Fox God in Space
Following the release of their 2016 album Metal Resistance (see J-Pop Go review previously), Babymetal seemed to be beset by a variety of dramas and tragedy. In 2018, the trio were reduced to two when Yuimetal decided to opt out of the metal idol outfit. Then the tragic passing of Kami band guitarist Mikio Fujioka delivered another blow.
Despite all this, and under the continuing guidance of producer Kobametal, Babymetal have risen up to continue as a duo (albeit with live shows augmented by a rotating number of “third” Babymetalers, including former Morning Musume member Riho Sayashi). They’ve also just released their third studio album in the form of Metal Galaxy.
Billed as concept album, the album’s narrative explores an “odyssey to the Metal Galaxy” which is fancy talk for adopting a broader palette of sound for Babymetal. In fact, Babymetal’s global expanse has provided the inspiration for the album’s direction. The outfit have managed to take in a huge range of locations spreading the Fox God message, including Germany, France, Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, America and beyond. Through this exposure to different cultures and different music, Kobametal absorbed a variety of ideas. “I see Babymetal as a sort of spaceship” the producer commented in an interview with Metal Hammer, “that’s travelling through these metal galaxies and exploring different types of sounds.”
Metal Galaxy employs these various influences in intriguing ways. There’s Latin touches on ‘Night Night Burn!’, metal/folk influences on ‘Oh! MAJINAI’, Indian instrumentation for ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ and even lounge pop via ‘Elevator Girl’.
On that basis, you might be forgiven in thinking that Metal Galaxy is a patchwork affair of widely incompatible ideas. In fact, Babymetal’s signature sound of zippy guitar-fuelled rhythms and dynamic vocals are present and correct throughout and the album boasts a curious consistency, despite its component parts.
The genesis of Metal Galaxy began with 2018’s ‘Distortion’ (see our feature previously), a kinetic slice of energetic metal pop augmented by an energetic vocal delivery. It’s also a composition that features some outside collaboration care of Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy).
That element of collaboration also filters through onto other tracks on the album, such as the kinetic ‘DA DA DANCE’ (featuring Tak Matsumoto) and The decidedly quirky ‘Oh! MAJINAI’, which includes some vocal elements care of Sabaton frontman Joakim Brodén.
One of the album’s finest moments is ‘PA PA YA!!’, which throws a nod to the classic Babymetal template, but with enough odd flourishes to make it sound fresh and on fire. Its bonkers screeching synth sounds and speedy guitars are matched with classic melodic lifts on the vocals. It’s a powerhouse of a composition which also features a collaboration with Thai rapper Fucking Hero (yes, that’s his actual moniker) who contributes a suitably fast-paced rap segment to the new outing. It’s a muscular, growling delivery that somehow seems in-step with the rest of the tune (although on its initial airing, some Babymetal fans had a Marmite reaction to it).
For contrast, the jazzy moods and robust percussion of ‘Elevator Girl’ seem almost like something from a completely different outfit. But when Babymetal fully embrace some of these different sounds in a more immersive approach, some real magic emerges – such as the euphoric melodies of ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’.
Meanwhile, ‘Starlight’ takes on a curiously wistful atmosphere with its choral elements battling it out with busier, frenetic moments. It’s a track that has a kind of fragile beauty lurking at its heart (also a track that was seen as a tribute of sorts to the late Mikio Fujioka).
Equally, ‘Shine’, with its strings-driven rhythms is a gentler affair which seems to be designed as more of a showcase for Su-metal’s not inconsiderable vocal chops.
Finally, the album closes out on ‘Arkadia’, which wears its traditional metal influences on its sleeve – and is a glorious tour de force in itself.
Babymetal have proved that they’re not one hit wonder – or indeed simply a novelty act with a limited shelf life. Their sound is evolving and changing and they’re not afraid to embrace different approaches (some of which, admittedly, don’t quite stick the landing) while still building on their strong foundations. Whether that new direction finds favour with Babymetal fans depends on how willing they are to entertain new ideas.
Overall, Metal Galaxy has its moments. It doesn’t quite reach the potential of its two predecessors, but it’s got what it counts on the tracks that stand out.
Metal Galaxy is out now.