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Where have you been all my life? - 90%

Radagast, January 28th, 2011

While the Swedish power metal resurgence of the late 90s and early 2000s has been petering out over the last few years, with less new bands coming through and some of the old stable losing their way, there lately seems to be a groundswell of newer outfits clamouring to take their place on the international stage.

While Gallows End made a fantastic debut earlier this year that signalled an intent to keep the power metal fire burning, others, such as Enforcer, Steelwing and of course Katana, have taken a further step back to use NWOBHM and anthemic 80s metal as their blueprint.

There are plenty of bands around the globe taking this tact at the moment (making the cynic wonder how they all managed to stumble across the same idea at roughly the same time...) to varying degrees of success, with the excitement generated by some impressive CDs tempered by others that just feel like uninspired rehashings.

What makes ‘Heads will roll’ so impressive is how the band have managed to pull a fairly wide variety of influences together, jam it all into less than 40 minutes and still create a rather diverse bunch of songs that not only manage to sound fresh and original but also expertly written. With quite a few tracks barely more than 3 minutes long it would have been easy for them to end up sounding abortive and incomplete, but the inverse is actually true; each has been honed to a diamond-fine point and completes its given task with the utmost efficiency.

The diversity of style is one of the biggest sells of ‘Heads will roll’ – it’s all 80s-style metal of course, but the songs sway between differing approaches to ripping speedsters and fist-pumping anthems with such fluidity that that CD seems even shorter than it actually is, rushing past in a joyous, energetic blur.

In fact, were it not for Overkill’s ‘Ironbound’, I’d go so far as to say there won’t be another 2010 CD that opens with such a relentless stream of amazing songs. “Livin’ without fear” and “Blade of Katana” are as brilliant examples of galloping traditional metal you’re likely to hear these days, the unrelenting lead guitar mesmerising and the soaring vocals of Johan Bernspång nothing short of amazing, especially when it comes to the raging choruses. “Phoenix on fire” mixes it up a bit by beginning on a grooving, Dio-style riff but launching into a higher tempo with the stratospheric chorus, the best on the CD and one of the most majestically inspiring I have heard in what feels like an eternity.

For a short CD with a lot of fast moments, there is always the danger it would all fall down when the band decide to slow things up a little, but the midtempo songs on ‘Heads will roll’ stand proud and don’t feel out of place next to their more exuberant brethren. “Asia in sight” is particularly impressive, it’s crushing riffs a great counterpoint to the roaring pace of the faster songs, and Bernspång displays a commanding presence that shows there is a lot more to his game than wailing falsettos.

No discussion of the CD’s slower moments would be complete, though, without mentioning the closing track, “Quest for hades”. Spending several minutes quietly building ominous intensity in a doomy opening period (at 6 minutes in length it is a veritable titan on this CD), it suddenly explodes into glorious life while retaining the oppressive atmosphere, and will have the listener begging for mercy by the time it finally comes to a juddering conclusion. Standing alone as something completely different to the preceding 8 songs, it ends the CD in an unexpected and suitably brilliant fashion and displays one last facet of the deceptively rounded sound Katana have crafted for themselves.

With so much music in the same style currently battling for attention, it will be easy for bands to start slipping through the cracks, but make sure at all costs that you don’t allow Katana to become one of them. ‘Heads will roll’ is the real deal, displaying all the honest endeavour, magnificent performances and inspired songwriting you could possibly hope for from a CD in this style.

(Originally written for