You know, normally I try to keep things within fairly comfortable limits here at the Musical Training Plan, but this month’s theme has pretty much just given us simple poppy albums so far. So, today, I just said screw it and decided to revisit the 2014 debut album by Japanese kawaii-metal girl group, Babymetal. And no, I don’t regret it even a little bit.
I think some background is in order. Kawaii-metal is a fusion of 2 very different genres, J-pop (short for Japanese pop) and heavy metal. Babymetal is often credited as having invented this genre and, personally, I’m glad they did. The bubbly, fun, melodic vocals (and apparently lyrics, so I’m told) set against the fast, aggressive, heavy metal instrumental backdrop makes for a fascinating juxtaposition that somehow, against all odds, works really well. It’s kind of like that one weird food thing that we all do that shouldn’t work but just kinda does, like ketchup on mac n’ cheese, pickles and peanut butter, or ice cream and fries. One could also argue that the fusion of 2 sometimes difficult to listen to genres actually creates a fine balance that results in a sound that is surprisingly accessible even to people who’ve never listened to heavy metal or J-pop. My first time listening to this album, per the recommendation of a friend, I actually didn’t enjoy the first song, “Babymetal Death” very much, but by the 3rd track I was all in. I would guess that for most people it will take a minute to buy in to the Babymetal sound, but if you can find yourself enjoying it, this album is truly a delight to listen to.
In terms of core members, Babymetal is comprised of 4 young Japanese women, Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-Metal), Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal), Moa Kikuchi (Moametal), and lead producer Key Kobayashi (Kobametal). The team of people who worked on this album, either in production or performance, is actually much greater than 4, and it only takes listening to 1 song to understand why. The 3 actual figurehead performers didn’t actually write any of the lyrics, music, or arrangements that are found on this album, and I’m not really surprised by this, but the music is still really good. Each song is really dense, often complex, frequently containing sections that are unlike any of the rest of the song like on “line!” where the kawaii-metal sound breaks into a pure hip-hop beat and rap section before overcorrecting into a death metal screamo section. Yes, if J-pop and heavy metal weren’t enough for you, BABYMETAL also contains sections containing elements of dubstep, hip-hop, and bubblegum pop. The arrangers are really good at juxtaposing the styles they’re working with for more potent musical moments. The opening moments of “Doki Doki ☆ Morning” which starts as pure J-pop before dropping into a very loud, very heavy, kawaii-metal verse is an excellent example of this. Sonically, BABYMETAL plays like a rollercoaster with plenty of build ups, steep drops, twists, turns, and plenty of thrashing. It isn’t quite unrelenting, but it’s non-stop fun, that is for damn sure.
Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal’s task as vocalists on this album was not an easy one, but they knocked it out of the park. They never miss a beat, nailing the high energy hooks, cooking the choruses, and clipping along each verse with style and power. When screamo is infrequently implemented they pull it off to great effect without over or under doing it. When listening, I honestly have no idea what they’re saying or who is singing at any given time, but I do know that they nailed it and that the stellar vocals mix together with electric instrumentals to make an album that is a blast start to finish.
I know, chances are this won’t be for most of you, and probably even more of you won’t even give it a shot, but if even 1 person checks this album out and likes it, I’ll be happy about it. I didn’t expect to enjoy this album very much when I first checked it out, and I rarely give it a re-listen, but every time I do I feel like I’m rediscovering something really fun.
Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that “Gimme Chocolate!!” has made its way into my headphones at the gyms, more than once.