Music coughs up some really weird things sometimes. Apparently they’ve been fairly well known in Japan for a few years now, but when the rest of the world recently noticed Babymetal more than a few eyebrows were raised. Put together by a talent agency as part of the Japanese “idol” culture, featuring a trio of girls who are currently between 14 and 16 who didn’t even know what metal was prior to the group being created, with a backing band who dress up in a variety of ridiculous costumes including what appears to be skeleton onesies, fusing metal with J-pop in a style they call “kawaii metal”, and putting as much emphasis on their choreography as their music, this surely isn’t a group that can be taken seriously. Is it? Even more waves were made by the company Babymetal has kept within the metal scene, being publicly endorsed by Trivium’s Matt Heafy among others, going as far as doing a photo-shoot with him, and even being joined on-stage by Taiwanese extreme metal gods Chthonic. Their self-titled debut album is finally out, largely containing a mix of the singles that have been released over the past couple of years, and the reality of what Babymetal presents is very surprising.
As already stated, musically this shouldn’t be anything genuinely credible, but against all odds, Babymetal has created an album with more than its fair share of good moments. Their mix of styles is rather disorienting. Opener Babymetal Death barely even features any of the girls’ vocals, and is mainly packed with thrashing melodeath-isms, a relentless start to an album that switches between styles in an almost random fashion. Some songs are more openly pop than others, like Ii ne! which is essentially just Japanese techno with some electric guitars thrown in, and even features a bizarre rap section (one of the moments of this album which doesn’t really work), and then there’s songs like Babymetal Death and Gimme Choco!! which are a lot heavier and more aggressive. Instrumentally this is a pretty good listen, the industrial grooves some of these songs have being both pummelling and infectious. Some tracks are weaker than others and can be skipped over, but the majority are actually quite good. There’s a fair few enjoyable guitar solos too like in Akatsuki. They have some resemblance musically to their countrymen Crossfaith, synths adding an extra bouncing energy to their metal. Vocally it’s a mixed bag, the pre-pubescent Japanese singing sometimes being a little bit irritating but often being actually very catchy, with the vocals becoming more acceptable with further listens. There are even death growls and screams here and there.
Lyrically it’s of course abysmal, songs varying from childish anti-bullying sentiments (Ijime, Dame, Zettai), to sucking up to parents so they buy lots of cute things (Onedari Daisakusen), to the self-explanatory Gimme Choco!!. The thing is though that’s certainly not good enough reason to slate this album, because anyone who expected anything more from a manufactured group consisting of teenage pop singers is insane, and the fact that the lyrics are all in Japanese means that to Western ears the lyrics aren’t a factor anyway. If anything it adds to their bizarre Japanese icon aesthetic. The song Megitsune meanwhile presents easily the highest point musically on the album, its intro including traditional Asian instruments in a fashion similar to Chthonic before jumping into the huge synth-laced main riff, as well as featuring an enormous chorus and even a breakdown which crushes some deathcore bands’ attempts.
This really should be horrible, a horrendously executed commercialized mess with no artistic merit and no reason to listen to it apart from the novelty value. Somehow though, in a bizarre twist, it’s not. Babymetal has its ups and downs, but for the most part it’s a catchy, fun, genre-schizophrenic and ultimately enjoyable slice of pop-metal. It makes recent efforts of bands like Issues seem all the more laughable as it shows that even something as un-metal as J-pop can be fused with heavy music to surprising effect, and as a totally surreal yet still tangibly satisfying experience, Babymetal is a group that have certainly defied expectations.