BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY
BABYMETAL is a Japanese group designed to combine the images and sounds of J-pop idol groups and heavy metal music. They are the first group to perform this specific brand of “kawaii metal” and have inspired the creation of similar groups in the Japanese music scene. Their popularity in the United States started as a viral novelty when a video of their song “Gimme Chocolate!!” was posted on YouTube. But it stuck around as the combination of J-pop song-craft and the heavy metal instrumentation ended up being pretty appealing to quite a few people.
Their stateside publicity grew when Rob Zombie showed his support for them in 2016, garnering some… less than encouraging responses from his fans. But Zombie doubled down, and if the guest list on this new album is anything to go by, he’s not the only big name in metal paying attention to them. The tracks on Metal Galaxy include guest appearances from members of Sabaton, Arch Enemy, and Polyphia among others. Does all this mean that BABYMETAL has moved on from their viral novelty and are now a group to be taken seriously? I’m not so sure.
Metal Galaxy is BABYMETAL’s third album, their first in three years, and the first without vocalist Yui Mizuno (known as Yuimetal in the group) who left the group in 2018, citing poor health. Other changes that come with this album are improved production, continuing the progress from their debut to 2016’s Metal Resistance, and a wider range of influences with songs drawing from Latin and Indian music among others. Unfortunately these new directions end up spreading the band’s already shallow depth of substance a little too thin.
The worst offenders are “Oh! MAJINAI,” which features Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén, and “PA PA YA!!” with Thai rapper F.HERO. The former is a folk metal tune about 45 seconds too long with an extended chorus of non-lyrical vocals from Bodén and an odd vocal from one of the girls in the second verse. “PA PA YA!!” feels like it’s too long due to highly repetitive chorus and a poor choice of where to use harsh vocals. Another attempt at international influence that works a little better is “Shanti Shanti Shanti” which has an Indian influence. And while it’s fun on the first few listens, it ends up coming across as a cheap and stereotypical imitation, not unlike any other metal band trying to introduce other influences, but not committing to a deep dive into the source material.
Another weakness is the bizarre “IN THE NAME OF” which features the first instance of prominent harsh vocals on the album, but it’s in the form of nearly unintelligible, low, guttural chants along almost a march of heavy guitars. There’s also “Kagerou” that hits pretty much all the beats of an alternative metal radio rock song, a la Breaking Benjamin. Then “Shine” is nearly six minutes of more somber J-pop that happens to have heavy guitars in it. The sentiment of the song is nice, but it overstays its welcome. Finally, the intro track “FUTURE METAL” just seems like a 2 minute afterthought that teases something akin to Sleigh Bells, but nothing else on the album sounds like it.
The album isn’t without its highlights, though. “Brand New Day” with Tim Henson and Scott LePage of Polyphia offers a brilliant combination of the two groups sounds, with Henson and LePage bringing some refreshing complexity to the table. The Latin influenced “Night Night Burn!” brings in mariachi and flamenco influence, and at times sounds like a metal version of the theme from Neon Genesis Evangelion. “Distortion” with Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz and “Starlight” return the band to the whiplash inducing juxtaposition of J-pop and metal that put them on everyone’s radar.
The remaining songs aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just not really all that special. “DA DA DANCE” and “Elevator Girl” are more examples of just blending J-pop and metal rather than creatively placing the genres opposite each other. The latter is presented in an English language version on the U.S. release of the album, and I almost wish it wasn’t. You really don’t gain anything from knowing what they’re singing. Finally, the album’s closer, “Arkadia,” is just blistering fast power metal in the style of DragonForce, and not a particularly noteworthy example of it.
At the end of the day, everyone knows that BABYMETAL aren’t critical darlings. We shouldn’t expect too much of them. And honestly, I’m impressed to see some attempts at growth on Metal Galaxy. There seems to be a conscious move towards broader influence and more cohesive song structure. The band and their producers know that the gimmick can’t sustain them forever. Unfortunately these attempts led to some disappointing tracks and a couple moments of cringe.