Babymetal Releases Album … Title

We’re probably still several weeks away from a lead single and/or video, but the April 1 (Fox Day) release of Babymetal‘s second album will bring with it one less surprise:
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Alice Project

The adorable horror.

I was cruising around Japanese Twitter one day and caught a photo shared by I’m pretty sure Ohmura Takayoshi (from Babymetal’s Kami Band). It featured all of these idol-looking young women — little skirts, rainbow-colored super-Uggs, somewhat matching tops — wielding ridiculous prop weapons and wearing hockey masks.

“What in the ever living–?” I started to ask, as if I should have been surprised by anything at that point.

Not long after, I learned that what I’d seen were Alice Juban of the Alice Project, and then I started to see these photos of weapon-bearing horror movie characters in idol outfits just everywhere under the name Kamen Joshi, and I knew that I probably had to look them up.

How is this so epic? Also the first indie single to reach #1!

And thus began one of those three-day binges that really aren’t healthy.

Properly speaking, Kamen Joshi is a supergroup of … the Alice Project, hence the name of the profile. And this Alice Project stuff, despite being three primary groups and a whole bunch of minor-league-like units and subunits and one-offs and OH SO MUCH MORE that all performs as a regular daily thing at their very own PARMS Theater in Akihabara (that’s the nerdy district of Tokyo) and has a Daily Alice channel FFS (you can get a lot of it in English from this brilliant YouTube channel), has way more in common with itself than it does with anything else, so … it’s all going into one profile. Sue me.

Here’s Kamen Joshi in their much more natural environment.

I’ll cop to having a really difficult time figuring out the actual orientation of the Alice stuff, what with members promoted and demoted and a mass defection in spring 2015 that led to huge lineup shuffles up and down the Alice roster, and that’s okay. I’ll just keep listening to their music.

Let’s cut to the chase:

Kamen Joshi

The Mask Girls, as translated. Made up of the full membership of Alice Juban (Alice 10), Steamgirls and Armor Girls. There are like 18 of them, so I’ll keep it very simple: They make music that almost couldn’t be a more perfect mashup of the somewhat simpler mashups done by each of their constituent groups.

They’re exhausting. But great.

Alice Juban

A banner for Japanese idol metal horrorcore group Alice Juban 10 of the Alice Project

The mothership, so to speak. In the Alice Project hierarchy, if you’re in Alice Juban, you’re at the top of the heap (unless you lead one of the other groups … can I please stop trying to explain this?); if you lead Alice Juban like Sakura Nodoka does, that makes you the #1 Alice or something, so she’s accordingly also the leader of Kamen Joshi; likewise, if you’re the center of Alice Juban, you’re the center of Kamen Joshi like Tachibana Anna — that’s why she gets to wear the red mask and scare the crap out of you while leading a mass synchronous headbang.

Alice Juban is visually probably the most metal, what with the hockey masks and swords and chainsaws and whatnot; while their choral melodies are nice and reliably J-pop, they also veer pretty hard into some borderline power metal stuff.

What they sound like

Like a band that Avril Lavigne might have imagined back when people still thought she was cool and edgy and original and she probably had dreams of doing a metal band but definitely couldn’t because she was, is and always will be Avril Lavigne.

That sounds a little too damning-with-faint-praise. Let’s start over: Pop punk meets positive power metal meets a slasher movie.

You’ll like them if

You like Avril Lavigne! Seriously! Or, like, Switchfoot, or any one of those other post-Blink-182-we’re-punk-we-swear pop rock bands (stop being so disparaging). Fine. Do you like awesome, kind of heavy but still catchy music? That’s why you’ll like Alice Juban.

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The above, but more certain to come.

Leader: Sakura Nodoka
Sakura Nodoka of the Japanese idol metal horror group Alice Juban 10 and Kamen Joshi Mask Girls of the Alice Project
Center: Tachibana Anna
Tachibana Anna of the Japanese idol metal horror group Alice Juban 10 and Kamen Joshi Mask Girls of the Alice Project


A banner for Japanese steampunk idol group Steamgirls of the Alice Project

If Alice Juban is kind of like the music that you play while pretending to work on your car on a hot June afternoon so that cute special someone who just moved in across the street can see how awesome and cool you are, Steamgirls is what the two of you dance to when you go to U-18 night at the club.

But while Alice Juban goes straight for the horror movie vibe, Steamgirls is, fittingly, all steampunk, going with full-face gas masks and carrying literal smoking guns in their shows. The music is very similarly themed, with kind of a soft techno sound that blends together with the kind of metal that you play for your mom. It’s actually super enjoyable to listen to while exercising.

What they sound like

Dance music for everybody. Uncomplicated synths, catchy hooks, just enough programming to gain entry into a DJ competition.

You’ll like them if

Disney teen movies are one of your guilty pleasures. That’s not a joke.

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The above.

