Originally published in HeavyRiff No.35 | Read it right here.
Katana has just released its third album: The Greatest Victory.
According to Tobias Karlsson, this is also the greatest step in Katana history so far.
Here is what he said to HeavyRiff.
- Oh, we have definitely not been inactive! In 2012 after we released Storms of War we went on tour together with Hardcore Superstar, a fellow band from Gothenburg, Sweden. That was a lot of fun, our first real tour. The rest of 2012 we spent playing gigs as much as we could and promoting the album which did really well.
In 2013 we set out to record an EP, we wanted to do something around May since both our previous albums had been released in May. We recorded 4 songs which we felt turned out so good that we wanted them to be on a proper album. So what we did was that we planned and shot our first music video for the song Yakuza, which was released in May 2013.
The rest of the songs we kept for this new album, The Greatest Victory. In the sumer of 2013 we went on tour with Steelwing and Lancer from Sweden and played gigs and festivals in central Europe. After that we started rehearsing and preparing for our biggest tour yet, the Storms over Europe tour together with the former Sabaton members of Civil War. We played all over Europe in February of 2014, a fantastic tour where we met a lot of new friends along the road! After that, everything focused on the new album. We wrote songs and rehearsed for all of 2014, doing occational gigs. In November we entered the studio to record the album.
We also did some touching up on the songs we had recorded the previous year and thus, The Greatest Victory was finished. It was slated for release – of course – in May of 2015 but differences of opinion with our label led us to break with them. In early 2015 we discussed some alternatives but we ended up deciding that we were going to release this album on our own label. During our career as a band we have been used to doing almost everything we ourselves and we felt it was time to take the whole step and just do it ourselves.
That meant a lot of planning and stuff so the album was delayed until November, but it feels great to be in complete control of everything! Now we are preparing like crazy for everything to be ready for release, and it feels great!
So as you can see, we have not been on the lazy side!
- Your last album appeared with the Kubilai Khan concept. Does this new album will have a concept?
- We did not set out to write this album with a concept in mind. We had a few different ideas for songs, and we just built it from there. Though if you look at the songs in retrospect there are some themes which keep popping up.
A lot of the lyrics on this album are about taking responsibility, of cleaning up your own mess, of going through tough periods and emerging victorious. I think that is where we found the title of the album, The Greatest Victory.
So in that sense the title refers to us on a pretty personal level, even though the lyrics are about a wide variety of subjects. Of course there is some Japanese mythology and history, and the song Yakuza. But then there are some songs, like on the previous albums, which do not have anything to do with Japan or the samurai.
- This will be your third album with the same line up, isn't it? How important has been for Katana sound keep the same members?
- I would say it has been tremendously important. Everyone in this band contributes something to the sound and the overall feel of the songs and the writing. We all speak the same musical language and understand each other very well.
We have done some gigs over the years with stand in musicians for various reasons and it´s never the same. It´s a lot more than just the playing, it´s the chemistry and attitude we have towards each other in this band that creates the Katana sound.
- When did you begin to write the album? How different was the creative process in comparison to the first two albums?
- It’s difficult to say exactly when we started writing this album. Ideas keep popping up in our heads all the time and you never know when an idea will turn into a song that will eventually be on an album. One song on this album, an instrumental song called The Void was at one time supposed to be on Storms of War but we decided it would fit better on the next album. And Yakuza was almost finished when Storms of War came out. But we started working on the songs for real in early 2014.
The creative process for this album was very similar to our first album, Heads Will Roll, rather than our second album. On Storms of War we wrote pretty much everything during a period of six months and then recorded the album. For this album, and for the first, we had more time to let ideas grow and form naturally and we had time to try out different ideas for each song. And I think the end result is more similar to Heads Will Roll as well, there is more diversity on this album, which I definitely see as a good thing!
- After all these years and two albums. In which aspects do you consider Katana has grown up as a band?
- I think one important thing you learn along the way is which things to prioritize. In the beginning we were very focused on tiny details which may or may not have mattered so much. I think over the years we have become more confident that we are on the right track as a band and with our music and that means we don´t have to be so nitpicky about everything, we just do what we do. This is, I think, evident in our new songs as well. We can incorporate more diversity into the material without being afraid of straying outside of boundaries that, in the end, no one cares about but us.
- In your experience throughout these years, do you think someday Heavy Metal will wear out? I mean, will we ever see the day when every song of every band sound the same? Do you see this kind of risk in the future?
- Well in a way I see that kind of risk already today. Much of the music of today that people call “metal” is just mass produced soulless music that sound the same as any pop song on radio, just played with more distortion.
But on the other hand there are a lot of bands that make original real heavy metal and considering how much this genre has grown over the last five years or so with new young bands from all over the world looking back to the good old days of the eighties when metal was fresh and new I am not worried in the slightest.
There might be ups and downs in the popularity of this music, but there will always be true fans of the music that will be inspired to keep the real metal alive.
- What makes Katana a different band from all the current Heavy Metal bands?
