So… I know I have normally rescinded doing single review posts of an album, as opposed to my much better bi-annual highlight reel. However, when writing the first one for 2023, the blurb for BABYMETAL’s newest full-length—The Other One—ended up being more than a blurb. It was a diatribe that went on for at least double—if not triple—the length of all the other blurbs on that post. A lot of it was also… quite ranty. However, I still did want to touch on this album, since I don’t think the target on my back that I got for being one of the band’s critics was big and obnoxious enough. I’ve had a long history of trying to understand why and how they are the statistically most popular Japanese metal band in the entire world, to the point of being considered the face of Japanese metal as a whole. As a weeb, I want to love them, but struggle to do so.
Before getting into the proper review, I must contextualize the band for anyone who somehow hasn’t heard of them. Regardless of what I think about them, a lot of my all-time favorite Japanese metal bands owe their existence to BABYMETAL. The reason is because BABYMETAL invented the idea of fusing idol pop with metal in the first place. This was a novel idea at the time, and it paved the way for far better forms of the same idea to follow. The Other One is their first new album in four years, after a “hibernation” period or whatever.
Initial impressions were good when they released the first single, ‘Divine Attack – Shingeki’ (not related to the metalcore idol group Shingeki). It was as basic as expected, but it hit the right notes without having the chorus be overly infectious. Would I finally be able to unironically love a BABYMETAL album?
The answer to that is: it’s complicated. Positives: the songs are, for the most part, quite good. They are as heavy and catchy as ever. However, The Other One presents a stark change in the band’s sound, where they veer from their idol silliness toward a concept album that supposedly doesn’t play by the rules. As someone who has been open to changes in the styles of bands (and gave Oceans of Slumber’s Southern rock album a perfect score)… I’m not sure I welcome this change. I’ll admit that I had initially considered this a power-metal-influenced album going off of the pre-releases, which is very much not the case now that the full thing is out. However, they still feel as underwhelming as ever, perhaps moreso without the kawaii nonsense; a textbook example of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Sure, it shows that “they’re grown women who aren’t idols any longer,” but at this juncture they kind of become Schrödinger’s Sellouts. What I mean by that is that their new shift is both selling out and not selling out at the same time; they sell out by making a more “normal” sound that’s more accessible across the board, but they also don’t sell out by showing that they are capable of different ideas outside of their established image. It’s an argument that could go on for an eternity.
Maybe it’s just because I don’t listen to metal 24/7. Other reviews and people on Reddit could easily attribute each track not just to specific subgenres, but to the sounds of specific BANDS, and specific SONGS by said bands. Maybe I’m not music-y enough to tell that the one song “starts off with Architects-like drumming but with riffs from Gojira” or whatever. Honestly, I don’t even know if I want to be able to do that. Do people really enjoy looking at music that way?
Another disappointment is due to the press and myself. There’ve been rumors of them recruiting a third vocalist to replace the girl who left in 2018, and well, those are still rumors. I myself had figured that they were going to hire a dedicated unclean vocalist; something that could greatly help the band’s style. It would’ve been a brilliant move to have the pre-release singles with just the two, then—at launch—change them to rerecorded versions that unexpectedly rip our faces off with the new vocalist. However, that still remains a pipe dream (NOTE: This post was published mere hours before the actual third member was hired). For some reason, people think the two current vocalists are goddesses. Well, they are, but only as a given since they’re women in the metal industry. I know that it’s disrespectful to put women in metal on a tier list, but on the witness stand, I’d stand by my claim that BABYMETAL’s singers are kind of mid in the long run. I’m tone deaf, so I can only go off how they sound on a superficial level. Both of them always came off as lacking in pitch-range and versatility.
I must call myself out on one thing: I kind of have an inflated, unfair expectation of what Japanese music should be. A lot of the music down there is very eccentric and fuses subgenres as a given, to which I basically came up with this motto: “Japanese music is basically avant-garde by default.” As such, I get mad when a Japanese music artist sounds more bog standard. I admit that The Other One will force me to question how much I really like not just Japanese bands, but any band I love that has generally stuck to one style. The Other One almost spits in their faces; they can do all of these crazy, intricate things that defy logic, but are they really that talented if they can’t do something “normal” with equally good results? Would, say, Brand of Sacrifice still be great if they abandoned the Berserk themes, synthesizers, and just did classic blood n’ guts deathcore? Should that even be a metric to measure musicians on? THANKS GIRLS YOU’RE THE BEST.
Still reading? Yeah, this post became a mess, didn’t it? Part of that was from me making the mistake of looking up press releases related to the record. One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of articles is that the band was getting praise for abandoning the idol look; such as Metal Hammer saying they have “shaken off the ‘novelty’ tag” in a positive light. When I listened to this album in full, I was like “Yeah it’s still mid, end of story.” However, I really spiraled when trying to understand the reasons for The Other One‘s acclaim. This is BABYMETAL, the band that turned the very definition of metal on its head… yet they get praised more than ever for being normal? I was tempted to go into conspiracy theory territory, with crackpot theories that the press wants to belittle artists who go out of left field. Maybe what they’ve published don’t even reflect what the human beings behind-the-scenes really think.
Fortunately, I shouldn’t have to be so jealous of their fame for much longer. For whatever reason, it looks like this decade will be the one where a number of those tragically underrated Japanese metal bands will break through into the global mainstream. BAND-MAID, the group that seemed the closest to achieving this, has toured with Guns N’ Roses, and even opened for The Last Rockstars, a supergroup composed of Japan’s most famous and important rock pioneers. That makes them mainstream now, right? In any case, Broken by the Scream has had their first overseas gigs, hanabie. has been booked for numerous festivals—including the coveted Aftershock—while Lovebites recently returned with their new lineup (and even got acknowledged by the almighty Metal Hammer), and Gyze—now Ryujin—have signed with THE Napalm Records. All of these bands will probably still be in BABYMETAL’s shadow for the time being, even with these achievements, but they’re slowly creeping in on that world conquest.
Final Verdict: 7.5/10
This band is one of the reasons why I sometimes hate having autism. Loving them has become a way of life as natural as breathing. No one questions BABYMETAL’s greatness, and anyone who does is clearly wrong, and gets choked out immediately by people such as Rob Zombie. The Other One isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination—I’d argue it’s great even—but on the metric of how popular the band is, the score I’ve given certainly doesn’t seem positive.
I think I just need to give up. Temple Grandin once said that she needed to accept things about neurotypical people that she didn’t understand, and people’s undying love for BABYMETAL is one of those things. Maybe I’ll give them another chance if they hire a death growler, but for the time being, I shouldn’t milk my vendetta with them any longer. The bottom line is this: nothing by this band sets my heart aflutter. End of story. I myself can’t adequately explain why, and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
I of course recommend Lovebites, BAND-MAID, Broken by the Scream, hanabie., Shingeki, Utsu-P, Ryujin, and other powerful Japanese metal artists over BABYMETAL. May their Fox God have mercy on my soul I guess.
You must be logged in to post a comment.