Babymetal. For those of you who aren’t as current as I pretend to be when it comes to the newest trends within heavy metal, Babymetal are a band that exploded on to the scene a couple of years ago. It all began when some (assumedly rich) music producers in Japan thought it would be a good idea to pair up a middling J-pop idol trio with some heavy metal demons, and the result rose to greater worldwide acclaim than I imagine they’d ever imagined. Surprised as they might have been, however, the appeal of Babymetal is, I think, completely understandable. The average metalhead’s attitude to pop music is complex to say the least. There is of course the arrogant elitism that suffuses most of the metal scene, the idea that our music is exclusive, inaccessible and esoteric, and that the easily consumable pleasantries of pop music is therefore to be pooh-poohed. On top of that there is the sense that music must be taken seriously and so there are those who earnestly avow their love for certain pop musicians for the ostensible depths of their songs, and only ever refer to them by surname – “I’m a big fan of Piper” for example, to pluck a random pop sensation out of the air. And then there are those metalheads who can no longer be bothered with the delineations of genre and insist that they just like ‘good music’, and if that includes the dulcet strains of pop, then what of it? Do I belong to this last group? Perhaps.
When Babymetal’s first, self-titled album was released there was unsurprisingly something of a kafuffle. The album straddled genres with reckless abandon, not just bringing together metal and J-pop, but also dipping into such variations as techno and dubstep, and only some of the album’s ‘metal’ is really what I’d call metal. I suppose they figured that the more genres they included the greater the album’s appeal would be. Of course, a large number of people dismissed the work as a piece of commercial crap, a vapid genre-bending exercise in the acquisition of quick bucks. They weren’t wrong – this was my first impression too (well, my second impression; my first was simply: “What?”). But over time some of the songs began to creep up on my mind unawares. There was something new happening here and, more importantly, something good. Tracks like Megitsune and Ijime, Dame, Zettai certainly entranced me, and I found Akatsuki downright beautiful. If only more of the tracks were like these, I caught myself musing, then this album would really be something.
Babymetal released a new album the other day, Metal Resistance, and I’m glad to say that it is more ‘something’ than their debut, with less genre-bending and more of that aesthetic that caught my attention the first time round. It seems to me that what they’ve hit on is a fantastic new way to approaching power metal. It seems to me that there has for a long while been a something of a deficiency when it comes to female vocals in metal. So often female vocalists feel the need to be operatic with their voices, to lend their music a kind of 19th Century grandeur (and we wonder why anything with female vocals is so quickly labelled ‘gothic metal’), and this is all well and fine, but there is another way of doing things. Babymetal have seized on this other way. With their J-pop stylings they’ve managed to combine the might and majesty of metal with a certain playfulness that not only breathes new life into a subgenre that was somewhat ailing, but also gets to the heart of what metal really is.
You see, for a long time I would point to Children of Bodom as the purest advocates of metal. I would often say that if there were a metal people, Children of Bodom would be their folk music. Their music was aggressive, yes, but also straightforward, playful and colourful, with lyrics that sounded like they were written five minutes before entering the studio. If you simply wanted to write music that was ‘metal’ (and were suitably talented), this is the music would end up with. But alas, Children of Bodom’s brilliance was not to last. After producing three fantastic albums they decided that they wanted to make their music edgier, more mature and, inevitable, less fun. Their colourful album covers were replaced with gloomier affairs and I soon lost interest. They’d lost what had most struck me about them – their childishness. They had grown up and were Children no more. This is the crucial point, the thing that distinguishes heavy metal from punk rock: childishness. Whereas punk rock is adolescent music, obsessed with rebellion and rejectionism (and beneath my contempt for it), heavy metal is, at its core, infantile. Yes, the subject matter can often be for older audiences only, including such things as Satanism, eroticism and death, but fundamentally there is this pre-pubescent fascination with the magnificent. All of us metalheads are really just seven-year-olds at heart.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Children of Bodom find themselves spiritually succeeded by Babymetal. Their new release never fails to make me smile, with tracks like No Rain, No Rainbow, Amore and Road to Resistance joyfully riding the storm of distorted guitars and unstoppable drums. It makes me remember what is that I really like about this music. It makes me feel seven years old again.