Disclaimer: I wasn’t going to write this review. I have a much more interesting concept for Babymetal and Metal Resistance that I’m working on with another writer, but the more I listened to this album, the more I felt that there were things that needed to be addressed; and, for what it’s worth, That Other Thing will be a lot better for me having done this first. So.
On to the review!
Since their inception in 2010, Babymetal the entity has always demanded that people pay attention to them. By the time they started to break through in the West in 2014, they had already achieved a love-em-or-hate-em reputation, and their introduction to tr00 metal audiences sparked the same reaction.
At the time, they were armed with a small discography that was shockingly diverse. J-pop-meets-thrash-meets-death-meets-power-ballad-meets-whatever proved to be addictive, though, and they only built on their debut in 2015 with the barest of whispers of new material.
Their fan base grew. They became little meta-pop-culture touchstones, with their own dolls and magazine covers and tattoos. Not bad for three high schoolers.
Unsurprisingly, then, when they announced their sophomore album, the entire rock world homed in: Could the novelty keep working? Could they match the brilliant madness of Babymetal? Could they even top it?
With expectations so high and fans in what can only be described as full froth, with hype building and major TV appearances on the horizon, it was surprising that almost every review bordered on fawning adoration. I saw “game-changer” used quite a bit. “Album of the year.” “Best metal album I’ve ever heard.” People who love Babymetal (and most people who like Babymetal love Babymetal) were hearing the review disks and more than ready to make the Queen, Su-metal, an actual damn queen.
The thing is, Metal Resistance isn’t any of those things.
What it is is a very friggin’ good collection of music that still manages to completely defy easy categorization: It’s metal, often VERY metal, and it’s brutal and beautiful and glorious. It’s also much more rooted in contemporary idol-meets-metal than Babymetal.
It’s a lot of things at once. In other words, it’s a Babymetal album.
So that’s how I’m going to address this; some people have looked at Metal Resistance as a metal album, and some have looked at it through a very idol lens. In the spirit of this site, a place that celebrates idols going hard and really only worries about genre as a way to package and compare things, I’m looking at it as a product of Babymetal, not in comparison to what came before but in relation to it.
I’m a natural contrarian. Part of it is a reflexive snark complex, but I also like to be on the outside a little bit. So when people were just boot-licking the crap out of Metal Resistance, I started to stop expecting a miracle and instead prepared myself to be let down. “It’s okay,” I told myself. “It’ll still be good. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Well, my ultimate expectations were met very well. This isn’t a perfect album, but it is a very good one, one the entire Babymetal team should be proud of, often better than the debut but also missing in a few spots.
Why I Can’t Stop Listening to Metal Resistance
Thanks to fancams and the surprise weekend release of the live video from Yokohama, most Babymetal fans have connected with the epic stadium-destroyer “The One.” I really, truly do love that song, and have for a while. It very literally soars, all Su-metal turned up to 11 in what could easily be some new country’s national anthem.
It’s maybe the third best song on the album.
When Metal Resistance works, it just plain works. Personal favorites include the hyperactive prog mashup “Tales of the Destinies,” which has the bonus of basically being impossible to play live, so it’ll always be a bit of a cult favorite; the superlative Sulo “Amore,” which is literally the most idol metal song I’ve ever heard (and I’m dying to hear a cover by Dempagumi.inc); and BLACK BABYMETAL’s “Sis.Anger,” which carried a ton of expectations as the much-touted heaviest song on the album and does not disappoint one bit; on first hearing, I tweeted this:
Got a gift. Two words: "melodic deathcore"
— Homicidol Maniac (@homicidols) March 30, 2016
And I stand by that description.
I’m also a huge mark for BLACK BABYMETAL, so the fact that they also got “GJ!”, which honestly could be a more metal-oriented PassCode track, made me a very happy person.
