I used to have a boss who regularly told me, “I’m more metal than you!” It was said in jest, a gentle tease to remind me to take a few more chances. She played bass in a band. She had at least a dozen pairs of custom leather pants. Her dog was named Ozzy. I’ve met salty-dog sailors with far fewer tattoos than she had. I once made the mistake of putting some break beat or trip hop on the office stereo when she was there. She muttered, “What is this [expletive]?” and promptly hurled the CD into the nearest waste basket. All of this is to say she was in fact, more metal than most – and definitely more metal than me.
I’m OK with that. I like lots of music, lots of genres. I’m just as comfortable listening to Ministry as I am to Bjork. You’ll find Massive Attack on my stereo as often as Johnny Cash. Dancehall is just as enjoyable as Dvorak, depending on my mood. I even like pop music. And while K-pop has taken my fancy for the moment, it wasn’t too long ago I had a mild affair with J-pop (which is really the same thing, just in a different language and with the volume turned up to eleven).
I’ve been in or around the music industry for over 25 years. It’s not often that I come across something that surprises me. Which is why I’m a little excited by something that slapped me in the face like a Quinten Tarrantino gunfight. That little something is…
I kid you not. Yes, it’s Japanese Kawaii or “cute” metal (only the Japanese would have a sub-genre that combines J-pop and metal – gotta love Japan). Yes, the girls are barely in high school. Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous… or is it?
I first heard BABYMETAL’s eponymous album while watching their videos online and I thought it was amusing and, well, cute. Just as I was ready to just move on, I paused. Honestly, I was trying to figure out if the music was actually good. After a few more listens, to my surprise I had to say, yeah, and actually FUCKYEAH! OK, I admit there was a moment when I had to consider emotionally categorizing this in the “guilty pleasure” drawer. That moment has passed. These chicks rock, and they’re pretty friggin’ metal.
The album opens with a track entitled Babymetal Death. The track has only one real lyric, aside from the three leads speaking their own names: “DEATH!” It’s kinda hard to get more metal than that. You need to see the videos for this one, it gives a huge insight into how beloved these girls are, and how insane their fans are. Mosh’sh (as it’s spelled in the video)… more like “urban riot.” You gotta love the full-body skeleton suits, too.
The next track, Megitsune, may be the pinnacle of this album. What a triumph. If you don’t walk away with the riffs and melody from this track stuck in your head, you’re not only not metal, you’re just plain in denial. This track is the pure embodiment of pop and power chords, and it works on so many levels. It’s hard to find a better paced track than this.
Gimme Chocolate!! is another standout song on the album. It’s such a mashup it’s a little hard to explain, but it’s got a lot to like. The chorus might rub some the wrong way, but then they’re probably a “half empty” curmudgeon. Anyone who listens to any kind of pop, who also likes metal will adore this track.
The album slows with Akatsuki, and the first 30 seconds sound like they could be the theme song for half a dozen anime shows – complete with the requisite synth piano. Then the fun starts as the drums and guitars kick in. The track itself retains a lot of that anime soundtrack feel, but you get the impression the album might go somewhere else, somewhere well, more metal.
And it does.
Doki Doki [insert a star here] Morning has it’s roots in Fear Factory’s best albums, if you were to throw in some Japanese bubblegum commercials.
Onedari Daisakusen has a driving rhythm and vague hip hop influences.
Song 4 is more familiar to punk/metal enthusiasts, albeit with a weird moment of reggae/dub thrown into the middle. I like this album, but even I have to go, “huh?” with this one.
Uki Uki ★ Midnight also mashes another genre, but this time they threw in some Skrillex which works better.
Catch Me If You Can has a heavy tint of 90’s industrial to it, mixed with late 2000’s drum and bass, and Rondo of Nightmare (video unavailable) redeems the previous few tracks if you don’t like the genre mixing.
Head Bangya!! really brings the metal back home. The melody isn’t as commercial as anything previous, and the beat is solid and ripping.
Ijime Dame Zettai is for all those Japanese kids that wanted to be in Metallica. Consider it the Japanese equivalent of a power ballad.
All in all, this is a solid album, as long as you’re not a die-hard genre fan. If you enjoy a wide variety of music (metal included), or if you enjoy mashups – you can definitely find a way to get into BABYMETAL. If you’re more of a purist, the first three tracks are substantial and will likely be either amusing, or worth getting as singles.
Some of the mashups are admittedly gimmicky. So is the whole notion of teenage girls performing J-pop dances to metal. But sometimes that gimmick really works. Musically speaking, a lot of this album is really good. There are moments here that make you wanna drive an American muscle car at 120 mph – in the rain on dangerous curves – and that’s all anyone really wants from this kind of record.
Ultimately, I have to think my old boss would have scoffed at BABYMETAL. Reading the comments online, she wouldn’t be alone. That being said, I have to ask… What were you doing when you were 15? Yeah, that’s what I thought, BABYMETAL is more metal than you!
Rating (one out of five whistles, five being the best): Four Whistles
Photo Courtesy of BABYMETAL’s Official Facebook Page