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Babymetal – Metal Galaxy Review

October 12, 2019 | Posted by David Hayter
Babymetal - Metal Galaxy
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Babymetal – Metal Galaxy Review  

Talk about bad timing. Babymetal had worked so hard to establish themselves as one of metal’s premiere superstars: touring relentlessly, both on their own and in support of established legends (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), the Japanese pop-metal hybrid had finally overcome the “novelty” tag. No longer a gimmick, their rollicking sophomore LP Metal Resistance was a run away success, which saw the band headlining arenas across the globe and finally winning round surly, recalcitrant metalheads to their cause. 2019 was set to be their year. Sumetal, Moametal, Yuimetal and their hardworking all-star band were gearing up for another album, another world tour and, crucially, mainstream publicity. Babymetal would play Glastonbury and open a whole new set of doors.

That was – and to be fair, still is – the plan. The only trouble is that along the way they lost a member. On the eve of their US tour Yuimetal got sick, at least that was the story, it later turned out she wanted to pursue a solo career. Whatever the case, the trio was no more and a winning formula would have to be changed. Thus Metal Galaxy, an already pressurized release, is tasked not only with cementing Babymetal as one of the biggest bands in modern metal and shifting tickets for upcoming arena dates, but demonstrating what the band will sound like as a duo.

This might sound like a minor change, but that is to misunderstand Babymetal. First of all, as trivial as it may sound, they will have to rework all their dance routines. They are idols after all, just idols who happen to be fronting a face-melting and galaxy-conquering metal band – dance routines come with the territory. More importantly, one of the most powerful tricks the band’s book – where one vocalist (often SuMetal) takes the lead while her backers quickly interchange vocals in a rapid chant-cum-conversational pattern – is no longer an option. There is no alternative, short of recruiting a replacement, Babymetal and Metal Galaxy’s vocals must be more straightforward and conventional going forward.

Strangely, this is almost a blessing in disguise as Metal Galaxy is not only a triumph, but one that showcases the band’s capacity as straight ahead songwriters. On the album’s barnstorming closer “Arkadia”, Su and Moametal unleash a balls to the wall epic which blossoms from faux-Gregorian chanting understatement into a dragon slaying, cloud chasing, jet fighter death-spiralling explosion of unrepentant maxilmalism. The duo are reaching not so much for the stars as the outer reaches of the galaxy when the dramatic denouement to their 80s romance-cum-monster movie plays out in beautiful budget-burning fashion. It is testament to Babymetal’s songwriting talents that, amid all the insanity and knowing B-movie cheesiness of the arrangement, they ensure the track retains its melodic core and the centrality of its giant power-ballad-esque hook.

It is to Babymetal’s immense credit that the reduction in the band’s size has lead to a deeper focus on their songcraft and their singers’ ability to hold a tune. The result is a less frenzied vocal style as the triple threat onslaught of snappy one liners is replaced by more straightforward verses. The addictive pairing of “Da Da Dance” and “Elevator Girl” both thrive on long clean verses as well as bubbly and soaring choruses, respectively. The former is classic Babymetal, the latter is more subdued and a introduces a hint of sultry sexuality into ladies’ sound as the band, along guest guitarist Tak Matsumoto, are content to downtune and growl (granted the chorus is a classic chibby chant-along with the band flying along at full speed).

Of course it would be burying the lead to pretend Babymetal have simply transitioned into duo and carried on as if nothing has happened. Metal Galaxy is unlike either the band’s debut or their sophomore effort for one rather obvious reason: it is loaded with guest stars. Is this an attempt to replace Yuimetal with a new novelty attraction? That would certainly be short-term stopgap measure, but the six guest stars spread across five tracks never really stick out like sore thumbs or go out of their way to make their presence felt (with the notable exception of F.Hero’s terrible rap verse). Instead, the collaborations feel far more organic, like some genuine celebrity admirers have become enamoured with Babymetal’s sound and wanted to contribute a sly guitar solo here or a nice backing vocal there –  as opposed to sprinkling a pinch of show stealing stardust on the project.

Of course it would be burying the lead to pretend Babymetal have simply transitioned into duo and carried on as if nothing had happened. Metal Galaxy is unlike either the band’s debut or sophomore effort for one rather obvious reason: it is loaded with guest stars. Is this an attempt to replace Yuimetal with a new novelty attraction? That would certainly be short-term stopgap measure, but the six guest stars spread across five tracks never really stick out like sore thumbs or go out of their way to make their presence felt (with the notable exception of F.Hero’s terrible rap verse). Instead, the collaborations feel far more organic, like some genuine celebrity admirers have become enamoured with Babymetal’s sound and wanted to contribute a guitar solo here or a backing vocal there, rather than sprinkling a pinch of show stealing stardust.