Other top songs include the somewhat familiar syncopated “YAVA” (previously fan-known as “Chigau”), the very familiar power metal delirium of “Road of Resistance” (a perfect opener) and, if you’re fancy and able to listen to it, the Japan-only sweet-mother-of-the-Fox-God-I’ve-never-heard-a-more-perfect-song “Syncopation,” which actually contains none, but that’s okay — it’s amazing, all proggy synth-laden power metal, otherwise known as “Babymetal’s wheelhouse.”
These are where Metal Resistance‘s real power lies. The album as a whole is a win for including them. Up against the Trinity of “Megitsune,” “Ijime,Dame,Zettai” and “Headbangya!!” from Babymetal, they match up quite well, even surpassing what the original accomplished. All Sulos are good; “Amore” beats them all.
What Works Less
There are very few perfect albums in the world, and a formula-buster like Babymetal isn’t always going to succeed when they try something, even if the general sense of a song is “yeah, it’s good.”
For instance, while fans clamored for the somewhat apocryphal “No Rain, No Rainbow” to get a studio recording (with a grown-up Su-metal), it feels like a lighter puncher in this collection than it did before. Part of the issue I think is in the mix; why tinkling piano is competing with Su-metal’s voice as it builds is a mystery. It’s also dated-sounding; as a tribute to X-Japan, it’s nice, but it does sound more than a little like an early-90s power ballad no matter how much you dress it up. (And FWIW, I love the crap out of the song because I like those old power ballads and would listen to Su-metal read a phone book.)
There’s a similar issue with “Awadama Fever,” which was the first bit of new music to make an appearance, back in late 2014. At the time, it had fans excited — a literal bubblegum metal song, created by Ueda Takeshi of “Gimme Chocolate!!” (and “STUPiG” and all of Mad Capsule Markets and AA=) fame. The problem, though, being that it’s ultimately so similar to “Gimme Chocolate!!” that it feels like a pointless retread when packaged with the rest of this album. Yes, it’s plenty of fun, and maybe the “most Babymetal” song in here, but it’s likely to be the first skip in the track list.
Also just not quite working is the I-don’t-get-the-hype “META TARO,” which is exactly what people have described it as — Viking-hymn-meets-Frere-Jacques-meets-nursery-rhyme–but doesn’t mesh very well. The vocals are actually wonderful, sing-songy interplay between the three members to the tune of something you sang when you were in first grade. They just don’t meet up well with the instrumentation or the male backing vocals. And yes, I get that it’s a tribute; I just don’t care.
What would probably be a great song in almost any other context is “From Dusk Til Dawn,” a sort of trip-hop-meets-nightmares emotional crusher that feels really out of place on the album. It’s literally not a bad song, just not one that matches the energy that lives elsewhere, and not one that’s really made for these members. It’s actually more in Necronomidol‘s territory than Babymetal’s. Because it’s an international-only track, try to make a trade with somebody in Japan to get a version of the album that includes the much better “Syncopation.”
And I feel almost like a jerk for saying it, but “KARATE” actually does very little for me (original reactions notwithstanding). It’s too sludgy on the one hand and too safe on the other. It was obviously written to be a crowd-pleaser, and was released as the lead track for that specific reason, and it’s a perfectly harmless rock radio song. It just lacks Babymetal’s actual soul.
For all the hype, for all the expectations, for all the pressure, Metal Resistance is actually very good. No, it isn’t perfect, but being the standard bearer of a musical movement has its benefits, and the top-notch writers and arrangers and engineers who work with Babymetal have fantastic raw material — Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal — to play with and create great things. Even 80 percent of top notch is going to be pretty great.
So in the end, Metal Resistance is a winner. It has plenty in it for OG Babymetal fans, plenty for newcomers, plenty for idol fans and plenty for metalheads. Where it misses, it doesn’t miss by much; when it connects, that ball goes a long, long way.
Added to the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist: Just “KARATE” for now, and “Road of Resistance” already lives there. There will undoubtedly be more.