J-pop and metal combine in this manufactured band unlike any other. Edward checks ‘em out.
I’m not usually one to listen to manufactured bands, mainly due to the fact that I have exquisite taste in music, yet in this case I felt compelled to give one band a go, if purely for the weirdness factor. Babymetal are a heavy metal band birthed by the same talent agency whose usual successes are from the Japanese “Idol” scene, in which companies basically groom young, beautiful, talented people to become the role-models of the impressionable whilst staying firmly on the very light end of J-pop. Fame is almost assured for Idols yet it’s at the loss of any real freedom during the formative years of their lives, as being one means that they must live a perfect existence. While many of the Idols are involved in the music industry with their “kawaii” (cute) style of J-pop, which basically forms its own genre, they aren’t seen as being particularly serious or talented artists. Many surmise that the Idols lack any real talent other than to look kawaii.
It was while doing the research about them and Japanese culture that I came to the conclusion as to why a talent agency would decide to create an Idol metal group, and that’s because it’s something new, original and so completely insane that it would have to reach new levels of awful not to stand-out from all the other created bands out there. In some ways, this is genius, as manufactured pop acts are seen as unoriginal and passé, but a metal band fronted by three Idols? The members in question are three girls brought together from a larger group of Idols and then renamed to match the template of J-pop and heavy metal, and lo and behold, BABYMETAL were born! Yes, Babymetal. You know, because obviously baby means cute and new, and this is a cute and new genre of metal. As band monikers go, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite, but it sure beats fricking Brokencyde.
In a move more familiar to pop fans than metal-heads, all three members of the band are vocalists. Babymetal consists of Su-Metal (Suzuka Nakamoto) who’s the clean lead singer, as well as Moametal (Moa Kikuchi) and Yuimetal (Yui Mizuno), who both do clean and screaming vocals. The actual music must come from somewhere, so the backing band actually features real musicians, including a male singer to handle the growls and all of the actual playing, leaving the girls free to dance, sing and look pretty, but they’re merely puppets in this talent agency marionette. They’re so unimportant that they don’t deserve names. If it makes you feel better, you could just say that the music comes from the mysterious God the band gives the “fox” to (it’s just metal horns with your ring and middle finger extended to touch the tip of your thumb). The band even wear fox masks to make everything “mysterious.” Spooky, eh?
When it comes to their eponymous debut album, I’d say that the songs can be vaguely categorised into three or four different sub-genres of metal, although they all have J-pop running through them, just like you’d have diarrhoea running through you after eating yoghurt left out on a hot day. It just appears completely unexpectedly. The more death-metally tracks include first song “Babymetal Deth” which, while not the most original song on the album, sets the tone accordingly. The inexplicably popular “Gimme Chocolate” and the rather forgettable “Catch Me if You Can” also fall into this category, and both of them suffer from the same problem in that the death metal and J-pop moments are mashed together with little thought of how well they actually work together. Out of the two, it’s the J-pop moments that work best, with the metal moments sounding completely contrived and unoriginal throughout all three of the songs.
The power and pop metal tracks fare much better, however, with the heavier and lighter sections blending together more pleasingly, with most of the tracks managing to actually sound like complete songs rather than mish-mash creations. Stand-out track “Megitsune” falls into this poppier end of the spectrum and manages to sound like enjoyable pop-metal band Amaranthe without the male vocalists. The only downside is that it contains ridiculous wordless screams, one of the most pointless metal tropes in existence. Despite this singular problem, “Megitsune” will get stuck in your head for a minimum of a few days after your first listen. Ballad “Rondo of Nightmare” and the final epic track “Ijime Dame Zettai” are the next-best songs on the album, partly because they have the greatest cohesion of J-pop and metal. Out of all the tracks, the most enjoyable to my surprise was the classic Linkin Park-esque “Onadair Daisakusen,” complete with semi-rapped lyrics which is almost completely devoid of kawaii moments, forming a nice break from cute overload.
My main problem with the album is that, while there’s no particularly bad songs, there’s just too many where the J-pop and metal moments blend so poorly. While the death metal tracks are all guilty of this, the worst offender must be “Doki Doki Morning,” the verses of which contain a ridiculously unnecessary amount of drumbeats and technical guitars before the chorus abruptly changes into over-the-top bubblegum pop. This rapid change of pace is rather disorientating, and there really is such a thing as too much cuteness. This was compounded upon discovering an English translation of the lyrics to “Doki Doki Morning” and finding that they are also ridiculously happy, being about make-up and going out with the girls. To describe this song, I would say that it’s like dipping a kitten into a vat of cute and then pulling it out to discover that the feline’s now wearing leather and studs. There’s just too much happening in the song for it to properly make sense, which is sadly a problem that runs throughout the entire record. When it works, properly mixing the electronic, power metal and J-pop into a proper collaborative bundle, Babymetal‘s enjoyable, but it’s when it tries to expand into death, thrash or even technical metal that this album shows its weaknesses.
Despite all of the above problems, I found myself enjoying Babymetal. While the musical style has a very schizophrenic feel as it jumps from genre to genre, the girlie vocals cause all of the songs to have an underlying familiarity. It’s fairly obvious that Su-Metal is the main focus of the group, with her talented voice standing out far beyond the contributions of Yui and Maometal, although it does appear that their additions are much more noticeable in both the live setting and their videos with their ridiculously energetic dances. It’s Su-Metal’s voice that provides a light counter-balance to all the different genres of metal in play, staying steady whatever the tone. In some songs, it does appear that autotuning is evident. However, in these cases it seems as much for effect as anything else, and the production throughout is, if not spot-on, then pretty close.
Babymetal are never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, being too pop for some and too metal for others, and in all honesty, while their self-titled album is commendable, it just sounds like its trying too hard to be something different. But the record is something that a lot of serious metal fails to be… fun. Something that I adore about a lot of pop and power metal, because while they’re not the cleverest of genres, they’re oh so very enjoyable. I genuinely hope that Babymetal stay around long enough to make a second album, this time created by a stable group of writers and musicians who can properly meld the metal and J-pop into one genuinely compatible stew. For now, they’re just another guilty pleasure… albeit a fun one.