Let’s talk BABYMETAL: a novelty spinoff idol unit turned internationally acclaimed Metal stars. A fixed three person unit (SU-METAL, YUI-METAL, MOA-METAL) accompanied by a backing band, BABYMETAL’s spent the last few years turning heads and kicking ass, injecting new life into the metal genre with the contrasting mix of playful pop and thrashing metal guitars. To tease the release their upcoming album, They let loose a music video called ‘Karate’ on their official Youtube channel.
The opening guitar riff is sinister and brash, and sports a heavier, alternative/progressive metal sound that teleported me back to the early 2000s. The opening guitar riff swaggers and chugs, boasting with confidence and malice very reminiscent of the attitude-heavy era. The injection of djent with its low, staccato characteristics, gives the song a different feel from the lick and thrash-heavy traditional metal that BABYMETAL often employs.
The build up is slow and foreboding, growing in tension and musical intensity before the guitars explode and the tune shifts to a uplifting, spirited chorus. SU-METAL’s vocals are strong and confident as always, and the backing vocals from YUI and MOA are peppered and dispersed throughout with constant repetition, which is something you either love, or are going to have to get accustomed to with BABYMETAL tracks. I can already imagine thousands of fans singing along with their sing-songy interludes during lives.
There have been a growing number of “BABYMETAL-likes” in the absence of singles from BABYMETAL with similarly themed idol groups fusing pop and extreme musical genres; but ‘Karate‘ brings a level of style and production that these groups would be hard-pressed to match. The instrumentation is refined and full, mixed perfectly and polished to a high sheen. It may not be among the more complex or impressive guitar-work out-right, but the sheer proficiency and effectiveness is what binds it all together and truly sets themselves apart.
The bridge of the song is dreamlike with its heavy use of reverb, soft piano chords and echoing synth accents during the song’s bridge and closing segment. It’s much more of a integrated track; not quite the tonally schizophrenic and contrasting quality of songs like ‘Doki Doki Morning’.
It continues to carry the general tone of ‘Road to Resistance’, but with a brighter, dreamier sound. You could hear BABYMETAL respond to their wider audience as they went from a purely novelty idol spinoff of Sakura Gakuen, to a group that became largely embraced by modern heavy metal. With that recognition, BABYMETAL has been given a extra sense of responsibility.
What I haven’t heard yet from their new songs since their first album is the injection of sickeningly cheerful idol pop, which was a large part of their unique sound starting out. ‘Gimme Chocolate’, as juvenile or banal as the lyrics are, is a fantastic, pop-heavy track with huge contrast and dynamic sound— one of my favorites off of their album.
Now that the metal community has accepted BABYMETAL with open arms, it’s understandable that the management would feel pressure to measure up to expectations. ’Road to Resistance’, the only other song created since their last album, was a dyed-to-the-wool metal track, an anthem rallying all those who proudly bang their heads to metal music. And ‘Karate’, is a similar rally song that grows ever closer to being a straight-forward metal song.
In short, they appear to have moved quite a bit away from the likes of ‘Ii Ne’ which were more poppy and dance-infused idol songs with decorative metal sounds, and are more interested in becoming a more “respectable” metal act instead of a pure spin-off; pursuing a more authentic sound was a natural evolution many could see coming.
It could be argued that without the contrast, the songs lose a bit of the color BABYMETAL tracks used to have; but to me it sounds like they’re still having fun experimenting with different sounds that exist in the Metal genre, and there’s still plenty of it left to explore. We have yet to listen to the full album that drops in a couple weeks, but more than anything I hope they prove that they can continue to balance the dual nature of sugar and hell-fire, an addictive and playful combination that was key to the group’s success.