BLOG | Afterthoughts on newly released albums

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Hey guys, it’s Alex!

The last two weeks have been pretty crazy in terms of big releases, and luckily (almost surprisingly, to be honest) I’ve been able to review all of them prior to the release date. Thank you all for the comments and feedback on these articles, I appreciate it!

Let’s take a look at all the releases we had the pleasure to listen to these days: First, we had the long awaited Seiko Oomori album TOKYO BLACK HOLE, that ultimately elevated the singer/songwriter as icon and relevant figure of today’s J-pop scene. This album is her most consistent and various piece of work yet, and the crazy/adorable charisma of this girl flows through each of these great tracks. The chorus in SHINPIN is still stuck in my head. Definitely the most valid release of the wave of long awaited works that hit the Japanese market in the last couple of weeks, that I awarded with a score of 9.

Sadly (in a way) Seiko Oomori’s outstanding record was the only one that fully met my expectations. Maison Book Girl‘s new EP played it well despite not really bringing anything new to the table, something that the group’s new record will hopefully achieve: I gave summer continue a 7.5, as I enjoyed this short but fresh-sounding record. A few days later, BABYMETAL‘s long awaited (and highly acclaimed) album METAL RESISTANCE hit the shelves of music stores in all the world: I really didn’t feel this record as a whole, despite having some nice tracks here and there and lots of talent showcased by the three lovely girls and their band. I gave this record a 6.5, and as expectable, many fans took it as a negative vote: It always seems like that any score under 8 means the album is crap, which is obviously not true: METAL RESISTANCE is an album with several valid moments, some of them even great, but sadly the tracks that sound like plain standard metal are what take most space in this record, and as a fan of this group since their debut on the Japanese market, it’s a factor that left me disappointed. I approached this album expecting a fully BABYMETAL work, that unique blend of Metal and Idol pop that conquered the hearts of thousands of people: instead, I got an album that’s mostly filled with standard Heavy/Power/Speed/Progressive metal tracks. As a result, I barely listen to this album in its entirety anymore and just pick those four tracks that I really enjoy (for the record: YAVA!, Amore, From Dusk Till Dawn, Syncopation). On the other hand, I was glad to read constructive critics towards my point of view instead of insults from hardcore fans like I was expecting: It was nice discussing with you all, and I really appreciated it. Also took some time to exchange opinions with Maniac from Homicidols about it, a debate you can check out here.

Last but not least, another eagerly awaited release: Perfume‘s new album COSMIC EXPLORER. As a huge fan of the Techno-pop trio from Hiroshima, I had mixed feelings about this record, as it’s been shamelessly split into two between new and old tracks: I enjoyed the new compositions the most, in particular the title track and Miracle Worker, while the already-released tracks definitely deserved a better treatment and placement. All in all, it’s still an album with several valid moments that I’m still playing and enjoying, but at the same time it’s clear that this is also Perfume’s most inconsistent studio album so far, which is really a shame considering how it could have been much better if treated with more care. As in the case of METAL RESISTANCE, I think the tracks in this record as well will be much more enjoyable live.

All in all, I’m glad to say that none of these releases were bad, but instead delivered enjoyable moments. Despite the mixed results of a few records, it was interesting to analyze these important and long awaited releases, as well as discussing about it with all of you.

Thanks a lot for your support, and be sure to stay tuned on my blog for more reviews and articles on Japanese Music. See ya!

– Alex

 

BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE | Alex Shenmue VS. Homicidols

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Most of you who follow my blog already probably read my review of BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE, a record that kinda divided the fandom for its approach. It is not a perfect album, but it is a nice one, and in the end I gave it a positive score, despite not being an high one.

I was reading some hater’s comment about my review on Reddit when Maniac, the mind behind the Homicidol blog, contacted me, interested on my take on METAL RESISTANCE, offering an exchange of opinions that I gladly accepted. Don’t take me wrong: I didn’t like this dude. How could you trust someone called “Maniac” after all. Then I realized I’m not that better since I watch Ladybaby’s videos only to stare at Rie Kaneko, so I was like, yeah let’s go.

As owner of a blog that analyzes the Alternative Idol scene (and does a great job at that) Maniac obviously reviewed BABYMETAL’s latest studio effort, giving it a positive score, and leaving a generally positive opinion to his readers. And despite being a fool, he gave good reasons and analyzed the album with interesting point of views, so I was glad I wasn’t talking to a  “AAAAH, THIS ALBUM IS PERFECT, PERIOD” kind of person, and I was glad he contacted me for this article.

We had some fun assaulting one another’s opinions. Check it out!


Let’s begin!

