Tuesday 13 June 2023

Babymetal - The Other One (2023)

Country: Japan
Style: Kawaii Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 24 Mar 2023
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It almost seems surprising to say that this is a surprising album from Babymetal, because it's not a fresh expansion of their sound, as their previous album, 2019's Metal Galaxy, surely was, but more of a contraction and a re-focus on what they do best. For those not in the know, they play what they call "kawaii metal", which means the bizarre placement of cute JPop vocals and electronica over a crunchy and sometimes almost extreme metal backdrop. However, Metal Galaxy, a concept album that brought in sonic flavours and guest appearances from each of the countries in which the band has toured, stretched that template in all sorts of wild directions.

In comparison, this felt almost like an assault on a first listen. It's very loud, some of the knobs on the mixing desk surely turned up to eleven, and it's often very fast too. The only world music that I caught was on Metalizm, which has some Indian flavours, and there are no guest appearances that I could identify. It's Babymetal reinforcing that they play metal rather than global pop and finding their way back to basics. Oddly, the album both benefits and suffers from this approach. I wasn't at all sure on that first listen but it's grown on me with every subsequent time through.

Importantly, I think there are a few reasons for this. One is that there are only ten songs on offer instead of sixteen and they're all of a consistent sort of length. Only two songs sit outside a range between 3:23 and 4:18 and they all do much the same thing, with variations to keep it interesting. Those exceptions, by the way, are Time Wave, which extends to 4:50 because of a longer electronic intro, not hitting top gear until a minute of driving pop music in; and the opener, Metal Kingdom, a minute longer than Time Wave, partly because of a longer intro but mostly because it has an epic flavour to it.

Another is that almost everything feels like metal, with occasional dips into electronica. Last time out, I noted that "rarely do the songs seem to start out as metal" and that's just not the case here. Even when the electronic angle takes the fore, as it does on Time Wave and Light and Darkness, it isn't long before the metal takes back over. Only The Legend, which closes out with a more mellow outlook, down to the use of a saxophone, avoids that and it's still heavier than half of what was on Metal Galaxy.

Perhaps, most tantalisingly, Su-Metal, who sings lead, seems to be shifting away from the cuteness overdose of JPop to a more rock-based delivery. There's still a pop edge there, but there's also an overt use of power that's more typical of rock music. She belts here, even if it's a sweet belt. She's willing to soar and sustain, even in verses and especially in choruses. Most importantly, she does it all on Divine Attack -Shingeki-, which is the first Babymetal song on which she wrote all the lyrics. I would call her delivery entirely hers and she chose to go for power.

It's clearly one of the highlights, as is Metalizm, but the more I listen to this, the more it clicks into focus for me and the more individual tracks stand out to approach that pair at the top of the heap. Maya has a seriously driving riff and Mirror Mirror even grinds at points. Monochrome is quite the earworm and The Legend holds up at the end of the album, even though it's easily the softest song on offer. Talking of softer, I have to admit a fondness for the first minute of Time Wave that's clear pop music but catchy and powerful.

And so this is a surprising album, not because it doesn't sound like Babymetal but because it feels a lot closer to what Babymetal are than anything in a long while, consistently and emphatically. It also surprises because it does that while making the cute JPop side of the band fit a lot closer than anything on their previous album. There are points where I could see three kawaii girls dancing in synchronicity even without visuals, but Su-Metal's voice is much more natural and overt, without a lot of the digital manipulation done to it in the past. Autotune is not a big problem here, the intro to Believing notwithstanding.

I wonder how this is going to be received. From being underwhelmed on a first listen, I now think it may well be their best album yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment