Sweden’s Katana reeks of the 80s worse than Judd Nelson’s jean jacket.
There, you get the idea. This is unabashed old school metal that makes no attempt to update one goddamn aspect of music or image. Pants: spandex. Shirts: sleeveless. Production: courtesy of Andy LaRocque. Music: almost exactly like Iron Maiden. (“Almost” because there are hints of other NWOBHM bands and enough extra cheese to bring a bit of Manowar to mind.) Either way, get ready to reach for your Maiden albums, because Storms of War will have you riff-fact-checking in case you get called to the witness stand in the case of Asian Sword v. Torture Device. That case, by the way, is not without merit…
That’s not to say Katana doesn’t know their business, as a few songs really light up the proceedings. But for every burner like “Kubilai Khan” – which actually slays – there are two or three tunes that fail to rise past the passable entertainment level. Some lack the looseness and bar-band mentality that their lyrics demand (“Wrath of the Emerald Witch”); a few just feel bland and clichéd (opener “Reaper” or “The Gambit”), while others still are flat grating. (Get “City On the Edge of Forever” the fuck out of my head.) Worse, a couple songs sound actually plagiarized. Most notable is “In the Land of the Sun,” which seems to lift riffs, structure, and vocal melodies all from Maiden’s more progressive works from Seventh Son and after.
Still, the biggest issue with Storms of War isn’t that it is necessarily weak, it is that these songs are inferior to their influences, and they are only trying to imitate said influences. Imitation is all well and good if it is justified through comparable quality, but outside of a couple tunes, this doesn’t come within 50 standard miles of its source material. The drumming apes Nicko McBrain without having his knack for subtlety. The vocals of Johan Berspang, while skilled, lack the sheer power and charisma that Bruce Dickinson brings, instead giving the album a feel of forced energy. (There’s that Manowar touch.) The riffs are generally stock (more gallops than the Belmont Stakes), with a few inspired lines in the better songs, but for the most part, they feel very lazily written. The leads are quite nice, and typically the highlights of songs, but aren’t quite on the level of the likes of Dave Murray or Kevin Heybourne. The bottom line is that, no matter how hard they try, Katana just isn’t as good of a band as Maiden, Saxon, Angel Witch, or the rest of those from whom they draw inspiration.
Putting a band up to the same standards as these masters is harsh, but Katana made up their own damn minds to ask for it when they did nothing but make a carbon copy (sometimes literally, it seems). It isn’t the worst imitation ever by a long shot, but because it brings absolutely nothing fresh, it is basically as unnecessary as the worst. Most of Storms of War is listenable and parts are quite enjoyable, but why would you ever listen to it? Katana makes music for the type of person who has long given up on discovering something new, and they lack the chops to get through to anyone else. This is a decent piece of hero worship, but 100 times out of 100, I’m going to reach for the real deal(s).