For Fans Of
First came ‘Metal Resistance‘ in 2016, now comes ‘Metal Galaxy.’ On Babymetal’s third LP, the Japanese act runs the aesthetic and cultural gamut sound-wise; like the videography of Katy Perry came to musical life. As the vision behind ‘Metal Galaxy‘ is obsessed with variety, so much so that it’s like an exaggerated metal mixtape; merging the group’s equally lauded and loathed brand of J-metal-meets-J-pop with an array of other musical styles. Which makes for an interesting record, one where Babymetal rarely repeats themselves, but also an incredibly messy record that ranges wildly in quality and consistency. Sometimes it sticks the landing super well and you’re reminded of why you started listening to Babymetal in the first place. But other times, it botches things in such an odd manner that it leaves you scratching your head, wondering what the hell Key Kobayashi, AKA Kobametal (their songwriter and producer), was thinking when he wrote certain tracks. Whilst thinking ahead and being open to new ideas, it also sounds as if Koba simply threw a heap of different ideas at a wall and just hoped they’d all stick, but that seldom ever works out as such.
Even so, Babymetal has toured the world over the last couple of years (Australia included), made allies with some of metal’s biggest names, and now they’re expanding the sights and size of their vision and demographic with a litany of features and experimenting with new sounds. Music crosses endless linguistic and geographical boundaries, of course, but this album does feel a little like a “culture-vulture” sometimes, plucking the sounds of different regions with reckless abandon to fuse them this Kawaii-metal schtick in a gimmicky way. That gripe aside, and despite what you think of Babymetal or how they operate, this isn’t them playing it that safe. Yet while I commend Koba and the group for their bonkers songwriting and boldness, not all of their adventurous moves work out well.
With a robotic voiceover, opener ‘Future Metal‘ announces that this IS Babymetal and that you’d better ‘fasten your neckbrace’ for the eventual head-banging as the album’s proverbial space rocket shoots off into this wild and weird Japanese pop-metal galaxy. It’s simultaneously the most Babymetal thing ever and possibly the cringiest openings to a record I’ve heard all year, with some crazy electronic sequencing occurring too. Then we get the expensive-sounding dance-metal gloss of ‘DA DA DANCE,’ which sounds like it could’ve belonged in the F-Zero X soundtrack, even featuring tapping and legato runs from B’z guitarist, Tak Matsumoto. (I didn’t know this prior researching for my review, but B’z is apparently one of the highest-selling musical artists in Japan. More ya know.)
At times, Babymetal plays it close to the chest and stick to familiar territory. The galloping, keys-stricken uplifting closer, ‘Arkadia,’ is a decent send-off that sounds like it would’ve perfectly sat on either of their two previous records, with huge vocal melodies, fast double kicks, and ballsy power metal guitars. The groovy-as-hell, double-drop C riffs and soaring hooks of ‘Starlight‘ and the heavier darkness of ‘Distortion‘ (this album version features Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz as the screamer and I’m not as sold on it when compared with the original) are the album’s better moments. Whilst they’re two of safer songs, they also work the best, and the fact that they were chosen as the pre-release cuts shows that their management and label knew this too.
We also get a far more generic and straight-forward, arena-sized J-rock tune with ‘Kagerou,’ one that sees Babymetal keeping things tasteful, simple and safe. Yet it works so fucking well, making for one of the albums strongest choruses as a result, where we also see how Su-metal’s voice has really improved as she’s gotten older (she’s now 21.) And for the most part, whilst adding in Spanish flamenco flavors with acoustic guitars, synths blaring like mariachi trumpets, and Latin percussion, ‘Night Night Burn!‘ is quite a typical Babymetal number. Other than that, it’s a relatively fine, harmless track, one that wouldn’t have gone amiss on their debut.
One personal stand-out for yours truly, the short, glitzy and cutesy ‘Elevator Girl,’ makes for a seriously hooky, fun little number early on for the record’s pacing, with plenty of dueling guitar harmonies as well. (Fun little fact: ‘Elevator Girl‘ has also become only the second song of their entire discography to now be fully sung in English.) ‘PA PA YA!!‘ definitely works better within the context and track placement of the larger record then it as a single, but F.HERO’s guest rapping feature near the end does hold it back, even if it contains one of the better choruses on the whole effort.
