REVIEW: BABYMETAL – “Metal Resistance”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, it’s very likely that at one point or another you’ve encountered Babymetal, the internet sensation hailing from Japan that has, whether you like it or not, taken the world of heavy metal by storm in a way that very few acts manage to do. Consisting of three teenage Japanese girls on lead vocals accompanied by a traditional metal backing band, the group has generated both positive interest and extremely negative criticism from people across the spectrum of harder-edge music. February 2014 welcomed the release of the band’s self-titled debut album Babymetal, pushed by the single “Gimme Chocolate” which essentially got the Babymetal ball rolling. Now, two years later, the group are back with their sophomore effort Metal Resistance.
The first thing that becomes apparent with the opening (and title) track “Metal Resistance” is if you like big dual guitar melodies and rhythms which are very Dragonforce influenced, you should like this even if the J-Pop style vocals turn you off somewhat. This track seems to rely on non-lexical vocals for a considerable amount of its duration, performed by the three stars of the group, vocalists Su-Metal, Moametal, and Yuimetal. Nonetheless, a good listen and an exciting way to open the album. “Karate” comes next, and is accompanied by a guitar tone that is part-industrial part-thrash, but sounds extremely well-produced and is a pleasant surprise to say the least. In terms of vocal lines, the three lead singers take a different approach on this track in comparison to the previous song, to the point that the vocal rhythms heard in this song almost border what Zach de la Rocha does in terms of repetition in Rage Against the Machine. It is interesting to see these sorts of things creeping into Babymetal’s sound at this point in time.
Pop-influenced techno noises mixed with hard rock is the name of the game when it comes to the third track “Yava!” which is noticeably less “heavy” than what has come before it. Admittedly, it is important that records like this incorporate musicality that can appeal to the average listener instead of the die-hard Deeds of Flesh fan but at the same time the level of innocent niceness before the song really explodes, and you will recognise when it does, is quite disappointing. The drum work is also particularly noteworthy, demonstrating an admirable job from both Yuya Maeta and Hideki Aoyama. After this is the song “GJ!”, opening with a drum section that you would typically hear done by the bulk-standard deathcore band along with captivating vocals from the lead singers. The whole backing band deserves a special nod for this song, as their incredibly talented musicianship shines through without question even if they fail to get praise for their efforts most of the time.
“Amore” marks a return to the frantic style of guitar wizardry which was prevalent on the album’s title track, but this time with a different tinge to the proceedings which is definitely welcomed. The talent of the backing musicians also cannot be denied when it comes to the track’s virtuosic guitar solo, further making the song one of the album’s highlights for me. “From Dusk Till Dawn” is quite a unique one when it comes to this album, due to its opening which heavily reeks of dance music influences because of its electronic bops that complement the synths and the vocals of the three girls. Admittedly this track takes a little while to fully get going, which is slightly disappointing because I feel that Babymetal are at their best when they go straight into the action from the start instead of forcing the listener to wait before the track booms with energy and excitement. When the song does hit the big time, however, it is equally as gripping and enjoyable as everything that has been heard up until this point on Metal Resistance.
“Awadama Fever” opens with a series of incredibly distorted noises that would sound out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record, but this doesn’t last for long before the traditional vocalism and instrumentation that has come to define the band over the last couple of years emerges and presents itself front and centre for the listener. This is definitely one of the album’s more commercially accessible tracks, in spite of its industrial rock nature that is consistently roaring along behind the scenes and behind the J-Pop singing. What is also notable is the emphasis on non-distorted guitars at the end of the song which pave the way for an appropriate conclusion rather than just relying on the usual heavy instrumentation to round out the track. Following “Awadama Fever” is the album’s eighth song, entitled “Meta Toro”. For this song, I feel as if the vocal style is trying to copy that of a national anthem being sung, which is bizarre but in a positive way. The sound of the music on this song relies on the usual guitar, bass and drums as well as a variety of different instruments which you think would not be applied to traditional rock and metal music. This track definitely takes its inspiration from folk and melodic death metal with its unique feature being the low-pitched chants that pop up here and there throughout the duration of the song.
“Sis Anger” marks the beginning of the final third of the overall album. Right from the get-go, the track roars into startling action with its instrumentation that matches technical death metal bands like Nile for the sheer speed of the musicians playing their respective instruments. If you like your extreme metal, this track has been handcrafted especially for you, even if the vocals aren’t to your specific taste. This is the only song so far on Metal Resistance where I feel that the vocals really don’t fit the mood of the music that they’re sung over, which makes the separate entities feel out of place when they’re heard together.
Track 10 on the record is entitled “No Rain No Rainbow”, which is a phrase everyone can relate with. Musically however, the track opens with a piano section with string arrangements and soft vocals over the top of it, allowing for quite an ethereal and peaceful experience. It appears that this is the record’s power ballad, which is hardly a surprise since most metal records nowadays particularly in the mainstream side of the genre tend to have at least one to increase commercial appeal. The guitar solo in this one is very classic rock influenced, flashing back memories to the guitar bands of the 70s and 80s, but still remaining unique enough to the point that I can’t envision any other guitarist performing it.
The album’s second-last song is called “Tales of the Destinies”. Right from the beginning, it’s quite the contradiction to the previous track on Metal Resistance with some guitar, drum and piano work that borderlines on dazzling. How these musicians are not more praised for their contributions to Babymetal is really saddening to me. However, when it comes to the three focus points of Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal, their vocals are very strong on this song which is relieving because it means that the whole band is contributing positively. The album closer, entitled “The One”, is the only track on the album sung in English, which surprised me when the vocals started as I assumed the entire album would be sung in the band’s native Japanese. Aside from this, the track does serve well as a suitable album closer due to the general tempo and the mood, as you can feel things gradually hitting a conclusion which is what is needed when it comes to a really memorable closing track on a record.
In essence, Babymetal’s new record Metal Resistance will please fans of the group who enjoyed their debut album, but should also draw in new people who have been slightly reluctant to investigate the band’s music due to the prevalence of what some consider “gimmicks” within Babymetal. While the trio of girls have undoubtedly become the group’s image and definite selling point when it comes to marketing the act, please do not be distracted by this and judge what is most important – the music. All fans of heavy metal should check this album out because I feel that you will find at least one thing that you will enjoy, regardless of what that thing may end up being. While not a perfect record, Metal Resistance does have many positives and enough of them to outweigh the negatives.