- When I look around at many of the other bands in roughly the same genre as us today, I think one of the biggest differences is that we are not afraid to be a bit modern. It has almost become a dogma, this competition among bands of who can sound and look the most eighties old school.
We use modern recording equipment and make sure our albums sound the best they can, we listen to old as well as new bands for inspiration and we are not afraid to use any aspect of clothing, instrument, sound or look that we want just because it might not fit in the timeframe of the early eighties. That is part of what I said about the growing up as a band thing. We are not as concerned with those things now as we once were.
- How do you manage to don't sound the same? Is Katana worried about it?
- We have a very clear philosophy about playing the music that we want, and feel comfortable with. We are not in the business of constantly re-defining ourselves and have everything new sound “completely different from everything we have ever done”.
I think that is a cliché that too many bands have worked with in the past. I think as long as we are having fun and being creative we will write songs that feel new, fresh and fun to listen to while at the same time being recognized as Katana.
Four years have passed since you released your debut album and three since the sophomore album. In retrospective, how do you feel about those albums? Is there anything you'd like to change or you are satisfied?
After we recorded and released them there were tons of things we wanted to change! I think particularly me, I was very nitpicky with everything. Of course I liked the albums and was very proud of the results but I was constantly reminded of stuff I had wanted to do differently.
But now, as some time has passed, when I listen to the album I hear none of that. I am more proud of the two previous albums now than ever before. They sound awesome. A perfect testament to what we were as a band back then. I would not want them any other way.
- In 2013 you released the Yakuza video. Tell me, how was the making of the video? That was your first video so far!
- As I said, we decided to make a music video because we wanted to release something in May on the 1 year mark from the previous album. I had written the song Yakuza and felt that it was a very straightforward, hit song kind of deal that would make a perfect song for a video.
So we started brainstorming some ideas and ended up on this secret society free mason thing that decides to put a stop to heavy metal, and of course Katana finds out about it and brings in the cavalry to put a stop to it!
The shooting was a hectic two days followed by a week of editing and we learned a lot that we take with us for future video recordings.
- I like the "Heavy Metal Abolition Act", who came up with the idea? Is hard to believe that it is not so far from reality, don't you think so?
- I came up with the idea and it worked very well I think! It is of course based to some degree on the Tipper Gore vs Twister Sister and the PMRC business in the mid-eighties. But it is of course done with a great deal of humor and I think this is not something that is likely to happen today, not in our parts of the world at least. But who know.
- Does Yakuza belong to the same creative process of your new album? Is in the Greatest Victory tracklist?
- It is indeed track #2 on The Greatest Victory! It was one of the first songs that was finished for the new album and was recorded in 2013 along with two other songs that appear on the album. It is a song that I feel is much closer in style to the songs I wrote for Heads Will Roll and so are the rest of the songs I wrote for this album. I feel they all turned out extremely well.
- Which are your plans after you release this new album? Do you already have some dates or something? A new video maybe?
- There will definitely be a new video in the near future for a song from the new album. We are still not 100 % decided on which one. On the October the 20th we will do a big stage show in Gothenburg, Sweden to celebrate the new album. We will play most of it, if not all of it, live for the first time and that’s going to be great. We are preparing like crazy for it right now. After that we will work hard for the rest of the year to promote the album and we are in discussions with some agencies regarding 2016 gigs. I cannot say much more at the moment but I think 2016 will be a big year for Katana!
- Please invite the readers to listen your new album. What will they find?
- This album is an accumulation of almost three years of hard work, a defining period of what Katana is as a band. As I have said earlier if you have listened to Katana before you will feel right at home on this album, we are comfortable with the music we write and play and are not in the business of constantly re-defining ourselves. But we have thought hard about what musical territories we have not yet explored and tried to steer our way into those territories.
I am especially pleased with song #4, Nuclear War, which is a bombastic mid-tempo song with a heavy riff in the Balls to the Wall kind of way. Really cool. Then we have the two closing songs which kind of tie into each other.
The first one is instrumental with no lyrics, though it was written by our singer Johan. It turned out great and our drummer Anders does the work of his life with this song, really groovy stuff! The second one, the closing track, is an awesome, atmospheric, slow, emotional song that is quite different from anything we´ve done before. It feels more 70s than 80s and is the perfect closing track. It pays homage in a way to Rainbow-style Dio I think. You´re gonna love it.
Of course there are also fast and furious metal songs on this album as well as a lot of melodic stuff, sing-along choruses and of course the trademark blazing guitar solos of Patrik Essén; he does the best work he´s ever done on this album! Overall I´d say there isn´t even one track I can pick out as a favorite right now. They´re all great, and I can´t wait for you all to hear it!
- Do you have any final comment for all the HeavyRiff readers?
- ¡Saludos! We really hope you will like the new album and that we´ll see you on the road in the future! When we played in Spain we were blown away by the cheer passion of the crowds, no matter how great or small.
What a fantastic experience! We really hope to be able to visit Central and South America sometime soon and we expect nothing less from the crowds over there! Until then, stay metal!!