Review by Teresa Hopkins
Label: EAR MUSIC
Release Date: May 29, 2015
01. Babymetal Death
03. Gimme Chocolate!
06. Doki Doki Morning
07. Onedari Daisakusen
08. Song 4
09. Uni Uki Midnight
10. Catch Me If You Can
11. Rondo Of Nightmare
13. Ijime, Dame, Zettai
14. Road Of Resistance
15. Gimme Chocolate!! (Live at the O2)
Heavy Metal is all about breaking the rules. Going against a perceived norm. Is it possible that some of us have gotten, well, comfortable in that genre of rebellion? Metal music has been around long enough that fans have come to know what to expect, to a certain extent, because despite all the subgenres birthed from it, the same basic elements are there in terms of attitude, lifestyle, the visual aspects, and of course (and especially) the music.
And every now and then, something comes along that shakes things up a bit—or a lot. Get your mind around this concept: BABYMETAL, a fusion of Kawaii (that’s Japanese for “cute”) and Metal. Originally released on February 26, 2014 under Toy’s Factory in Japan, BABYMETAL’s debut album has been re-released under various record labels, including Ear Music, and includes two extra tracks (‘Road of Resistance’, ‘Gimme Chocolate!! Live at the O2′).
It goes without saying that BABYMETAL have become the subject of some controversy among the music world. Last year, the single and video for ‘Gimme Chocolate’ were making the rounds. I gave it a listen, but at that time, I couldn’t make it through the entire song. I was flabbergasted.
And I was sure that metal purists would be up in arms about it. Oh, the sacrilege! My first impression was that whomever came up with this basically took every surface stereotype of what they thought heavy metal encompasses, mashed it up, poured pink candy sugar on it, and set about marketing it to the masses. It pissed me off! I was all ready to go on a rant about it, but after simmering down, I figured it would be a quick fad, run its course, and that would be it, so no use getting all riled up about it. Then, about a month ago, the album showed up on the list of available reviews at Metal Shock. Since nobody was chomping at the bit for this one, and I just happened to be in one of those moods, I thought, OK…I’ll review it…(heh, heh)…and I won’t spare my opinions.
Before I delved in, though, I was interested in what the music-loving public thought about the band and their style. On the subject of what exactly defines metal, YouTube commenter “miffed123” wrote, “cute doesn’t freaking belong in metal.” Yeah, you tell ’em… But Eric Richards, another YouTube user, presented a valid counterpoint that had to be considered: “We were saying the same thing in the bay area during the ’80s. Pink spandex and blonde frizzy hair [weren’t] supposed to be metal…If you want to be metal, there are certain rules. The problem is that people didn’t obey the rules. And not obeying the rules is part of being metal. Now there’s a rule that says you can’t be cute? So basically, what you are saying is that they are totally unconventional and being completely off-the-wall. If that isn’t metal, I don’t know what is…If you really want to be metal, you don’t care about rules. All you care about is being the baddest most awesome mofos in the universe. And right now, that’s Babymetal.”
Refuting the naysayers, Mr. Richards went on: “Why do you have a problem with metal bands and gimmicks? GWAR and KISS–hello!!!! Hell, hair metal was a gimmick. Also, realize the genre that ‘is dominated by middle-aged men’ were once teenagers that didn’t know what metal or thrash was because they were creating it. It was fun, creative, and full of energy and attitude—things that BABYMETAL has in abundance. Although I think a problem many have is that their attitude is ‘kawaii’, and they are not posers in the cute department. The musicians are certainly no posers either, and could probably teach Yngwie a few things. So what you have here are three very ‘genki’ or energetic girls and four world class musicians that bring energy, excitement, originality, and fun back to metal. What’s not to love?”
Some popular YouTubers were brought together and asked their thoughts of the band and the concept. Initially, they seemed aghast at the unusual mix of genres. I think Scott Hoying summed it up when he said: “It’s like bubble gum meets the devil.” Eventually, though, everyone in that group was getting into it, including Steve Zaragoza of SourceFed who said, “As long as we’re introducing metal to a whole new group of people—in some way, this could be like the Little Golden Books of Metal. I don’t think I’ve embraced a band so quickly before in my life!”.