Maniac: Alex, thank you so much. Your grace and charm are well-known. Please know that everything I say from here on out is with the utmost respect.

Alex: I appreciate that, Maniac, and thanks for having me.

Maniac: Great. I’ll get this started.


Maniac Point: You have a not good, but bad, opinion of “Tales of the Destinies.”

You wrote, “The biggest problem with METAL RESISTANCE is its attempt at pleasing a way too broad audience, and in adopting the influences to second this illogical purpose, it creates inconsistency” and then you peed all over “Tales” for sounding too much like Dream Theater but not pulling it off.

But please allow me to retort. As you may guess from my hyperbolic reactions to various idols, ridiculous, nightmarish sounds are basically gold to me, and “Tales” sounds like a bad dream Su-metal had while recording in Australia. It’s disjointed and thematically bizarre and has too much happening sometimes and it’s absolutely beautiful when it finally comes together.

Alex: It sounds like a nightmare and that’s it to me. As a long-time Dream Theater fan, the similarities are honestly exaggerated and almost embarrassing. I’m not kidding, and I’m really sorry for that. I’ll give you my address, send me bullets in a white envelope.

Maniac: Well aren’t we a salty one? You may think that Babymetal should never change or adapt, but I personally hope they keep trying to push genre boundaries with the same neophyte’s vigor that birthed them.

Alex: That’s what I hope too. But again, a lot of METAL RESISTANCE sounds much more standard to me when compared with their older material.

Maniac: /pretends to give Alex the stink-eye

Alex: My turn.


Alex Point: Nothing in this album is better than the previous one

Alex: You wrote: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.” I honestly think none of these tracks are better than anything that was in BABYMETAL.

Maniac: Bite your tongue.

Alex: First off: I never pretended this album to be like their debut. It’s obviously different, but I couldn’t hear anything that was better. There’s more technique, and the Kami Band truly went into Berserk mode more than once, but again, skills and speed aren’t necessarily synonyms of quality. What’s better here when compared to the first album in your opinion?

Maniac: In almost every sense, the first album is like a time capsule for an idol/band as it grew up, so I feel like I have to strip away the purely fun (“Onedari Daisakusen”) and the Classic Babymetal (“Doki Doki Morning”) from everything “good” to ID what’s more objectively great, and I come away with the no-brainers “Megitsune” (arguably still their best), “IDZ” and “Headbangya!!” I’ll also throw in both Sulos, “Akumu no Rondo” and “Akatsuki,” as personal favorites.

Alex: I can see that. Go on…

Maniac: For this album, the more I listen to it, the more impressed I am with similarly three songs: “Amore,” “Sis.Anger” and “Tales of the Destinies.” I realize that I’m in the vocal minority on “Tales” and I don’t care because its’ better to be right than be popular. But others get it, too – “Amore” is so gorgeous that it might be the literal apotheosis of idol-meets-metal, and “Sis.Anger” is not only peak BLACK BABYMETAL (seriously, read the lyrics), it’s dangerously close to going down as their single most brutal song ever.

Alex: Sis. Anger is undoubtedly their most brutal song to date, it was instant love when I first heard it. Moa and Yui pulled it off greatly. I think it can be at the same level of their previous BLACK BABYMETAL songs. Not better, I still think the old tracks are still more charismatic, but they definitely nailed it here. But again, even “Amore”, one of the most beautiful tracks in METAL RESISTANCE, pales when compared with “Akatsuki”. “Tales of the Destinies”… c’mon bro…

Maniac: You crazy? Those three songs alone beat about half of Babymetal and could be put into any stack-ranking engine with the original Big Three, but then toss in other highlights. “Road of Resistance” has no peer. “The One” might as well become their theme song. “Syncopation” alone trumps almost everything from the original.

Alex: “Syncopation” is life, so I’ll give you that.

Maniac: I’m actually convincing myself more and more: Metal Resistance is a good head taller than Babymetal. Maybe you feel differently because you don’t feel the totality of BLACK BABYMETAL’s presence on the album. So:


Maniac Point: This album is like a coming-out party for BLACK BABYMETAL.

They’re way more involved than they seem. I covered that, anyway, but look: Between the first genuine trio parts since Legend D and big contributions on several other songs, and the fact that they got “Sis.Anger,” easily one of the best songs on the album, I don’t know how BLACK BABYMETAL could have been more included.

