6/21/2012 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Being the old school Euro-metal nut that I am, I was pretty thrilled to hear that Finish/Swedish cult favorites Oz had returned to action after an absence of roughly two decades. Three fifths of the classic lineup that produced the legendary 1983 release "Fire in the Brain" and its two follow-ups is intact here, the unfortunate exceptions being original fret-burners Speedy Foxx and Spooky Wolff.
"Burning Leather" finds those enigmatic shredders replaced by Costello Hautamäki and Markku Petander, though both of them have since been replaced by yet another fleet-fingered duo for live purposes. In any case, the sound is crisp and the guitar work more than competent on this collection of new songs and re-recorded versions of classic Oz tracks (all but one from either "Fire in the Brain" or its followup, "III: Warning," curiously ignoring the band's other releases.)
Opening cut and first music video "Dominator" leaps from the speakers and crashes into the room with a simple, crackling snare drum fill before its circular minor key melodic riff kicks in. It's a decent opener, but probably the weakest of the new tracks, featuring a short, minimalist lead break and a chorus that is reasonably catchy but not particularly distinctive or original.
Things get better from there on, with old chestnuts like "Search Lights" and "Third Warning" bringing back memories of the band's glorious early days, and some of the "new" tracks sounding like they could have been written shortly after the band's underrated 1986 album "Decibel Storm." Of those new cuts, "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" emerges as the strongest in my opinion – pretty much the closest the band get to "Fire in the Brain" quality here. It doesn't quite hit that high mark, but wouldn't have been a bad addition to either "III: Warning" or "Decibel Storm."
Miraculously, Ape Di Martini's vocal range and idiosyncrasies are pretty much fully intact on this album. The only frustrating factors for me are the somewhat thin and clanky production (though, to be fair, it does have more clarity than most of the band's early recordings.) and the guitar work, which is skillfully done, but lacking the intensity and sense of adventure that maestros Foxx and Wolff brought to the Oz albums of old.
Still, as much as I miss Speedy and Spooky (whose current whereabouts appear to be unknown), it's good to see Ape, bassist Jay C. Blade and drummer Mark Ruffneck bringing back the awesome Oz name in a manner that is faithful to their classic sound and style. As it stands, "Burning Leather" is a solid basis on which to launch a second quest for world domination, though it simultaneously makes me hold out hope that perhaps the band can deliver a full platter of quality new stuff in the Oz tradition.
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