This week is a busy week for idol music in Japan, with more than a half dozen artists releasing new music, and one of the newer players in the market is Sakura Gakuin’s off-shoot group, BABYMETAL. For those unfamiliar, BABYMETAL’s producers have set out to mesh a multitude of Japanese genres and sensibilities with the more harsh sounds of American and European extreme heavy metal. Their music has utilized styles from death metal, power metal, thrash metal, visual kei, idol pop, enka, dubstep, rap, metalcore, traditional Japanese music, and a host of other styles from across the world, so you never quite know what kind of sound to expect from them next.
BABYMETAL has gained themselves a pretty strong following among many people who love idols but are looking for something a little different from the usual bubblegum pop idol sound in the music. They also follow up the music by having a lot of other “metal” aspects to the group’s activities, including mosh pits at their live concerts, tons of metal imagery and t-shirts, and collaborations with popular metal artists. Even though they’ve used a lot of different styles in their music and made some of the most interesting idol music of the last two years, “Megitsune” is a bit of a new endeavor for them, where they attempt to heavily mix traditional Japanese ondo/enka sounds and a power metal sound, with a surprise appearance from American metalcore style mixed in. Does it step in the right direction and accomplish what it sets out to do? Lets find out.
Here’s the song and PV (runs in HD quality):
The song starts with a somewhat usual BABYMETAL sound with quick palm-muted guitar chords and snare drum hits, but this time, mixing in Japanese koto and shamisen instruments in between. The song quickly moves to the next part with another familiar sound to the group, with a heavy guitar riff and strong synths, so nothing really new yet, besides the simplicity of the composition being fairly uncharacteristic for their music and the attempt at mixing the Japanese instruments in with their sound.
This brings me to one of my biggest gripes with this release, in that the composition of the song feels like “BABYMETAL-lite” compared to the wonderful complexity and progressiveness of their last few singles. For example, the first minute of the song contains a total of 5 different chords in the rhythm guitar section, whereas most of their previous songs have at around twice that many in just one passage, aside from most of their older songs also having many more sections in general, where this song literally has 5 passages in the entire song.
Moving on, the verse section consists of 3 chords total, and a lot of heavily auto-tuned vocals from Suzuka (lead vocals) with some usual Yui/Moa chants thrown in, but this time they’re traditional Japanese “wasshoi” and “sore-sore” chants instead of their typical idol chants. There’s a little traditional Japanese fue wind instruments thrown in the background of the verse as well, with very limited audibility and effect.
After a repeat of the earlier synth passage, we finally get to the part of the song that shows some merit, with the pre-chorus slowing down the tempo and using some different chords with a little more complex composition and finally giving some natural vocals that aren’t auto-tuned to hell, and everything feels like its coming together with a cohesive power metal-influenced sound. Suzuka sounds remarkable here, and the passage has a strong emotional feel to the chord progression, ending with a quick extra measure of guitar notes and a pinch harmonic squeal before moving into the chorus.
The chorus is where we feel the song come fully into it’s realization of melody, yet it still feels like something is missing, like there could have been some added guitar harmonization above the chorus. It especially feels lacking in this respect when comparing to their previous releases, most notably “Ijime, Dame, Zettai,” which featured multi-layered guitar harmonies over almost every passage of the song. After eight measures of this seemingly mid-paced chorus, (still faster than the pre-chorus,) the drums pick up with some much needed 16th note double-bass hits that seem to hurl the song forward with burst of speed, making the rest of the chorus much more exciting than the first 8 measures.
Just after the first chorus, we come back to the motif at the very beginning of the song with heavy palm-muting, but now there’s a little added synths to give it a sense of build-up for the upcoming bridge. Regrettably, the bridge is easily the worst part of the song, so the build-up doesn’t feel like it has a worthwhile payoff afterward.
The bridge is composed of what teenaged American metalcore bands call a “breakdown,” which has become a terribly uninteresting, uninspired, and over-used trope in American metal today. These breakdowns usually consist of nothing but extremely decelerated, repetitive, detuned, palm-muted guitar chords with 4th note cymbal crashes, obnoxious low-frequency electronic bass drops, and screaming vocals.
This breakdown doesn’t really change that mold besides that it overlays the Japanese traditional folk song “Sakura Sakura” over the horrible, droning guitar chords, creating a dissonant, irritating mess of sound that does not mesh well. This entire section comes off as very amateur on behalf of the producers and really ruins the flow of the song while also making it very akin to a dreadful, lazy style of American metal, and I expect better from BABYMETAL at this point. When you’ve heard as much extreme metal music as I have, you expect a certain amount of effort to be put forth when using the style, and breakdowns are the antithesis of such.
The breakdown ends with a slow, enka-style passage that leads back into the synth intro riff. The song just repeats the structure again from here, with a slight rhythm change in the final chorus, but not much else of note beyond that.
This is definitely the most disappointing BABYMETAL single to date, and quite a shame, since it seems like a huge missed opportunity to have a great song, but a few bad decisions in the songwriting pulled it down to a polarizing level. The pre-chorus and chorus of the song are well-made pieces of melody and power, but the rest of the song anchors it down at a level of being a boring mess.
Sadly, the interesting idea of mixing metal styles with traditional Japanese sounds wasn’t very successful the way they attempted it, but it may be something that can be handled with more care at a later time, and maybe by another artist. Being an idol group, I have a feeling BABYMETAL will spring back to a higher level of quality with some of their future releases, so this song will just be a slight misstep in their career.
Song: 3 out of 5
The PV for the song is also a little lackluster compared to how well-conceived most of their previous ones have been. The others had interesting themes and sets, cinematic qualities, and other actors besides the backup band. The color usage and nods to traditional Japanese matsuri themes are pretty clever and well-executed, but the backup band just ends up looking awkward for most of the video and the choreography for the girls leaves a lot to be desired. The solo shots of Suzuka during the pre-chorus and chorus are gorgeous and a nice contrast to the strong, dark themes of the rest of the video, but it feels unsatisfying as a whole.
PV: 3 out of 5
Die-hard fans of BABYMETAL will likely still enjoy this release and not be terribly critical of it, and while I’ll agree it has some great elements, it fails to achieve as a whole and isn’t on par with their previous releases. This single and one of the B-sides are up on the US iTunes Store, so give them a download if you like what you hear, its only a couple dollars and you don’t even have to order the physical singles to support the release!
Megitsune (Regular Edition)
Megitsune (Limited A)
Megitsune (Limited B)
Megitsune (Limited C)