- Sam Law
When BABYMETAL first emerged onto the western heavy music scene some eight years ago, it was hard to know what to think. Was this ‘Kawaii metal’ cultural crossover a serious experiment in east-west musical fusion that demanded to be taken seriously? Were we supposed to enjoy the antics of SU-METAL, MOAMETAL and YUIMETAL (the latter pair only 13 at the time) with a sense of absurdist irony? Did these strange, schizoid sounds belong in the conversation with outfits like Mastodon, Slayer and Iron Maiden, or should they be confined to discussion in extreme music’s bizarro outer realms? And what the hell did it all mean?!?!
The only thing that seemed certain was that the project would be short-lived. With a name like BABYMETAL, there was an inbuilt expiry date on their schoolgirl shtick, right? There was no way in hell they could still be at the cutting edge of metal almost a decade down the line…
How wrong we were. Now with three stunning LPs under their belts and a slew of staggering live performances permanently burned into fans’ memories, BABYMETAL are the metal band in 2021 taking the biggest stylistic strides across the grandest stages. Behind the remaining core members (YUIMETAL left in 2018) are the nine-strong Kami Band, filled with virtuoso players willing and able to bring the strangest, most scintillating compositions imaginable to life. Everyone from X Japan and DragonForce to Arch Enemy and Judas Priest have declared themselves fans. And, even if the sheer boldness of the band’s stylistic decisions remains in opposition to many metal fans’ tastes, they’d be flat-out liars to try and claim that a single song in this Top 20 even comes close to being boring.
The Fox God abides...
20. Shanti Shanti Shanti (METAL GALAXY, 2019)
Taking its name from the Shanti Mantra commonly used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism – where the word “Shanti” is chanted thrice to invite peace in mind, body and spirit, and for the past, present and future – the fifth single released from METAL GALAXY superbly continued that album’s madness-without-borders assault on the senses. Leaning hard into an exotic Indian sitar-driven sound and almost Bollywood-style instrumentation, while the band energetically unfold an ode to good vibes, it’s compelling proof that no matter how incomprehensible BABYMETAL’s music seems at first glance, there’s a universality there that’s truly above and beyond. It doesn’t hurt that the song’s hookier than a fisherman’s tackle box, too.
19. No Rain, No Rainbow (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
Although much of BABYMETAL’s music – and the broader Kawaii metal genre – feels downright hyperactive in its unhinged energy and hairpin shifts in focus, the 10th track from 2016’s METAL RESISTANCE is a sprawling SU-METAL power ballad that invokes the melodrama of mid-20th century Japanese pop, while proving BABYMETAL’s ability to sound truly spectacular. Known by many of BABYMETAL’s fans as Yamanai Ame ("a rain that doesn't stop"), the track may well be a tribute to X Japan’s 1989 classic Endless Rain. On the other hand, the titular Hawaiian proverb indicates a more on-brand positive outlook and global reach. Either way, lighters aloft!
18. Meta Taro (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
‘Meta Taroo, Meta Taroo! Kimi wa hiiroo saa,’ rings the sixth track from METAL RESISTANCE with nursery-rhyme simplicity and infectiousness. ‘Metaru no haato de umare kawaru no saa!’ (‘Meta Taroo, Meta Taroo, you are the hero! / With the Metal heart, you're going to reborn!’) As the song opens out into a mid-paced marching stomp, there is a sense of imperious self-importance and sword-and-sorcery sweep that could feel cringeworthy were BABYMETAL not so gleefully OTT in everything they do. And, although ostensibly about the giant robots of Japan’s future, it’s an anthem worthy of the Samurai of the country’s feudal past.
17. Elevator Girl (METAL GALAXY, 2019)
The third single from METAL GALAXY received an English language translation and made its way onto rock radio around the world late in the summer of 2019. Apparently telling the tale of an unhinged elevator operator (‘No matter what you say or what you do / You're going do-do-do-do-do-down…’) it might just be the strangest song ever to receive the honour. According to SU-METAL, the lyrical content, as well as the more focused use of pop hooks and metal aggression, was representative of the band’s passage into adulthood. Confirmation, as if needed, that there’s no use-by date on BABYMETAL’s high-energy appeal.
