Thursday 4 June 2020

Oz - Forced Commandments (2020)

Country: Sweden
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 22 May 2020
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Here's another metal band from back in the day that I've completely missed out on. They're Oz, who were founded in Nakkila, Finland way back in 1977 and put out some albums during the NWOBHM era, including a poorly received debut in Heavy Metal Heroes but a well received follow up called Fire in the Brain. By that time they'd moved to Sweden, where they remain, and I don't remember seeing their name in the eighties at all but they must surely have been covered in Metal Hammer at least. After five albums, they split up in 1991 and stayed gone until 2010.

This is the third album from the reformed Oz and it sounds great to me, the sound taken from the eighties but eighties but delivered through fresh songs that benefit from the 21st century production. Pekka Mark, who goes by Mark Ruffneck, is the only musician left from the old days, everyone else's time in the band dating back only as far as 2015 or 2016.

It's upbeat stuff, led by Ruffneck's drums, with vibrant twin guitars and a clean operatic vocal. It's old school stuff, rooted in European power metal of the early sort spawned from the NWOBHM. And it's patient stuff, because I could imagine this a lot faster than it is without fundamentally changing it into another genre. The only time they really ramp up is on Liar, which ends the album with a sheer burst of energy. It kicks off with guitar histrionics and then gets faster than anything else on the album. It's never speed metal but there are points where it thinks about it.

What's more, it's consistent stuff. There are eight songs proper here and I would be hard pressed to pick either the best or the worst of them. I'd put their sound somewhere in between the sheer chugging power of Accept and the incessant melodies of Gamma Ray, with Judas Priest style twin guitars and a commerical grounding like Divlje Jagoda that applies to every one of these songs without any exceptions.

My highlights tend to be within songs. Switchblade Alley starts out with an agreeably prowling bass intro from Peppi Peltola. The twin guitar workouts on The Ritual shine, courtesy of Juzzy Kangas and Johnny Gross, as do those at the start of Liar, among others. Those guitars nod at classical in Accept style on Spiders, which gets neatly theatrical late on.

And there's Long and Lonely Road. This is a power ballad and regular readers will know what I tend to think about those. I tend to mention them either as the lowest points of albums or as ones that surprisingly don't annoy me. I'd go a lot further here and state that I actively enjoyed this one as much as anything around it. That's a rarity for me and it speaks volumes about this band and their admirable consistency.

In short, this is classy stuff and that continues into the bonus tracks. I'm not seeing why these three are marked as such at all, as they don't seem to be B-sides, covers or re-recordings or any of the other usual reasons for tracks to get labelled as bonus (though Kingdom of War is a live recording). The album runs a fair 38 minutes without them so, if they're just more new songs, then why not just call this a 55 minute album?

And they're certainly not also rans. In fact, I'd suggest that Diving into the Darkness, the longest song on offer and emphatically the most epic, is also the best. Lead vocalist Vince Koivula is excellent throughout, but he's outstanding here and everyone else in the band matches him. The riffing and transitions are joyous and the last minute and a half is exquisite. With the sheer power that emanates from Kingdom of War, I'd almost hint at the bonus tracks being a step up from the rest of what's already a quality album. And they're why this goes up from a 7/10 to an 8/10.

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