Well, the stats don’t lie: the original release reached #24 on the Billboard Hard Rock albums chart and #16 on the Billboard Heatseekers albums chart. On March 1, 2014, they became the youngest female artists to hold a live concert at Nippon Budokan. And, as of July 2, 2015, having been on the Billboard World albums chart for 58 weeks, the album was at #1—for the second week in a row. Evidently, quite the fan base exists (BABYMETAL’s following is, um, HUGE).
Entertainment company Amuse, Inc.’s mysterious producer and rabid music fan KOBAMETAL (Key Kobayashi) could see that while metal still enjoys a good following, it doesn’t seem to be getting bigger so much as it is getting older. A metal purist himself, he realized that something different and original was essential to bring in new fans and keep metal music constant. He came up with the idea of combining two of his favorite genres, idol pop and metal.
Kobayashi tapped some of Japan’s best talent for the band. BABYMETAL’s front line—SU-METAL (Suzuka Nakamoto), MOA-METAL (Moa Kikuchi), and YUI-METAL (Yui Mizuno) are former members of SAKURA GAKUIN, a Japanese pop girl group which institutes a special system with their members: after they graduate from junior high, they “graduate” from the group. Helping to bring Kobayashi’s vision to fruition is the Kami Band, BABYMETAL’s backline.
They are the energetic, hard core foundation for the songs, regardless of subject matter. The band members aren’t fixed; the guys have a lot of side projects going on, as accolades and requests for their talents increase. Currently (to the best of my knowledge, based on what I could find in research) their lineup features Takayoshi Ohmura and Mikio Fujioka (guitars), BOH (bass guitar), and Hideki Aoyama (drums). Other notable members include Leda Cygnus (guitar), Yuya Maeta (drums) and IKUO (bass guitar).
The guys in the Kami Band, with their faces painted a stark black and white, look like Immortal went Kabuki—and they can seriously shred. Suzuka, Moa, and Yui are so friggin’ adorable I can’t stand it (call it a mommy-bias, but it’s true). Their red and black matching outfits are a combination of girly and metal elements, tutus and pigtails included. Suzuka’s voice is strong, and she leads the trio and their songs with a sense of control. Their voices are pure and lovely, and they perform and harmonize well together. The girls were apparently somewhat oblivious to heavy metal before KOBAMETAL put the group together, but they’re all on board with it now (Moa is learning guitar; Yui digs Ariana Grande AND Cannibal Corpse!). Suzuka, in a recent interview with Loudwire, said, “Most of our songs’ lyrics have messages toward girls like ourselves…We are hoping to get the girls who don’t know about metal to listen to our music.” Well, cool…because as of yet, I’ve had trouble finding other fans of, say, Pantera at PTA meetings and school functions, and after all the academic-related talk, what else interesting is there to talk about while eating stale pretzels and drinking from juice boxes?
As a fan of heavy metal, a parent (of at least one teen with a fascination for Japanese art and culture) and as a (mostly unbiased) music journalist, I finally caved and reluctantly listened to “BABYMETAL” all the way through…and…to my utter shock and surprise…I kinda liked it.
I was conflicted, though: while I was digging on the heavy, dark feel of the music, I felt I was being hypnotized by one of those swirly, colorful all-day lollipops and had a strange urge to get out my Magic Bubble Wand (yes, I still have one).
‘Babymetal Death’ opens the album with a 1:16 long synth intro after which drums and guitar kick in, replicating the sound of machine guns, moving on to something thrashworthy. Then, what sounds like a death-metal Cookie Monster spells out “B-A-B-Y-M-E-T-A-L”, after which “Death!” is chanted in between a spoken phrase by SU-METAL. Hey, my 11-year old thought it was pretty cool.
The album is full of surprises. Two tracks that are more in the melodic power metal vein really stand out. ‘Megitsune’ (a female fox) seems to be about women coming into their own and being strong after pretending not to mind the gender oppression for so long. In ‘Akatsuki’, the pain of lost love cuts like a sword to the heart.
