Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap, “Yon yon!” Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap, “Yon yon!” The chant fills the thick air of the windowless, wood-panelled restaurant as 130 Babymetal fans at an aftershow party raise their glasses and cheer. Some have painted their faces white like Babymetal’s backing musicians, the Kami Band, and many sport official merch or custom t-shirts. All are ecstatic.
Metal Hammer are in Chiba prefecture, 30 miles east of Tokyo. It’s Sunday January 29, 2023 and we’ve just witnessed the second of two consecutive Babymetal shows at the Makuhari Messe convention centre in the company of 15,000 other fans. As with every Babymetal gig we’ve seen, they were loud, colourful and unlike anything else out there.
Yet until recently, there was no certainty that a Babymetal performance, or a party like this, would ever happen again. On October 10, 2021 (10/10/2021), following a 10-date series of shows to celebrate 10 years of Babymetal, a mysterious announcement online proclaimed the band had been ‘sealed’. No one knew when or whether they’d return.
Then, exactly a year and a day later, there was another announcement: ‘the seal would finally be lifted’ with a ‘two-day performance’ called Babymetal Returns – The Other One. A concept album, also called The Other One, would follow. Back at the gathering, superfan Susumu – more on him later – says he felt conflicted about the news.
“I had a mixture of anxiety and anticipation,” he remembers. “Is the Kami Band alive and well? Could they possibly become virtual or a backing track? But on the other hand, I was hopeful that I would be able to see their amazing performance again and experience Babymetal live with my whole body.”
Later, Babymetal co-vocalist Moametal will explain the reasons behind the duo’s hiatus to Metal Hammer. “It’s been 10 years of purely pushing forward and not looking back in order to achieve Metal Resistance,” she will say. “Taking a breather allowed me to take a step back and really appreciate how much love I have for Babymetal. So, I truly hope our fans understand that being sealed was an essential time for us.”
Still, other questions remain: What’s the story behind their new album? Will they ever bring in a permanent third member to replace the much-missed Yui, who departed in 2018? And what does their future hold? We’ve come to Tokyo for answers.
Twenty-four hours earlier, we arrive at concrete behemoth Makuhari Messe for show one. In the foyer is a monument bearing the handprints of the wrestling and fencing athletes who won gold medals here during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. With his pink hair, matching pink t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Funky Metal Babys’ and oversized yellow glasses, Babymetal fan Kenji resembles 90s UK personality Timmy Mallet. He’s been to more than 20 Babymetal shows. But for his Sanrio rabbit puppet My Melody, it’s the first one.
Near some lockers, a posse dressed like the Kami Band amasses, in full facepaint and white robes. By a bank of vending machines, we get talking to Uyumetal, who’s wearing cute black satin bows in her hair and sings in tribute band Dizzymetal, which formed in 2015. Why the name Dizzymetal? “We love alcohol! Good songs and drinks make us dizzy!” She laughs and waves her arms around her head, to illustrate her point.
What does she think will happen tonight? “A big bang! Ha ha ha! Moametal, Su-metal… big bang!” At the guestlist desk, we’re handed a grey and black ‘Savior Mask’ to slip over our plain one. Currently in Japan, masks must be worn when you’re within two metres of someone else, even outside. The good news is that, just yesterday, the government lifted restrictions on concerts, meaning people are now allowed to shout loudly.
An usher hurries us to our seat, and we watch messages loop on the big screens in each corner of the room. They include: ‘Please wear your Savior Mask at all times’, ‘No smart phones’ and ‘No banners’ – each accompanied by a cute skeleton illustration. The most entertaining ones are ‘No other nuisances’, alongside an image of two side-by-side skeletons getting clonked on the head by a crowd surfer, and ‘No big head costumes’, showing a skeleton wearing an oversized Fox God head.
At 6.10pm, the lights go out. A video message plays, accompanied by a voiceover: “The time has come for us to unify our voices once again,” it declares. “The Fox Gate is where a new journey begins.”
Ten figures robed in black march slowly down a central aisle, bathed in blue light, to the suspenseful intro of Metal Kingdom – the first track on The Other One. Each bears a golden staff that looks like an upside-down pair of scissors, two large Os sticking out the top to represent the album title.
