Oz on Apple Music

Oz

Finland's first foray into the international heavy metal arena -- at least the first one hailed by critics and fans alike -- Oz's 1983 LP, Fire in the Brain, captured lightning in a bottle for a band whose career was otherwise mired in personnel issues and stylistic inconsistencies. Although the group was originally founded in 1977, in the small Finnish burg of Nakkila, around vocalist the Oz (real name Eero Hämälainen), its slow rise from obscurity would go largely undocumented until 1982, when the band's debut album, entitled HM Heroes, was released by Swedish independent Tyfon Grammofon.

By then, Oz's lineup was completed by guitarist Kari Elo, bassist Tauno Vajavaara, and drummer Mark Ruffneck (aka Pekka Mark), but only the latter would remain with Oz a year later, when they delivered their aforementioned masterstroke, Fire in the Brain, featuring Pekka, lead singer Ape De Martini (real name Tapani Anselm), guitarists Speedy Foxx and Spooky Wolff (Jurki Taipele), and bassist Jay C. Blade (aka Jukka Homi, ex-Sarcofagus). The record saw Oz reborn as a fire-breathing modern metal ensemble significantly inspired by the raw spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and, on a little-known trivia note, its endearingly kitsch cover (as well as that of subsequent single, "Turn the Cross Upside Down") was designed by future Bathory mastermind Quorthon, whose father owned the band's label.

Subsequent albums like 1984's III Warning and 1986's Decibel Storm (both cut following a relocation to Stockholm) were marked as much by creative stagnation as they were by aesthetic decline. Their fans were not amused and abandoned the band in droves, leading to a breakup and/or hiatus (depending on who was asked) that lasted until 1991, when De Martini and Ruffneck convened a new, mostly Swedish-born Oz lineup, rounded out by guitarist Michael Lundholm, bassist Fredrik Thörnblom, and keyboard player Jörgen Schelander, to record a fifth long-player, Roll the Dice. Another hiatus followed, this time lasting nearly two decades, but in 2011 Ruffneck pieced together a revamped lineup featuring Jay C. Blade, Ape De Martini, Costello Hautamäki, and Markku Petander, and released Burning Leather, which included five new tracks and six re-recorded Oz classics. In 2017 the band released Transition State via AFM Records, their first new set of all original material since 1991. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia

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