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Finland's Unsung 80's Heavy Metal Cult Classic - 89%

Sigillum_Dei_Ameth, November 2nd, 2009

Finland has given the metal world it’s fair share of excellent acts over the years (Horna, Archgoat, Beherit, etc.) as well as some I’m not a fan of (Children of Bodom, Nightwish, and others), but generally speaking Finland is definitely worth it’s weight in producing quality over quantity. Up until a few year ago I was browsing the internet and I read about a band called Oz who were and still are considered one of the best Finnish heavy metal bands from the 80’s. Well I am as much of a NWOBHM/traditional heavy metal fan as much as the next head banger so I tracked a few Mp3’s. Checked them off, ordered a copy of their “Fire In The Brain” LP on CD, waited and what I got in the mail is what everyone was raving about; excellent, criminally underrated 80’s hard rock/heavy metal/NWOBHM from Finland.

The album “Fire In The Brain” is the second full-length release from Oz is considered it’s best album from the band and has earned a cult status amongst metal heads over the years. Oz, the band themselves, are just a well-rounded group of musicians who knew how to perform their instruments and with a singer that may be considered stock for it’s time, but definitely has an identity of his own. It’s obvious of some of the influences and I will discuss more specifically what they are influenced by but when I first heard this I thought “Holy shit! This is like a Finnish version of Raven from the UK!”. The lead singer Ape De Martini sounds so much like Raven’s John Gallager is surprising that he didn’t get sued, but there are times where Ape and the rest of Oz go beyond the obvious Raven influence to where they are easily their own force to not mess with as any band that busted it’s ass for year and managed to find it’s identity. Guitarists Spooky Wolf and Speedy Foxx; fucking genius stage names rip out everything from Dio-era Black Sabbath, Raven, Scorpions, Motorhead to even some fucking ZZ Top! Yeah listen to the rock boogie get-down of “Megalomaniac” and tell me if that groove doesn’t remind you of that killer fucking car and hot bitches around it.

The great thing about “Fire In The Brain” is that this is the cheesy kind of occult-laced heavy metal that a Mid-western kid who was looking for an escape from it’s boring existence is bound to start drawing pentagrams over. It’s a quarter cheesiness, a quarter rocking, a quarter serious, and a quarter dead-on with the times that at whole it represents everything great about 80’s heavy metal in general. “Fire In The Brain” also includes some of the most 80’s iconic heavy metal album artwork of all time just due to the fact that black metal godfather Quorthon of Bathory is holding a goofy-looking candle wax skull on fire with spiked wristbands and a gauntlet strapped on with bleeding fingers. It’s like looking at the cover of a big box VHS horror movie from Thriller or Wizard Video in the 80’s from your local video store with your best friend looking for cheap thrills and shit and giggles. You both know what you’re in for and are going to spend the rest of the night memorizing it. It’s the music that good times are made of.

For most than the first half of the album you are witnessed to a good variety of songs with tempo changes, genre changes, and general craziness. The opening to the song “Search Light” is a warped vinyl LP sound that when sped-up properly is the song itself. Remember that Raven influence? Yeah this is total “Faster Than The Speed of Light”-sounding. Complete cousin of Raven‘s “Wiped Out”-era. Not saying it’s a rip-off or anything negative, but if I were to put anything up against “Wiped Out” this album would surely be that to contend with. Strong head banging opener that will have you dusting off your denim jacket. “Fortune” sounds a lot like Scorpions “Big City Nights” as far as tempo goes. “Black Candles” is dark and melodic with a Mercyful Fate feel to it and obvious the occult-laced lyrics give off that tone. “Gambler” and “Feel Me, Free Me” both are a more speedier Motorhead “Stone Deaf Forever” with it’s hard living and rebellious lyrics. “Stop Believin’” begins with one of the more wilder up tempo melodies I have heard in a while. The title track “Fire In the Brain” completes the 360 degree circle by taking us right back to the Raven influence and sound that we first heard on the first song “Search Lights” that will have you bouncing up and down in a giddy way singing “Fire in the brain, driving me insane!” all day long. I can honestly say there isn't a bad song on here at all. Somewhere between the songs "Black Candles" and the ending title track the band doesn't pull as many surprises, but that's not to say it's bad, it's just that you are expecting them.

After “Fire In The Brain” Oz put out a few more LPs that tried to recapture the youthful metal mania of what gained them a cult favorite amongst diehard metal followers, but outside of the following, equally as good EP “Turn the Cross Upside Down“….Oz failed. It’s a shame because they had all the right things going for them that would have made them even more famous, but due to the superstitious mindset the band succumbed to after receiving a royalty check of 666 dollars for their more-than-obvious EP title, they were scared straight. If you are looking for an album that is nothing but good times, head banging and fast cars, this is it. Totally worth owning a piece of not only Finnish heavy metal but heavy metal history itself.

