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Sometimes I forget just how old this band really is – there aren’t many indications to it. Seeing as how this debut was released at the end of 1976, a part of me believes that these guys were 8 year olds recording some hard rocking heavy metal. That sounds pretty stupid, but it does become unclear when seeing how many albums these guys have put out over the past few decades. In these early years (1970s albums), Bow Wow’s sound is a mix between hard rock and traditional heavy metal. At the heaviest they sound like Black Sabbath (at the most doomy) and at the lightest they sound like The Beatles (in the poppiest sense); the take is from a Japanese, young adult perspective.
The first albums I heard by Bow Wow was the material from the late 1980s when the group was called Vow Wow and played more arena-oriented heavy metal, so the vocals were at least one big difference. After deciding to begin chronologically with this band, I had a hunch that the vocals wouldn’t be off-putting, as they aren’t from an individual vocalist like with Vow Wow. Here it’s Kyoji Yamamoto playing and singing, and his voice is like that of a Japanese teenager with a heavy accent. I picture a fat kid doing the vocals while wearing a sweater and glasses, but I know I’m way off. Yamamoto sings with Japanese-accented clean vocals (you can tell when he attempts singing in English), but they’re more on the low end instead of high wails – kind of like Paul Di’Anno, but that’s even stretching it a ton. Yamamoto is heartfelt and natural with his soft execution; shouting isn’t often, and a lot of the time I don’t realize that he’s capable shouting.
As for a guitarist, Kyoji is a beast; if he was 8 as my dumbass conscience believes, then I’d be stunned. For an album this early in heavy metal’s development, this obviously isn’t going to be a heavy album. Nonetheless, it’s still heavy metal in the classic sense, with hard rock comprising much of the songs and tone. Thus, most of the riffs have a loving distortion that’s wild yet aggressive (“Hearts On Fire” and “Theme Of Bow Wow”) or tame and conventional (“Foxy Lady” and “Brown House”). The party (70s style) brought by the riffs is social and jovial, with an optimistic attitude and an atmosphere of relief. The solos range from trippy to precise, twisty to slick, and from murky to sinister. The songs don’t sound a whole lot different, but they really are, and these solos are the best indicators if you weren’t able to pick it up.
Bass I love because while the guitar distortion is light, the bass is the grumbling beast laying down the fat vibe and rhythm. While following the guitars most of the time, between the guitars and drums is a space that would have been direly empty had the bass not existed. Put the rumble in there, and it just sounds wonderful hearing every instrument have a part executed significantly. For music so in-tune what the 1970s was like culturally, the grooving bass is essential. Drums sounds normal in one sense, but having noticed them after repeated listens, I can hear what went over my head. The cymbals are fine and dandy, but the snares and toms sound flat and dull – the complete opposite of loud and hollow. Double bass I can hardly hear, as if a pillow was blocking the kick pedal and the drum skin. Playing wise, it’s mostly rhythm patterns that don’t involve a whole lot of fast attacking or technical moves, which is acceptable, since the music doesn’t call for it at all.
Now when you see a band like this that’s so obscure yet they’ve released so much, you start to wonder whether the band’s good enough to make a song that’ll be one of your favorites. For me, it didn’t take long finding it when I first checked out Vow Wow, but after I decided to begin at the beginning with the band as Bow Wow, I again was floored. The song in question is “James In My Casket,” and at nearly 10 minutes I knew that this one was going to be the maker or breaker. Without this song, this album would merely be a hard rock number for social gatherings and parties, but this one is something Black Sabbath would be all over. Yamamoto croons like Ozzy during the ghostly moments, while the guitars are rusted with doom and the atmosphere eclipses the optimism that fogs the album. The best solos are like possessed notes electrified by lightning, and very melodic stuff that’s devoid of any sappiness.
So at the start, this band was actually something for Japan to be proud about. For 1976, heavy metal was still expanding with the grandfather bands in their early stages. While not a masterpiece, this straightforward debut still has some kicks that are worth checking, especially “James In My Casket.” Bow Wow’s early albums would all be like this; a few rockers, some softies, and one or two songs that kicks your ass and lets you know that the band is capable of so much more. Not to say that they play bullshit music when they are competent musicians, but what works for them works for us, it seems.