At the head of the aisle, lights illuminate two enormous, stone-grey doors with fox heads carved into them, eyes glowing red. The doors part, and a platform wreathed in dry ice slides out to reveal three ornate thrones: Su-metal sits in the middle, Moametal is to her left… and the other throne is empty.
Moametal walks down the aisle while Su-metal starts to sing, and then she turns to face her bandmate. They end up on either side of a round stage in the middle of the walkway, sweeping and raising intricate tridents, before stepping forwards. Their podium rises. Firework showers detonate along the length of the gangway, causing a ripple of awe. Uyu-metal was right!
Since Yui left the band, Su and Moa have appeared with one of a revolving cast of dancers, dubbed ‘The Avengers’. This time they’re joined by Momoko, formerly of Babymetal’s previous band, Sakura Gakuin. The trio run through Divine Attack - Shingeki – The Other One’s second song – on the round stage, which by this point has moved to the other end of the venue, in front of another static stage featuring the Kami Band. Still with us?
During Pa Pa Ya!!, red and orange lights flash as pyro explodes, while the crowd whirl souvenir scarves above their heads like a Japanese version of Skindred’s Newport Helicopter. New Bring Me-inflected song Monochrome begins with a round of gunfire drumming, and the girls are thrown into dramatic light and shade. “Take your phone out!” yells Su. “Turn on your light!” The sight is breathtaking.
But the most WTF moment comes during upbeat 2013 classic Doki Doki * Morning. Before the song, the words ‘The Other One. In The Metalverse Of Madness’ flash onto screens in the Marvel font. A voiceover says that beyond the Fox Gate, there is a world we can’t even imagine. A parallel world, in which there exists a lifeform beyond comprehension – but are they a threat, or are they a friend? The gate of the new world is about to open…
The girls begin on the round stage, in front of the Kami Band – who, despite being out of the spotlight tonight, are Slipknot levels of thunderous. It glides towards the middle of the room – and then, another round stage sails up to meet it. Another round stage with another Babymetal on it, dressed in the red-and-black colour scheme of their earlier days. They mirror each other’s dancing, collapsing in a heap at the end. It is truly surreal. Then they disappear, as if they were never there.
There’s one more surprise. After closer The Legend, the Kami Band vanish. In near darkness, on opposite sides of the stage, Su and Moa ascend a flight of stairs, red horizontal strip lights appearing with every step. They pause in front of neon white coffin outlines, and a booming noise rings out like an advert for Dolby surround sound. The lights come up. It’s only 7.30pm, but it feels like we’ve been inside their Metalverse for hours.
The next afternoon, several hundred Babymetal fans assemble for a group photo on a staircase outside Makuhari Messe. Tipped off by a Tweet from ChiyoMetal, owner of a Fox God-themed bar in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku, we’ve come to take a look.
One of the fans on the staircase is Ukky, an engineer from Kawasaki, an hour and a half away. Ukky has been a Babymetal fan “for about five or six years”. He’s wearing a new Babymetal hoodie and holding a purple puppet of the Kami Band’s Ohmura Takayoshi. Impressively, it plays a pink guitar. It turns out he built it himself. “This took about a month to make,” he says with a smile. “First I bought a book about how to make a puppet, and then I made the guitar with a 3D printer.”
Ukky is part of a Facebook group called Bokuchi-kai. They’re having an aftershow meet-up at a nearby izakaya – a type of informal restaurant, where groups of friends or colleagues meet to let loose – but he can’t attend, because he has to get home to his family. Can we go to the meet-up? He smiles and says he thinks it’ll be OK, but he’ll have to ask his Leader. We exchange email addresses, and he takes a selfie with us as proof of identity. Then, we wait.
At 5pm, show two begins. This time, we notice more details. The new songs are mid-paced and mature, with choreography to match – there’s a greater emphasis on hand gestures, rather than frantic jumps or exaggerated facial expressions, making the likes of Gimme Chocolate!! seem sweetly ironic. It’s not surprising, given Su is now 25 and Moa is 23. Later, Su will tell us that Divine Attack - Shingeki is the first song she’s written lyrics for.
“From here, a new journey begins once again. It is a song about our determination to pave another path,” she will say mysteriously. The audience are rowdier, too, perhaps now accustomed to shouting behind their masks.
Although there’s a special ‘Silent Mosh’sh Pit’ area for people who have children or just don’t want to get pushed around, the regular pit goes off for Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! with its ‘dogeza headbanging’, where people fall to their knees and bow.