Alex: I agree, they rocked the shit out of GJ! and Sis Anger. But otherwise, yes and no. Their vocal contribution was much more relevant before. You know, the “Dame! Dame! Dame!” of Ijime, Dame, Zettai, the “Atatatata zukkyun” of Gimme Choco!!, the genial “Hedoban-ban-ban-ban” of Headbanger: That stuff made those tracks unforgettable and super charismatic, and still fire up the crowd at live shows. It’s the missing ingredient of METAL RESISTANCE. The most relevant thing in here are their chants in KARATE, which work great. They get a lot of space in META TARO, but geez, that track is friggin horrible to me.

Maniac: I agreed with you on META TARO when I reviewed it, and I did until like yesterday. It’s too infectious. It should be inserted into children’s toys and used to indoctrinate the world.

But back to the matter at hand. With what I see as an expanded role and with the really heavy stuff falling to BLACK BABYMETAL, I think this could be heralding a change in the whole idea of what Babymetal’s about.

Alex: Have you been drinking? I can’t imagine what they’re gonna do with their vocals to be honest. I’d just love to hear them more, in a way or another. Some tracks in here barely feature them. Do you mind if I go again?

Maniac: A little bit, you person with weird opinions, but go ahead.


Alex Point: KARATE does the job right, and it’s better than many other tracks in here.

Alex: When KARATE first came out, it was immediately clear that it was a friendly, catchy track to promote the album, and it did the job right. I like Yui and Moa’s chants here, they are relevant and give a proper contribute to the track (same for YAVA!, one of my favorites), something that misses 80% of the times in this record excluding the BLACK BABYMETAL tracks. It’s less technical, less complicated, definitely more “simple”, but it does the job very well and it’s the best track in here when it comes to balance of their voices. It’s nothing outstanding, but clearly one of the few tracks here that screams “BABYMETAL”

Maniac: Is it too late to find another debate partner? I’ll give you that “KARATE” is better than … “Awadama Fever” and “Dusk.” The song honestly bores me. I didn’t care for it when the first fancams popped up after Yokohama, I didn’t like hearing it as the lead single, and while I can concede that the video is boss and the total package in that regard is okay, it’s just so—you say “simple”—I say “safe.” “What’s the most rock radio-friendly song we can get away with?” is basically the formula.

Also, now I know why you have such a bad read on BLACK BABYMETAL; insofar as those two devil children can ever be less than great, “KARATE” is by far my least favorite contribution of theirs pretty much ever. #hottake!

Now I have a good one for you.


Maniac Point: What you dislike about “From Dusk Till Dawn” is one of its few selling points.

I know that I promised in multiple places to treat Metal Resistance as anything other than a Babymetal album, with all of what that entails, but it’s perfectly natural to expect a metal band to have metal in their songs. That being said, if not for those little proto-breakdowns, those little flashes of sonic heaviness, the song wouldn’t have any kind of place on the album. It’s already more at home on a Massive Attack record and—

Alex: I’m not familiar with Massive Attack.

Maniac: How are we talking again? Damn, son. Go look up “Teardrop” and get back to me.

Alex: Maybe later. No, I love this track so much. It seriously gave me the chills when I first heard it. The break could have been fine if it wasn’t for the friggin dubstep. It was so out of place and forced. It was fine in Uki Uki Midnight, but not here. They think it’s trending stuff, but even Skrillex barely makes that stuff anymore.

Maniac: Then we actually have something in common here, I think. Because while, yeah, things are going to happen in the booth, but to digitally alter Su-metal’s voice just for the sake of doing so is a crime against humanity.

Alex: I kinda agree, but it works great with this track. It’s not “that” altered, it’s just adapted to the vibe of the track. Live is gonna be crazy. [Ed. Note: They didn’t play it at Wembley! Probably because it is butt.] [Alex Note: They didn’t play “Tales of the Destinies” either, trollolol]

I think we’re getting to a key point here, and it’s this:


Alex Point: This album really changes according to your perspective

Alex: Despite my review having analyzed several negative aspects, I had no problem in highlighting the good ones, and after all I ended up giving it a positive score, despite not being a high one. Do I think it’s a bad record? Nope. It’s actually a nice one. But I’ve also noticed many different takes on it, with fans loving the fact “they don’t care about genres and try many different things at once” when I just see it as “Ok, there’s a Dragonforce track, a semi-Dream Theater track, a shallow power ballad, and a parody of a Viking march” and so on. From my point of view, it’s sometimes annoyingly sycophantic, like how they are always walking around taking pictures with famous metal people.

Maniac: Wait. You dislike that?

Alex: Not at all, It’s cool until a certain point, but their management brought it too far in my opinion. It’s less “meet your heroes” and more “see, haters, Slayer likes us!” Stop playing to the masses and just play. Of course I’m referring to their management, not the girls.