Leader: Kamiya Erina
Kamiya Erina of the Japanese steampunk idol group Steamgirls and Kamen Joshi of the Alice Project
Center: Kurose Sara
Kurose Sara of the Japanese steampunk idol group Steamgirls and Kamen Joshi of the Alice Project

Armor Girls

A banner for Japanese forest folk metal rock idol group Armor Girls of the Alice Project

Given that the Alice Project includes groups that are themed around the Wizard of Oz, milk, green slime and all kinds of weird stuff (I HAVE to see their theater in Akihabara one of these days), it should come as no surprise that one manager or another was probably sitting around one day and thought, “Hey, you know what we don’t have yet? A European folk metal idol group that dresses in armor and carries big fucking guns on stage.”

And thus was born Armor Girls.

I’m having a tough time finding live video of just Armor Girls (here’s kind of a crappy PV), but I think the music largely speaks for itself (they use part of the melody from “Ode to Joy” in here, plus what sounds like a banjo and fiddle … seriously). It’s … how to explain this song? How would you explain this to a person who could not possibly ever get YouTube? Bluegrass meets Celtic metal meets the end credits of an anime? They call it “forest rock,” which I guess isn’t inaccurate, but … ?

Basically, you can’t resist it.

A little (lot) more Japanese, but I’m sure that Wagakki Band is not pleased.

In baseball terms, Armor Girls fits within the Alice Project hierarchy like a WAR 1.5 utility infielder; they’re actually perfectly fine on their own, but there are more important parts of the team. But that’s how they’re positioned within Alice — coming at this from a “I like metal” perspective, they’re not second place to anybody, just doing things a little bit differently, like how you might love the crap out of Liv Moon sometimes and then want to raid a monastery while listening to Amon Amarth. And as utility infielders go, they’re honestly kind of a Josh Harrison or Chone Figgins, filler guys who wind up turning in MVP-caliber seasons (I am weird).

What they sound like

Honestly, this is like the most logical conclusion of the term “folk metal” possible, in that their songs are kind of metalish takes on folky tunes, notably from European and Japanese traditions, but I’m sure there’s more and I just haven’t heard it yet.

You’ll like them if

You have room in your heart for Wagakki Band, Tyr, Hank 3 and Negicco all at once.

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“Kokoroido” up there. What a song. Also this:

Leader: Kuroki Hinako
Kuroki Hinako of the Japanese forest rock folk metal idol group Armor Girls of Kamen Joshi and the Alice Project

So that’s the Alice Project in a nutshell. They’ll be all over the blog, I’m sure, so we’ll all get to learn plenty about them.


I’m not actually going to list this here; go to J-pop Idols for that: Alice Juban / Kamen Joshi, Steamgirls, Armor Girls


Why Metal Is Dead

This piece from Metal Hammer (big Babymetal supporters that they are) is pretty much on point.

What’s missing is the “why.” I had mentioned before that metal fans are objectively just some of the most fuck-headed human beings on the planet — leaving aside hair-band sleaze, a weird obsession with “authenticity” and the fact that NSBM is even a thing that exists (and should be flayed alive), metal people can be such dicks about … music!

MH also recently had a little piece about hip-hop that metal fans would like. I agreed with some of their suggestions, disagreed in principle with one or two, had some thoughts of my own, etc. And a lot of the people that commented on the article went at least with its spirit. That’s good.

But SO MANY goddamn idiotic long-hairs just had to get in their “Rap is crap!” comments that I just tuned it out. And why? Okay, so you don’t like hip-hop or rapping in general. That’s fine — I’m friends with some actual working rappers whose material you can get on iTunes and everything, but I’ll be honest in saying that I like my hip-hop in small doses and at certain times. But you! You think nu-metal was the worst thing to ever happen to heavy music until J-pop connected with it, and now the fact that Babymetal samples Limp Bizkit is a sign of an apocalypse that you don’t want because it doesn’t involve Behemoth. You spend actual life energy getting mad about djent or metalcore or really goddamn cool folk metal from countries you’ve never heard of made by people whose names you can’t pronounce not because they’re actually terribly difficult for your ear and tongue but because you are a pig-ignorant jagoff who clings to idiotic notions of correctness or, bob help us all, cultural or racial superiority.

That was a long counter-rant. It could get a lot longer, actually, and target a lot more than metalheads (some of whom are actually lovely people) and get into stupid things about culture that are running around a lot these days, but I’ll pass on A (Long) Short History of Rock Music for People Who Think It Was Actually Invented by Elvis (Who Would Be Mortified That You Think That) and leave this:

No cultural “thing” has ever lasted very long without changing. Our visual arts, our languages, our food, our music — they all change, all the time. Sometimes that change comes through contact with what other people are doing, sometimes it comes through little natural changes (ask a linguist about consonant shifts, for instance), and sometimes it comes because some person or people made a big innovation. Either way, you dolts have modern metal because riffs that grew out of blues rock connected to Tommy Iommi’s industrial accident. That was an innovation. And now other people want to innovate more with the product of that. It’s a good thing.


