The first ten seconds of Babymetal’s “Road of Resistance”, the first track of their 2016 album Metal Resistance, make it clear that here’s a band that means business. Still, nothing quite prepares the listener for 0:55 and beyond. Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal have created a heavy metal anthem worthy of the Halls of Valhalla and the rest that follows doesn’t pale in comparison.
But how on earth can the combination of J-pop idol vocals and the gimmicks of all kinds of extreme metal rock so much?
In 2010, Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal were 12-13-year-olds, living the quotidian life of performing idols in Japan. They had never heard of metal before. Now this is what they do:
In the six years in between, Babymetal has released two full-length albums, with Metal Resistance breaking into the US top-40 and the UK top-20. In 2015, they performed with Dragonforce at Download, apparently without organizer approval (or as a clever PR stunt). Currently, they are on a world tour, (this time with an invitation to Download), performing for sold out crowds at Seattle, San Francisco, and LA. And Rob Zombie tells off their haters.
Now, one could always argue against Robbie-dear and say that bands like Babymetal are nothing but products, inventions of small-minded business cronies in huge entertainment zaibatsus, and as such, totally lame. There might be a few filler songs or sequences on Babymetal albums, there’s no denying that.
But come on. This is metal as fuck:
Combined with the energetic, grandiose, and stylish (on the metal standard) stage performances of the trio, Babymetal’s music seems to capture a somewhat untapped element of heavy metal. As Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath et al are unstoppably aging, there might be a niche for bands with a certain dramatic flair. In this way, Babymetal’s kawaii metal might find a home in the same ballpark as bands like Ghost – both share a certain way of not ending up looking silly, no matter how ridiculous on paper, unlike seemingly serious pursuers of grandiosity like Manowar, Rhapsody or most of folk metal.
Notably, Babymetal exemplifies the virtues of the ways of Japanese industry, understood broadly. For Japan, as an economy, has always borrowed and outright stolen, but seldom to produce cheap copies. Just ask a whiskey enthusiast or a raw denim junkie. They’ll tell you that Japanese goods are the shit – in a way Western brands try to copy right back again. Further, at the higher echelons of Japanese design, copying becomes the highest praise for the original and that respect is then reflected in the quality and craftsmanship of the finished, Japanese, thing.
In a similar fashion, sure, Babymetal is derivative. You have the “Dream Theater song from when Dream Theater was alright,” the “thrash piece,” and the “solo guitar fest.” There’s even most of Dragonforce to crack Road of Resistance up to eleven to sound more Dragonforce than Dragonforce!
But what sets Babymetal apart is that this derivation, in all its eclecticism, is taken to the extreme and executed with mastery which is the whole point of the exercise. With it, the J-pop gimmick (that’s only a gimmick from a Western point of view) is shown not to be a gimmick at all. Idol J-pop is clearly made for metal and goddamn what fools we have been not to realize this before. And even if Babymetal has its knockoff moments, it’s never, ever a cheap knock-off.
Just rest your eyes and ears on this (to be played at maximum volume):