two punch of “Shaman Queen” and “Yakuza,” both tailor-made to reign supreme in a live setting, especially the “woah-woah” singalong part dominating the last two minutes of the former and the gang-shouted moniker of the latter. Both tracks are ridiculously catchy, expertly crafted classic metal tunes. Not sure what to make of the lyrics of “Yakuza,” though, which portray the infamous, bloody Japanese crime syndicate known for drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, etc. as a misunderstood brotherhood with burning hearts yearning to be free. I know I’m a square, but hmmm. No matter, the song is magnificent. Other clear highlights take the form of the upbeat anthem “Within an Inch of Your Life,” and the nearly 7-minute closer, “In the Shadows,” that builds beautifully from a whisper to a full-fledged roar.
Obviously, there’s a veritable tsunami of amazing Swedish bands occupying the classic metal space these days, including (among many others) Enforcer, RAM, Wolf, Ambush, Air Raid, Lethal Steel, Steelwing, Lancer, Screamer, Bullet and so on. But Katana offer a slightly different take on the formula. Sure, ‘The Greatest Victory’ is classic Maiden-esque metal to the bone, and the usual NWoBHM influences are worn on the band’s collective sleeves. What makes Katana stick out, to my ears, is that in addition to the usual keep-it-true suspects, the band infuse a smooth melodic metal / power metal slant to the material and performances. More than once while listening to this album I found myself reminded of ‘80s Scorpions or even early (Zackrisson era) Nocturnal Rites, which is a wonderful thing. Consequently, ‘The Greatest Victory’ feels fresh yet timeless, a celebration rather than a rehash. I will relish this triumph for now, but here’s hoping there are even more and greater victories to come for Katana.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~