2016, Ear Music
Has any band EVER divided metal fans more? Should this J-Pop crossover trio even be considered “metal” at all? How does a manufactured YouTube act manage to appeal to young pop fans and beardy metal fans alike, to the extent they can sell out Wembley Arena? These questions and more have baffled the rock/metal world for 2 years now, since Babymetal’s “Gimme Chocolate” video was unleased on an unsuspecting and very confused world. One thing’s for certain: what many people dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan gimmick has proven to be anything but that. With the release of their second album, Metal Resistance, Babymetal has the momentum of a runaway freight train and soon they will rule the world. And I for one welcome our new Japanese overlords.
For anyone who was unconvinced by Babymetal’s self-titled debut album, it’s worth stating that Metal Resistance has a distinctly different feel to it. There seems to be a concerted effort to create a more mature sound, perhaps due to the increase in the girls’ ages. The songs on their debut album were written over a period of 5 years or so, with Su-Metal, MoaMetal and YuiMetal’s ages ranging from about 10-14, and as a result there was a distinct lack of stylistic cohesion. Now aged 16-18, they’re not little girls anymore; there’s much less of the cutesy, bubblegum stuff that typified their earlier music, with their producers/musicians no doubt realising that a more serious metal sound would be needed in order for Babymetal to have any kind of long-term appeal. Rather than just indiscriminately splicing J-Pop and metal elements together, the music on Metal Resistance features the different styles being blended together much more intelligently, and it is a far superior artistic and cultural statement as a result.
Just about every shade of the metal spectrum is explored here, and there isn’t a track where Babymetal’s idiosyncratic style doesn’t work. Track one “Road of Resistance” will be familiar to many, as it has already appeared as a bonus track on the UK version of Babymetal. Guest-starring Dragonforce guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman, it is essentially a Dragonforce song with Babymetal singing over the top of it. A million miles an hour with an earworm of a vocal melody, it gets the album off to a gloriously epic start. Follow-up track “Karate”, the album’s lead single, shifts to a 90s nu-metal/industrial mood, with heavy guitar riffs and a catchy chorus interspersed with plenty of mellow, introspective moments; sort of like KoRn meets The Cranberries. The one-two punch of these opening tracks show how much Babymetal have evolved since their debut album; there’s much, much more to them than sugary J-pop chirpiness.
Traditional J-Pop elements are still very much present throughout the rest of the album, but they blend with the heavier metal aspects much better than before. “Awadama Fever” is simultaneously upbeat and harsh with a BEAST of a riff kicking in halfway through that will surely convert even the most cynical of “true metal” fans. “Meta Taro” is an anthem made to be performed live, one you’ll be singing for ages; the kind of catchy vocal melody J-Pop is famous for combines with a great militaristic rhythm a la Rammstein and the sort of catchy keyboard riff many European power metal bands spend their whole careers trying (and failing) to write. And “Sis. Anger” doesn’t mess about at all, launching into full on Cannibal Corpse territory with its death metal intensity, and it’s no less brutal despite the catchy chorus. You find yourself forgetting that Babymetal are manufactured; this may be the product of a record company rather than the organic work of young musicians, but who cares when the results are this good!?
The best is saved to last though, with the 3 closing tracks being amongst the most enjoyable metal tracks I’ve heard for quite some time. “No Rain, No Rainbow” is unashamedly a ballad, with a gloriously camp guitar solo. It manages to stay just the right side of cheesy; expect to hear it over the end credits of a big anime film soon. “Tales of the Destinies” is a big polyrhythmic ball of prog-metal weirdness, with the likes of Dream Theater and Dillinger Escape Plan clearly being influences here; its sheer audacity is nothing if not impressive. And then, to close, there’s “The One”. Sung in English on the album’s international version, the girls of Babymetal show off the full power of their voices on this epic metal anthem. A great call-to-arms, it leaves the listener wanting more, intrigued as to what may follow on future releases…
Whereas Babymetal was an interesting experiment to mix together J-Pop and metal, Metal Resistance takes the concept to a much higher level; this is J-Pop-influenced metal, perhaps the start of a new genre of music. I would strongly encourage all those who wrote Babymetal off as a cheap novelty act to give this album a go; unless you’re as stubborn as a mule, you will find plenty to enjoy here. Novelty acts don’t attract this level of sustained attention without the songs to back up the concept. Metal Resistance shows that Babymetal and their producers take this endeavour deadly seriously, and this is surely only the beginning (sorry haters!)