2019 has been a stellar year for metal thus far. Iowa legends Slipknot released the muscular ‘We Are Not Your Kind,’ in the process reaching a creative high not seen in over a decade. The ever enigmatic TOOL finally dropped ‘Fear Inoculum,’ a measured and masterful return showcasing the group's more cinematic and spiritual side. On the fringes Polish black metal Mgła dropped the bruising 'Age of Excuse,' and now we’ve got perhaps the weirdest, yet most poppy curveball - the return of BABYMETAL.
For those not in the know, BABYMETAL are a pioneering Kawaii (cute) metal band whose brazen mix of power metal, J-pop, and madcap choreography have scored them a rabid fanbase back home as well as in the US and Europe. The brainchild of producer Kobametal, the band were handpicked from Amuse talent agency’s roster to front a new breed of idol band, one as manufactured as the rest, but set to blasting heavy riffs and plenty of pyrotechnics. In a world where digitalization has helped blur genres and destroy cultural tribes, it was a strike of genius.
Seven years later and the band has forged a foothold in both the rock and pop community, playing with the likes of Metallica and Lady Gaga. ‘Metal Galaxy’ is the group's third full length and the first since the departure of member Yuimetal for health reasons. Now the core duo of Su-metal and Moametal alongside their backing KamiBand have returned for a space odyssey of thrashy proportions.
The dynamic duo has said that the album’s concept is them “...riding a spaceship traveling to different metal stars,” and who are we to argue? The LP's 14 tracks certainly have the propulsion of a rocket, leaving the listener with the sensation they just mainlined a six-pack of Monster while licking a strobe light. Still, that’s the beauty of metal, ideas of low vs. high culture are mostly ignored in favor of how much a track slams or not.
For a session band, KamiBand certainly has some chops, effortlessly jumping between groove metal bound riffs and full-on symphonic pageantry. While the album is as subtle as a brick to the face, there is an impressive mix of styles represented on the band’s third outing, making this their most versatile listen. ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ combines Bollywood flourishes and hammering guitars to create an album highlight with some serious groove. ‘Oh! MAJINAI’ tackles the ridiculousness which is Pirate Metal, and ends up being far more fun than it should.
‘Night Night Burn!’ harnesses all the high octane fun of a dance arcade game, it's infectious chorus surely to prove a real treat to any Japanophile. Gimmicks aside, Su-Metal’s vocals have moments to shine, most of all on the anthemic ‘Starlight’ and the EDM indebted single ‘PA PA YA!!. It’s doubtful that ‘Metal Galaxy’ will win over people who aren’t willing to look past the entire BABYMETAL package, but it’s ridiculously fun in places, and it’s clear that the musicians have a real love and understanding of the genre.
The band is trying to branch out to new sonic territories, and at the end of the day, where else are you going to get such a batshit mixture of cultures? Ronguraibujapan!
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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