There’s a rather silly and pedestrian video-game-themed song in the form of ‘↑↓←→BBAB,’ one that’s paired with gaming lingo about high scores, save points and some 8-bit synths. The Middle-Eastern themed ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti‘ comes armed with Sanskrit singing, tanpura drones, setor, and other traditional Indian instrumentation to make for a Babymetal takeover of Bollywood that’s honestly not half bad. Elsewhere, ‘Brand New Day‘ sees Polyphia guitarists Tim Henson and Scott LePage lend their trademark playing to a slick pop-metal jam that acts like Babymetal’s take on a ‘New Levels New Devils‘ hit. Which is me saying that it’s a bright, bubbly, technical and downright catchy prog-metal tune – stuttering riffs, jazz chords, trap hi-hats, poppy finger snaps, and all.
‘BxMxC‘ is Babymetal’s version of hard-tuned, heavily edited djent-trap. (I hate myself a little bit for typing that.) It’s like J-pop mumble rap; like the Idol-metal version of Migos or Cardi B, with Su-Metal going off with triplet vocal flows and glitchy edits over programmed drums and noise-gated-into-the-sun guitar chugs. And speaking of, this album’s near-constant use of stop-starting, staccato djent riffs gets old quickly, especially considering that this record is 16 songs long; a length that could’ve been trimmed down. But I digress! I tweeted about this song prior to the record’s release, saying that I couldn’t tell if I hated or loved it, but after spending more time with the record, I can’t tell a lie: ‘BxMxC‘ is ironically and unironically sick. It’s the hardest and toughest Babymetal have ever sounded, and it’s become a fave of mine for their catalog.
On the complete opposite side, ‘Oh! MAJINAI‘ is this god-awful pirate-metal jam that’s meant to be an endearing, arm-in-arm shanty that you sing with your mates but comes off like a highly needless, hyper-questionable folk-metal experiment. One that’s made all the worse by Saboton’s own Joakim Broden guesting, with not even a giant prog-metal breakdown happening over some bagpipes being able to save this bloody mess. The foreboding opening choral section sounds of ‘In The Name Of‘ bode well at first, before becoming this bland metal instrumental with distorted voiceovers and low grunts that don’t go anywhere interesting. You can take the screaming out of Babymetal’s three-part pop vocal style, but when you take the catchy J-pop singing out instead, suddenly the rest of the arrangement doesn’t hold up anywhere near as well. And then there’s the mid-tempo, acoustic-strummed, string-happy power ballad of the penultimate ‘Shine,’ easily one of the cheesiest, most unaffecting Babymetal tracks of the whole damn lot.
On ‘Metal Galaxy,’ when Babymetal hit they hit damned hard, yet when they miss, they miss extraordinarily so. Yes, the good of ‘Metal Galaxy’ does outweigh the bad, but only by a bee’s dick. Even then, ‘Metal Galaxy’ is fun, bat-shit insane record, and one that could’ve only come from Babymetal. It crosses cultural and geographical lines to bring us the band’s J-pop/J-metal vision to all corners of the globe as it merges a whole host of other musical styles with the bands Kawaii-metal and numerous guest features. Sometimes this approach works well (‘Shanti Shanti Shanti,’ ‘Brand New Day,’ ‘BxMxC’), but on other occasions, it comes out as a real disaster (‘Oh! MAJINAI’, ‘In The Name Of’.) And even when the band does stick to what they know and what we all expect (‘Arkadia, ‘Starlight,’ ‘Kagerou’) it’s crystal clear that there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank of what was once considered just a viral internet musical oddity that’s now a worldwide musical phenomenon. Even if certain familiar-sounding tracks don’t entertain as much as they maybe should (‘Shine,’ ‘↑↓←→BBAB). Where the women of Babymetal, the Kami band instrumentalists, and producer Kobametal will go from here is anyone’s guess.
- Future Metal
- DA DA DANCE
- Elevator Girl
- Shanti Shanti Shanti
- Oh! MAJINAI
- Brand New Day
- Night Night Burn!
- IN THE NAME OF
- PA PA YA!!
‘Metal Galaxy’ is out now: