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A worthy debut, after all - 76%

TitaniumNK, February 6th, 2012

I discovered this band not long ago, when I roamed on YouTube aimlessly. When I came across Katana, I thought they have a fucking cool name and found out that they play classic, '80s/Maiden influenced heavy metal. I said ''count me in'' and before you know it, I ended up with their debut album, ''Heads Will Roll''. It's not great, has some significant flaws, but damn, this band know exactly what heavy metal is all about - fun, passion and attitude. Katana has all of that, and aren't afraid of using them.

Like I said, the Maiden factor is very important for Katana's music. Several riffs and bridges (the best ones, actually) are bloody similar to Maiden's trademark riffing with a dead-on sense for melody. Likewise, Katana took lyrical themes from NWOBHM, glorifying liberty, rebellion and passion for living. Musically, this album resembles metal's most glory days in the '80s, and is yet another proof how supposedly surpassed and retrograde music can be powerful with modern production, and more importantly, way better than today's mainstream poor excuse for music. Other than '80s influence, you can clearly hear Hammerfall's influence as well, reflecting in Johan Bernspång's voice (reminding of Joacim Cans) and anthemic, sing-along choruses that are present in most of the songs. With all that in mind, it's as clear as day that Katana's music is made to entertain, with no pretensions to be something it's not, and that's another plus for them.

But this kind of music is a double-edged sword. When it's good, it's mind-blowing, but when it's bad, it's bland and annoying. That's the trap that Katana didn't completely manage to avoid, since there are some great songs here, but some fillers as well. Luckily, on ''Heads Will Roll'' there are more good than bad songs, and after all you can call this a worthy debut.

First, the good aspects. The band performance is very convincing and professional, no half-assed delivery anywhere to be found. The lyrics, while dealing with stereotypical subjects, are actually good, especially the ones on ''Phoenix on Fire'' and ''Quest for Hades''. And finally, the highlights: ''Livin' Without Fear'', ''Phoenix on Fire'' and ''Heart of Tokyo''. All of these songs are excellent, with Katana's songwriting skills reaching its top - melodic, catchy, hooky anthems that are destined to be played live. Let's hope that Katana will be able to pull off more songs like these in the future. Also worth mentioning are ''Neverending World'' for the great chorus and interesting solo part and ''Asia in Sight'' for its unusual lyrical subject - it is actually about discovering of America (Columbus thought he discovered maritime way to India, thus Asia). ''Blade of Katana'' is good, has the famous ''certain lacking'' thing, but in the end it's good enough to improve the quality of this album.

The fillers have, as I mentioned, one big flaw - they sound like you've heard similar songs thousands of times before and are very annoying (Saxon mid '80s era annoying, yeah I know that's bad). Heavy metal shouldn't make you want it to end, but these tunes do. The infamous three are ''Across the Stars'', ''Rebel Ride'' and ''Quest for Hades''. The first two try to invoke trademark '80s heavy metal brilliance, but fail miserably, while ''Quest for Hades'' is very interesting lyrical-wise, but the music sounds rushed and as if its only purpose is to back up the whole lyrical story, instead of being the other way around. Still, despite the overall ''going through motions'' feeling, this song has several interesting ideas, and it probably could've been much better if the song concept was done properly. This is what you get when bands which shouldn't bother with epics because they don't know the first thing about writing them, actually spawn that kind of unholy bastard.

I hope that Katana will listen properly to their debut album, make some thorough analysis and fix the mistakes they made here. I have hope for this band, as they delivered some truly great music on this album, but be assured - they have to get better, otherwise they'll fall into oblivion very soon. With that ominous words, I conclude: this is one good debut, but the improvement is necessary as soon as possible for Katana. I'm waiting for their next move.

Another New Classic Heavy Metal Band - 62%

WishmasterTheDark, September 29th, 2011

Lots of new bands which play classic heavy metal came in last 5 years, and that is very good. They need to remind people how that heavy metal's sub-genre should actually sound like. This band started doing that along with bands like Steelwing, Striker, etc. Is this band so special or different than their influences and other new classic heavy metal bands? I hope this review will explain.

Songs: Heart Of Tokyo, Phoenix On Fire and Livin' Without Fear are the ones that will stay in listener's mind after the first play. These are pure examples of band's talent, creativity and huge potential. They are easily the best songs here. Heart Of Tokyo starts with mind-blowing drums, after that come screaming guitars, and the rest is just perfectly done. You have soaring vocals, great sing-along refrains, extremely well-written lyrics, fast tempo, tasty and very great guitar solos, though there are no memorable riffs. But who cares, this one is really perfect. Livin' Without Fear has melodic guitar intro, and these guitars may remind you of Sonata Arctica's keyboards. I know it's weird, but so true. This song has fast riffs with melodic approach, melodies all way long, great guitar solo, soaring vocals, and it is great sing-along song too. These songs contain insane amount of energy.

