Before there was kawaii metal there was just kawaii, a strand of distinctly Japanese popular culture that revels in all things cute and lovable, and is perhaps best exemplified by the eternally popular Hello Kitty franchise.
Absolutely nobody thought what it might sound like if Kitty White fronted Slayer. Or so it seemed. Because then came Babymetal, a group that fuses kawaii with heavy metal orchestration, as well as elements of J-pop, video-game music innovators such as Yuzo Koshiro, and the metalcore ragings of Ronnie Radke. Operating in a sub-genre so high-concept, it would be easy to dismiss Babymetal as a gimmick, depending on how receptive your ears are to their musical mashup. But the band’s third record, Metal Galaxy, is an opus of the form. Call it the kawaii metal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The formula is this: singers Su-metal and Moametal (third member Yuimetal left the band last year, citing health issues) deliver sugary melodies over trashy riffs and thwacked drums produced by the man behind the music, Kobametal. The music is spotless to the point of sounding computerised: a track such as the hyperactive Da Da Dance is an incitement to leap around on some imaginary arcade dance machine. Of course, some moments are just plain wild. Elevator Girl (English Version) ostensibly uses a lift as a metaphor for life’s ups and downs and there’s something charming to a no-frills but accurate lyric such as, “Life can be such a pain in the butt”.
The juxtaposition between pop vocals and traditional metal yelps creates a good-versus-evil battle that resembles duelling kaiju. There are moments of maturity, too: Shine is an anthemic rock ballad assisted by more melodic guitars and lush strings. But even given its many highlights, sitting through its 14 songs in a single sitting can be a slog. The intensity of Metal Galaxy makes it a hard sell, but, at their best, Babymetal make clashing elements surprisingly cogent, not to mention fun.