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Babymetal: a new dawn for the kawaii-metal pioneers

(Image credit: Steve Brown)

Su-metal and Moametal stand side-by-side, their capes expertly draped  around them by their stylists. They look regal,  like the queens of a planet we’re not cool enough to know about. It’s a hot July afternoon, and we’re shooting Babymetal backstage at London’s Brixton Academy, where they’re playing later.

Though it’s been eight months since Yuimetal announced she was leaving to pursue a solo career, it’s still strange seeing them as a duo. Their management are at pains to ensure they appear together in pictures and are presented as elegant, rather than as superheroes or a novelty act. It’s clear this is a new dawn for these kawaii-metal pioneers.

It’s remarkable they’re so poised, given their insanely busy schedule. Three days ago, they finished their first performances of 2019 – a pair of shows at the 17,000-capacity Yokohama Arena under the banner ‘Babymetal Awakens – The Sun Also Rises’. They were joined by a stand-in dancer on each night – more on that later. 

Then they hopped straight on a plane to England to entertain a curious Glastonbury crowd, playing before Bring Me The Horizon and bagging a selfie with stagemate/American pop idol Billie Eilish.

“We had to fly the night of that  arena show in Japan, and we got into Glastonbury on the day of the festival, so everything just seems like a blur,” confesses Moametal. “It seems like a dream still. Babymetal are a heavier band compared to the other artists at Glastonbury. I feel like we were able to perform a new style to a pop-based crowd, who we’ve never had to perform in front of, so everything was new.”

Tonight at Brixton, they’re back with their home team, as hordes of fans dressed in newly purchased Fox God t-shirts assemble. They punch the air and chant as the girls take the stage shrouded in darkness. Then comes the familiar, videogames-on-E-numbers starburst of Megitsune, tonight’s substitute member ‘Rihometal’ keeping pace with the high-kicks and kitsune ears like a stage-school pro. 

Next up is peppy single Elevator Girl, and the surprising, Bollywood-tinged Shanti Shanti Shanti. Starlight and Syncopation get their first airings outside Japan, while PA PA YA!! explodes like juice from crushed fruit. The audience, it’s safe to say, are satiated with fun.

Afterwards, we congratulate Su-metal and Moametal. They’re in high spirits, despite the hours they’ve put in. As we’ve previously noted, their work ethic is unbeatable.

“Since I was very small, I just absolutely loved to sing, and that’s been the biggest drive to my work ethic,” explains Su-metal. “Every time I perform, I appreciate the fact I’m able to do what I love the most. And although it’s the same songs, there are different kinds of reactions with the crowd, so that change has always been a really fun factor in my performance.”

Yuimetal is like a family member and we will continue to support her

Su-metal

They’ll fly back to Japan in two days, on Moametal’s 20th birthday. When Metal Hammer ran our first cover feature with Babymetal in 2015, Moametal was just 16 and Su-metal was 17. A lot has changed for them in these formative years. 

They’re no longer cramming in homework between rehearsals, and tonight look more assured onstage than ever, with the experience of countless international shows under their black, snakeskin belts. 

With Yui gone, they’re entering another era for Babymetal, and third record Metal Galaxy is set to take them around the globe again. But can they survive this brave new world, and will this be the album that takes them truly stratospheric?

Two months later, we catch up with them via Skype video. By now, we know the drill when it comes to Babymetal. Following the example of Japanese idol groups, Kobametal is their manager while Moametal and Su-metal realise his creative vision, and the Kami Band and songwriters remain anonymous. 

Today, they seem to be having a lot of fun, and laugh a lot. When asked what the most difficult part of touring is, Moametal deadpans: “My suitcase is just packed, it’s too full at the end of the tour. A lot of things accumulate, and trying to fit everything in is the most difficult part of touring.” Su-metal bursts into giggles.

We talk about a little about Yuimetal. She was missing from the line-up when Babymetal began their 2018 tour last May. In October, she released a statement declaring she was leaving the band, recovering from illness and would one day go solo: “Although I thought over and over, I decided to leave Babymetal” she said. 

“There was also a strong desire to stand onstage once again, but there is also a feeling that I am still not in perfect condition now, and I want to advance towards my dreams as Yui Mizuno.” We haven’t heard from her since. It’s likely the girls have been asked not to reveal too much about the subject, but they do say they’ve kept in touch.

“We’ve been together for a long time; Yuimetal is like a family member to this group,” says Su-metal. “Although she has left, we’ll continue to support her and hope that she can pursue what she’d like to do in the future.”

(Image credit: Steve Brown)

Babymetal’s future lies in Metal Galaxy. It’s a wildly innovative record, taking the high-tempo template of 2014’s self-titled record and 2016’s Metal Resistance, and fusing it with disparate sounds from around the world. Elevator Girl’s languid jazz bleeds into the Indian instrumentation of Shanti Shanti Shanti, which bumps up against Sabaton frontman Joakim Brodén’s gruff growls on the folky Oh! MAJINAI. Other guest stars include Arch Enemy’s own Alissa White-Gluz and Thai rapper F. Hero (PA PA YA!!). 

