Babymetal – ‘Metal Galaxy’

By Fiachra Johnston

The music industry – much like every industry – changes. At some point we all must come to terms with the fact that general tastes differ over the years, that genres come and go, that rock is no longer the same as it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. Really, it just means an opportunity to experience exciting new styles and foster interest in new and blossoming acts who dare to try something different in music. So despite what the more critical naysayers in metal may try to argue, Babymetal’s presence in music is a much needed one.

The Tokyo act, made up of ‘idol’ singers Su-metal, Moametal, and previously Yuimetal (who left for a solo career last year), have been praised for intuitive genre fusion and intense live performances by long-time performers, including Rob Zombie, who proclaimed them to have “more energy than 90% of the bands we play with”. Joined by their house musicians, Kami Band, and ‘The Avengers’ – a dance trio who replace Yuimetal in live performances – they have made their name through combining the world of J-Pop with various genres of metal, and despite suffering losses throughout the last few years, have returned with their most yet mind-bending album yet.

On the ‘Baby’ J-pop side, there is far more exploration into the genre than in previous albums, with everything from modern bubbly pop to synth lines ripped straight from a rhythm game. Down one performer, the 20 and 21 year old Moa and Su now share vocal duties, with Su handling the main vocals and Moa accompanying with backing and, when called for, screaming (which sadly is minimal on this album). The two haven’t lost their stride though, with both being technically gifted vocalists who bring an impressive range you might not normally see on a western metal album.

On the ‘Metal’ end, Kami Band still provide the hard-as-hell guitars and drums that make up the insane backing to the main duo, this time leaning into more old school J-rock akin to X Japan or B’z (whose guitarist cameos on ‘DA DA DANCE’). Both sides of the coin seem to innovate and evolve their styles through returning to classic elements from their respective genres. It’s a fresh sound, and with an improved production and mastering it feels almost like a new starting point rather than a continuation of what came before.

Babymetal made their name through fusion, though, and fuse they have. While they feature their own traditional Idol-metal blend in tracks like the lead single ‘Starlight’, a dramatic farewell to their companion Yui, the group have gone all out in their genre bending, experimenting with a baker’s dozen of styles: folk metal, prog rock, even trying their hand at vedic metal in ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ (resulting in one of the best, if maybe one of the oddest, songs on the album). Babymetal are content to weave their sound into as many styles as possible, resulting in a musical buffet of an album: there will be at least one song that will get you headbanging, of that we can be certain. Aiding in this blend are some quite high profile cameos, with Joakim Brodén from Sabaton guesting on the pirate metal ‘Oh! MAJINAI’, Polyphia guitarists Tim Henson and Scott LePage aiding in American prog rock-influenced ‘Brand New Day’, and Alissa White-Gluz from Swedish supergroup Arch Enemy aiding in vocals for the heaviest track ‘Distortion’. Some songs even feel like tributes to specific acts, such as the closing track ‘Arkadia’, which sees the group channel their inner Dragonforce for a rip roaring finish.

The downside to all this variety is that with so many guests and so many different styles being thrown at you, ‘Metal Galaxy’ suffers from Gorillaz syndrome: there are very few tracks that could be called ‘Babymetal songs’. Tracks with the group as the sole artist still have the old heaviness to previous outings, but now feature more experimentation on the J-pop side with synths and electronic elements, all of which are sonically pleasing, but leave songs lacking in terms of defining traits that link the album together. It all makes for an interesting fusion album, but not necessarily a cohesive one.

While it may not fit together perfectly, the outright joy Babymetal exude in their performance certainly mitigates some of that awkwardness. ‘Metal Galaxy’ is an incredibly fun album, one you can’t help but get engaged in – if not for the spectacle of ‘Idol Metal’, then certainly for the technical prowess and headbanging riffs they provide. Babymetal are not just a one-off curiosity in the industry for us to laugh at then move on from. They’re providing something new and fresh in an industry that demands evolution, and they’re here to stay.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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