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Babymetal Is the Metal/J-Pop Hybrid That’s Better Than It Sounds (Review)

This past summer, an industry-wide shift took place: Friday was adopted as the standard day for new music to be released, replacing Tuesday as the default option. This means that tomorrow is a release day, and tomorrow is also April Fools’ Day, so the confusion about who is putting out real albums and who is pulling a fast one on their fans will likely make for a frustrating day.

Sadly, this might also mean that Babymetal gets lost in the shuffle tomorrow, when they release their sophomore album METAL RESISTANCE. At first glance, their modus operandi looks like it was thought up for a strange gag: Formed in 2010, the Japanese trio combines J-Pop vocal stylings with a punishing metallic edge without compromising on either front. While this may seem like picking two shades from opposite ends of the color wheel, the combination makes more sense than it has any right to, and a bunch of listeners have already realized that.

Between all their social media channels, the band has over a million followers—a bevy of those people have bought the group’s music and seen them live. Since releasing their self-titled debut album in Japan in 2014, the group has raced up that country’s Oricon charts (the equivalent of our Billboard), sold out the legendary Tokyo venue Budokan multiple times (the same place the famous Cheap Trick at Budokan album was recorded), and thrilled a 65,000-person crowd in their U.K. debut, at the Sonisphere festival in 2014.

When you really break it down, it actually makes a great deal of sense that this amalgamation of genres is effective: J-Pop and metal are both traditionally high-tempo and intense forms, and while gruff metal vocalists blend perfectly with the raucous instrumentation, the higher-pitched pop vocals provide a potent and impactful contrast, like sugar on a lemon.

As aforementioned and most importantly, they avoid the trappings of other genre-combiners and don’t compromise on either front. Babymetal has the confidence to go full boar with all elements of their aesthetic, so metalheads shouldn’t feel like they’re being served anything watered-down, and pop fans can dive into the clean vocals while getting used to the raw vivacity that metal brings. At times, Evanescence feels like an apt comparison, and there’s a crossover act that’s done well for itself.

Although the group does not seem to have yet reached its full potential in terms of stateside popularity, they have at least one curious American in their corner: Babymetal is set to be the musical guest on the April 5 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Colbert has been known for unconventional musical guests during his brief tenure as Late Show host.

Last year, the Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses performed music from its namesake video game franchise on the program, and just a couple weeks ago, he had tenor Karl Scully on the show to perform a modified rendition of Irish folk song “Danny Boy.” Both of those selections show a willingness to accept entertainment that’s tangent to the mainstream, and Colbert’s willingness to check out what’s going on away from the beaten path is the same rewarding mindset with which Babymetal ought to be approached.

Babymetal’s sophomore album, METAL RESISTANCE, will be released on April 1, and is available to pre-order on iTunes now. Babymetal will support the album with a string of U.S. shows in May and July, and tickets for those shows can be found here.

IMAGE: Artist

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