It’s consistent with Babymetal’s modus operandi – moulding things together that usually wouldn’t work, to create something striking. It’s why Kobametal formed Babymetal.

“Before Babymetal started, I had been a metal fan myself, and I wanted  a challenge,” he explains, also talking to us via an interpretor. “The name ‘Babymetal’ came from me wanting  to give birth to a new type of metal.  I wanted to pay respect to the type of metal music that I’ve grown up with, but create a new evolution of metal, and that’s been the theme ever since.”

He explains that through Babymetal, he’s been able to visit different territories – Japan, The US and the UK are still their biggest markets, but they’ve hit Germany, Singapore, Netherlands, France, Australia, Austria, Taiwan, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Italy and Indonesia. 

The travelling allowed him to hear diverse types of music, and he wanted to incorporate that range into Babymetal. The ‘Metal Galaxy’, in all its multicultural glory, is a conceit to explore this idea.

“That has been Metal Galaxy’s main concept. Metal has different types of sounds within even the genre, different countries illustrate metal in different ways, and even non-metal genres like Latin music and so on,” he says. 

“I saw all of these different types of sounds  as stars in the sky. I see Babymetal as  a sort of spaceship that’s travelling through these metal galaxies and exploring different types of sounds.”

Kobametal’s always been savvy when it comes to metal’s heritage and landscape, and he’s aware of what we often refer to as ‘global metal’ – music from outside Europe and North America – as well as world music in general. 

Last year in the States, Babymetal were supported by Indian progressive metal band Skyharbor (“their sound is very unique and cool”), and this year they’ll be supported by horsehead-fiddle-toting Mongolians The Hu. He sees them as part of the same scene, and it’s something he’s excited about sharing with the band’s army of Kitsunes.

“Yes, I do feel that I’m a part of that community, and that metal itself has  a very unique aspect, more so than pop music. In different countries they have their local native sound and a cross between that as well as metal music,” he says. “I want to search for new music in that aspect, but also inspire fans to listen to different songs.”

(Image credit: Steve Brown)

To kickstart the writing process for Metal Galaxy, he got all the songwriters together in a room to discuss what sort of music they wanted to explore (“which is why it took three-and-a-half years!” he jokes). 

They brought in rhythms from Cuba, tribal music from South America and metal from Scandinavia. The Latin-inflected Night Night Burn! was started around six years ago, at  the same time as Megitsune, but others are brand new. He refers to uplifting closing tracks Starlight, Shine and Arkadia as “a trilogy of lights”.

“The light to me represents an aspect of duality, and in Babymetal the main colours are red and black – there’s light and darkness,” he says of the trilogy’s theme. “Both are necessary; we can’t just live with light, there’s always darkness. I wanted to kind of illustrate that in an abstract way, in that different people experience music in different ways, and I wanted to show that with the music that I’ve created with the third album.”

Su-metal says she gets a vivid image in her mind when she hears Starlight: “Every time I sing this song, it reminds me of my travels to New Zealand, and the starry nights and 180˚ of star lights,” she says. “It was a vast amount of small lights I can never forget.”

‘Global metal’ is a contentious term, which could imply those bands are somehow separate from, or even worse, inferior to the rest of the  genre. It’s even weirder when you’re discussing it with a Japanese band, who geographically, but not commercially or logistically, fall into that category. They have the clout to give bands such as The Hu a platform, but are stoked to have Swede Joakim on their album.

But as the world becomes more connected, there is a sense that increasing numbers of ‘global metal’ bands are breaking through. Kobametal denies he’s jumping on  a bandwagon, and is keen to point out how much he just loves metal – especially bands that can alchemise  it into original, shining forms.

“I’ve never consciously thought about trends or things of that sort, but with Babymetal I’ve had many opportunities to explore different rock scenes, such as bands like Bring Me The Horizon – their last album is very experimental,” he explains. 

“So from the outside world, it may seem like there’s a trend or a movement, but as Babymetal, we’re not trying to get on that trend, it just simultaneously happened. It was very interesting that Bring Me The Horizon, during Glastonbury, had dancers onstage. Maybe they actually have Babymetal in their sights.”

He chuckles. A few days after this interview, Bring Me The Horizon will play before Babymetal headline the second stage at Japan’s Summer Sonic festival. Oli Sykes will say: “We’re just here to warm you up. We’re here for the Fox God!” Babymetal have long taken a pic’n’mix approach to homaging metal and pop culture, but it’s super-odd and brilliant to hear Metal Galaxy’s opening track, Future Metal

A robotic voice states: 'This ain’t heavy metal, welcome to the world of Babymetal', followed by an electronic flurry. It’s an obvious twist on BMTH’s song Heavy Metal from this year’s Amo record.

“Yeah, maybe, but what I really value the most is the metal masters, the different famous bands that have carried on metal music throughout the generations,” he says. 