It’s pretty much the same show as last night, but, because this is Babymetal, there’s one final reveal. Fox Day – April 1 – will bring a new stage for Babymetal, “together with a departure into a new world”.
Two more shows are announced, for April 1 and 2 at Yokohama’s Pia Arena. Then, Su-metal and Moametal advance to their coffins like before. But this time, a third coffin appears in the middle, together with an unknown third person, their back to the audience. The atmosphere is electric.
The venue is emptying, and from backstage we can hear Bury Tomorrow’s Earthbound blasting over the PA. A rep from Amuse, Babymetal’s management company, appears with Su and Moa. They are still in their costumes, their holographic neck-pieces shining brightly under the harsh lighting. We congratulate them on the shows – so much energy! – and they say ‘thank you’, eyes smiling above white masks.
The Amuse rep asks if we noticed anything different about tonight’s show. Yes, we say – there was a third coffin! And a third member! But who is it? “Only the Fox God knows!” they giggle in unison. Well, it was worth a shot… We ask about the hiatus. The band were only gone for a year, and during that time, they obviously worked on fourth album The Other One. Yet, with a question mark hanging over their future, it felt like much longer for fans. Was there any doubt about the band continuing?
“I love Babymetal. I love our team, I love our fans more than anything, and everyone at Metal Hammer,” says Moa. “But to be honest, there have been times when I felt unsure if I could continue or not. Words or attitude without any love will hurt people. There were times when no matter how much I put into performing, I felt as if I was not loved.
“At that moment in time, someone at Metal Hammer said, ‘Your dancing is incredible! I can’t imagine Babymetal without the dance component!’ I felt so happy to hear and Su-metal and Moametal perform with Momoko – one of their ‘Avengers’ realise that people notice my dancing. Being commended is always a great feeling, and as I’m saying this, I realise I’m so basic, aren’t I? Ha ha!”
We ask for more details about why she felt she wasn’t loved, but none are forthcoming – though when musicians express sentiments like this, it’s often related to unkind commentators online. Moving on to The Other One, we try to uncover more about the concept.
“It’s about Babymetal’s other story in which 10 parallel worlds were discovered,” says Su. “All 10 tracks are based on myths, and each track represents a myth.”
The myths are drawn from many countries, not just Japan, and the 10 worlds are called Cavalry, Illusions, Coffin, Inverted Mirror Reflection, Monochrome, Smoke, Light And Darkness, Transition, Mirror and Throne.
In October 2021, back when the band was ‘sealed’, a new piece of merch called Black Box was released, featuring postcards of the band depicted in these parallel worlds, plus online access to snippets of unreleased music. These snippets were then ‘restored’ to become the songs on The Other One. No doubt we’ll spend hours trying to make sense of the concept.
“It’s a bit difficult, isn’t it?” smiles Moa. “To put it simply, it’s like Babymetal existing in a world separate from the one we see now. And I think the title points to that ‘other’ Babymetal that exists in a parallel universe.”
When we ask who was in the alternative Babymetal during Doki Doki * Morning, we don’t get an answer… Babymetal founder/producer/Fox God emissary Kobametal materialises. It took him two-three months to think up the production for these comeback shows, he explains. Once he had the idea for the symbol for The Other One – two interlinking Os that represent the infinity symbol – it came to him quickly, and he’s already planning for April.
The trio thank us for coming, and present us with a gift bag containing a t-shirt and a transparent coffin keyring. We wave goodbye and leave them to a well-earned rest.
Back in the foyer of Makuhari Messe, we check our inbox. There’s an email from Ukky about the aftershow get-together, containing the address of the restaurant: Inawaraya Kaihin-makuhariten, on the first floor of the Excellio Makuhari shopping mall, a 20-minute walk down Chiba’s wide, immaculate streets. The Leader has approved our request.
When we arrive at the door, a stern-looking man in a Babymetal t-shirt is sitting behind a wooden table with some papers attached to a clipboard – presumably a guestlist – and he won’t let us in. After several minutes of back and forth, he goes inside, and returns with a man wearing a name badge that says ‘Vins Metal’.
“Metal Hammer?” We nod, and he opens the door. Vins Metal introduces us to the Leader – Susumu. Grinning from ear to ear, he leads us up the room and yells, “METAL HAMMER!” In response, everyone rises and cheers “METAL HAMMER!”, some standing on their seats and others filming us on their phones.