Phoenix On Fire is fun to listen, and another awesome sing-along fun. It represents band's attitude, because of lyrics of course. It has really kick-ass refrains, interesting guitar work, and slower tempo. Yes, these songs show how great this band can be, but unfortunately that is all. After them come songs that could have been better, mediocre and really boring ones. Blade Of Katana could have been better, but it just lacks that something, something that songs I mentioned above have. It has memorable refrains, but maybe with more riffs, or better song structure it could have been improved. Before and after refrain it sounds nothing special and not really impressive.

Other songs are totally faceless. Together they can barely offer a good riff, that's mainly because they were focused on lyrics, while they neglected music. In some of these songs instrumental parts only follow the lyrical content. Best example is Quest For Hades, which is an Iron Maiden inspired "tale song". It tells a story about a girl who went into the Hades to find brother's soul, and she has never returned. That's exactly what has happened with this song, it went in my media player, and it will never return there again. Having 80's image and sound doesn't mean you don't need to be creative. This is their first studio album, I know, but there are lots of better heavy metal bands winch released their first album in last 2 years like Kӓlter, Steelwing and Sinbreed.

Good sides of this release:
Good thing is that these guys try to keep the flame of heavy metal music burning. Few outstanding excellent songs. That's all we have here.

Bad sides of this release:
This band is not very special at all. They are just "another new classic heavy metal band". Maybe this is just bad start, I hope they will improve their song writing qualities, it would be better for them. They should concentrate more on making memorable and powerful music, not just writing lyrics.

Highlights:
Livin' Without Fear, Phoenix On Fire and Heart Of Tokyo.

Mine remained securely on my shoulders - 70%

autothrall, May 19th, 2011

Garbed in threads woven straight from the NWOBHM movement at the dawn of the 80s, and a moniker that reads 'white guys (and girl) who want to be associated with something Japanese and therefore cool in the 80s', circa Samurai or Tokyo Blade, I present to thee: Katana. As one of the latest Swedish exports of melodic retro metallurgy, they are not without obvious precedents, from the lately fashionable act Enforcer to the longstanding veterans Hammerfall. That aside, they do a pretty reasonable estimation of a wide array of influences all over the classic British, Swedish and German spectrum, perhaps with a bit of Riot for good measure. Heads Will Roll is a total package, a debut bound to bring some notice, but it doesn't ultimately endure beyond a few entertaining listens.

This is essentially 1981-83 era trad metal rolled up into modern studio gloss and pumping power anthems, somewhere between Europe, Tokyo Blade, Dio, and Maiden. Johan Bernspång, the band's frontman, reminds me of Joacim Cans in tone, a solid set of pipes that tend to safely hover in the higher pitches without shrill, shrieking irritation. The riffs employed in chargers like "Livin' Without Fear" and "Rebel Ride" are busy without being needlessly complex, and several ("Neverending World", "Across the Stars") remind me of highly of Iron Maiden's signature mid paced momentum, Bernspång gearing towards a Dickinson-like phrasing where suitable. There are a number of track that lyrically deliver the Nippon-isms ("Blade of Katana", "Asia in Sight", and of course "Heart in Tokyo"), all keeping in tune with the band's image and concept, but the subject matter also ranges from feel good rockers ("Rebel Ride") to Greek mythology ("Quest for Hades", the most dynamic and innately narrative of the tracks).

The band is tight and the dual leads are flying out everywhere, from the actual solo sequences to the airy stratosphere above the rhythm guitars. The basic tone of the chords is crunchy and powerful, yet the melodies catch enough air to distinguish themselves as a central force. But far less successful is Katana's ability to stand out on an ever expanding field of such artists trying for a bite of nostalgia that they were mostly to young to have experienced first hand. Add to that the fact that we've got hundreds of superb records already in rotation from the formative years of the style, and Heads Will Roll seems a little less revelatory. Though the Swedes pay attention to the details and proffer a pastiche of authentic cliches to suit the less demanding generation just breaking into this scene, I found it a little difficult for my memory to hang onto these tracks. The extra 'magic' that a band like Enforcer conjures is simply missing here, and nothing more than a competent, occasionally catchy mirror of olde remains.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

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 http://www.metalcdratings.com/)