16. Akatsuki (BABYMETAL, 2014)
Translating as ‘Crimson Moon’ (or ‘Dawn’/‘Daybreak’), the B-side to hit single Megitsune and fifth track on BABYMETAL’s self-titled debut, Akatsuki is a somewhat underrated gem, which perfectly showcases the prototypical Kawaii metal with which the band exploded out of the land of the rising sun. The wildly theatrical lyrics translate as a heightened love song, charting an obsessive infatuation that will not die until the narrator’s heart stops beating. Far more affecting, though, was the off-the-wall combination of power metal and J-pop that really did feel like Helloween had crashed an anime convention, while still somehow sounding absolutely essential.
15. Syncopation (METAL GALAXY WORLD TOUR IN JAPAN, 2020)
Originally released only on the Japanese editions of METAL RESISTANCE, Syncopation has defied expectations to become a firm fan-favourite around the world. Listening to the version from succinctly-titled live album METAL GALAXY WORLD TOUR IN JAPAN EXTRA SHOW (currently the most widely available), it’s a wonder that the track wasn’t placed front-and-centre, with its combination of breathtaking speed metal and unabashed Japanese excess making for such a heady combination. The title might wrong-foot some tech-metalheads given there quite so much pop influence at play here, but there’s still some seriously ragged cutting edge in Syncopation’s gnarly final third.
14. Tales Of The Destinies (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
Speaking of tech-metal, this twisty five-and-a-half minute epic from METAL RESISTANCE might just be BABYMETAL’s most mind-bending, neck-wrecking cut. Calling to mind mathcore maniacs The Dillinger Escape Plan and bizarro avant-garde collective iwrestledabearonce with its heavier sections, before invoking the widdly-woo prog of Dream Theater in its more expansive passages, Tales Of The Destinies is a song that SU-METAL has confirmed gives her nerves before playing live, and which fans hold aloft as proof that BABYMETAL are very much a “real” metal band. Most importantly, it maintains a sense of swashbuckling adventure that never feels like just showing off.
13. Babymetal Death (BABYMETAL, 2014)
The first song on BABYMETAL’s self-titled debut LP remains a hell of a way into the oddest band in mainstream heavy metal. 70 seconds of angelic choral vocals lead the way. Then we’re jackknifed right into a riff that’s pure bludgeon and a growled chant of ‘BABYMETAL DEATH / B×A×B×Y×M×E×T×A×L DEATH!!’ The girls themselves crop up to introduce themselves, but they’re bit-part players in their own band as the too-often underrated instrumentalists carve a path of uncompromising extremity. By the time we hit the warp-speed guitar solo four-and-a-half minutes in, listeners will already know whether they’re intrigued enough to fall further down the rabbit hole, or if the Kawaii metal revolution simply isn’t for them.
12. GJ! (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
BABYMETAL themselves explained that the subgroup of “Black BABYMETAL” (comprised of YUIMETAL and MOAMETAL) was formed with the idea of combining rap and black metal while trying to make society a better place. Of all the strange elements in the band’s lore, it might be the most random. This METAL RESISTANCE highlight shows them in full-flight, though, spitting some gloriously metaphorical mosh-loving lyrics (rough translation: ‘Green circle line train circling in the pit / As the death-growl bell rings / It goes into the wall of death / Right? Left? Here’s a lost lamb / Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!!!’) over an avalanche of spring-loaded riffs. Somehow, even the saccharine choruses give us the urge to throw down…
11. Road Of Resistance (BABYMETAL – INTERNATIONAL EDITION, 2015)
It somehow felt inevitable that we’d get a DragonForce x BABYMETAL collaboration at some point. Of all the mainstream-bothering outfits in modern heavy music, no other group have matched their combination of face-melting virtuosity, borderline stylistic absurdity and sheer irrepressible joie de vivre. When the crossover arrived as a bonus track on the international edition of the self-titled debut, it did not disappoint. Skull-rattling tempos? Check. Fret-flaming solos? Check. Hilariously epic, 100 per cent earnest lyrics about believing in yourself? ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!’ A match made in Kitsune heaven that we can’t wait to see rekindled further down the line.
