After two sold-out shows at London's Roundhouse earlier this week, it's hardly surprising to see a queue snaking around the block from Wolverhampton Civic as doors open. A diverse range of ages pass through the door - old school metalheads, teens and even kids dragging nervous-looking parents rushing inside to escape the bitter cold of a November night.
Thankfully, openers Vukovi have the antidote to that. Rising stars in their own right, the Scottish trio's brand of bouncy, propulsive alt rock is an ideal warm-up for the night ahead. "Our main objective tonight is to get everybody ready to fucking GO for Babymetal!” admits vocalist Janine Shilstone.
She's soon commanding Wolverhampton through energetic mosh pits, professing a love for the "feral" energy of Midlands crowds as the crunch of riffs for songs like Lasso offer a surprising amount of heft admist soaring pop-friendly choruses. In that way, Vukovi are the perfect mirror for the headliners, mixing heaviness and mainstream appeal in ways that feel genuinely exciting and fresh, songs like Mercy Kill and Slo tapping into the radio sensibilities of a Bring Me The Horizon or Biffy Clyro, while La Di Da kicks like an angry mule.
In many ways, 2023 has ushered in the soft reboot of Babymetal. Returning from a 12-month break in 2022, the band announced their fourth album The Other One would be a concept record based around the band's lore. It also offered a decidedly more mature and ambitious sound, dispensing with some of the fizzy energy of the band's early years in favour of a more grandiose vision in keeping with the ambitious scope of their careers to date.
Arena shows at home in Japan in April revealed they had officially become a trio again with the recruitment of "Momometal", ushering in a new era. Later that month, Babymetal returned to the UK to support power metal heroes Sabaton at Wembley Arena, a joyous celebration that also marked their first UK appearances since 2019.
Right from the off, the crowd are utterly jubilant at the band's arrival. With over a decade under their belts, Babymetal fans' responses to their live shows are as big a part of the performance as the band's own choreography, from the waving of kitsunes to the waving t-shirts and bandanas for PA PA YA!! and bellowed "B-A-B-Y-M-E-T-A-L DEATH" that gets the show started.
While the band's sound may have evolved with The Other One, they're hardly neglecting the fan favourites. Gimme Chocolate!! is the second song in and is still as exhilirating and utterly unique as it was a decade ago, the motor roar of guitars melding with hyperactive choruses, fans even gallantly trying to sing along with a sense of manic energy and passionate glee.
Babymetal even manage to slip in some guest "appearances" as part of their set-up with massive screens showing Thai rapper F. Hero during a hale performance of PA PA YA!! and Tom Morello for more recent single METALI!!, the latter also showing off the Kami band's own skills with solos aplenty evoking an Eddie Van Halen sense of grandstanding.
Therein lies one of the most brilliant things about Babymetal. The band's mixture of classic heavy metal tropes and progressive elements allows them to cross generational barriers, an undeniably contemporary phenomenon that still holds reverence for classic heavy metal.
While the trio's dancing is undeniably impressive, Babymetal's popularity wouldn't be nearly as enduring if they didn't have brilliant songs to back it all up. Newer tracks like Mirror Mirror and Monochrome sounding utter world-conquering with soaring guitars and crowd-baiting "woah-oh-ohs", while older material like Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! taps into a heaviness you'd expect more from a band like Code Orange, testament to Babymetal's capacity for blending styles in a unique way.
With just over 80 minutes onstage, the band fly through each song with a sense of unstoppable energy and infectious joy that leaves no question as to how they've managed to take pride of place as one of the biggest success stories of 21st Century metal.
While the new material is disappointingly light - only three songs of the set released in 2023 - the fact Babymetal have shows lined up throughout 2024, including a return to Download Festival, suggests this may yet just be a warm-up for bigger things still to come. As the band themselves would say - Only The Fox God Knows.
Babymetal play Download Festival 2024.
Babymetal setlist Wolverhampton Civic Hall November 29 2023
- BABYMETAL DEATH
- Gimme Chocolate!!
- PA PA YA!!
- Mirror Mirror
- Brand New Day
- Road Of Resistence