 

The standout, in the very literal sense that it is so unavoidably different from everything else on this album, is the Joakim Broden assisted “Oh! Majina!”. Sabaton are certainly happy being ridiculous in their quest to create epic metal, but even by Babymetal standards this track is bonkers. When Pirate Metal started making waves in the mid-2000s no one expected it would ever achieve arena-headlining status, but alas it has in the hands of these JPop starlets and their burly Swedish buddy. Suffice to say the track is as jaunty as it is preposterous, but god damn is it danceable. Less a shanty, but more an intergalactic scallywag’s opera, the track is driven by a glorious chant that sounds drunken in Joakim’s hands and utterly adorable when double tracked by Su and Moa.

Better still, this rampage across the seven seas is sandwiched between “Shanti Shanti Shanti”, an Arabic/South American influenced diversion laced with handclaps and belly-danceable grooves that would make an excellent Eurovision entry, and “Brand New Day” – a serious attempt at producing a reflective pop brooder. “Shanti Shanti Shanti” is one of those tracks that is so wilfully naff that it triumphs entirely in spite of itself, while the Tim Henson and Scott LePage assisted “Brand New Day” is the type of introspective track Babymetal should be attempting to master, but that can’t help feeling a touch dull by way of comparison. The hook is just too generic and the guest solos, while slick, are too fleeting to really mean much. The punchy, “step by step”, bridge is a winner that is sadly wasted on this otherwise undeveloped track.

The use of Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy is genuinely baffling. Here they have one of the biggest and boldest vocalists in modern metal, a legitimate frontwoman and, well, she’s buried in the mix on “Distortion”. Luckily it’s a relatively intriguing mix of paranoid squelchy 90s sonics and bluster. Alissa whispers, “stop the power”, like a supplicant human in a demon-run-matrix on the track’s verse, before Su and Moa explode on a chorus that recalls a demented and defiantly Japanese side-scrolling space shoot ‘em up. How the two elements are interlinked I’ll never know – it’s likely lost in translation. In some ways it is genuinely pleasing that Babymetal don’t bend to their guest star’s will, but its hard not to consider “Distortion” a lost opportunity, even if sold-out-crowds with go crazy for its clap along beat and darting guitar work.

Whether hit or miss, it’s clear that Babymetal have decided that this would be the album where they indulge their every ridiculous impulse – and why not? It is genuinely hard to imagine any other rock band releasing “Night Night Burn!”. It opens conventionally enough by contrasting a sleek lead guitar line with some gruff riffage from the rhythm guitarist, before blitzing the listener with arcade synths and soothing vocals respectively. So far, so Babymetal, but as the track progresses the band cut loose(r). First, Su and Moa start cooing an “ole ole” chant of all things, before a Spanish guitar line pops up, the girls start to skat and a gypsy Latina rhythm stalks its way across the dancefloor. Believe it or not, it actually works and the transition back into the video game/80s TV show crescendo is an absolute riot tied together by some excellent drumming.

Expect the unexpected, both between tracks and within them. “Kagerou” is a sweetie-pie delight backed by a nu-metal riff as well as some shimmering sonics and an instrumental breakdown that feels like one of Muse’s bass driven live workouts. This sweetness and light approach somehow shares space with the 90s Black Metal howl of “In The Name Of”. Babymetal have done their research, sure they might have added a camp flavor, but all the genre’s hallmarks are there from the more monotonous and texture driven grooves to the blasphemous ecclesiastical instrumental that introduces the effort. “Starlight’s” sonic sidestep comes in the form of a soft-spoken interlude that reads as a charming message to their former member, “wherever you are, you’re in my heart, never forget, shinning star”.  It proves a natural bridge to “Shine” – one of the few tracks that naturally sits alongside its predecessor – is a soft and tender five minute exploration that suggests that Babymetal can do more than merely overawe their audience

Despite ending on a strangely cohesive note, Metal Galaxy is completely all over the place by design. Su and Moametal have accepted that their sound is entirely preposterous and they are happy to try their hand at any genre, culture or aesthetic they could possibly think of. The rap-rock should be left behind, but the bad experiments are worth enduring, because the thrill of discovery and the bonkers ambition of this collection proves utterly infectious.

In many ways Metal Galaxy is the perfect response to modern metal world. So many bands are happy to retreat into their respective niches and eschew ambition in the name of super serving their avant garde base. Babymetal cannot be subtle, nor can they stay in one place, instead they seek to dive down every available rabbit hole and bring their daffily distinct sound to the biggest audience possible. They want to headline, they want to rock the crowd, but they don’t necessarily want to be all things to all people. Metal Galaxy is not pandering, this is no box ticking exercise and no marketing executive would ever recommend this approach – a Deafheaven fan (for example) is never going to be converted by “In The Name Of” – instead this batshit album is the product of a group of studio artists who are absolutely in love with pop and metal in all their respective forms. Good taste or bad, Babymetal will make it bang and bring it to arenas the world over with a host of readymade dance routines and stadium sized clap-along hooks in toe.

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8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
They might be down one member, but Babymetal are bigger and more bonkers than ever before. Embracing everything from Gypsy and Arabic pop influences to growling black and jaunty pirate metal. Not every idea is a good one, in fact all of Metal Galaxy's concepts sound utterly atrocious on paper, but they are glorious and undeniably fun in practice.
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Brittany Howard, David Hayter