As someone without an opinion about Babymetal, I thought myself best placed to review this new album from Japan’s hottest metal export since… erm… coldrain and Vow Wow. Who are, I confess, the only two other Japanese rock acts I can come up with off the top of my head. The rest of our Crew sit very firmly on one side of the fence or the other: “SQUEE! Best thing ever!” or “What. The. Hell is this garbage?” It only takes two minutes online to see that the metal community is pretty much divided over this act.
For those who don’t know, Babymetal consists of three Japanese girls (still teenage, I believe) who go by the stage monikers of Su-Metal (Vocal,Dance), Yui-Metal (Scream,Dance) and Moa-Metal (Scream,Dance). No real mention is made of the band’s musicians who – it turns out – are actually pretty long-standing members of Japan’s rock and metal scene. Originally mimes playing to a backing track, as Babymetal grew in popularity these performers were replaced by a “proper” band. One member, Takayoshi Ohmura, used to play guitar with Marty Friedman so we’re not talking about a few musicians who can strum a chord or two. Credit where it’s deserved – the band are good.
The girls joined the band as part of one of those “Idol” TV shows and had no idea about metal when they did so. So, a manufactured band. Not the best of starts from that point of view.
However, start they did. Their first single cracked a million YouTube views in short order and they ended up being the youngest act ever to play Japan’s Budokan venue. Twice. To sell-out audiences. The shows were released as live recordings. These shows were book-ended with multiple international dates as far afield as Europe, the US and the UK.
At the end of 2014, they played at Brixton Academy and debuted a song called “Road of Resistance”, a collaboration with DragonForce’s Herman Li and Sam Totman. This, as it happens, is the first song on Metal Resistance and as a result the first Babymetal track I ever heard. Funnily enough, even without knowing the song’s background my initial thought was “this sounds like DragonForce with Japanese girls singing on it”.
The vocals are embedded deep within the music with the alternate harsh and clean vocals working incredibly well. It’s undeniably a breakneck speed DragonForce track and credit to the band themselves for going along with the “joke” of Babymetal by even having them guest at their appearance at Download last year.
But is Babymetal a joke? Listening to the album I’m getting the feeling that though it may have started off as a bit of a piss-take, or at least a “let’s see what people make of this”, they’ve developed into a genuine musical act who absolutely have something going for them. Take Totman and Li out of the equation and how are the rest of the songs on the album? Erm. Good. They’re good. Very good, in fact.
Flapping my hands around a bit to grasp at random thoughts, I can hear influences from the aforementioned DragonForce (again in the likes of “Amore”), Linkin Park, Slipknot (the DJ-mixed intro to “Awadama” followed by the absolutely crushing distorted guitar), and pretty much every bubblegum pop band regardless of whether they came from Osaka, Seoul or North London. And it works. Somehow against all expectation it doesn’t sound like an unholy, hacked-together mess. Track down the theme music for the kids’ cartoon Teen Titans Go and you’ll have an idea of the style. Or check out “Karate” below.
Cute vocals overlaid on the heaviest, thrashiest beats just emphasises that someone somewhere has a great ear for mixing styles. The songwriters, performers and producers deserve some credit for this. By the time I was four or five tracks through, I was converted. One decent track is a UK success – that one-hit wonder that gets to number one in the charts based on novelty value. But halfway through an album with every track a belter? That’s no fluke. That’s talent.
I could go through each track, but RockSound already did a decent job of that. I’ll just quickly mention that there’s a wealth of variety on here. Mainly it’s fast and heavy with an edge of the drum/bass/electronic stuff. The songs which stand out for being particularly different are “Meta Taro” and “The One”.
“Meta Taro” is a marching song, slow and ploddy rather than skin-shreddingly fast. “The One” is different as it addresses pretty much my only issue with the rest of the album – that I can’t speak Japanese. It’s also one of the lightest tracks – pretty much a hard rock ballad – so you do get a chance to really appreciate the singing as well as the fact that it’s in English. “No Rain, No Rainbow” does a similar job in Japanese.
I appreciate that this has ended up being more of a feature than a review, but as I said at the start people fall into two camps. For those who love Babymetal already, I can’t for a second see this album disappointing you. For those who hate them on principle, if this collection can’t persuade you to at least give them a chance for the music then nothing will. Anyone who’s not heard of them before would be doing themselves a favour to check it out when you get a chance.
Metal Resistance is out on April 1st, and the band play Wembley Arena (sold out, I believe) the following night. I am jealous of those who are going!