Once you’ve mastered the juxtaposition of two opposing genres (metal and J-pop) to create your successful own genre, Kawaii-metal in this case, a wise next step is to expand that Venn diagram to blend metal and J-pop with other genres for an equally unorthodox effect. To some extent Japanese duo Babymetal (previous third member Yui Mizuno left the band due to illness last year) attempt to do this on their new third eagerly awaited album Metal Galaxy.
It’s the reasoning behind the album’s new title, as the band’s producer Kobametal explained in an interview with Kerrang that they wanted to reflect the sound of different countries they’d visited and an image of cultural diversity. As they’ve travelled the world and had a big influence on it since 2010 – including being the first Japanese act to perform at a major stage at Glastonbury, to play a sold out show at Wembley and make the top 40 in the US Billboard album chart – they are likely to have a good experience of the other genres and languages heard within those visited countries.
Addictive standout track ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ delightfully blends Indian instruments, such as the sitar and tabla, as well as spiritual style of Indian singing – it’s worth mentioning that lead vocalist Suzuka Nakamoto a.k.a Su-metal is particularly impressive vocally on this album – with the aggression of metal guitars to make it sound like a gothic bollywood film.
‘Oh Majinai’ is one of many tracks on the album that feature a collaboration with a metal artist from another country, to show their international embrace. In this case, Joakim Brodén, a growling singer from Swedish war-themed power metal group Sabaton. Su-metal and Brodén combine to sing a sea shanty style, that with an accordion accompanying them in the background makes it sound like a merry Irish drinking song. It’s fun and unique but borders on kitsch when the squeaky voices sound a little too cartoony.
Many tracks feature both Japanese and English lyrics, but there’s a really distinctive Spanish influence to ‘Night Night Burn!’ from the percussion to the Spanish guitar and Su-metal’s lyrics of “Hola! Ma, mamma mīa! Hola! Ma, mamma mīa! / Ole! Oh! Ole! Oh! Ole!“. And when the trumpets and tin metal instruments kick in the bridge of the song there’s a real Latin festival feel. It’s a well-balanced song because even though it has new ideas, it never stops sounding like Babymetal.
Furthermore, Japan is a country not known for its churches, so the Gregorian church chants at the beginning of ‘In The Name Of’, and the spiritual ‘Arkadia’ sound internationally influenced, before they descend into hammering metal.
When Metal Galaxy doesn’t explore this mixed-culture idea fully, by sticking to just the metal-J-pop fusion formula, those particular tracks still benefit from having the same kind of instantaneous hook that made ‘Karate’ arguably one of their signature songs and it’s easy to imagine fans singing along to their lyrics at future concerts. Speedy earworm ‘Distortion’ is destined be one of those fan favourites. All in all, Metal Galaxy prepares fans for an even more exciting live showpiece, one with catchy anthems and unusual flavours within that mix.