Meet Babymetal, Your New Favorite Band
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A beast has risen in the East. It Godzilla-stomps its way across the globe, cutting a path of destruction through boring music. This beast goes by the name of Babymetal.
An unholy union of Japanese idol music and thundering heavy metal, Babymetal have actually been around since 2010, when producer Kobametal sought to form a band around singer Sumetal. He brought together a talented group of metal musicians, fronting them with a trio of adorable teenage idol singers. Since then, their popularity has steadily risen all around the world. Their debut record dropped in Japan in 2014 and was released stateside in June of this year. Stories about the band have not only dominated metal websites and blogs, but have also surfaced on news outlets like N.P.R. and the B.B.C.
As the Babymetal phenomenon grows, it’s natural to ask “what exactly is this” and “why should I care?”
Let me see if I can break it down a little. Babymetal have labeled themselves as “kawaii metal”, “kawaii” meaning cute. While other sonic elements find their way into the band’s music, the two primary elements are Japanese idol music and metal.
To get a handle on Babymetal’s sound, one must understand what exactly idol music is. Idol music primarily focuses on cute young girls singing poppy tunes. The members of idol groups are cycled out of their bands when they get “too old”. It’s a bit like the boy bands the dominated American airwaves in the 1990s. Here’s a video example, Morning Musume’s “Beyond the Time and Space”:
The other major sonic element in Babymetal’s sound is, of course, heavy metal. Here’s an example of what’s going on in the Japanese metal scene:
The musicians in Babymetal leach elements from several sub-genres of metal. The percussion style often draws from the double bass-heavy timekeeping of death metal. Cannibal Corpse exemplifies this about as well as any other death metal band on the planet:
To my ears, Babymetal borrows liberally from a couple of other metal sub-genres. First, a lot of their guitar riffs seem to borrow the sound, heft, and melodic quality of Swedish melodic death metal. In Flames are masters of this style:
(Note: I recently saw In Flames live in Boise, and they were FURIOUSLY AWESOME.)
The other thing I hear when I listen to Babymetal is the epic-ness and virtuoso musical skill found in power metal. Some of Babymetal’s best songs have a widescreen cinematic feel, an epic sense of scale that drives them beyond simple pop/metal concoctions. It’s like they’ve been stealing liberally from the DragonForce playbook. Here’s a little DragonForce to help you get the idea:
Throw all that into a blender, hit “frappe” and the end result sounds a little like this:
As for why you should care, I think Babymetal shows what’s possible when creative people work without worrying about fitting their work into compartment or classification system. The U.S. entertainment scene is so concerned with labels and formats that it sometimes feels like media here is all about separating music, movies and the like into classifications, like sorting Skittles by color, and keeping them separate.
A group like Babymetal could probably never happen here because nobody would know how to label and market them. Are they metal? Are they not metal? Who cares? It’s just awesome music and for that, we should be thankful. There is precious little great music out there these days.