There’s no escaping it: Babymetal is ridiculous. A manufactured band built on the gimmick of three Japanese teenage girls singing pop hooks over bruising metal, their enormous success in the heavy music scene has been bewildering considering how many elements of the formula should be anathema to your common dyed-in-the-wool metalhead. Their success in the West was initially launched by the video for “Gimme Chocolate!!” (a good starting point for experiencing the lunacy that is BABYMETAL) going viral, but they’ve genuinely gained a footing despite a patchy debut album. Perhaps it is because they’re so startlingly different that they’ve made themselves bulletproof; there’s been no comparison point for that first record after all. Up to now.
Metal Resistance retroactively demonstrates how poorly thrown together the candy crush J-Pop and training bra metal of its predecessor was, and surpasses it in almost every sense. For one, it sees BABYMETAL earn the second half of their name, all capitalised, with gusto. Much of the instrumentation is drawn from the gorgonzola realms of power metal, but is produced so clinically and delivered with such enthusiasm that it comes off as an ultra-modern push to a glorious future for the genre rooted in the lunacy that makes the best of Iron Maiden, Helloween and ZP Theart-era DragonForce so brilliant. “Road to Resistance” features the latter band’s guitarists and is more gloriously turbocharged and overblown, and thus better, than anything they’ve done post-“Heroes of Our Time”. Metal Resistance is as ridiculous as the Babymetal self-titled but works where that did not because its eclectic range of ideas are soldered together rather than tossed into a cloying stew.
The drum ‘n’ bass intro to “Awadama Fever” sets the pace for a headlong sprint that gives way to one of the most satisfying breakdowns this side of Parkway Drive. If the mythological heaviness and Pantera-sized grooves of elsewhere aren’t bombastic enough for your tastes, there’s “Meta Taro”, the chorus of which sounds like a fictional country’s national anthem ironclad in guitar riffs. Su-Metal is probably its queen; she really comes into her own as a lead vocalist on this record, and is backed up powerfully by her two compatriots when needed. Where there is J-Pop on Metal Resistance it feels like a natural result of the cultural backgrounds of its creators. The overall shift has definitely been towards the heavy end of the equation, but Babymetal thrives because of their eccentricities, which stand out all the more now that the metal bedrock they’re built off of is far more solid.
Only in the last quarter of the album does the pot begin to boil over, when the group try their hand at more emotional content. Stripped of the pace of the rest of the album it flounders, particularly because the trio of vocalists are better at vivacity than sincerity. The inclusions of English lyrics, most notably on “The One”, feel forced; the most notable aspect of turgid prog-metal cut “Tales of the Destinies” is a five second music hall piano run. “From Dusk Till Dawn” proves that Babymetal can do sweeping power balladry well, and it works where the similar songs do not because it puts more investment into the core melodies and wraps itself in delightful sci-fi electronics. The band thrives when it marries youthful energy to reckless musical abandon: lose either element and the other is left to flounder.
Babymetal sorely needed an album as good as Metal Resistance as a means of justifying their staying power beyond the memory of an internet fad. It adds weight to the suggestion that they are a real metal band and should be taken as such. Getting over the often juvenile lyrics (one of the songs appears to be an ode to the wonders of bubblegum) and the fact that they’re sung by schoolgirls as you’d expect schoolgirls to sing them may be a hurdle for some, but this album is gloriously silly, is wonderfully reverent of both metal’s past and its capacity for interpolating external influences, and is totally unique. This time, in a good way.