Fire in the brain, driving me insane!! - 85%

maverickvkz, August 8th, 2008

Finland is commonly known for giving birth to many talented power/symphonic metal bands, and its most representative 90’s icons such as Nightwish, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, or Children of Bodom have built a respected legacy, which has inspired many other bands to emerge and tell their own stories to the thirsty and exigent metal heads out there. However, many years before any of these bands were born, the roots of Scandinavian heavy metal over flooded the studios, with such acts as Hanoi Rocks and Crashdiet, which focused more on the sleaze metal field, and emulated the North American “hair” metal superstars. Many other bands, in the contrary, were sucked in by the NWOBHM boom, and decided to build their sound using many particular elements of the British bands which blew the radios by that time. Within this shockwave, there was a Finnish band named Oz, whose short-lived success appeared after a major splash hit that they delivered in 1983 with Fire in the brain, a worthy electrifying release , which has been considered as a huge cult material among the old school listeners. If you want to know more about it, just keep on reading.

Half an hour is all you need to feel the energetic rush of 80’s heavy metal revived one more time, with “Fire in the brain”, the second full-length album of these Scandinavian musicians. Eero Hamalainen, who was Oz’s first singer, was fired and replaced by Ape de Martini, who proved from day 1 to be the adequate front man for the band, filling Eero’s shoes like no one else could have ever done. De Martini’s vocals aren’t new to any experienced metal listener, because they quickly remind you of Queensrÿche’s Geoff Tate, but more low-pitched, raspier and less polished. However, he doesn’t force his voice too much, unless it’s necessary, and he doesn’t sing the traditional falsettos that any vocalist of the genre decorates in his songs, so I applaud the fact that Ape de Martini always tried to keep a personality for his voice. Sometimes his performance is average in songs like Black candles and he goes with the flow, but there are many other moments where Ape totally shines. That’s the case of the opener and all-time classic headbanger Search lights, which I’ve always compared with Iron Maiden’s The number of the beast, because of their similar features (Powerful double bass drumming, dual guitars, catchy melodies, etc). This is a rip-roaring barrel of fun for the listener, which could easily have battled against any NWOBHM anthem of 1983, and slaughtered hundreds of fan favourites on its way. Gambler is a song in the same vein of the former, with more dedicated guitar arrangements, and it also allows the listener to continue enjoying of De Martini’s finest moments.

While the ominous atmosphere of the album takes control of your mind, it also leaves perfectly clear that it’s impossible to find a single moment of boredom. Each song takes you to different levels of excitement, and they only last over three minutes, (With the exception of the ritual-like semi ballad Black candles) or little more. There’s no need to waste more time in mindless instrumental solos or masturbatory shredding, like most of the bands do today, because when the talent is legit, the music’s fluency and strength is more than enough to prove it.

Straight forward lyrics involving occult, gambling, and rebellion transform the record into a breathtaking hellish voyage, where the similarity of the rhythms in songs as Stop Believin’ and the title track Fire in the brain doesn’t affect the outstanding intensity of the album. There are interesting shifts, where the speed decreases, but the energy is kept from the first up to the last minute, nonetheless. Scathing guitar distortions in mid-paced songs as Free me, leave me, which includes a dirty crafted guitar break with a satisfying and agile performance by the drummer, reflect the positive evolution that Oz experienced in less than a year. Megalomaniac starts with an aggressive shredding a la Eddie Van Halen, just to be followed by a heavy tune with an interesting hard rock oriented vibe, which grabs you and doesn’t let go. The title track closes the album, where the catchy chorus becomes the center of attention, so prepare those lungs and start to sing with me: Fire in the brain, driving me insane, fire in the brain, taking me high… Fire in the brain, driving me insane… Fire in the brain, making me blind!

Once you finish listening to “Fire in the brain”, you’ll surely have one thing in mind: After their bizarre debut called Heavy metal heroes, these Scandinavians returned to the scene with a gem that shows how the band has motherfucking improved in a 300%. No kidding. You never get tired of listening to the release, no matter how many times you’ve played it. It has a magnetic replay value (Very hard to find in these days), which increases its score significantly, and makes it worthwhile. I don’t have any complaints about the sound quality, no matter how much I’ve tried to find one, at least, and this is an undeniable proof of how committed Oz was with their music.

Don’t forget that still with all of their NWOBHM features and similarities, they were NOT part of this wave, but hell… These guys really captured most of the genre’s magic, and created a heavy metal killing monster. Unfortunately, Oz didn’t continue in the same line of “Fire in the brain” in their subsequent albums, but instead flew towards new horizons, and perhaps experimented more than they should, which ultimately diminished their fame. Too bad Oz couldn’t capitalize the success that they gained on 1983, because otherwise, we still might as well be enjoying of their music today.

HIGHLIGHTS: Search lights, Gambler, Megalomaniac, Fire in the brain.

Frantic, headbanging madness! - 90%

Empyreal, May 24th, 2007

Oz was a rather unknown Finnish band from the 80s, who released five albums before splitting up, and this was apparently their best. It's stripped down, catchy, and energetic heavy metal of the old school style, similar to some NWOBHM bands and perhaps some of the US power metal outfits, and it's really rather hard to classify or compare to other bands. I hear a definite Maiden influence in the faster songs, and some obvious Black Sabbath. The whole thing is wrapped up in a heavy, hard-hitting production that's great to headbang to. Oz have created here a very satisfying and powerful heavy metal album that should quench most 80s metal fans' thirst for more goodness.

