They've got the sound and the looks, but not quite the songs and consistency
Old school heavy metal with a dominant N.W.O.B.H.M. influence has undergone a big resurgence over the last decade, with acts such as Stormwitch, Enforcer, Steelwing, Striker and Skullfist just some of the acts making a name for themselves within the scene.
Another new name emerging from the underground is Gothenburg (Sweden) based outfit Katana, who despite having been around the scene since 2006 (marked by the release of their debut E.P. Heart of Tokyo the same year), have just unleashed their debut effort Heads Will Roll.
As you would expect, there’s a fair bit of Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Accept worship in the band’s sound, with plenty of the harmonised dual guitar work that made the above mentioned acts so great in the first place. And sure enough, there’s plenty of that classic sound on the album’s opening track Livin’ Without Fear. Fast paced, full of Iron Maiden’s trademark gallop, chock full of clean lead work (courtesy of guitarists Patrik Essén and Tobias Karlsson) and a front man (Johan Bernspång) who’s vocals bring to mind a cross between Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray/ex-Helloween), Livin’ Without Fear is certainly one of the genuine highlights on the album, and the sort of track that well and truly makes clear Katana’s firm grasp of the classic ‘80’s metal sound.
Not to be outdone, the follow-up track Blade of Katana is every bit as impressive as the opener with its faster pacing, strong riffs, catchy choruses and brief lead guitar solos, while on the personal favourite Phoenix on Fire, the band (who also comprise of bassist Susanna Salminen and drummer Anders Persson) show that they can also handle slower and more groove based material with relative ease, which in turn showcases a greater Dio/Accept influence within their sound and song writing.
Although boasting a strong and catchy chorus, Bernspång’s attempts to hit some low notes at the start of Neverending World don’t really hit the mark and only highlight his strong accent in a way that doesn’t work in the band’s favour, while Across the Stars, despite sounding quite adventurous and different from the remainder of the album, doesn’t sound like it’s a natural fit for the band with its varying tempo changes and modernised and heavily harmonised choruses.
But while the album does have a few tracks that don’t quite stand against the stronger efforts (the lengthy Iron Maiden-like closer Quest for Hades is another that just doesn’t work due to its somewhat blatant influences and its over the top cheesy elements), the band do what they do best when they simply don’t over-think things and just deliver classic metal – which is more than evident in tracks such as Heart of Tokyo, Asia in Sight and Rebel Ride.
Heads Will Roll isn’t quite the all out classic that its made out to be, but it is a solid first effort for Katana, and the kind of release that genuinely honours and salutes the golden era of classic metal in style.