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Of the many, many 80’s bands that jumped aboard the shred bandwagon in the wake of Yngwie Malmsteen, Racer X was definitely the most consistent. With guitarist Paul Gilbert leading the charge, both of the albums the band produced before their decade long hiatus are certifiable metal standards, devoid of the balladry and hair metal fluff a lot of their equally talented peers got bogged down in (Nitro anyone?).
And this second dose of Racer X is actually more potent than the first. The production is better (the guitar tone is more lethal and the bass is more forceful), Jeff Martin gives a stronger vocal performance, and Gilbert’s leadwork is somehow even better than before. His songwriting has improved with experience and with the addition of Bruce Bouillet (purportedly a student of Gilbert’s, I’m not sure), the overall guitar sound on the album is better. Not to mention the addition of soon-to-be legendary drummer Scott Travis, whose playing is one of this band’s strong points. No longer a formative group, this incarnation of Racer X is tougher and rougher than before and the entire album benefits from it.
So as for the songs, this release actually offers some classics as opposed to mere rockers with guitar solos (though Gilbert’s solos are far from ‘mere’). “Sunlit Nights” has a nice clean melody that opens it where most of the songs just punch right into the riffs. “Gone Too Far” and “Sacrifice” show the band’s newfound knack for catchy songwriting, while instrumental “Scarified” blows everything else out of the water (it also features one of the few bass highlights on Second Heat). There’s also a cover of a Judas Priest song I’ve never heard of, “Heart of a Lion,” that kicks ass. And of course, every song is topped off with a super-technical, yet ear-pleasingly melodic solo courtesy of Mr. Gilbert.
So to sum it up: same virtuosity, better songs. If you liked the first one, you’ll have no trouble welcoming Second Heat into your collection.