Company: BMD Fox Release: 2014 Genre: Heavy J-Pop Reviewer: Greg Watson
If you're feeling brave and adventurous...
Japan's BabyMetal have certainly made waves with the release of their debut album "BabyMetal" back in February. For a while, finding the album was almost like finding the Holy Grail or the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Hence, we got this one a little late but it's still worth talking about, even 8 months later. The band ended up playing at this year's Download Festival in England to a crowd of huge proportions. If you watch the video on YouTube of their performance, the roars let you know that many metal fans are embracing this very non-traditional metal band with arms wide open. The first thing that jumps out at you when listening to BabyMetal is the fact that there is definitely some blurring of boundaries happening here. The main blur is between metal and what many in the industry refer to as "bubblegum pop", or as I like to call it, "manufactured pop". There are synthesizers, dubstep type electronics, sugary-sweet vocal choruses and even a few hip hop uses throughout the album. Then you take all that and add in some very metal musicians and you’re thrust into this chaotic carnival with hardly an idea of what to think of this bizarre union. Yet, before you can even form an opinion or curl your lip into your best derisive sneer, you find your feet start tapping or your head starts bobbing. One thing BabyMetal has done very well on this album is deliver 13 tracks of catchy, pop metal that breaks down your resistance like a puppy begging for a treat. But now it's time to get into the heart of this review, discussing the songs, the album, and the band overall.
I've listened to the BabyMetal album for a total of about two weeks now and am still no closer in figuring out whether or not this album really is metal and how it fits into our world. Putting that aside for a moment, let me be clear and say right up front that every member of BabyMetal is incredibly talented and gifted in their own way. The opening track, "BabyMetal Death", starts out seemingly innocent before launching into a riff that would rip the face off of a gargoyle. As the song careens onward, the heaviness of the track and the talent of the musicians is clearly evident. Speedy, aggressive riffing with staccato grunts creates just an absolute shit-kicker of an opener. I listened to this track and was floored at the heaviness, speed and the precision that the band possessed and thought that if this was any indication, I would be blown away come the end of the album. Well, I was right but I'll get more into that later. "Megitsune" follows and it is a severe departure from the opening track. Traditional Japanese instruments start it off right before it launches in to a synth fueled whirlwind. "Megitsune" is the first song where we actually get to hear the voices of the singers. Lead singer Su-metal and backing vocalists Moametal and Yuimetal. Su-metal has an incredibly strong voice and it commands your attention as she's delivering her lyrics, all of which are in Japanese. As the song progresses, the mechanized trill of the synthesizers give way to a breakdown that is just absolutely jaw dropping. Downtuned, pissed off, and full of rage it feels as though it was almost strategically placed or put in that spot intentionally to get the type of reaction that I just described. It lasts for about 30 seconds before returning to the synthesized hook that makes up this song. For me, it is one of my favorite tracks on the album just because of the breakdown and I also feel that this track is one of Su-metal's strongest vocal performances on the album. The single released from the album that caught everyone's attention is "Gimme Choko!!", one of the more overtly pop tracks on the album with lots of heavy riffing. This is one of my least favorite tracks as I just feel that the structure of the song was a creation of someone who didn't have the band's interest at heart. However, there is a face melting solo on this song about 2:30 in that is just incredible.
Next up we have "Iine!" which is one of the more astounding tracks on the album. It starts out with another heavy synth hook that is coupled with blastbeat drums and palm muted riffs. It's truly insane to hear it. The vocals sound like they are being run through a synthesizer as well but then laid over the top of them is an almost demonic barking. The chorus of the song is clearly pop-based and is infectiously sugary and catchy. Then comes the giant curveball at 1:27. The hook goes distinctively hip hop with heavy playing while the girls try their hands at rapping. This portion is just totally brain melting and it feels as though I just ventured in to some nightmare world. However, at 1:58 I'm brought back to reality with a fist to my face as the gears switch yet again and a death grunt followed by a titanic breakdown ensues, followed up by a pretty good solo. Then I’m returned to the chirping synthesizer hook yet again. Overall, this song is worth listening to just for the shock factor of going from J-Pop to hip hop to borderline grindcore. "Benitsuki-Akatsuki" is decisively the most metal track on the album with no pop elements found within it at all. It feels more like a power metal ballad and once again Su-metal's voice shines. I could easily see her fronting her own power metal band if she so chose or was given the opportunity to do so. "Do Ki Do Ki Morning" is probably the most pop-tinged track and easily my least favorite track on the album. The metal elements on this track feel extremely out of place and forced in as this feels like a children's song with metal added to it. "Onedari Daisakusen" is a song that primarily features Yuimetal and Moametal on vocals, as evidenced by the tinnier voices that make up the main vocals to this track. Once again using hip hop elements in this track, it feels at this point that the album is slowly beginning to veer towards a pop-oriented album.