Susumu grabs hold of Hiroshi, a 74-year-old senior research assistant at Virginia Tech in the US, who’s fluent in English. He waves his arm, and everyone sitting along the side of his table immediately gets up, abandoning their food and drinks to make way for us. We remove our shoes and take a seat.
Susumu discovered Babymetal after his son showed him the video for Akatsuki, but when he went to see the band by himself, he felt lonely and walked out. Back then, you often had to apply for VIP tickets via a lottery, meaning many people ended up in the same position. Plus, he admits, many have wives and girlfriends who don’t like Babymetal, and aren’t interested in seeing them live.
In Japanese, a ‘bochi’ is a person who attends a gig alone, so the Facebook group he formed in 2018 is called ‘Bokuchi-kai’, meaning ‘The lonely fox’. It has 940 members.
What does his own wife think of the group? Susumu lets out a long laugh, and Hiroshi interprets. “Disgusted? No, actually, it’s a very difficult word in Japanese, because it’s a combination of ‘disgusted’ plus ‘I’ve given up’! He’s already paid 10,000 Euros ahead of time for tonight, so if nobody came, he’d be short. And he says, keep it a secret, because his wife doesn’t know about it! Ha ha!”
Luckily, the izakaya is packed. A stream of excitable members come over for selfies, and present us with homemade gifts. Mota-Metal hands us a sticker that riffs on the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo, and KIMI3 gives us a wooden keyring with a shiny golden fox head attached, plus a phone charm depicting Su-metal and Moametal on their thrones.
Minako-Metal gifts us a sticker of herself, and thanks us for including a photo of her and her friends dressed as the Kami Band in our last Babymetal feature. Periodically, the chant from 4 no Uta breaks out: clapclap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap, “Yon yon!”
When the night’s over, we gather outside for photos. As we thank Susumu for his hospitality, he pumps his fist in the air and yells ‘METAL HAMMER!’ some more, and everyone follows his cue. We respond with a Babymetalstyle “See youuuuu!” And the group choruses “See youuuu!” and waves goodbye.
These gigs, and the imminent release of The Other One, mark a major new chapter in the Babymetal story. Since their initial burst of virality in 2014, they have been working towards establishing themselves as a bona fide metal band with staying power.
If second album Metal Resistance capitalised on their newfound fame, and 2019’s Metal Galaxy cemented it with collaborators such as Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, The Other One feels like a sleeker, more grown-up statement about Babymetal in 2023. Or Babymetal and their interdimensional counterparts, to be exact.
“The theme this time around was The Other One – the other Babymetal we never knew existed. Therefore, this concept album needed to be comprised only of us,” says Moametal. “Although no guest singers were involved, now that I think about it, since we’re exploring the Babymetal from another dimension we never knew existed, maybe we are the guest singers!”
The girls still have ambitions to fulfil. Su-metal would like to collaborate with Bring Me The Horizon again, and Rammstein – “It would be so cool to blow fire!”.
Moametal’s are more… unexpected. “Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to the Backstreet Boys and we spoke about how we would love to perform together,” she reveals. “I think it would be so fun and interesting to go beyond genres and collaborate with them. Also, I would love to collaborate with Måneskin. I was surprised to hear that they were actually younger than us, because I totally thought they were older than me. But us both being in the same generation, I feel so inspired and also motivated.”
In turn, Babymetal have paved the way for the next generation. Later this week, we go for dinner with rising metallers Hanabie. With a song called We Love Sweets and an immense sense of fun, singer Yukina cites them as an influence.
“I feel honoured that a Japanese band like us is getting a lot of attention,” says Su-metal. “I would love to be onstage with them one day.”
As for the immediate future, the third member (Momoko? Yui?!), and the parallel-universe (Doki Doki * Morning Babymetal?) All we can do is cross our kitsunes and hope for more intel on Fox Day.
“Babymetal is constantly growing and evolving, and I believe change is always good,” says Moametal. “At times, I want to be a bit lazy and slack off, but when I think about your radiant smiles, I know I need to shake it off and do my best! Even while I am being interviewed right now, I am growing, so I don’t want you to miss a single second of it. Please keep your eyes on us, OK?”
Babymetal's new album The Other One is out now.