Released: 2011, AFM Records
It is no secret that some of the key factors in the longevity of certain Metal bands are the passion and drive of the artists and fans. There are certain bands that avoid trends, ignore the fads, and continue on year after year, with or without commercial success. They continue to write, record and tour because, like us they love Metal. I would hazard a guess that at this point 30 years into a career, it’s not about the fame and fortune. I happened to notice that recently seven classic bands have reached (or are about to reach) their 30th anniversary and all of them have put our new, full-length studio albums in the past few months. 30 years is a long time in any career, especially one as fickle as the Rock ’n’ Roll business. This month, I decided to pay tribute to these fine bands in a feature where I review all their most recent releases. As of 2012, most of these bands have little or no representation on this site, and I’m here to fix that. It’s hard to imagine that almost 30 years ago, as a teenager, I was buying the debut albums of all of these bands, on cassette! The bands in this feature are Burning Starr (US), Exxplorer (US) Halloween (US), Mad Max (Ger), Oz (Fin), Sinner (Ger), Vengeance (Hol). They are the unsung, heads-down, in the trenches, Metal veterans that emerged in the very early 80’s, and are still going strong. They deserve your respect and attention.
Oz are back! That’s great news for us older fans. Formed in the late 70’s, Oz put out five albums (between 1982 and 1991) and then they took a twenty-year break. I was quite surprised to see that they were coming back. Well, not that shocked as so many bands from the 80’s are reforming to meet demand for the classic sound, but still it was pleasant to see them back in action. The new album, BURNING LEATHER leaves a bit to be desired as half of it are re-recorded songs from the first part of their career, but it can’t hurt to reintroduce some of their best songs to the new generation of fans. Those cuts are heavy drawn from the second and third albums, FIRE IN THE BRAIN and III WARNING respectively. That’s OK because I like those records and it is good to hear and compare the modern version of those old cuts.
Mark Ruffneck the drummer and founding member is the only original member still around and the lineup (except for Mark) is completely revamped from the last album ROLL THE DICE in 1991..but…Ape DeMartini and Jay C Blade from the classic 80’s albums are back on board. Ape Demartini will never be accused of being a talented singer but man, what a great rock ’n’ roll voice. His gruffness reminds me of Rock ‘n’ Rolf (Running Wild) or Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger) and he has some awesome screams laced throughout the album.
Some of the songs show their age. Cuts like ‘Turn The Cross Upside Down’ in retrospect are an interesting look back in time. Back then, in 1984 when that song came out, that would have been a controversial lyric with singing about Satan and burning churches but today it seems mild, especially when coupled with the anthemic 80’s metal beat. The song reminds me of the band Coven in a way, namely just good dumb fun that might piss off a few folks along the way. All of the new songs fit really well and it seems the band hasn’t missed a beat in the intervening two decades. They still write songs like it was back in the day namely a rough and raw NWOBHM sound. The leadoff song ‘Dominator’, the pounding ‘Enter Stadium’ and the title track ‘Burning Leather’ are all worthy of being in the Oz catalogue. I swear ‘Enter Stadium’ could have been on an older (pre-STAY HUNGRY) Twisted Sister album or maybe even a Helix record.
For me this is a fun nostalgia trip. Will Oz be really critical in the development and advancement of the Metal genre here in 2012? Probably not, but BURNING LEATHER does demonstrate that a unwavering commitment to the authentic Metal sound coupled with good performances and enthusiastic execution will have them winning even more fans. Total Metal indeed!