Then "4 No Uta" comes on and brings back the metal a little. Blast beats kick this album off with a pretty solid riff making up the verses of the song. The pop elements return on the extremely catchy chorus and then a grindcore breakdown hits you at 1:27 in and then another curveball as a ska/reggae inspired steel drum section hits at 1:40, returning to the grindcore breakdown before returning yet again to the reggae feel at 2:07. This song is another example of the complete insanity that this album possesses and flaunts. At 3:40 of the track, the girls (I'm assuming) burst into a fit of giggling that just feels so out of place and poorly timed. "Uki Uki Midnight" is a track that stands out in my mind as it melds the pop feel the album is clearly based around while adding in black metal elements as well. The whispered and grunted vocals of the chorus give the song an eerie feel until a very dubstep inspired breakdown comes in at 1:35 that totally kills the song in my opinion. "Catch Me If You Can" is a more straight-forward metal feel mixing in elements of death metal and power metal as this song chugs along at a fairly speedy pace. Again, Su-metal proves she has the pipes to really belt out some notes on this one. "Akumu No Rinbukyoku" has a bit of a Nightwish feel to it minus the symphonic elements. Strong vocals provided by Su-metal combined with lush strings and subdued guitars make this track a bit of a departure and a welcome break from the chaos. "Headbanger!!" returns us to the calamity with a brutally heavy riff enshrined by sugary vocals. The verses of the song again have a bit of a power metal feel to them and the electronics make a return on this song as well. Finally, we reach "Ijime, Dame, Zettai", the closer for this strange amalgamation of music. Following the formula thus far you are fooled into thinking it's subdued with a beautiful piano intro that is quickly drowned out by a monster riff and electronics once again. This song however was clearly influenced by DragonForce with the synthesizers being used as more of a background instrument and the guitar work being ridiculously fast on the solos, making me wonder if Herman Li himself is playing on this track.
Once I finished listening to this album, I was clearly blown away but not in the sense that this album was a must listen for metal fans. More so in the fact that an outfit like this has been able to accomplish the things they have up to this point and continue to gain momentum despite many attempts to derail their progress. This album was not at all what I was expecting and after a few listens, I've come to the following conclusion--it is clear that Su-metal and the musicians that comprise the band need to be given tons of credit and recognition for their contributions. The metal elements on this album are some of the heaviest and craziest that I've heard and the folks behind the masks of the band should stand up and take a bow for playing so well. If it weren't for them, it would be damn near impossible to listen to this album. And Su-metal should truly be praised for her vocals. Showing emotion and power at the age of 16 is nothing to scoff at and she can sing her ass off ladies and gentlemen.
That being said, this album is definitely not for everyone. It's been at the center of many heated debates since BabyMetal burst on the scene. Is it really metal? Is it just pre-fabricated music put together by someone who doesn't understand metal? Does it even deserve to be called metal? The questions are endless and I will close by saying my thoughts on these and other questions that have been sparked by this band. To ask whether this is metal or not is a question that in itself is almost unanswerable without getting into some very slippery territory. In regards to that though, I'd say it's as metal as you want to make it. There are clearly metal elements present on this album yet it is clearly not a heavy metal record through and through. What it comes across as is an attempt to redefine what people interpret heavy metal to be. And everyone's interpretation of this, as with any other album, is their own and nothing any troll or elitist can say will change that. To me, the album is good for what it is, a break from the norm. But I personally don't consider it to be a heavy metal album. I enjoyed the metal elements that were on the album and hell, I even liked a few of the songs a great deal. But overall, I just felt that this was too much to handle with so much going on throughout most of the songs that it's damn near impossible to keep up and not just totally check out altogether.
So, if you're feeling brave and adventurous and want something outside the standard of the metal world to listen to, then this is your album. This is not for the faint of heart or narrow of mind, if you are going to listen to this you need to understand that it is not a metal album in the sense that we traditionalists think a metal album should be. But give it a shot and who knows, you may be the next person caught up in the BabyMetal craze.
About this Writer: Greg Watson // Greg Watson has been hooked on the loud and heavy sounds since the summer of 1994 when he first heard the opening notes of "Operation: Mindcrime" by Queensryche. Since then his tastes have expanded and grown like the ever evolving heavy metal tree of genres. He has been an active member of Maximum Metal off and on for 10 years. In his spare time, Greg enjoys deciding the fate of his loyal subjects in the realm of Skyrim and secretly playing air keyboard to "Separate Ways" by Journey when no one is watching. He currently resides in Roanoke, VA with his wife and his metal wannabe beagle.
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