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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.