Until this year's summer, I'd successfully eschewed anything to do with BABYMETAL, hegemonists of the so-called Kawaii metal subgenre, with their fusion of both J-Pop and metal elements. Despite their rocketing global popularity, I'd already dismissed them as an ephemeral novelty band. A gimmicky, manufactured slab of commerciality designed solely as a money making machine. So, what changed this summer? Glastonbury. Well, my decision to dip into various acts across disparate genres via the BBC's coverage on TV. Sharon Van Etten and Hot Chip were very nice surprises indeed. And then there were BABYMETAL. Looking at the schedule, the Kawaii crew were due to perform on the Other Stage, early on Sunday afternoon. BABYMETAL at Glastonbury?! And not even on the John Peel Stage? I think my curiosity extended more to how they'd be received by the masses gathered on the sacred turf of Worthy Farm, rather than just the band themselves. On the former, the variety of reactions during the early part of their set seemed to range from a small but enthusiastic circle pit, to punters who looked thoroughly confused (and bemused) by what they were witnessing. By the end of their set, however, BABYMETAL seemed to have won over the entire crowd. Formerly bemused folk were clapping along and pumping the air with their fists. And you know what? I realised I'd been missing out these past few years. BABYMETAL, based on that Glastonbury set, were entertaining. Absurdly entertaining or entertainingly absurd? Undoubtedly both.
So, when their forthcoming new album, ‘Metal Galaxy’, arrived for review, I felt compelled to give their latest recorded efforts a chance. The metal element is hard and heavy, with some extreme metal dynamics, for sure. Surprisingly heavy in places, I must say. At times, the instrumentations are delivered with virtuosic precision with some very intricate riffage and leads; at other times, it’s as commercially “safe” as the J-Pop it complements. And the J-Pop itself, courtesy of Su-Metal (Suzuka Nakamoto) and Moa-Metal (Moa Kikuchi), brings a sweeping tide of cutesy, sugar-coated melodies and hooks to the shore that impel me to smile. I should not like this, dammit, but yeah, this album made me smile a lot. Through its sheer entertainment value? For the absurdity of it all? For the axiomatic skill level of everyone involved? Probably a combination of all those things, I would say. There's not a dull moment to be found on the entire album, and it’s a record that’s bursting with a whole load of passion and energy.
The clinically clean production might be a little on the sterile side, but I guess the songs need this kind of sound for them to deliver their sonic aesthetic in the most effective (and arguably affective) way. Sometimes, the metal is more prominent; other times, it’s J-Pop at the forefront. Mostly, though, it's all about fusion rather than contraposition. Disparate elements that, on paper, perhaps shouldn't work at all, but the amalgam is a cleverly crafted one. And, within that amalgam, there’s a surprising amount of variety. Following an atmospheric intro, 'In the Name of' has tribal rhythms and grooves that bring to mind 'Roots' era Sepultura. ‘PA PA YA!!’, with its guest appearance by rapper F Hero, can be stylistically posited somewhere between late-90s/early-00s nu-metal and the ragga metal of Skindred. ‘Oh! MAJINAI’, featuring additional grunted vocals from Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén, wouldn’t be out of place on a Russkaja album. And final track ‘Arkadia’ has prominent flavours of late-80s power metal, with Kai Hansen-esque Helloween guitar work. Other guests also feature, including some growls from Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz on ‘Distortion’ although, to be honest, they’re fleeting, generic and non-descript.
I’m sure BABYMETAL will continue to be a divisive band, and I previously stood firmly on the side of, “What the fuck? What’s the point in this?”. But, I get the point now. Entertainment. And something a little different. I still can’t take this a hundred per cent seriously, but there’s no denying that ‘Metal Galaxy’ makes for rip-roaringly enjoyable listen, from start to finish.
Review by Mark Holmes
11th October 2019
1) FUTURE METAL
2) DA DA DANCE
3) Elevator Girl
4) Shanti Shanti Shanti
5) Oh! MAJINAI
6) Brand New Day
7) Night Night Burn!
8) IN THE NAME OF; 9) Distortion
10) PA PA YA!!; 11) Kagerou
13) Shine; 14) Arkadia
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Sometimes, the metal is more prominent; other times, it’s J-Pop at the forefront. Mostly, though, it's all about fusion rather than contraposition. Disparate elements that, on paper, perhaps shouldn't work at all, but the amalgam is a cleverly crafted one."