Vinyl Review: Babymetal

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I’ve been living in Japan for a little over a year and a half now, and let me be the bearer of bad news: Japan really isn’t that weird.

Sure, you see the occasional mascot roaming the streets and everyone on TV seems just way too excited about everything (especially food), but it’s really not that different than anyplace else. And, let’s be honest, a lot of the “weird Japan” concept comes from misunderstandings at best and flat out racism at worst. I also can’t see how a country like America, where walking into a Wal-Mart with a semi-automatic weapon in your hands is legal, has any right to call any other country weird.

All that being said, Babymetal, a heavy metal/pop hybrid featuring a trio of pre-teen girl singers, is the kind of weird shit that could only exist in Japan.

The Japanese music scene is one of idols, and heavy metal has always had incredibly strong following here, so if there was any country that would combine the two, it would be Japan. The fact that Babymetal exists isn’t that surprising, the fact that they’re totally fucking awesome legit heavy metal is.

Sure, they may be a gimmick, but they’re an exceptionally well-executed gimmick. And to a casual metal fan like myself, they’re one of the most exciting things to come out of heavy metal in recent memory. It turns out that sugar-coated J-pop and ultra-aggressive speed metal go together surprisingly well.

I guess maybe that shouldn’t have been too surprising though? Both J-pop and the thrash/speed genres of heavy metal are endlessly energetic, and for a lot of people, the weakest parts of heavy metal are the cookie monster growling vocals that seem to dominate the genre. With Babymetal that barrier to entry is stripped away almost entirely (there’s a bit of growling here and there) and replaced with the most pop-friendly, squeaky-clean vocals imaginable.

What also helps is that the lead singer of Babymetal can actually sing (the other, younger, girls mostly dance and scream). Suzuka Nakamoto (who goes by Su-Metal) may be a petite 17-year old, but she has a set of pipes on her, and on songs like “Megistume” and “Rondo Of Nightmare” she proves it, bellowing with a power that earns a space next to the album’s omnipresent crunching guitars.

While much has been made of the J-Pop/metal fusion aspect of Babymetal (and for obvious reasons) most people overlook the heavy electronic aspect of the album, which actually makes the album stand out more and gives it kind of a power metal vibe ala Dragonforce. The soaring keyboard riffs on the chorus of the insanely catchy “Gimme Chocolate!!” make the song even more memorable, and throughout the album they accompany the sugary vocals perfectly. And on “Akatsuki” the kinetic piano transform inject a Wagnerian rock element into the song that Jim Stienman would probably enjoy

OH SHIT I WANT JIM STIENMAN TO COLLABORATE WITH BABYMETAL HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE?!

Ahem, sorry about that.

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Dead wax is a good thing.

While Babymetal’s self-titled debut came out in Japan last year, the album has finally just gotten a vinyl release, perhaps to celebrate the long-awaited international release of the CD. The vinyl is a rather pedestrian affair, unfortunately, pressed on standard black vinyl and encased in a run-of-the-mill gatefold sleeve with minimal artwork and linear notes. They even skimped on inner sleeves of any variety, instead going with generic plastic covers.

Thankfully, while the presentation is drab, the quality of the albums themselves seems to be above par. The album is probably short enough to have been pressed on a single LP, but they went the 2LP route and that gives the grooves more space to breathe and allow for the deep, loud sound of the album to come out. It also means the tracks don’t have to hug the inner groove, which translates to less inner groove distortion – something that can really plague a loud record like this one.

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And this record is still incredibly loud. Anyone buying this in hopes of increased dynamic range will probably be let down. The album is still compressed to hell, and is still draining to hear at times – although I really don’t know how this could be avoided when making something as maximalist and intentionally loud as this.

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“Gimme Chocolate!!!” Vinyl Rip

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“Gimme Chocolate” CD Rip

There’s nothing special about this vinyl release, and I suspect that import prices would make buying it overseas an exorbitant endeavor. As such, I really can’t recommend it for anyone save for hardcore fans of the group. For everyone else out there, go on iTunes or buy the domestic CD, both come with two bonus cuts that aren’t on this vinyl or the original Japanese CD. In fact, a lot of people in Japan are importing the UK version of the album for the extra tracks, which, for someone who for years imported Japanese copies of albums for bonus tracks, is hilariously ironic.

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