It sounds like the premise for an import reality television sensation. Babymetal: A Japanese talent agency selects three teenage girls from its extensive roster in order to conduct a dangerous experiment: the fusion of Japanese idol pop music and extreme heavy metal. The girls, having no prior knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll’s weirdest son, must hold fast to their inner optimism as they plunge into the loud and rushing darkness…
This very experiment turned out to be a gigantic smash in Japan, and beyond. The combination of candy-sweet j-pop vocals and thunderous heavy metal was surprisingly well-received. Babymetal soon found themselves playing at music festivals alongside the likes of Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. How could such a strange and contrived experiment succeed even on a musical level, much less become the catalyst for an international frenzy?
Because the central idea isn’t that much of a stretch. So many metalheads are into so much more bizarre stuff. Speaking only of Japan, metal exports like Boris, Sigh, Melt-Banana, X Japan and Dir en grey have exposed audiences to a Japanese proclivity for musical and visual extremes. In America at least, the ground was softened from a more independent direction: Sleigh Bells’ girl-spunk vs. crushing guitars & beats revolution was already well under way… when Babymetal was just a gleam in a talent executive’s eye.
Opener “Road of Resistance” will make listeners wonder what all the fuss is about. Already in graceful sync across the floor are the dancers of j-pop and power metal. With Sam Totman and Herman Li of DragonForce kicking up a heroic guitar storm, Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal need only sustain the sense of adventure with their vocals – which they undoubtedly do. The blending here feels natural and fruitful, as it does on the similarly power metal “Amore” and “Syncopation” (the latter of which was left off the international “Out of Japan” release). The mind’s eye can easily picture so many giant robots fighting, heroes conjuring beams of energy and light, sorceresses a-conjuring with twirls and winks…
Metal Resistance is more focused, interesting and effective than the group’s self-titled debut. The mixing is less cavernous and more balanced, allowing the vocal melodies to shine through. The voices of Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal’s sound stronger and more confident. With more seriousness being applied to composition, performance and mixing, the music no longer has the feel of a novelty stage show. The stakes feel raised, as if the team now has something to prove.
One difficulty that arises in their mission is the debt owed to pop. In this case, the ruined musical moods that result when an upbeat pop chorus is shoehorned into the middle of a metal song. For example, “Awadama Fever” starts off like Brian Chippendale channeling Squarepusher, with Justin Broadrick on guitars – and Babymetal on vocals. Wonderful syncopations and juxtapositions occur – until the chorus drags the song back to banal relatability. Compare “Sis. Anger,” which instead chooses an eerie, detached chorus, and sounds like a more natural musical statement as a result.
Contrived statements would be welcome too, if they rewarded fans of different subgenres. After the first few songs, listeners may be mentally shouting out requests. Like: how about a black metal?! Please do doom metal! Grindcore! Play Salieri! Unfortunately, Metal Resistance doesn’t quite work that way. The power metal influence is significant (and it sounds fun and natural), about as strong as the influence from djent-inspired modern metal (complete with macho dubstep touches, including the SICK BASS DROPS in “From Dusk Till Dawn”). Hair is apparent, especially on shameless ballad “No Rain, No Rainbow,” while a generalized arena metal sensibility guides English-language closer “The One.” Scattered throughout are nods to Industrial, IDM, EDM, and on “Tales of The Destinies,” mathcore, progressive metal and technical death metal.
Babymetal may still be marketed as novelty, but somewhere along the way, the composers, musicians, and performers behind the spectacle became serious about their contributions. With so many hands involved and such a plainly corporate mission, the results owe more to the commitment to quality than to the relentless pursuit of vision – but that’s okay. The increase in cohesiveness and quality from Babymetal to Metal Resistance is appreciable, and hardy makes sense if one simply considers Babymetal to be a synthetic cash grab; there must be something creative and musical happening here.
It is hard to know how to react to this release. With an open mind, without judgment – this is perhaps the best way. After all, metal should be about being receptive, and with a project as patently orchestrated as Babymetal, there is no paneling to cover any music industry Trojans. Metal Resistance has some checked boxes, some missed opportunities, and several moments of convincing synergy. In the coming years, Babymetal will be a trendy group to have a passing ironical knowledge of. In this case the music is genuine, and is actually worth a genuine appraisal.