10. Doki Doki Morning (BABYMETAL, 2014)
Prior to forming BABYMETAL, the original trio performed as a sub-unit for larger idol group Sakura Gakuin. Doki Doki Morning was the first defined BABYMETAL release, on October 22, 2011, and introduced the girls to a crossover style that would make them global superstars. Beginning with the simple synth melodies of a kids’ morning TV show before crashing into a munchy riff, the integration between metal and J-pop is more jarring here than in later releases but, even all these years later, the sugar-sweet chirpiness of that brilliant chorus contrasts with the darker elements to satisfyingly unsettling effect. The music video also saw them establish the Kitsune hand-gesture and bold logo that would go on to become so ubiquitous.
9. Awadama Fever (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
Opening with a blast of frantic drum’n’bass before lurching into more distended dubstep territory, there’s an oppressive dance-club feel to the third track from METAL RESISTANCE, while with the addition of gravelly guitars and a few passages of outright metal really steer onto dark side. Meanwhile, the girls are all wide smiles and energy like the most energetic ravers at the party. ‘If we open the secret window, we can fly off anywhere,’ insist their Japanese-language lyrics. ‘It's a mint-flavored time machine / We can go anywhere!’ BABYMETAL explained that the song is about a magic candy – “with this bubblegum, you could fly to anywhere you want if you have a dream!” – though it’d be easy for mischievous minds to read some (barely-)hidden narcotic subtext.
8. Distortion (METAL GALAXY, 2019)
Originally released as a digital single to promote BABYMETAL’s 2018 World Tour, Distortion also had a standalone Record Store Day offering that same year, and ended up as one of the highlights on METAL GALAXY. One of their most propulsive compositions, it’s hardly surprising to see it rack up so much mileage. Featuring Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz on guest vocals, there are substantial elements of that band’s ravenous melodic death metal in the jittery low-end instrumentation and blasting attack, but BABYMETAL can’t help fleshing things out with an exuberant power-pop chorus that arrives like sunlight splitting storm clouds.
7. Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! (BABYMETAL, 2014)
This early cut was actually released all the way back on July 4, 2012, as a promotional single for the album Sakura Gakuin 2012 Nendo: My Generation from the trio’s previous overarching idol outfit. Becoming the first-ever commercial release for BABYMETAL as a defined unit, however, it would prove integral to their rise. With music written and arranged by Japanese cult outfit Coaltar And The Deepers’ Narasaki, the lyrics focus on the tale of a 15-year-old girl rushing out to a heavy metal show on the night of her birthday. Although there are powerful strains of melancholy in there, BABYMETAL’s frenzied delivery seems buoyed by the exuberance of youth. The video, featuring SU-METAL using a neck-brace to summon metal spirits, remains a bonkers favourite.
6. The One (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
METAL RESISTANCE’s epic six-and-a-half minute closer is, on first listen, a strange, unwieldy beast. Starting out with the delicate, high-sheen, piano-led delivery of cartoon princesses before layering on some soaring six-strings lifted straight from power ballads’ 1980s golden era, then closing with a powerful group chant, it feels just a little bit overblown, even by BABYMETAL standards. Plug into the song’s affirmative message, though, and it becomes a rousing call-to-arms. ‘You know that this is the end of the world,’ SU-METAL sings. ‘This is our song / This is our dream / Please take us to the land of dreams.’ Seeing the band perform this to packed arenas, it’s hard to believe they’re not already there.
