OXYGEN – Final Warning

Swedish vocalist Tony Niva’s career got off to a slow start.  His first band Zanity recorded a demo which ultimately gathered no interest.  The following year, he collaborated with cult glam metal band Swedish Erotica [a wholly second division band whose 1989 debut contained one bright spark in the rather silly ‘Welcome To Rock ‘n’ Roll City’].   Following brief stints with more local bands with truly bad monikers, by the mid 90s, Niva was fronting his own eponymously titled band, which yielded one full length LP – 1994’s Japanese only release ‘No Capitulation’.  In 2011, Niva (the band) released second album, the appallingly titled ‘Gold From The Future’, a disc which, once again, failed to get a release outside of Japan.

In 2012, Tony reappeared as the frontman of yet another new band, Oxygen.   Oxygen’s debut release ‘Final Warning’ (released in the summer of 2012) may have been touted as a new release, but in fact, is just a repackaged version of ‘Gold From The Future’ aimed at the UK/European market.  Since few people actually heard ‘Gold’ the first time around, such a rebranding isn’t entirely unreasonable, and the Oxygen name fits much better with the album’s recurring environmental themes.

Kicking off with the mid-paced rock of ‘Janitor of Love’ (surely a mistake in translation), the band sound relatively tough – the guitars have a reasonable crunch (at least to begin with), and Niva’s vocals are very assured.  By the track’s end, though, it becomes obvious there’s something that’s not entirely right: the guitars step back and slowly become a mush that’s almost barely audible behind a vocal that’s just far, far, too loud.  Yes, vocalists provide an important role in most rock bands, but here, Niva’s Tony Harnell-esque wailing seems to come at the expense of almost everything else.  If you can make it past that (and stop laughing at the bad title), this track actually makes for a reasonable opener, with melodic hooks and a technically sound guitar solo.   ‘Anything For You’ with its hard, punchy rhythm, augmented by a strong chorus with more harmonies than before continues things in a similar vein, but much better still is ‘When Tomorrow Never Comes’, which, despite plundering a whole world of predictable clichéd sounds, manages to achieve excellent results.  Strong vocals, great chorus and a killer guitar solo push the right buttons, and while (once again) the vocal could do with softening, the band sound like they’re really getting off on what they do.

While those first few tracks show promise (at least in terms of simple melodic rock chops, if not studio engineering and suchlike), it’s not long before Niva’s voice becomes far too overbearing.  With each passing song, he just seems to get louder.  There’s no denying there is power in his delivery, but like TNT’s Tony Harnell or Shy’s Tony Mills [hey, this must be an affliction that affects people called Tony!] he’d sound so much better if he could just reign it in.  ‘Gold From The Future’, in particular, is so vocally over the top, it almost sounds like he taking the piss.  There are some painful high registers here, which when combined with muddy keyboards and a whole world of Scandinavian pomp, doesn’t make for a pleasant listening experience at all.  Similarly, the title cut features Niva going all-out vocally, while he’s backed by various shreddy guitar moments  and despite the band’s best efforts to temper these with a far more AOR-friendly chorus, it’s not enough to stop everything sounding like a dense and forgettable four minutes.

In theory, ‘Final Warning’ has all the makings of a really enjoyable melodic rock disc:  The band clearly know how to pen a melodic chorus and Roger Ljunggren’s lead guitar work is mostly spot on.  However, in reality, that voice is very much a love it/hate it affair. As a result, despite being only just over half an hour long, this disc is very hard to listen to all the way through in one sitting…and for something aimed at the melodic rock crowd, that’s not really ideal.

June 2012