By the way. BABYMETAL has changed during the last few years, and it’s a natural consequence of the huge global exposure they got and are still getting, which is great. But with the group, the perspective and expectations changed as well, and everyone’s got their own. I personally was expecting an evolution of their sound and identity, something that I found only in “Syncopation” and other two or three tracks. The rest was just standard metal I could hear anywhere else.

Maniac: You know that old saying about giving someone enough rope to hang themselves?

Alex: That’s terrible. So agree to disagree, then?

Maniac: Only if we can agree that “Awadama Fever” is butt.

Alex: I have mixed feelings about it. Everyone keeps telling me it’s way better live. A lot of fans seem to dislike it. It has issues, I think it could have been much better to be honest, but it’s a catchy track overall.

Maniac: Somebody get this man medication.

Alex: If you really feel that strongly, why not say what you did like? What’s your top five?

Maniac: In no particular order, “Amore,” “Syncopation,” “Sis.Anger,” “Tales of the Destinies” and “The One.”

Alex: Not bad. You know I’ll take “From Dusk Till Dawn” all day, and I agree on “Syncopation” and “Amore.” But my BLACK BABYMETAL song is actually “GJ!”, and I’ll take “YAVA!” too, great example of the BABYMETAL sound.

Maniac: Well, at least your opinion there isn’t completely bad.

Alex: If I’ll ever get to write for Metal Hammer, I swear my opinions will be much more positive.

bm


In conclusion…

Maniac: So what did you think? Yes, Alex is very wrong in his view of Metal Resistance, but that’s okay! We played this little game together specifically because one of us (Maniac) had one set of (good) ideas and one of us (Alex) had (bad) ideas that conflicted with them. Yeah, it’s always me!

Alex: Jokes aside, what are your ideas? Did we give you something to think about? Comment below here, or head on over to Homicidol Maniac’s site and leave your comment there.

Maniac: But the best thing will be how we’ll all get a sense for how a collection of really unique music can be viewed, and we’ll probably all be able to appreciate it more.

Well, except for Alex.

Alex: STAHP IT!

BABYMETAL – METAL RESISTANCE | ALBUM REVIEW

Print

Release Date: April 1st
Format: CD
Number of Editions (4): Regular Edition (CD only – Japanese and Worldwide), Limited Edition (CD +DVD | Japan only), THE ONE Limited Edition (Fan Club only)


Less BABY, more METAL

They say the second album is always the most difficult one for an artist: The pressure following the success of the original work represents a considerable weight, the audience becomes larger, and there’s a lot of expectations to meet, but most of all, it’s the moment where to set the aim in the right direction and conquer the crowd. In the case of BABYMETAL, this saying is particularly spot-on: The trio that twisted the Idol scene back in 2010 with their blend of Metal and Idol pop, shaking the Japanese market first and the global audience later, is now at the moment of truth, and the world is keeping the eyes on them.

In case you’re wondering, yes, METAL RESISTANCE is a different album from the previous self-titled record, and the direction BABYMETAL took in terms of sound is clear: This album hits hard. It’s relentless, chaotic, monstrously heavy at times, and it does everything possible to please the Metal and mainstream scenes by adopting several trending influences from both worlds.

This drastic measure comes at a price though, and the album is heavily influenced by this approach both in good and bad ways: The positive side, as you would expect, is represented by the impressive musicianship behind it and the great showcase of SU-METAL’s admirable vocal skills. The bad side, is that sometimes this album pushes its pursuit of meeting certain standards too far, leaving behind some elements that made the core sound of BABYMETAL unique and entertaining: Where at first it was pure fun, now it’s almost dead serious. And this unavoidably comes into conflict with their identity in several occasions throughout the album.

The purest Metal tracks in this record like the Dragonforce collaboration Road of Resistance and the epic THE ONE are well done compositions that showcase great technical skills from both the top-notch musicians of the project and SU-METAL’s vocals, and the result is genuinely good, with the celebrative atmosphere of the closing track particularly worth of mention. Still, it’s fair to admit that at the same time these tracks – while enjoyable – are also nothing more than standard Metal compositions, cause they lack that entertaining and enjoyable ingredient that made the band special.

