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Album Reviews : Babymetal – Babymetal

By on April 9, 2014

Oh, Japan you whacky bunch; ever walking the tightrope between the wholly excellent and utterly absurd. Japan has given the world a number of great things; The Katana, Ninjas, Dragonball Z and the Lone Wolf and Cub series; and let’s not forget the music, X Japan, Dir En Grey and the supremely underrated Galneryus, just to name a few. Now Japan, that noble land of crazies, has given us something else: Babymetal.

Yes, Babymetal. Surely you’ve heard of them by now and, no doubt, have come to your own conclusions, but for those of you unaware of this little gem of a band, allow me to explicate the matter. Babymetal began in 2010 as a subunit to Sakura Gakuin, fusing heavy metal with Idol Pop. As ridiculous as that sounds, it gained quite a following in its native land and the band went on to produce a number of successful singles (All of which appear on the self-titled album). They then went on to perform at a number of notable metal festivals in Japan, as well as releasing a promotional video for the Japanese premiere of Metallica’s Through the Never. Consisting of three lead singers, Su-Metal, Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal, all firmly planted in the Pop camp, and five musicians prone to dressing up in costumes reminiscent of Skullomania/Kamen Rider (Look it up) and keeping their identities (somewhat) secret. (Sound familiar?)

No exhaustive amount of internet research could give me a definitive date or source of when news of Babymetal began to trickle outside of Japan, but safe to say it was treated with an amazing amount of curious novelty. I can’t say I can blame that thinking, it sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Metal and J-Pop, ridiculous! My first encounter with Babymetal was in 2012 with the release of their single Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! (Yes, that is the actual song title) and I am not shy to say I was hooked. (The fact I was already a fan of Suzuka Nakamoto’s work in Sakura Gakuin notwithstanding)

Babymetal (The album) is a work with no half measures taken; the term “fusion” is completely apt as the band creates a seamless synthesis between, seemingly, diametrically opposed sounds. It doesn’t stop there either, there is a lot more going on here than what first meets the ear. The album tours the ranges of various other genres/styles, including, but not limited to, Reggae, Hip Hop, more traditional Japanese folk and even Dubstep, and it does this with the flair, bombast and complete commitment that (I think) only Japan could provide. Admittedly the album starts out with a most cunning trap with opening track Babymetal Death, beginning with a haunting little build up into a truly pounding rhythm that is unmistakably metal; it continues on this way, carrying an infectious little riff, and only hints at the “Baby” side of the band in the intermittent and subdued vocals. (Which serves as introductions to the vocalists of the band, in case you were wondering)

It is not until the second song Megitsune that you hear Babymetal for what it actually is: pure, committed and fun. The beat, the synthesized melody intertwined with a strong guitar, the very Pop oriented vocals, all make for a catchy chimera of a song. This is one of the rare examples where compromise would have damaged the work; if they had of allowed more of the Pop influences to take precedence, or the Metal presence to be more prominent, you would have wound up with a mess of an album. But, with that said, the album is not hard and fast to that rule, and it can leave listeners a bit out in the cold with is jumping from style to style, look no further that the track Iine for what I can only describe as auditory whiplash.

However the album upholds these eccentricities and presents them as nothing more than what they are: enjoyable music. Granted that a few of these songs can come off as sounding like a metal cover of a J-Pop song but, if anything, this can stand as testament as to how these two genres can complement one another. Where it is Metal, it is great, and where it is Pop, it is also great; this album is like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of music, where two things you wouldn’t think would go together merge to create something exemplary. Not everyone likes Peanut Butter and Chocolate together, but whatever your leaning you can find something to like here. Lead singer Su-Metal (or Suzuka Nakamoto, a “Graduate” of the aforementioned Sakura Gakuin) has a superb voice that harmonizes with Metal perfectly, but remains, unabashedly, a Pop vocalist and the instrumentation of the band holds up against anything in the metal world right now, see Ijime, Dame, Zettai for the perfect example of this.

The album keeps everything out on its sleeve here; there is little to nothing in the way of subtlety, but that is not a negative in this case. It is an open and accessible album that will appeal to anyone who likes metal as well as pop. I would argue that this band was created for the demographic of “Music that your Japanese Boyfriend/Girlfriend, who doesn’t really like Metal, would enjoy”, and whilst it may not be “deep” enough for the lovers of all music technical the album will have no trouble getting its hooks into you. It is fun, flighty and catchy as all hell; I dare you not to headbang to at least one of these songs. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about this band is that the vocals are too cutesy; so, as an experiment I played the Karaoke versions (Or “Air vocal tracks”) from the singles I own (I did mention I was a fan, right?) and six of the seven people I played it for enjoyed it, not even aware it was the same band they complained about earlier, and some of these guys were of the “Thrash Til Death” variety of metalhead. So, if you can put any pretensions and prior conceptions aside, you will come to like this album.

To sum this album up into one word, it would have to be “Ecclectic”. This is a unique album from a unique band that has not compromised on their intent, and that is to create a charming, and pretty damn heavy, dichotomy of sound for you to enjoy. It has made metal cute without losing any of its edge and that is not something you can say about, well, any band! There is a strong essence of innocence in the motif and delight in the performance, and any lover of music should demand no less from any band on the latter. From the sugary twee-ness of the vocals, and undeniably cute imagery of Japanese Goth-Lolita school girls moshing in front of Marshall stacks, to the raucous and hammering instrumentation, Babymetal is an album (and band) that deserves more than your novelty appreciation. If I’ve not convinced you that you might enjoy this album I will do the dance from the track Doki Doki Morning. (Yes, I know the dance steps)

Babymetal: check it out! (Also, apologies for the profuse amounts of parenthesis on use here)

Band: Babymetal
Album: Babymetal
Year: 2014
Genre: J-Pop/metal
Label: BMD Fox
Origin: Japan

Track listing (In Romaji)
1. Babymetal Death
2. Megitsune
3. Give Me Choco!!
4. Iine
5. Akatsuki
6. Doki Doki ☆ Morning
7. Onedari Daisakusen
8. 4no Uta
9. Uki Uki ★ Midnight
10. Catch Me If You Can
11. Akumuno Rondo
12. Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!
13. Ijime Dame Zettai

About

Hailing from parts unknown (actually, it’s Melbourne), Tristan is a freelance writer and lover of metal, with a special place in his heart for Power and Folk metal. After playing in a number of local Melbourne metal bands, and completing his Bachelor of Arts, Tristan focuses his attention to the pursuit of writing, practicing the Liechtenauer School of swordsmanship, dabbling in Cosplay and reciting Babylon 5 quotes; in addition to hunting for a publisher for his novel. Until then, he enjoys metal, writing about metal and convincing people around his office that he is immortal and has lived for 3,000 years. (So far only the chick in HR is buying it)