5. Megitsune (BABYMETAL, 2014)
The first BABYMETAL single to be released independently from Sakura Gakuin, Megitsune’s emergence on June 19, 2013, heralded the real arrival of the new Kawaii metal force. With a title translating as Vixen (a female fox), the song was described as “festival metal” in its native Japan for the combination of metal fury, traditional Japanese instrumentation and elements of dubstep and EDM. Amongst that sonic vibrancy, it also contains a powerful feminist message, comparing women wearing make-up and keeping their pain hidden to remain strong and survive through times of difficulty to the foxes of ancient Japanese mythology, known for their often-benevolent deception. ‘Underestimate maidens at your peril!’ warns the final chorus. Quite.
4. Amore (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
A sort-of companion piece to the aforementioned Akatsuki (Crimson Moon), Amore (aka Aoboshi – Blue Moon) is another wildly OTT love song. This time, however, the sappy message is overdriven by some of the wildest power metal composition in the BABYMETAL back catalogue, kicking METAL RESISTANCE up another gear just when we thought that wasn’t possible. It’s striking how well the (ever-sharpening) Disney sheen of the vocal delivery works with the frantic riffs and tearaway solos, meaning the whole thing feels like an outsider anthem from some clean-cut alternate reality. When SU-METAL sings ‘Ai yo chikyuu o sukue!’ (‘Let love save the earth!’), no matter where you’re from, you damned well feel it in your heart.
3. PA PA YA!! (METAL GALAXY, 2019)
Although Black BABYMETAL had toyed with rhymes, it took this collaboration with Thai rapper F. Hero to really inject hip-hop attitude and energy into the Kawaii metal formula. Turns out it makes for an incendiary mix. That PA PA YA!! title is a reference to the delicious tropical papaya fruit (because of course it is), but the broader song is a celebration of summer and Southeast Asian cuisine. Replacing the normal metal aggression with F. Hero’s gravelly vocals and liberal use of horror movie synths, the guitars are freed up to provide an almost nu-metal bounce, off which SU-METAL and the girls springboard like J-pop superheroes ready to wring every ounce of energy from hundreds of thousands of fans. COVID has robbed us of the chance to see this send festival fields into overdrive so far, but we’d bet PA PA YA!!’s power will only will only be intensified having spent a few seasons bottled-up.
2. Gimme Chocolate!! (BABYMETAL, 2014)
‘Ata tatata tata tatata zukkyun! / Wa tatatata tata tatata dokkyun!’ Never released as an official single in Japan, Gimme Chocolate!! would still go on to become BABYMETAL’s breakout international hit, racking up over 140 million views on YouTube in the years that followed and forcing a standalone UK release in May 2015. A gateway for millions of new fans, the combination of relatable, faintly-feminist motifs charting the pleasures and pains of sweet treats (translated: ‘Check-it-out chocolate. Can I have a bit of chocolate? / But my weight worries me a bit these days…’) and a throbbing instrumental composition by Mad Capsule Markets’ Takeshi Ueda proved to be as irresistible as the chocs of the title. Seven years on, it feels no less brain-bustingly bewildering or deliciously addictive.
1. KARATE (METAL RESISTANCE, 2016)
The lead single from METAL RESISTANCE works not only as an impossibly slick example of the Kawaii metal fusion, but also as a representation of everything BABYMETAL stand for. The downtuned heft of that nu-metal-alike main riff is enough to bowl listeners over within the first half minute, but we’re picked up again by the glorious chorus that blows in around the 90-second mark. Inflections of djent and metalcore are counterpointed by soaring J-pop. And, in the lyrics, there’s a sense of thick-skinned resilience that’d do many hardcore bands proud. ‘Even if tears spill from our eyes / Let's confront it!’ SU-METAL sings (in Japanese) with real conviction. ‘Single-mindedly, seiya soiya, let's fight on / With our fists more... With our spirits more…’ Hell, MOAMETAL has even gone on record that that KARATE is her favourite BABYMETAL song of all: "KARATE has a courtesy – start with a bow and end with a bow. This is something important we value in our lives, because we never forget courtesy and a feeling of gratitude wherever we go.”
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