Metal Galaxy is a loose concept album about being dispatched to a distant part of the universe. “We are on an odyssey to the Metal Galaxy/Please fasten your neck brace,” they greet us over a Sleigh Bells-sized, guitar-and-sequencer stomp.
But then, that thread mostly disappears, and the real conceit emerges: After touring the world, Babymetal recruit a half-dozen international collaborators to widen their musical net even further. There is a guest verse from Thai rapper F.Hero on “Pa Pa Ya!!” and faceless growling from Canadian grunter Alissa White-Gluz on “Distortion,” which sounds like a Hot Topic-commissioned cover of Taylor Swift. Without the help of guests, Babymetal nod to Bollywood and the Miami Sound Machine. It is an exultant, near-absolute mess.
Now a duo after the mysterious departure of Yuimetal last year, Babymetal are still at their best when they hover around their initial idea—harnessing the energy of metal and J-Pop into high-flying hybrids. Metal Galaxy’s closing stretch of songs do just that; the arcing “Kagerou” boasts one of their most undeniable choruses, and you can visualize the epic sweep of stage lights and lighter-wielding throngs on “Shine.” Babymetal have rarely sounded as natural or convincing as they do in these moments.
To the unsuspecting, a first encounter with the wild confluence of idol pop and speed metal that comprises much of Babymetal’s oeuvre can be warmly jarring or abrasively reassuring. Cute vogue poses and cupcake vocals to a soundtrack that could sonically describe several toes jamming at once is an objectively bizarre combo uniting two extremes, further complicated by the space epic mythology informing the band’s image.
But oddly, Babymetal’s playful syfy-dosed self-mythologizing, fueled by thrash-and-grind sensory overload, doesn’t transport a viewer or listener to a delirious and harrowing pastiche of the clumsy space opera tropes the group (’s management) embraces, so much as it reflects an audience inward to parse the weird interstices that live along the line that divides the naive and the nihilistic. It is camp so campy that it transcends itself. Babymetal’s recent show at the Forum exemplified the alchemy of this ungodly–and godly–mixture.
The DJ set that preceded Babymetal–which wasn’t DJ-ing so much as a couple of dudes behind some turntables drinking bottles water under a spotlight as the steadily filling Forum was taken on a trip down metal memory lane. Late-90s/early-00s radio metal were at the forefront: Korn, Rob Zombie, even The Prodigy made appearances. In retrospect it was a fitting setup for what was to come.
One of the last tracks they spun, System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” earned cheers from an audience already prepared for the spastic collisions Babymetal would bring. But the DJ’s playlist was also a reminder that twenty years ago, metal’s evolution was in full swing, although Babymetal doesn’t represent an evolutionary transition so much as a quantum leap into a sideways dimension.
The set began with a cinematic journey through starfields on the enormous screen above the stage. Nebulae, roving planets and suns, accompanied by soothing words encouraging feeing over thinking, flash over the dark stage. An octahedronal spacecraft, reminiscent of the “Tet” in 2013’s Oblivion, appeared, the POV getting closer until the interior is revealed. In three upstanding vessels surrounded by alien technology, particles and energy congealed into calves, legs, and then bodies. Finally the stage was illuminated, but in brief flashes. The trio of girls, led by Su-metal, now in physical form on stage, displayed a new pose and position with every flash. The four-piece band behind them–two guitars, bass, and drums–who would remain mostly in the shadows for the duration of the show, wore identical face masks that looked like a cross between gray aliens and that worn by the satin-caped patriarch of an Eyes Wide Shut party.
With the arena going crazy now, Babymetal, led by Su-metal on vocals and flanked by dancers Moametal and Third Avenger, backed by the Kami band–a ridiculously tight four piece–dove into the set in earnest, springboarding into the dance-metal assault of “DA DA DANCE” from this year’s Metal Galaxy, released worldwide that very night. A startling array of lighting and projection flooded the arena as an octagonal center stage carried the girls into the crowd on a track, every surface of which was a relentlessly animated, glitchy screen.
This first song set the tone for the rest of the show, and it was a total sensory overload. The advice given on the screen before their first song, Don’t think, feel, was almost entirely unnecessary. With the amount of sonic and visual information bombarding every square centimeter of The Forum, not to mention an array of spark and fireball-launching pyrotechnics that could be felt in the upper seats, thought was not even an option.
