|CD REVIEW TSM/ SLW Promotion special, August 2012, part 2 : Dennis Develin – Oz Knozz – Scythe Of Orion|
As promised, the second TSM/ SLW Promotion special, in the same posting (took me some extra late-evening writing, but I hope you'll find it worth reading).
I know...this album was already reviewed by colleague Cosmicmasseur (posted 22/07/2012), whom...although “normally” the TSM/ SLW Promotion material is “reserved” for my attention...possibly got some Stoner, or at least Psychedelic, vibes off the name, and therefore swiped the album from under my claws. Well, in his short review my colleague actually already gave you the most essential info on this band, including a quite correct if summary description of the music (“...music that borders 70's pomp rock and progressive symph rock...” which “...shows similarities to Asia, Kansas, Styx, Journey and even Dream Theater.”) and so, in this review, I'll give you a focus on the band's (quite comprehensive) history.
Originators of this band are brothers Bill and Duane Massey. Born in San Antonio, Texas, the brothers were encouraged into music from an early age by their father and professional bassist Ed Massey, whom introduced 'em to the world of Jazz and Dixieland. Bill started out on saxophone, then became interested in the electric bass, and then into guitar. Duane was allowed to bang on an old piano, and switched to cornet at the age of 12, but never last the love for the keyboards. At some time the family moved to Lubbock (TX), and then to central Louisiana, when the boys were in their late teens, where the brothers and their father would play in a band together. Both brother would play in a couple of “garage” bands in those days. After moving to Houston (TX) in 1966, Bill lost interest in the sax somewhat, and started to concentrate on the bass.
It's while the boys were students at Houston's Westbury High School, in 1969, that they decided to form their own band with drummer Jack Alford on drums, flute, and vocals (Duane would be the lead singer, and play trumpet as well as his keyboards; Bill would play both bass and guitar, as well as saxophone). Having looked for a cool name for their band for a while, Jack one day came up with Oz Knozz, which they then settled on. In 1971 fellow Westbury High School-mate Marty Paul took over from Alford, whom decided to choose a different professional life. Marty and Duane then attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, from whence they majored in in Music 1972. It was there that they met Austin's Richard Heath, whom became Oz Knozz' original lead guitarist. It was also a time when Oz Knozz experimented with the addition of a 3-piece horn section, playing in that line-up for a couple of years until about 1974.
With their debut album Ruff Mix recorded in 1975, Oz Knozz saw Richard leave soon after the album's release, headed out to lead his own musical projects. For a short while, he was replaced by second keyboardist Patrick Brennan, but in the end the two-keyboards-and-no-guitar line-up didn't really work out that good, so Patrick left. A replacement guitarist was found in Rick Wheeler, whom joined late '75/ early '76. Never having felt comfortable in the role of lead singer, Duane was relieved of that duty when, in 1980, the band decided to take on a full-time lead singer. Enter Glenn Gibson, whom would stay with the band for 3 years (he can be witnessed on a 1981 EP, entitled Goodbye Again/ Always There), during which he shared vocals with Randy James for a while. When both left the band in 1983, Matt Jernigan took over, and with this line-up Oz Knozz toured all over the Western US that same year.
On return of that tour however, both Matt, Rick, and Bill (focusing on the family-operated Amphion Sound – a sound and lighting business kept up by Bill, Ed, and Duane until the late '80s) left the band. Duane and Marty auditioned a series of people during early '84, and eventually decided on lead singer/ second keyboardist Milton De Coronado, bassist/ backing & lead singer Scott Langston, and guitarist David Frasier. The latter was replaced 6 months later by Robert Guinea...but that wasn't the end of the line-up problems. In 1986 Milton moves to Los Angeles, to be replaced by one Joel Vinson, and over the next couple of years Scott would alternate on bass duties with Craig Chambers. Eventually, it was decided in early '87, to give the band a hiatus, as no one really seemed interested to keep the band alive anymore.
Nine years later, early 1996: Marty and Duane start talking about giving Oz Knozz a go again, but doing things a little bit different. Milton immediately agreed to participate, and to complete the live line-up the band hired both guitarist Bill Mohelsky and bassist Victor De La Garza. The latter however was faced with schedule problems after only a couple of shows, and therefore replaced by Jason Arkfeld, whom stayed on until 1998. It was then that Bill Massey not only started getting interested in playing the bass again, but also expressed his desire to do so with Oz Knozz. Jason showed absolute understanding, and amically stepped aside to allow Bill to join the band in Spring '98. In Summer 2002 then, came the last line-up change, when Robert Guinea (whom since 1987 had been in several projects, some of which with Marty Paul : Hi-Fi, Fearless Leader, and Midnight Circus, not only headlining many venues throughout Texas and Louisiana, but also playing support shows for the likes of Mr. Big, Black And Blue, Lilian Axe, Tora Tora, and Zebra, among others) returned to the fold to replace Mohelsky.