Is Japan the Future of Rock?

The holiday issue of Classic Rockwell, you can read. If you don’t like links, the title of this post is the same question they posed.

I think they wanted to be a little bit provocative, and goodness knows how much the Team Rock crew over at Metal Hammer loves them some Babymetal, so they posed a question that’s guaranteed to get their readers all in a lather. Sell some online ad space, establish goodwill with more Japanese talent management, etc. Profit.

But how would that question best be answered? Obviously, the opinion of this website is that Japan and rock have a very interesting relationship right now, and I don’t think that anybody will be shocked to learn that I’m personally a big proponent of the potential of idolcore specifically, with idol metal trailing not far behind, to break through in the West — not as Japanese acts, but as Western acts picking up the model and running with it.

But is Japan the future of rock? In a general sense … look, define that. For every ONE OK ROCK U.S. tour and that weird place between idol and rock that Momoiro Clover Z sometimes occupies (that is, for every seriously Big Deal coming out of the Japanese rock scene), there’s a Maximum the Hormone (not even on this list!) or Man With a Mission or Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas — that is, a legitimately really good Japanese band that has a genre international following — or a Doll$Boxx/Gacharic Spin or BAND-MAID — that is, a very good all-woman hard rock  band that’s a little too uniquely Japanese one way or another to garner more than niche support in North America and Europe despite the fact that they’re way more interesting than 90 percent of what’s on the radio.

Japan has a ton of really interesting rock music happening right now, and it’s all over the musical map and some of it is legitimately awesome and original.

But does that mean that the Japanese scene is the future of rock, period?

I’m honestly interested in your thoughts; this dovetails nicely with last week’s post on the next potential Western breakthrough.


Who’s the Next to Break Through Here?

I’ll be really liberal in what “here” means — I think it’s pretty much everything outside of traditional J-pop markets, so pretty much all of the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia … even most of Asia.

Anyway, music dissimilarities aside, who’s the next Babymetal? Who has the right combination of sound, production, look and management to genuinely crack the non-otaku market and find themselves with a viral video hit or buzz-worthy festival appearance?

The only other qualifiers for this discussion are:

  • Must be idol. The no-bands rule that applies to the site still applies here.
  • Must be homicidol. Alt groups are fine. Idols that did one kinda-rock song are not.

Here are my personal nominees. Feel free to add your own in the comments among all the rest of the arguing, and we’ll work up a nice pool to vote from.

  • PassCode — Given the success of Skrillex and Prodigy, there’s room for a heavier version of EDM. Plus, PassCode is on a pretty steep uphill trajectory right now, so they could catch on with more of the post-Babymetal-curious crowd and have a single take off. I have to think that regular J-pop fans would give them a lot of support, too.
  • Ladybaby — They’ve already done standalone U.S. shows, and the “Nippon Manjyu” video was kind of a thing there for a while. I think they’re much more likely to burn out than make it, but stranger things have happened, and they’re practically tailor-made for certain people in the hipster set to pretend to like for a minute.
  • BiSH — Just name association gives them a leg up, as they immediately got hold of the ex-BiS fans and aren’t a complete unknown among the non-Japanese. Their sound and rather curious visual presentation would make them a surprise hit at a lot of festivals. It also helps that a few comments I’ve picked up from/through them make me think that WACK does have an eye on at least North America.
  • Fruitpochette — They already got a little bit of attention in the Great Babymetal Excitement of 2014, with Metal Injection and Metal Sucks throwing some blog action their way, but it’s kind of amazing that they haven’t broken through yet on the strength of The Crest of Evil, and they never may. Possibly seen as too weird just by name; what if they went back to Frupoche and let everybody think they were French-Canadian? And, just for what it’s worth, they do that tour-relentlessly thing that can give legs to a small breakthrough.
  • Mugen Regina / Haloperi Doll–I could see either of the Life Is Sweet Music sister groups catch on in Europe in particular, where symphonic/melodic/progressive metal with female vocals are more welcome. Haloperi Doll stands a puncher’s chance in the thrash-and-growl Americas.
  • Osaka Shunkashuto — There’s just something about this all-rock, all-fun group. They dance their asses off, Maina sings like Joan Jett gone idol and they have a ridiculous sense of cinematic drama to help drive the point home; if only Americans weren’t averse to rock music anymore …

As a disclaimer, I had POP as a possibility at first, because “pretty pretty good” struck me as the kind of song that could catch on in clubs and eventually find its way onto the airwaves, even without the raw virality that something like “Gangnam Style” had, but now they’re showing signs of going in a seriously denpacore direction, and while that’s cool, it’s not likely to catch on in the West.

So there are seven nominees! To make the process even more scientific, please begin to argue in the comments or on Facebook, invite your friends to share their ill-informed opinions, and tell me all about why I’m missing the boat on Band Ja Naimon! or UnderBeasty or something. I’ll put together a real-deal voting poll after we get some good results.