In one way or another, bands have always been considered to be ‘brands’. Ever since some bright spark thought to buy in on the burgeoning hype of Beatlemania in the ‘60s, music and merchandise have been intrinsically intertwined to the extent that some aren’t sure whether The Ramones are a punk group or a T-shirt logo.
Babymetal, however, take things to a whole new level. The enigmatic Japanese idol group, formed in 2010 by talent agency Amuse Inc. and fronted by vocalists Su-Metal and Moametal, are so paradoxical that even the most seasoned of industry veterans don’t know what to think of them. Drawing heavily on the Japanese phenom of kawaii, or ‘cute culture’, the band’s choreographed dance routines and matching frocks are contrasted bone-crushing riffs and thunderous blast beats to create a truly unique, somewhat feverish musical experience. They’ve made history as one of the most successful Japanese bands on the charts overseas, and despite being part of an idol girl group essentially manufactured by a talent agency, much like One Direction or Backstreet Boys, they’re widely embraced by the metal community. The band is entirely fabricated, kitsch and preposterous, yet simultaneously groundbreaking; flipping the norms of gender and race in music right on its head, all in the name of metal. The whole thing is simply baffling – but fucking awesome.
After releasing two records, 2014’s self-titled debut and 2016’s Metal Resistance and touring internationally with the likes of Lady Gaga, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Babymetal are looking to the stars to release the third chapter of their story this October with Metal Galaxy. While the band are obviously experienced when blending genre, Metal Galaxy sees Babymetal toying with drum ‘n bass, bubblegum pop, jazz and hip-hop – often all within the space of a single song.
“These variety of music is expressed with stars in this album. We call the world with the stars of each song Metal Galaxy. Babymetal travel Metal Galaxy just like a spaceship,” the band claim, rather cryptically. “We have been touring the world for a quite long time now. Through the journey, we’ve enjoyed different types of music, instruments and cultures. The album includes all the input we got from the experience.”
Keeping in line with the record’s interstellar theme, the expansive Metal Galaxy is set to be released as a double album, with each side being known as Sun and Moon.
“The sun and the moon are used to express duality of the light side and dark side on this album concept,” Babymetal clarify. “Each song on the new album was produced with a different sonic approach, but they are necessary to complete Babymetal.”
The latest single from Metal Galaxy, ‘PA PA YA!!!’, extols the merits of Babymetal’s journey through time and space like nothing else before it. Incorporating an oddly-infectious upbeat rhythm reminiscent of Russian folk music, the song finds ground in a rousing, synth-laced power-metal chorus before giving way to feature a verse from Thailand rapper F. Hero. For Babymetal, ‘PA PA YA!!!’ is deeply symbolic of what they aim to achieve: reminding Western ears that Eastern voices matter too.
“‘PA PA YA!!!’ incorporates the concept of a summer festival,” explains the Babymetal hivemind. “The album is a travelling metal galaxy, so in this song we wanted to travel to Asia.
“F. Hero is one of the most popular rappers in Thailand, and he added a tropical heatwave in this song. He performed at Yokohama Arena with us in June. Fans seem to enjoy dancing to this song!”
In addition to F. Hero’s standout verse, Metal Galaxy also features guest spots from two of Sweden’s finest metal vocalists – Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén on ‘Oh! Majinai’ and Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy on the brutal ‘Distortion’.
“We have met Sabaton several times at music festivals before, and they joined our Japanese tour as special guest acts in 2018,” Babymetal say as they explain how both songs came to be. “Joakim actually sang in Japanese on ‘Oh! Majinai’. He practiced and worked very hard for perfection. We appreciate his hard work and are very happy with how powerful the song became after adding his vocal. This song is Su-Metal’s favorite song on the album.
“‘Distortion’ is about a conflict in mind, face of inside and outside, so we were looking for female vocal that could sing different personality against Su-Metal,” the band say in regards to their collaboration with the Arch Enemy frontwoman. “Also, we thought a female death voice would fit on the song, so she was perfect. We are glad that we found such a powerful piece for each song!”
Despite their overwhelming optimism in Metal Galaxy and their lingering aura of mysticism, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room when discussing Babymetal. Su-Metal and Moametal were initially joined in the studio and onstage by a third member, Yuimetal, who was forced to depart the band twelve months ago due to ongoing health issues. While it’s somewhat ironic that Babymetal have become a duo on the third album, but the band reaffirm – cryptically, of course – that the loss of Yuimetal hasn’t detracted from their output.
“Babymetal always evolve, so we bring something new in every record,” say Su-Metal and Moametal from the cockpit of the Babymetal spaceship. “Metal Galaxy is much different from Babymetal and Metal Resistance, so the songs on the new album were written in the structure of Su-Metal and Moametal. That is the biggest change.”
It’s this change, maybe, that accounts for the overbearing theme of duality that flows throughout Metal Galaxy. Right now, Babymetal find themselves ensnared within binaries: caught in a clash of what’s considered to be feminine and masculine, global and local, Eastern and Western, authentic and fabricated, and perhaps above all, metal and non-metal.
“Babymetal means birth of new metal,” the band claim. “The group brings sounds together that do not necessarily fit in an existing format.
“There is a duality in this project. Baby and Metal are totally different things, but both cannot exist without each other.”
Metal Galaxy arrives courtesy of Cooking Vinyl on Friday October 11.