In 2008 Oz Knozz finally released their sophomore album 10,000 Days & Nights, 5 out of 8 songs of which you can listen to at (www.) myspace.com/ozknozz [in the “Music” section of their own website (www.) ozknozz.com, the band only has samples to all songs of their 3 albums]. Also available for your listening pleasure there, is the compete track-list Ruff Mix album, and 6 out of the 10 songs on the new album. You will find the material of the new album to be quite diverse (sorry to have to admit that I have not found the time to check up on the band's older material – the band itself claims that their current album has a generally more progressive sound), even if still complying in a general way to the description given by colleague Cosmicmasseur. Indeed, the description does not go for each song, the style changing from '70s Pomp Rock to '70s Prog Rock depending on the song, with some occasional more modern touch thrown in here and there. Very nice stuff indeed, and certainly an album in need to be picked up by people who used to be into those styles when it was first around. Of course, there's no reason why good music should be held from younger people, and I suggest that anyone with that musical taste take a taste of this band, for sure. Some points of criticism, nevertheless? Well, sure can do! In fact, mùst do, right?! For starters, Milton occasionally sounds a bit heady, like he's trying to reach for an octave which is really a bit too high for his vocal chords. On the good side, he never really sounds completely off! Second point of criticism, is one about copyright, because doesn't the guitar melody of “Here Comes The Night” sound fàr too familiar? Third point, but not of criticism, in fact, rather of a thumbs up thing, because the band brought in some variety in the vocals in the song “What The...?”, in which either Milton sings in a range quite rawer than he's used to, or someone else took over the lead vocals (Duane, perhaps?). Also, in the title track, there's a somewhat “demonic” passage as well!
At the end of the day, and in spite of my small critical points, the listener is treated to an album he can listen to a whole day, and still not be bored with in the evening. Musically, everything is first grade. Great guitar play (with overdubs during solo parts) with catchy melodies, nice alternating of keyboard play (piano in the one song, “regular” keyboards in another, Hammond B3-reminiscent organ in yet another), and great steady backing by the rhythm section.
It may have taken this Finish Pro/ Goth Metal act 4 years to forge a follow-up to their debut demo-EP X-Lives (recorded during 2008, it was released in Finland and the UK in early 20009, and subsequently reviewed by yours truly in a TSM/ SLW Promotion special posted 31/10/2009 – the latter is still available for your fact-finding needs), but what a whopper it turns out to be, indeed!
When I first checked for more info on what might've happened with the band in between, and tried to log onto the band's own website (www.) scytheoforion.com, I got a negative to my request, the browser letting me know (in Suomi) that the site had been discontinued. Well, I was working on gathering info for several bands then, and so let it slide...but eventually I hàd to try again, and this time I scored! So, I now know that following the EP's release, the band put time & efforts in the making of a video for the song “Shadowland” written and directed by one Vaula Toivanen. I also know that bassist Antti Horttana was considered a steady 6th member of the band, whom contributed on equal basis in the development of the songs (originally written by guitarist Petri Lamminsaari, the songs evidently go through some evolution during rehearsals...which are not easy to do on a truly regular basis, as some of the members live in other parts of Finland) for the new album. That process had started some 18 months prior to the finalisation of the recordings, and things took so long because the band was saving up their lunch money for recording time with producer Jori Haukio (whom would end up playing some cello on the album as well) at AnsaStudioin the small town of Ulvila (a “suburb” of Pori, in the South-West of Finland). When the time came to go into the studio, Antti found himself in a jumble with schedules, but luckily the band's very talented friend Pasi Jokinen to come help 'em out. Eventually, the whole recording session took 9 separate and carefully planned days between February and May 2011. And the subsequent mastering by Mika Jussila at the infamous Finnvox Studios (Helsinki, and that's some 230 km away from Pori in an eastern direction) took some more lunch money's savings, I'm sure. The result is a very clean sound with a lot of power, which is exactly what the band had envisioned to get, and therefore well worth all the time and effort they put in it. In April of last, SOO and TSM signed a deal for the worldwide promotion of the album, which was officially released on May 15.
Regretfully, one is quite unable to find any music off the new album on either the band's own website, or their facebook page (the latter sporting no music/ video at all). However, there's a possibility to view the “Shadowland” video in the “Media” section of the band's website, and after that clip's ending, you get a possibility to listen to the X-Lives track “The Open Space Of Imagination”, while looking at a picture of the EP's cover. And while that does not give you an insight into the clean yet powerful sound of the full-length, these two songs WILL get you acquainted with “Scythe” Metal. A Metal which is a combination of Progressive, Goth, Symphonic and Melodic Power Metal. Still, the new album is just a slight bit different. Besides the better sound, the material is also a little more consistent, due to being slightly less Progressive overall. At first, it was a bit of a surprise to find Anu's (oh...and apparently she and Petri have gotten married too) voice put through a vocoder towards the end of second track “Ice Soldiers”, but looking back at a repeated listening session, it does not seem that strange anymore. The thing which makes SOO completely different from anything in the business though, and therefore pulls it far above the average as far as I am concerned, is Anu's somewhat wacky vocal signature. When you've heard that, you know you either wanna drop this band, or start loving it.
Me, I'm definitely into the aberrant and unusual, and therefore I'm happy to find myself into that second group of people. Given more time with it, I would definitely put this album in my year-lists!