‘Gimme Chocolate’–well, this one needs no explanation, really. But anybody with a real chocolate jones that strong isn’t fretting about the aftermath of indulgence (trust me; I’m an expert). Although the song is about my favorite thing in the world, it still annoys the hell out of me. ‘Iine’ has an electronic-pop feel with a little juvenile rap thrown in the middle, and the lyrics pretty much reflect the intended age-set. That continues with ‘Doki Doki Morning’, on which the three girls sing of the preteen angst of getting ready for a school day, while the band shreds behind them. A little girl lays on the charm in ‘Onedari Daisakusen': come on, Daddy-O—fork over the cash!
‘Song 4′, while keeping with the general strange feel of the album (and maybe taking it up another notch), is one of the most contrasting mash-ups in the tracklist. Smack in the middle of this thrashfest the song turns…are you ready for this?…REGGAE!?!? Apparently Yui and Moa came up with this little ditty about counting a couple of years ago and tortured everybody with it. ‘Song 4′ is split-personality on steroids (remember the movie Sybil?) And yet…for whatever reason that I cannot explain, I love its demented feel.
When you think of the most unlikely topic for a song, what comes to mind? I’ll bet it isn’t eating squid arms! HA! But wait—you can have the sweets, too. ‘Uni Uki Midnight’ is a melodic ode to the Japanese delicacy, and to celebrating and then getting so full you want to go to sleep.
Up for a game of hide-and-seek tag? ‘Catch Me If You Can’ is a theme song for you. It’s another fun departure from the norm with a catchy melody and those irresistibly cute little voices of theirs. But don’t get me wrong; that earlier Pantera reference was on purpose. The music backing up these pre-pubescent stories is heavy as hell.
‘Rondo of Nightmare’ breaks from the kawaii a bit with haiku about the darkness and a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows. Childhood, treasured, is in the past… Mourn it, but only for a moment, because when ‘Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!’ plays, it’s time to grow up and whip out the neck brace. ‘Ijime, Dame, Zettai’ deals with the topic of bullying—the victims and the offenders—and how it hurts everyone.
The anthemic ‘Road of Resistance’, one of two extra tracks, is among the strongest songs on the album and shows a maturing, especially in the vocal delivery (of lyrics that speak of unity for a better future) and in its alignment with the metal genre. I suspect their drummer was ready to pass out after beating out something that would make even Anthrax’s ‘Gung Ho’ seem a little slow… Well, check out the live performance for yourself:
Right now, although the lyrics seem to be aimed at those in the same general age group as Su, Yui, and Moa, BABYMETAL’s fan base has a wide range in terms of age. The girls are growing up so fast—and as they mature, I think this will reflect more in the songs. I can’t say for sure if that would be a good or a bad thing, because their appeal is the combination of qualities (from one extreme to the other) that separate them from the mainstream and make them stand out so starkly. If BABYMETAL brings more people to metal, that could be a good thing, because then maybe we’d no longer have to lament about being ostracized or misunderstood. But wait…wasn’t that how the whole movement got started?
BABYMETAL are breaking the rules, rebelling against conformity, and rocking hard. To reiterate Mr. Richards’ declaration: If that isn’t metal, I don’t know what is. But metal is more than just the music. It’s attitude, lifestyle, and a myriad of other things that make up the essence. My litmus test for any band is whether or not they come from a place of authenticity, regardless of what genre is represented. Despite the total mind-trip that is this album (major understatement), I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t a joke. These are all very talented, hardworking musicians and performers who are serious about their craft and entertaining their fans. This is quite evident from the massive, enthusiastic crowds attending their shows. Yeah, folks, that’s real.
BABYMETAL will no doubt continue to be a subject of debate. Ultimately, though, you’ll have to listen for yourself and make up your own mind about them. But be careful—they grow on you.
Suzuka Nakamoto – Lead Vocals (“sing and dance”)
Yui Mizuno – Background Vocals (“scream and dance”)
Moa Kikuchi – Background Vocals (“scream and dance”)
The KAMI BAND (current and past lineups have included):
Takayoshi Ohmura – Guitar
Mikio Fujioka – Guitar
BOH – Bass
Hideki Aoyama – Drums
Leda Cygnus – Guitar
Yuya Maeta – Drums
IKUO – Bass