Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Oz - Burning Leather (2011)

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Burning Leather

Oz - Burning Leather
A fixture of the mid-'80s Scandinavian metal scene, Finland's Oz succumbed to the global change in musical tastes after the release their 1991 album Roll the Dice. Nearly 20 years later, bassist Jay C. Blade (Jukka Homi), Mark Ruffneck (Pekka Mark), and Ape De Martini (Tapani Hämäläinen) reunited and - along with guitarists Costello Hautamäki and Markku Petander - re-recorded six songs from the band's back catalog. Packaged along with five new songs, the re-recordings have been released as Oz's classic metal comeback album Burning Leather.

I'm not a fan of "greatest hits" albums, even when those albums contain re-recorded songs and/or a handful of new tracks that serve as teasers. Burning Leather is just such an album. Although the previously released songs sound great and benefit from not being subjected to a fat, modern production makeover, the purist in me still prefers the original versions. So, to spare you from a rant, I'll focus this review on the five new songs mixed in with the older tracks.

What is clear from both sets of songs is that frontman Ape De Martini still has a formidable set of pipes. Sounding like a cross between Biff Byford (Saxon) and Ian Gillen (Deep Purple), De Martini retains mastery of his range and gives a consistently sharp performance. The album literally opens with evidence of his ability, as "Dominator" begins (and ends) with a lengthy and rather wicked high note. Later, on "Seasons in the Darkness", De Martini channels Dio as the slow-burning, bluesy track seems to pay homage to the legendary frontman. The only instance where De Martini's delivery is less than flawless comes during the early stages of the title track. A few of his high notes seem a little jagged, but this is really just a speck in an otherwise commendable performance. Despite the minor vocal stumble, "Burning Leather" stands shoulder-to-shoulder with "Seasons in the Darkness" as my favorite new songs on the album. The title track sports a very catchy riff and a rather scorching solo, while "Seasons in the Darkness" offers up some fine bass elements and one of the album's more soulful guitar solos.

The remaining three new songs are good, but not up to par with Oz's earlier material. The guitar sound of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" has a bit of a sleazy edge to it and overall the track has a steady, driving pace, but little else stands out. "Enter Stadium" was without doubt written to be a raucous, crowd-pleasing rock anthem. All of the requisite elements are present: gang chorus; slow-and-steady beat; a little bit of boogie to the riffs. Unfortunately, it lies just a tad too close to the KISS favorite "I Love It Loud".

As an affirmation of Oz's ability to still play some kick ass metal after a 20-year break, Burning Leather serves its purpose well. New music makes up a minority of the album, with the strongest tracks being the vintage ones, leaving questions as to the impact of Burning Leather as a comeback album for the band. Completists should have no qualms about adding this to their collection, though newcomers to Oz are advised to look to the band's back catalog first.

Track Listing
2Search Lights3:39
3Let Sleeping Dogs Lie4:45
4Fire In The Brain3:24
5Seasons In The Darkness5:57
6Turn the Cross Upside Down5:07
7Burning Leather4:50
9Enter Stadium4:42
10Total Metal3:20
11Third Warning4:52
Total Runtime47:32

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