“I feel that it’s important for these new generation bands, like Babymetal or Bring Me The Horizon, to succeed the metal spirit and try and continue that tradition. But at the same time, the evolution of metal music is very interesting, and I hope that I can create an evolution in metal in that way. Maybe Sheffield is one of the stars in the metal galaxy!”

it’s important for the new generation to continue the metal spirit

Kobametal

Yui’s departure could have caused Babymetal to crashland, but Su-metal and Moametal seem content enough inside their metaphorical spacecraft, chatting enthusiastically about Metal Galaxy. Captain Kobametal admits he was concerned about the girls losing  a shipmate, but is confident they’re  in it for the long haul.

“Yeah, obviously I was worried about them, but at the same time I respect each member, and both of them have become adults, and each of them are continuing Babymetal because they want to, and I definitely appreciate that,” he explains. “Because there’s a sort of trust between this group. Obviously I’m worried, but I just trust that they want to do it.”

He remembers auditioning for his Babymetal crew almost 10 years ago, when the girls were involved with singing and modelling. He immediately knew Su-metal, Moametal and Yuimetal were a winning combination.

“When I first heard Su-metal sing, there’s not that many singers that sing the way she does, it was very direct to me,” he remembers. “Metal bands don’t usually have any dance aspect, so I thought it would be interesting to add that to the new future of metal, hence  I selected Yuimetal and Moametal to be the twin factor in the choreography.”

Over the last nine months, they’ve all had to adjust to a new dynamic. At Download festival last year, there were four members onstage, adding new level of animation to their madcap jumps, spins and hand gestures. 

This year they’ve settled back into their triangle formation, with the vacant position filled by one of three trained-up, rotating members: the Avengers. They introduced the concept at those Yokohama shows before Glastonbury, via a message on the big screen.

“It was Metal Resistance Episode  VIII, and the beginning of the new Babymetal,” explains Kobametal. “On top of Su-metal and Moametal, their supporting Avengers are the chosen dancers that the Fox God had summoned, and that was the main theme of these shows. And who will be chosen is only something the Fox God knows…” Funnily enough, our question about whether Babymetal will ever get a permanent third member is also directed to the vulpine ruler.

One of the new countries Babymetal have visited is Mexico, and Kobametal talks passionately about watching Lucha Libre wrestling there. When we ask whether he’ll ever introduce it into Babymetal, he explains that wrestling theatrics have been there all along. And suddenly, it’s obvious.

“It’s already in it,” he explains. “The wrestling part of it is reflected in the storyline. There’s dramatic storylines where the chosen dancers come out, and in the past we had the Chosen Seven, or the dark themes.”

Ah yes, the Chosen Seven, the confusing concept of Episode VII that was played out in videos and onstage. Between their visuals, merchandise and marketing, the amount of creative planning that goes into the band is phenomenal. Kobametal wants to expand on last year’s comicbook project, Apocrypha: The Legend Of Babymetal.  

(Image credit: Steve Brown)

Are there any other offshoots in the works? “Maybe apparel,” he answers – presumably an expansion of the premium athleisure brand BMD Fox Apparel. Can you tell us any more about that? “I hope to reveal more in the near future,” he says cryptically.

This constant level of secrecy ensures an air of mystery remains around the band and keeps the fans guessing, allowing them to fantasise about their own wishes for Babymetal. When we ask Kobametal if Su-metal and Moametal will ever be able to talk about their background or personal lives, he again draws on metal’s canon to support his tactics. “It’s similar to the band Ghost – it’s all through the storyline of the concept of the band,” he replies.

But Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge broke character a couple of years back. Will that ever happen for Babymetal? “Only the Fox God knows…”

Metal Galaxy will certainly propel them onwards. Having landed in the UK and gone straight to Sonisphere’s main stage, followed by landmark sets at the likes of Download and Wembley, they’re finally embarking on their first UK tour. Beyond those four dates, Kobametal wants to plant their red-and-black flag in even more locations. He has faith that Babymetal 2.0 are ready to go.

“The girls have really expanded their strengths and experienced so many different performances over the course of almost 10 years, that they’ve become stronger mentally and physically,” Kobametal says. 

“I also feel that the way the girls view Babymetal has really resonated within them, and they’re now leading the way, discussing the future of Babymetal and how they want to envision and go through these next, coming tours.”

Babymetal feel like they’ve changed, too. “My height and my looks have probably changed. I think other people can tell I’ve matured. But I feel that my heart and way of thinking have changed over the past few years,” says Moametal. “Every performance I want to give it my best, and I never want to forget the fact that I’m very lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and to appreciate the people around me, supporting me.”

We ask them about their ambitions. Would they ever want to represent Japan at the Grammys? They laugh. “Until you mentioned the Grammys,  I hadn’t really thought about it, to be quite honest,” says Su-metal. But that is definitely a dream, and it would be amazing if we were able to fulfil that.”

What other dreams do you have for Babymetal? “We want to be the future of metal music,” says Su-metal.

We’re inclined to believe her. Grab the spacesuits, oxygen tanks and freeze-dried papaya – we’re coming along for the ride. 

Babymetal - Metal Galaxy
Babymetal's third studio album pushes Babymetal's sound in new directions. Check out the full Metal Hammer album review here.View Deal