Music Review: BABYMETAL’s “Live at Budokan: Black Night Apocalypse”

Throw up those horns and bang your heads, hard rock fans – the new metal masters of the world have arrived, and they’re still in high school.

BABYMETAL, comprised of 17-year-old Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-Metal), the two 15 year olds Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal) and Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) and a backup band of virtuoso musicians, delivers one of the best live albums in years while continuing to silence their naysayers with the release of Live at Budokan: Black Night Apocalypse.

Popular in their native country Japan since first arriving on the scene in 2010, BABYMETAL began receiving attention globally when videos of their truly bonkers live performances went viral online. However, a funny thing happened last year while Western metal heads – predominantly males – laughed and dismissed BABYMETAL as a one-trick pony. The band released their debut album, and it was one of, if not the best, metal albums of 2014. The album, produced by the group’s mysterious founder Kobametal, topped iTunes’ Heavy Metal charts in both the US and UK.

With a sound best described as an unholy alliance between heavy metal and Japanese pop music (J-Pop), BABYMETAL have spent the last 12 months touring the globe – most notably opening for Lady Gaga and a career-making performance at last year’s European hard rock festival Sonisphere, where they played alongside such metal icons as Metallica, Slayer and Iron Maiden – quickly amassing a legion of diehard fans while also pissing off large swaths of the metal community. Seriously – there’s a plethora of YouTube videos featuring furious adult men with tattoos reduced to near-tears over BABYMETAL’s growing popularity in metal.

Given that the band has received so much positive attention over their concerts, its unsurprising that Kobametal and his band of diminutive demons would release a live album. Recorded at the world famous indoor arena The Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan – the venue for many live albums by such acts as Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Cheap Trick – the sold out concert is a breathtakingly fun and impressive performance.

Black Night Apocalypse serves as a giant middle finger to those who have accused the group of being a joke, as BABYMETAL and their backup band of tremendously talented studio musicians, The Kami Band, deliver an exhaustive 73-minute-long set of breakneck pop-metal.

Album opener “BABYMETAL DEATH,” a pummeling symphonic death metal number, is an immediate give away that, while the band was created by a pop music producer, this is very much a metal band. Over and over the words “baby” and “metal” are spelled out in gruesome growls. “Death” becomes a screamed mantra as hellacious drums gallop alongside snake-like guitar lines and growling bass chugs. The anticipation for Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal reaches a fever pitch until, one by one, each member introduces themselves by name, and all the while screams of “death” fill the Budokan. Perhaps this was the song being played at their NYC show last year which saw a frenzied audience form a wall of death.

The group scales back on its monstrous sound on the second track which begins with what can only be described as trashy euroclub music before introducing a toe-tapping Ska-influenced drum beat, as the girls sing one of the catchiest choruses you have ever heard. Appropriately titled “Ii ne!”- Japanese for “Good, isn’t it?” or “So good” – this track best showcases the band’s fearless, or maybe its schizophrenic, ability to slide in and out of genres that should have no right co-habiting in any one band’s sound. Hell, the song’s breakdown features a crunk rap beat while Moametal spits rhymes.

The sweet and playful vocals of Moametal and fellow backup singer/dancer Yuimetal never become overly saccharine. Their “Oi! Oi!” punk-like chats on “4 no Uta” gets the audience audibly pumped up, and their spitfire rapid vocal exchanges during “Gimme Chocolate!!” would impress the likes of legendary rock vocalist Mike Patton.

The true standout of the album, however, has to be the versatile vocals and stage presence of band leader Su-Metal. She effortlessly injects angst into the gothic and operatic “Akumu no Rinbukyoku,” sings with bravado in “Mitsune,” and her chorus to the industrial metal-tinged “Catch Me if You Can” will blow minds.

As Su-Metal, Yuimetal and Moametal, and their Kami Band – who, by the way, perform an astounding instrumental track that somehow avoids becoming a self-indulgent snooze-fest like so many instrumental breaks – traverse the metal music landscape, bringing with them rays of pop joy on Black Night Apocalypse, one thing remains clear – uptight metal fans should end their futile attempts at denouncing BABYMETAL and learn to bow down to their new tiny metal masters.

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