Over the course of the set, the monolithic screen displayed an encyclopedia of visual effects, both pre-edited and reacting to live feeds in real time. After performing the infectiously (hate-to-say-it-but-it’s-true) uplifting “Elevator Girl”, which took the octagon and the girls upward, “Shanti Shanti Shanti” put the girls on the screen in a hypercube motif, interspersed with shots of the audience filmed by several cameras planted throughout the arena, two of which were at the end of robotic cranes capable of reaching midway up to look fans directly in the eye. Video effects ran the gamut: mandalas, glitch, blurs, and energy bursts. The pyrotechnics ranged from ritualistic fire bowls to billowing fireballs to streams of upward sparks during the fittingly amphetimous “Pa Pa Ya”. The roving pin spot lighting, at times so blinding it was safer to avoid look away, unified the entire house, which was often bathed in red, blue, purple, and teal.
It goes without saying that for most fans, Babymetal’s performance of 2014’s “Give Me Chocolate!!” was a highlight. As soon as the words GIVE ME appeared onscreen the crowd went wild in anticipation to the song that put them on the international stage after their 2016 performance on Stephen Colbert. The dancing throughout the show, often stilted and marionette-like, took on a narrative role during “Karate”. Starting the song on the ground and then rising to their feet, fighting, falling, helping each other up only to fall back into the dream, the band created the most theatrical part of the show.
The set ended with “Road to Resistance”, a call-to-action resulting in a cathartic highnote sustained by every band member, lighting instrument, and screen as Su-metal repeated again and again, inviting the audience to join her: “We! Are! Babymetal! We! Are! Babymetal!” emphasizing the T. It could have gone on for fifteen minutes without exhausting itself. The joy and release of the entire arena was palpable. Coming back for “Shine” and “Arkadia”, the show came to a close, bookended by the octahedron spacecraft appearing again on the screen along with more mythology, and a listing of all the dates and places coming up on the world tour.
Without a doubt, there is nothing like Babymetal. It has all that it takes to divide an audience, and although it is rife with tropes of its constituent elements, compulsively mashing them together, the mixture results in an alchemical creation of pure feeling. To overly-critique the music or the mythology would take the fun out of it. And if Babymetal is pure anything, it is fun.
DA DA DANCE Megitsune Elevator Girl Shanti Shanti Shanti Kagerou Starlight Gimme Chocolate!! PA PA YA!! Distortion KARATE Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! Road of Resistance
BABYMETAL CONCERT @ The Forum in Los Angeles - Lost in MPK
On ‘Metal Galaxy’, Babymetal’s third album, the Japanese duo (third member Yuimetal left the band last year) explore new territory. Never ones to settle for sticking to the traditional, mainstream idea of what metal is, it finds them toying with Bollywood sounds and mariachi brass, collaborating with Thai rapper F. Hero and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, and going all out on their latest set of kawaii-J-pop-meets-eardrum-battering-metal. Su-metal and Moametal see themselves as having a responsibility to move metal forward, rather than let it stagnate, as they explained to NME just before ‘Metal Galaxy’ was released. “I’ve come to realise after recent performances that more younger fans wearing our costumes are coming to see us perform,” Su-metal said. “And through Babymetal, I feel that a lot more people have come to know metal music. [Judas Priest’s] Rob Halford had told us to ‘stay metal’ and I think it’s important for Babymetal to pass down to future younger generations.”
To the duo, they’re now in a position to create the future of the genre, as implied in the title of ‘Metal Galaxy’’s instrumental opener ‘Future Metal’. “I feel that this album is the first step to the future of metal,” Su-metal added. “Also this album reflects our determination of how we will move forward.”
BABYMETAL performed at The Forum in L.A.! Follow my day and the hype before the show
So far, Babymetal have been divisive, with “true” metalheads not accepting them as part of the genre. But they’ve also gained many other fans, including the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, Guns N’ Roses, Rob Halford, Metallica, Rob Zombie, and their numerous collaborators on this record. Of working with other artists, Su-metal described finding the right voices or guitar sounds as like “finding the right piece of the puzzle”.
“We wanted to find who would best complete the song,” she explained. “Luckily, our first choices agreed to collaborate with Babymetal and, hopefully, we were able to create something that the fans really enjoy.”