Don’t let anybody tell you differently: The weirdest metal album of 2016 wasn’t made by some cryptic black metal band or a group of angry men with guitars. In every sense, BABYMETAL’s sophomore album, METAL RESISTANCE, is further out there than anything we might traditionally deem metal. True to its title, it “resists” the clichés, and tropes, and the general lack of sonic variation in most guitar-based metal music. The resulting album is an amalgamation of pop and metal styles — from shredding, Maiden-influenced power metal to techno-Pantera grooves — all showered in the golden voices of SU-METAL, YUIMETAL, MOAMETAL.
It’s a bizarre sound coming from a bizarre band: super catchy J-pop, brutal tech-death rhythms, and three pop stars backed by a bunch of virtuoso shredders. Some elitists in the metal community would tell you that BABYMETAL isn’t metal (oh, the angry comments that come from putting them on best-of lists), but that is because these folks haven’t come to accept that BABYMETAL is equally as metal, if you follow a certain ethos, as a misanthrope in a cloak hanging out in the woods. There was a recent study that said listening to metal actually soothes the nerves. By that logic, METAL RESISTANCE is more metal, as it’s an unrelenting aural endorphin release and a fresh blast of creativity in a genre sorely desperate for different sounds and variation.
Opening with a big Brian May riff, “Road to Resistance” is a ripping start to the record. The production is noticeably cleaner, the vocals better mixed and arranged atop the blast beats and guitar rhythms. SU-METAL’s vocals have more presence and power; she truly sounds like the frontwoman of a badass metal band, and her performances here have more personality than those on their debut. “KARATE” is another highlight, with a riff that would make Dimebag proud and an arrangement that opens into a prog pop soundscape and blissful textures that are new to BABYMETAL’s sonic palette. METAL RESISTANCE consistently delivers on this front, its songs moving in unpredictable, exciting directions. “YAVA!” touts nice vocal counterpoint between the lead vocals and the death metal grunts (which are thankfully used sparingly on the album, mostly as background), and “Meta Taro” goes straight for Amon Amarth-style Viking metal, except brilliantly with synths instead of guitars.
The most striking track here is “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Like “Waves” on The Life of Pablo, this song splits the clouds with its glistening production, which is far different and more advanced than anything we’ve heard from BABYMETAL. SU’s vocals are bathed in reverb, a beautiful melody obscured over a trip-hop beat. It sounds like something Ulver would’ve been into back in the Perdition City days and has the most crossover potential of anything on METAL RESISTANCE.
Anybody still calling this novelty is either ignorant or in denial. BABYMETAL hone a fusion of technical metal, dance music, and power pop that’s both competent and emotionally invigorating. The production and songwriting on METAL RESISTANCE are more advanced than the first album. There’s an indelible charm to these songs, and they’ll trigger a smile if you open your heart and dismiss your preconceptions. After making their US late-night debut with a stellar performance on Colbert Tuesday night — and with an album this good — it’s only a matter of time before BABYMETAL conquers the Western world with their feel-good metal the way they have back in Japan.
Essential Tracks: “KARATE”, “From Dusk Till Dawn”