OZ, Fire in the Brain (1984, Combat)
Top-notch skulliness here: the skull is on fire, held in an outstretched hand whose arm is wrapped in a big studded armband, while blood drips from the fingers. And this is a photograph to boot! The skull is on the cheapo side, looks like like a wax Halloween decoration or candle, but it’s passable. And the best thing: the hand/arm belongs to none other than Bathory mastermind Quorthon. It does NOT get more metal than that.
Of all the albums Oz have recorded (there are sixth full-lengths to date, and they’re threatening more), this is definitely the best and only mandatory one. It’s traditional heavy metal, not black or death or thrash, but still very much on the sinister side, both in lyrical focus, the nature of the riffs, and the dirty, murky recording. Vocalist Ape DeMartini chortles in an Udo Dirkschneider sort of way, while bassist Jay C. Blade proved himself a songwriter of uncommon skill. His strongest songs are stacked on the first side of the album, a near-perfect set of dark metal burners, while the second side’s “Gambler” and “Fire in the Brain” measure up nicely with the first four classics. The other two are great too. Too bad the quality didn’t carry much steam past this album, as follow-up III Warning bordered on forgettable.
— Friar Wagner