Album Review: BABYMETAL Metal Galaxy
The more time we spend online, the more we become accustomed to living in a global village. Physical distance and geopolitical borders are rendered all but meaningless on the internet, while evolutionary creative processes that stretch deep into the history of civilization continue to erode cultural boundaries. Thanks to the rise of mashup culture, which recently married Slayer to “Yakety Sax” and Pantera to David Bowie, we’re exposed to left-of-field musical visions on a regular basis – and Babymetal have proven that even the most unlikely juxtapositions can become commercially successful.
Even if you’re totally new to metal, you’ll doubtless be fully aware that sugary pop traditionally represents everything that “true metalheads” hate. Although there are some genuinely talented pop acts out there, targeting formulaic tunes at undiscerning listeners purely for commercial gain is considered the ultimate act of blasphemy by headbangers worldwide. Just as uptight and conservative citizens glare pointedly at anyone who dares to declare their love for heavy music, plenty of our own peers automatically stick their middle fingers up at anything remotely melodic.
The battle lines have been clearly drawn for decades, etched into our culture’s landscape so deeply that the chasms have become impossible to cross in some places. It boils down to openness, a willingness to engage and embrace the unfamiliar and uncool – whatever that means to you. As a trio of Japanese girls (recruited as pre-teens by producer Key Kobayashi) who dance and sing in high-pitched voices while their backing band charge through deep-pocketed grooves and gut-ripping riffs, Babymetal represent a challenging proposition to even the most open minds – and that is largely why they’ve succeeded.
Since Japanese culture marches to the beat of its own taiko drum, Babymetal naturally achieved significant success and acclaim in their homeland after emerging as part of the larger Sakura Gakuin collective. By the time their eponymous debut album dropped in 2014, the trio were already big enough to sell out two nights at the Budokan in Tokyo – but they encountered mixed reactions when they arrived on foreign shores. Although Babymetal’s unorthodox presence and early viral hit “Gimme Chocolate!!” won them plenty of fans, they were also instinctively dismissed as a fad. Lovers and haters promptly launched into a debate that would gradually simmer down as the band themselves proved unstoppable.
Babymetal’s list of accomplishments is formidable, to say the least. They’ve been accepted and praised by everyone from Metallica to Judas Priest, Slayer, and Dragonforce; leapt up album charts on both sides of the Atlantic with 2016’s Metal Resistance, and even played the UK’s Download Festival despite promoter Andy Copping famously insisting they’d never perform there. Purists may keep sniping from behind their keyboards, but Babymetal have graduated from underdogs to all-conquering superstars – and the resistance is quickly running out of steam.
Had Babymetal been set up as a two-dimensional buck-grabbing project, they would’ve failed by now. Instead, Kobayashi’s team have always injected a diverse array of influences, from hip-hop and reggae to dubstep and ska, into the band’s core “kawaii metal” style. By thinking long-term, the minds behind Babymetal gave the group the best possible chance of success, and it’s paid off. Metal Galaxy is another carefully calculated and meticulously composed step into the future.
After listening to a couple of songs from Babymetal’s back catalog, it’s easy to assume that you’ve heard everything they have to offer, but Metal Galaxy is full of surprises. This album’s advance singles have already showcased fresh influences from around the world, including Thai rap (“Pa Pa Ya!!”) and traditional Indian music (“Shanti Shanti Shanti”), but the voyage doesn’t stop there. “Night Night Burn!” incorporates Latin sections and acoustic guitars; “Kagerou” boasts Bring Me The Horizon vibes; “Starlight” is a brutal djent rampage; and Polyphia guitarists Tim Henson and Scott LePage turn “Brand New Day” into a standout track with stuttering riffs, jazzy chords, and funky rhythms.
More than ever before, Babymetal are promoting a positive and timely message of global unity. You can love or hate their music, but there’s no stopping the emotional and creative forces that fuel it.