The vocalist doesn't really sound like anybody else I've ever heard, with a distinct bounce and energy to his deep bellow that gives him a very distinct style and sound. His choruses are very catchy, as are the bludgeoning, hyperfast riffs that hit you like bullets from a machine gun in almost every song here, along with the drums, which hit equally as hard. The songs are mostly very fast paced and headbangable, almost to the point of sacrificing melody for riffage and sounding chaotic, but of course it doesn't. It's rather tiring to listen to after a while, actually, because this album never really lets up on the speed and riffs, save for one song, the mystical, occult "Black Candles." It's got a spellbinding vocal preformance and actually lets up on the riffs for some nice atmosphere parts. Very evil in the old Mercyful Fate sense, and a nice fucking song. Other standouts include the melodic and catchy "Free Me, Leave Me", the furious riff barrage of the opener "Search Lights", and the closing title track, which is the catchiest song here. But hell, every song here is essential, naming standouts is just a waste of energy.

One thing I must mention about this disc is how fucking hyperactive it is, as I stated above. This disc never lets up, not throughout it's whole 27 minute runtime. I would complain about it being so short, but if this were much longer, there'd be people in dire need of a chiropractor after listening. This might not be as fast as your Hibria and DragonForce, but what it does pack is an arsenal of frantic, maniacal riffs that send me into a headbanging frenzy as soon as I hear them, no matter how bored I am of them. The band must've been on some kind of euphoriating high when writing these, because the most interesting characteristic of this album is just the fact that it keeps coming at you, like a wild animal on the prowl. It doesn't back down, go soft, or give you any leeway. The songs are short because they don't need to be longer, because making them longer would make them dull and trite, and thus the short running time of the disc is acceptable.

This is a very fun, catchy, and short disc of above-average 80s heavy metal, and anyone can enjoy this kind of stuff. I don't know how easy it will be to find, but you'd do well to check it out if you come across it. Recommended.

Fire everywhere - 87%

Gutterscream, February 26th, 2005

“I’m the fastest, loudest son of a bitch when it comes to rock n’ roll.”

Here’s a band that never really propelled their sound in one direction and were always one of the more non-categorical bands that arose from the early '80s. Despite this, they have always had a distinct sound to me. If you had first heard their soggy debut, Heavy Metal Heroes, then you may not have been expecting much from Fire in the Brain, but if ‘84’s Third Warning had been your first stepping stone, you may have been galvanized to seek out their previous endeavors. Luckily, my first taste of this Swedish/Finnish (= Scandinavian) group was the awesome “Search Lights”, the album's screaming kick-off. With my then-neophyte interest aroused, I sought out Fire in the Brain.

There is a substantial difference between the debut and sophomore release that doesn’t take a NASA code breaker to discover. Not only is the overall sound thicker and produced with bombshell extravaganza, the songwriting and execution of it all had been thrust to much more aggressive levels as opposed to the jogging pace and lightly belligerent tone of the debut. On top of that, The Oz's (Eero Hamalainen) paltry singing style jumped/was thrown off ship for the more forceful and insistent vox of his new pseudonym Ape De Martini, his voice lightly rough in a medium-high pitch that commands much of the attention in the faster tracks.

“Search Lights” extracts all the heaviness from the debut and explodes with it here. The chorus is dynamic in its anxiety and the coolly simple main riff has me rockin’ out in my jeep with the top down and doors off even today (and I actually received a noise ordinance ticket a few years back while blaring it on a main drag). “Fortune” slows for a breather, sounding like it could’ve been a debut leftover, then with the wild opening guitar solo of “Megalomaniac”, that composure is lanced and refills with more whiplash-reared distress. Eerie is the atmosphere of “Black Candles”, an epic length tale about black magic and Satanic rituals that builds with impending heaviness several times until its detonation of speed at the end to close side one.

Boisterous “Gambler”, one of my faves, is a perpetually-driven, chorus-ratified instigator that has no problem setting up camp in my head, meanwhile “Stop Believin’” and “Free Me, Leave Me” maintain the album's hard-hearted fervor. Finishing the lp is the title cut, intriguing with its 'dainty' chorus and breathing the hope for the next release.

Unfortunately, this is the only Oz slab I truly like to any grand extent, for Third Warning’s songwriting swayed into subtler, slightly more watered down realms somewhere in the year between releases. Anything beyond that wasn’t really even Oz anymore. Well, at least they gave us Fire in the Brain.

Even more useless fun fact 87d:-: I really learned the nooks and crannies of Fire in the Brain while reading the book Helter Skelter for a 9th grade comparison/contrast English paper (comparing Manson to Lizzie Borden, for which I would learn there is no comparison) by almost unconsciously flipping the record so it just played over and over and over. If you thought "Black Candles" was creepy on its own...heh. Now I can’t think of one without the other.