It’s a shadow that lurks permanently in this album, that desperately presses the accelerator ninety percent of the time to show the world out there that this group is no joke, a brutal approach that works well exclusively when put in contrast with the voices of MOA-METAL and YUI-METAL (known as BLACK BABYMETAL) in the tracks GJ! and Sis. Anger, the first featuring distorted guitars and catchy singing, and the latter being the heaviest BABYMETAL track to date, with furious drumming and relentless guitar riffs. In these numbers, the two young girls bring out part of that funny approach that made their pre-global debut tracks entertaining, making the personality the world loved so much briefly stand out again. Excluding these two tracks though, this could almost be considered a solo SU-METAL album, as the role of the two little girls shifted from relevant vocalists (their influence was decisive in memorable tracks like Headbanger, Ijime, Dame, Zettai and Megitsune) to almost non-existent back singers. Skills and powerful sounds are what amuse a metal fan the most, and this album shamelessly seconds that need by leaving behind the fundamental role of “the girls with the cutesy voices”, which is one of the most noticeable issues with this record.

Still, the biggest problem with METAL RESISTANCE is its attempt at pleasing a way too broad audience, and in adopting the influences to second this illogical purpose, it creates inconsistency, and while it successfully satisfies the mainstream scene with the heavy riffs and catchy chants of KARATE, the utterly repetitive Viking-inspired march META TARO tries to imitate the concept of the North European bands that invaded the metal scene with horns and odes to Odin in the last two decades. Again, the record tries to copycat – literally – progressive metal pioneers Dream Theater in Tales of the Destinies: Comparisons between groups are hardly ever good, and it’s undoubtedly natural to be influenced by relevant bands, but hearing the exact same tone of Petrucci’s guitar and the identical synths used by Jordan Rudess on unusual  – for the BABYMETAL standards – endless instrumental sections can’t help but raise a few eyebrows, other than failing at the attempt with an overall messy execution. The totally shallow and forgettable power ballad No Rain, No Rainbow too lacks inspiration and makes no justice to Suzuka’s great vocal skills.

On the other hand, the song that puts the spotlight on SU-METAL, Amore, is one of the high peaks of the record: The singer’s outstanding interpretation flies on a furious but contained base made of melodic riffs, and features what is undoubtedly the most inspired and valid instrumental of the record, with impressive solos by both guitar and bass nestled in a captivating structure. Again, the frontwoman reaches great emotional levels in the electronic-oriented From Dusk Till Dawn, a beautiful atmospheric piece that summons fresh and touching vibes framed by distant high notes, that sadly gets polluted by an unnecessary Metal/Dubstep break that shows once again how this album forcedly tries to be heavy and appealing in any way; Despite this overall minor issue, the track still remains one of the most accomplished works on the record, and a very enjoyable one.

Electronic influences are also the main core of the few tracks that somehow try to summon the classic BABYMETAL sound, but the formula works solely for the Ska-influenced YAVA!, the only number that resembles the former sound of the group with high-pitched synths and punching instrumental breaks despite the still too marginal influence of YUI and MOA, while the relentless Awadama Fever, although bringing intriguing riffs and catchiness, leans too much on the electronic side with a completely lazy structure and overall repetitiveness, failing to create the sufficient appeal to stand out, a misstep not to be taken lightly as it’s based on a formula the group should be familiar with.

All in all, METAL RESISTANCE is an album with few highs, several lows and some average moments, and it suffers from a clear identity crisis: Is it an Idol Metal album? Or a Metal album with a few funny back vocals? Or again, a parody of the Metal/mainstream scene? The group successfully implemented various musical influences in the past, but with this new effort, the impression is that instead of being balanced, these inputs are all thrown together with no logical sense and coupled by a voluntarily exaggerated heaviness that makes this album an almost stressful experience when taken in its entirety. While Amore and From Dusk Till Dawn are outstanding compositions, and the BLACK BABYMETAL tracks along with a few more numbers do the job fine, it’s safe to say that the rest goes from low to barely average quality.

Instead of enhancing the girls’ potential that made the original formula unique, METAL RESISTANCE shamelessly follows the many standards of the Metal and mainstream scenes at the cost of the group’s musical identity, with the disappointing lack of contribute by YUI and MOA and the overly heaviness as the main cause of this misstep. And the fact these girls are now grown-ups with a global success on their shoulders is no excuse to let such an important part of their identity fade away. It’s undeniable that newcomers will find this album enjoyable, that these songs will be a blast to see live at the Wembley Arena thanks to the unquestionable talent of these performers, and that the musicianship behind it is top-notch. Yet, the magic that made BABYMETAL the group it is, partly disappeared in this album to favor standard patterns of music. And considering the unique charisma of this band, it’s a real shame.

Vote: 6.5 / 10


Tracklist

01. Road Of Resistance
02. KARATE
03. Awadama Fever
04. YAVA!
05. Amore
06. Meta Taro
07. From Dusk Till Dawn (“Out of Japan” exclusive)
08. GJ!
09. Sis. Anger
10. No Rain, No Rainbow
11. Tales Of The Destinies
12. THE ONE (English version)

– Alex