Released: 2014, Toys Factory
If you are like me you may have heard of BabyMetal via social media. The minute I heard about this new band from Japan I immediately order the self-titled CD. This was too new, too unique and too interesting to ignore.
If you are not familiar, BABYMETAL is a band that mixes Japanese pop (J-pop) music with Heavy Metal. In a sense this is almost an offshoot of Visual-Kei mixing the dissimilar East vs. Metal styles into a unique blend. Founded in early 2012 the band has released a few singles, which became very successful and now they have released their first, full-length debut album. The album is 13 tracks and runs about 56 minutes. The cover is a bit dull, just the logo and there is a nice booklet with surprisingly few pictures. Of course it is Japanese so there is no translation of lyrics or liner notes in the 14 page black and white booklet. The production is immaculate and crystal clear.
There has been some talk about this band based on their mage. The band is fronted by three girls; ranging in age from 14 to 16. They are each singers and dancers who wear costumes and perform dance moves in a distinctly Japanese style. The backing band is known as ‘Babybone’ (or at times Full Metal Band) which are actual musicians dressed in skeleton costumes. Not too much is known about the identities of the backing members other than guitarist Takayoshi Ohmura is a shredder who works with Marty Friedman. The whole image has contributed to some negative commentary but I think it looks different and interesting. The name BabyMetal does not refer to the age of the three teen singers but the fact that it is a new sub-genre in it’s infancy. The genre is sometimes also called ‘Newborn Metal’ or ‘Cute Metal’.
Focusing on the actual music, it is a very unique and interesting blend of styles. The album is quite fast and heavy, with many of the songs driven by a pummeling beat and double-kick drums. There are hints of industrial Metal but more of a happier/pop style, rather than an abrasive Fear Factory style. The vocals are very high and squeaky as you expect from pre-teen Japanese girls. They demonstrate that they can song on track eleven, roughed translated as ‘Rondo Nightmare’ the singing is more traditional, but for the most part the vocals are much more of lilted, sing-song talking type of delivery. Many of the songs are punctuated with acoustic piano or synthesizers, and some sound-effect flourishes before diving headlong back into raging metal. The first track almost falls into Death Metal territory and is in fact called ‘BabyMetal Death’. There are some Death style vocals and a few songs have a few Death style roars and growls on them. The last song is called ‘No More Bullying’ and after a short acoustic piano intro rips into what is very conventional Italian styled Speed/Power Metal with the aforementioned J-pop vocals and a strong female lead vocal. The album is a bit schizophrenic in a sense with many styles but don’t be fooled the whole album is quite heavy. I’m really enjoying this record despite not understanding the lyrics.
Why such a high rating for a seemingly novelty CD? I think is important to acknowledge evolutionary steps in Metal. Early innovators and pioneers in many genres were at first questioned or even mocked and ridiculed. From all the way back twhere two nice, quiet Jewish boys from New York put on make-up and breathed fire and spit blood (Kiss), to space monsters from the Antaractica, (GWAR), to Italian guys mixing 80’s Speed Metal with Hollywood film-score soundtracks (Rhapsody), to pagan Finnish dudes mixing folk music with Metal (Korpiklaani), there have even important bands and benchmarks where can almost track a new sub-genre back to one single band or point in time. BabyMetal is one of those evolutionary steps. Despite what some purists may think, I believe this is an important album. J-pop is a massive (albeit largely regional) phenomena and this new sub-genre (like visual–kei) may stay in relegated to Asia. However, in today’s global Metal market, those traditional barriers are no longer really relevant, as anyone can buy a CD from any company in any country on-line, let alone download it! I expect this sub-genre to grow and in a few years people will look back at BabyMetal as the first of it’s kind.