Review of Babymetal Album by Babymetal

Talking about ethnomusicology at Contact Towers one afternoon as we do, we remembered the famous words of Meyer when he spoke about the common, cross cultural threads in different styles of composition: "...different musical languages may also have certain sounds in common... in almost all cultures, for example, the octave and the fifth... are treated as stable." Well put, we thought. But Babymetal? Well, they're just a bit bonkers.

Babymetal Babymetal Album

Music binds us all together as a passion around the planet and part of the cross border appeal may even be replicated in different songs, tunes and genres, but we promise you that there are few past experiences that can prepare you for this album. An amalgam of J-Pop (The catch all umbrella term of the hyper-extended country's indigenous commercial sounds) and various strains of modern extreme guitar music, the band - centered around the cherubic teenage trio of Suzuka Nakamoto (or known in character as "Su-metal"), Yui Mizuno ("Yuimetal)", and Moa Kikuchi ("Moametal") - the group deliver a sensory overload of jumbled noises, associations and styles, the resulting smorgasbord being self described as "Kawaii", or "Cute" metal.

Given the context has only a passing grip on the world we Europhiles know, we found that it's best just to dive in. Probably the most easily accessible point is on 'Gimme Chocolate', a wide-eyed piece of thrash on which the girls shout frantic counterpoints to some bippy synths and nasty riffs before singing a chorus much like The Supremes would deliver if they'd been raised on Slipknot. If this sounds bizarre, it's because to our Western ears, it is. An environment where odd juxtapositions are just what happens, the following 'line!' is reassuringly odd, being massive adolescent pop with an r&b interlude, followed immediately by a tidal wave of death grunts, followed then by a frantic EDM sequence. A little crazed? Of course, but presumably somebody did all this stuff deliberately and the underlying idea is an interesting one: if the human psyche is used to listening to the body of a song which at least has similar roots in tempo, meter and key, what about we just chuck all that stuff in the mixer and see what happens? In return we can guarantee you'll be either baffled or thrilled: in the Baby Metal world, there are no half way houses.

Plenty of room for interpretation then, particularly as pretty much all the words are in the girls' native language, although it's interesting to consider what music with such extremes of light and shade can find to talk about.  Like hostages, after a while in a slightly strange way the listener begins to get used to the idea of fusing these previously exclusive forms: 'Doki Doki Morning' manages to sound like a kids TV show theme tune if it was composed by Corey Taylor and Diplo, whilst 'Song 4' (Presumably the whole premise was too weird to match a proper title to it) is as straight ahead as any terrace-punk-grind-reggae number can be. An open mind is obviously a pre-requisite here, but for those who can ignore the rules it's still possible to roll straight through the fifteen tracks unscathed, including a bonus live (But still pretty incomprehensible) version of 'Gimme Chocolate' recorded in front of an enthusiastic Brixton Academy crowd.

Originally released in 2014, this repackaged version arrives on the back of some band excursions into the typically cloistered world of "Real" metal, most of which have been a success, or at least a score-draw. Experimentation and by extension boundary pushing is a good thing in music, you should be assured of that. We haven't dwelt much though on the band's vaguely exploitative subtext - which is a bad thing - but this again brings the conversation back round to the confusions which exposure to different culture brings to us all. It's progress alright - thirty years ago Babymetal wouldn't exist, nor the conditions for them to germinate, but the more we speak, perhaps the less we understand. A disorientating, sometimes baffling joy.


Andy Peterson

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