Katana - Storms of war 4/5
2. Wrath of the emerald witch
3. Khubilai Khan
4. The samurai returns
5. City on the edge of forever
6. No surrender
7. In the land of the sun
8. The gambit
9. Modesty Blaise
10. The Wisdoms of Emond's field
For me at least, Katana’s debut CD ‘Heads will roll’ was nothing short of bottled lightning, a shining beacon in a somewhat hit-and-miss clamouring of throwback traditional metal outfits. With this in mind, it may have been the weight of expectation that influenced my initial opinions but on first listen I really did feel a little let down by this follow-up.
Thankfully, in this case the first cut turned out not to be the deepest, and while ‘Storms of war’ doesn’t have the same impact or consistency as its predecessor, it is still for the most part a powerful and authentic example of old-fashioned heavy metal for the 21st century.
The dissatisfied initial reaction was almost certainly encouraged by a rather lacklustre start to proceedings, which even several listens later is a difficult feeling to shake, but after this early stumble the level of quality increases quite dramatically.
The thing Katana showed most on ‘Heads will roll’ and continue to do so here, is that they don’t write to a formula and there are many different approaches taken to their writing while still staying faithfully in the traditional metal bracket. With that said, there is a distinctly increased power metal feel to the opening track, ‘Reaper’, which is nimble and energetic but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression, due in no small part to a brief and unimaginative chorus.
While most of the songs on the debut didn’t get past the 4 minute mark, many of those on ‘Storms of war’ make for far more epic fare, and it is with one cut from this cloth that the CD finally hits top gear with the stunning 3rd track, “Khubilai Khan”. A pounding historical blockbuster in the vein of Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great”, it is a showcase for both Johan Bernspång’s striking, emotive vocals and some thoughtful, well-written lyrics.
Switching to a more modern subject of East Asian history, “No surrender” chronicles the story of Lt. Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who defended Lubang Island until 29 years after the end of World War II. With a suitably militaristic opening section, the song pounds at a relentless tempo and Bernspång’s majestic performance lends gravitas and emotional heft to a bizarre story it would have been easy to simply ridicule.
There’s actually something of a modern-day Iron Maiden feeling to some of these more expansive tracks, the sort of fragile (and in my eyes, unique until now) poignancy of ‘A matter of life and death’ and ‘The final frontier’ channelled wonderfully, most notably on the chiming, lengthy intro to “In the land of the sun”. That this song simply explodes into a finger-melting solo after the gentle intro is a reminder that guitarists Tobias Karlsson and Patrik Essén have lost none of their fire amid the new-found maturity on display, and the all-round performances remain inspired throughout.
While much of the CD is split between these sort of midtempo landmarks and the fiery speed metal of the debut, there is still more new ground to be covered with the massively theatrical vocal arrangements on the dramatic “City on the edge of forever” (Trek metal, hell yeah), showing the creative streak that continues to burn through Katana’s music even if every song isn’t a surefire winner.
While it doesn’t quite reach the blazing heights of the debut CD, ‘Storms of war’ is not only a mostly excellent follow-up in its own right, but it shows a band that are quite willing to expand and grow as they develop rather than taking the easy route of finding a comfortable niche to hide in.
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