Sound — 10
Babymetal are a group from Japan made up of three teenage girls who sing and dance in addition to a quartet of instrumentalists known as the Kami Band. Their name more or less denotes their musical style: pre-teen J-pop mixed with death/power metal. If a couple of teenaged, vocally talented dancers hooking up with master metal players sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Babymetal's true origins are buried in the Japanese idol industry, where talent agencies turn skilled, young (primarily) girls into singers/actresses/models in return for control over their careers/lives to such a degree that they may be contractually prohibited from having boyfriends. An article here from the A.V. Club provides a nice introduction to the idol industry, but suffice it to say that, from the standpoint of a music group, it is everything people think about the Disney Channel popstar industry, but on steroids.
With Babymetal though, there is an intriguing exception to this supposition: the backing band gets a lot of focus too, both live and in the studio. The songs usually include guitar solos and long instrumental sections, which would seem odd for, say, a Selena Gomez album. The result is that the many musicians who write songs for Babymetal albums are expert metal musicians from the underground Japanese metal scene who are writing music that does not challenge their abilities, meaning they know exactly what they are doing. The important takeaways from all of this are: (1) Babymetal albums are designed, executed, and polished with the highest degree of professionalism (2) The confluence of songwriters allows for a very diverse collection of music.
On Babymetal's self-titled first album, the songwriters focused on mixing J-pop and metal to the point that the music felt restricted. It felt like an experiment; they were going to an album together to see if the concept would catch on. Evidently, the concept did become popular and everyone regrouped to write this second album. The biggest difference between the two albums is how nuanced the songs on the second one are compared to the pure pop/metal dichotomy of the songs on the first. The eclectic collection of songs is Zeppelin-esque in its diversity. Just as Led Zeppelin explored vast musical terrains with a blues base, so does Babymetal on this album with a death/power metal base. It would be hard to review this album as if it is one body because the songs are so different. For the rest of this section, I will describe songs individually to try to show just how diverse this album is.
1. "Road of Resistance" - Herman Li and Sam Totman of DragonForce collaborate with the gang to make the album's furthest venture into power metal and its overall best song. The melodies and guitar solos have DragonForce written all over them. Where the song really shines though is with its rhythms. They aren't breathtaking or groundbreaking but they are weaved together very well, surely keeping listeners on their toes yet at the same time not confusing them with complexity. This song accomplishes a lot in five minutes and for that it should be applauded. As a side note, this song was previously released as a bonus track to the secondary, worldwide release of the band's first album.
2. "Karate" - This is the first single released from the album, probably because it is the least ambitious song on the album despite its main riff, which, yes, does djent, and its very catchy chorus. It gives newcomers a solid idea of what Babymetal does.
3. "Awadama Fever" - This song has a lot of electronic sounds and other studio tricks that sometimes show up on other songs of the album. However these oddities are left to dominate their own sections of the song so the very catchy verses and chorus are still able to shine on their own.
4. "Yava!" - More of a niche song than anything else, this song veers toward ska punk to make something that sounds like a very fun, uneasy "Scooby-Doo" chase song. Clean, upstroked guitar parts in the verses are more or less reprised in the heavier chorus, after which a synthesizer, which can be seen as the horn section of a ska band, repeats the song's melody. This song is odd but it is also my personal favorite from the album.
6. "Meta Taro" - A very easy beat, the song sounds like an old war march, the type of thing that is taught to school children once the war that it followed is done, similar to "Yankee Doodle" in the United States. Like "Yava!," this song is more of a novelty than anything else, but it certainly adds diversity to the album.
8. "GJ!" - This is one of two songs where only Yui and Moa, the two sidekicks, sing. The first rhythm is like a clapping rhythm from a sports event (d d d - d d d - d d d d d d d). The song continues into a verse that sounds like a double-dutch, jump rope ditty and the chorus is the standard catchy chord progression.
11. "Tales of the Destinies" - The weirdest and coolest song on the album. The songwriters delve into jazz fusion here, sounding a lot like Dream Theater according to many. Despite the complex time signatures (or just an atypical type of 4/4) and a lot of odd, modal shredding, this song still manages to sound catchy when the girls sing. Also, each time the girls sing the song title in the "chorus," the band plays a short section that sounds like a Deep Purple jam. The song ends with a classical piano piece that reprises the main vocal melody of the song. I would love to see if Babymetal could pull off playing this live.
Lyrics — 8
The lead singer (Su), backup duo (Yui and Moa) dynamic from the first album is solidified here. Su has the powerful, precise voice of a lead singer. Her voice can be taken seriously compared to the purposely immature squeaks of Yui and Moa. The stark contrast between Su and Yui/Moa is yet another thing that makes Babymetal stand out. There are also some cookie monster vocals at different points on the album, usually signifying a force of evil that is battling Babymetal's "metal resistance."
Babymetal's first album was initially only released in Japan, so it would make sense that all of the lyrics were Japanese. But upon realizing that Babymetal had worldwide appeal, the powers that be decided that Babymetal songs had to have some English in them. This album features a few English words on almost every song. The album's closer, named "The One," is the group's first song entirely in English, though in Japan a hybrid English-Japanese version was released.
Overall Impression — 9
With this album, Babymetal has gotten a whole lot more interesting as a musical entity. What was once a gimmick is now a serious musical endeavor. Regardless of opinions on the group's circumstances, it is undeniable that the music is diverse, well-written, and above all, fun (as this dancing child displays). Almost all of the choruses are instantly memorable and they are different enough between songs that the idea never feels repetitive. Meanwhile, the guitar solos are melodic and easy to follow, yet they never get boring.
Some have equated these ideas to an album that is disjointed or all over the place. But for this reviewer, the album's variety proves that Babymetal and its kawaii metal brand are a force to be reckoned with. And if playing London's 12,500 seat Wembley Arena is any indication, Babymetal's self-proclaimed metal resistance is quickly gaining troops.