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Still Sounds Damn Good - 81%

OzzyApu, June 8th, 2010

Not even a year was wasted before Bow Wow rocked Japan with an electric-themed sophomore offering. The songs are harder in the hard rock sense, and ideas have been further developed as if the band took two years of reconstruction. With the debut I pictured kids playing instruments, but this time around these guys have aged into teenagers – this isn’t a putdown, but it does sound like a teen band playing some blazing tradition heavy metal / hard rock with the necessary skill to do so. In fact, this is probably the band’s heaviest album of the 1970s, thanks in no part to the added aggression and a better production job.

While the songs were clear and dandy on the debut, it’s with this one that the instruments are louder and tuned together instead of apart. The drums have natural snares between the roughness on the debut and the usual hollowness that I hate, so it’s a decent medium. The drum bass is louder, too, though quiet for my liking when all the instruments are playing. The guitar tone is very prominent this time, as opposed to Yamamoto at the forefront on the debut (still rather true for this one). Anyway, the most notable difference is that the instruments are louder and the band more insistent, which was only sporadic on the debut.

Overall, the tone is less optimistic and close to Black Sabbath’s early material. Hell, some of the songs sound like straight-up Sabbath tunes like “Silver Lightning.” The opening riff is reminiscent of the tune from “Sleeping Village” by Black Sabbath (the part where Ozzy sings about the woman looking “cool and casual”), although that’s just one Sabbath song it reminds me of and the guitar tone in comparison isn’t as muddy and despondent. The guitar tone here is wider and powerful, yet still not offensive. The tone is energizing, though, and the solos are even wilder than before – Yamamoto doesn’t hold back from twisting the hell out of his guitar strings to make some lightning fast guitar remarks. Still on the same song, “Silver Lightning,” during the bridge and outro we have one of my favorite solo sections from two different layers – one in the foreground and one in the background that can be a little hard to notice – going at it like tornadoes in an epic battle.

Yamamoto’s vocals haven’t changed though, but I can tell he’s getting comfortable with them now that they’re out there. He does more shouting this time, though his clean, heavily accented singing is still the main exercise. When he’s singing in English, it can get pretty funny because his lines are so off; there’s a lovable charm to it because he’s trying so hard to nail the vocals for it while trying to figure out what he’s saying. Since most of the album calls for aggressive tracks, Yamamoto has an edge to his voice with genuine anger, but he still sounds like a fat kid with a very twangy voice. Only one track, “Still,” calls for some highs and crooning, which isn’t what Kyoji normally does but manages to maintain. “Still” is the ballad track about love, I guess, with the slowest tempo on the album and a depressing atmosphere, although I prefer the heavier tracks.

Bass upholds the rumbling standards set forth on the debut, and this time it matches the guitars in belligerence. Rhythms are equal and the tightness of the group makes the bass work managed proficiently, as opposed to being the instrument that fills the gap. Although the show is made by the guitars, the bass does more than enough to hold over listeners to some juicy lines and a fat tone. Drumming is faster and much more competent in regard to the music this time around. I knew Yamamoto and Saitou were beasts on guitars, and that Sano knew how to rip the bass neck with style, but this is the album where I hear Niimi joining the group as a member with flare and ability. His kit isn’t as light this time and his playing is faster and flashier to accommodate the slight change in pace.

With Signal Fire, the band broke out of the youth mentality and created something that can stand on its own. The songs are solid, the members are more comfortable with their playing, their skills are becoming more apparent, and the Bow Wow style is settling in. I prefer the band’s heavier songs like “Silver Lightning” on this one and “James In My Casket” on the debut, so any others to come (and they will) will always be my favorites. This second effort is heavier than the first, and in a way it sounds like a different style altogether. Not much has changed, but what has makes for a different experience.