Words Vikki Luff
Pictures: Tina Korhonen for Babymetal
Pictures: Robert Sutton for Amaranthe & Sleep Token
It’s a summer evening in Brixton. It’s hot outside and it’s about to get even hotter inside, as tonight Babymetal are set to play their only UK headline show of the whole year. Babymetal seem like they should be the strange byproduct of two random music genres pulled out of a hat and smashed together, yet somehow this blend of ridiculously kawaii metal not only works, but works well enough to appeal to crowds all over the world. If you’ve not listened to Babymetal, or perhaps not even heard of them, imagine the vocals of a J-Pop band laid over a mix of mental riffs and drums. It doesn’t sound like it’ll come out with anything productive, but you’d be surprised. Their musical fusion means that you get an incredibly eclectic mix of folk at their shows, and I’m sure it’s pretty much the only time I’ve seen lolitas in a mosh pit that don’t look lost and confused.
To open for Babymetal, you’d expect an act just as kooky and “out there” as the girls themselves, and that’s just what Sleep Token deliver, although not quite in the way most of us anticipated. My most accurate “in a nut shell” description of Sleep Token would be “odd, but not in a bad way”. Their chill melodic synth makes for a slow, if interesting start to tonight’s show, with the odd leap or stomp from the bassist making a nice change to the otherwise near stationary act. The three hooded backing singers near the rear of the stage could give the Queen’s guard a run for their money, staying completely still for the whole set except for opening their mouths to, well, sing. This proves rather effective, but doesn’t do a whole lot of good for the band’s energy as a whole. Visually speaking, you could be forgiven for thinking you were either witnessing some form of ritual or you’d accidentally stumbled upon some form of Ghost tribute act, although Sleep Token’s music admittedly seems to fit the aesthetic better than Ghost themselves. It’s hard to gauge the audience reaction to a band that you can’t really jump around to, but every song ends with more than a polite smattering of applause and a decent cheer rises as they draw their set to a close.
Next up are Sweden based rockers, Amaranthe. In stark contrast to Sleep Token, it seems that the crowd is not only aware of who they are, but that some of them have possibly turned up exclusively for Amaranthe themselves, with more than a handful of the audience sporting shirts from a variety of the band’s albums. This feeling is confirmed as soon as the opening bars to Maximise start and Elize Ryd opens with the iconic “hello, is there someone out there who can hear me scream?”. The crowd happily clap along (mostly) with the beat and truly give Amaranthe a warm welcome, cheering loudly as they finish the song. Whether I’m expecting too much for a support act or whether the crowd are saving their energy for Babymetal remains to be seen, but I’d expect a lot more jumping around for a band that get cheers as loud as Amaranthe do. Regardless, the band seem to enjoy themselves, and the crowd seem content bopping and whooping, so who am I to judge? It’s rather evident that Amaranthe have done this sort of show countless times before, not because of any lack of energy on stage (quite the contrary, actually) but due to the sheer organisation between the band members. To be fair, as a six piece with three vocalists, you need to be organised simply to avoid collisions! Given the fact that they’re now on their 5th album, you can forgive Amaranthe for including a lot of their old hits over their newest material, but it’s a little surprising to only hear two songs from their latest album as all of their backdrops are advertising album number 5 itself, Helix. Turns out it’s a good choice as it’s evident the crowd don’t know these new tracks quite as well. Finishing with the poppy, upbeat Drop Dead Cynical, Amaranthe’s energy is truly unrelenting right until the end. If I take anything away from their set, it’s that the whole band deserve “windmill of the year” awards. Never has such coordinated hair swishing been seen before!
Babymetal have had an interesting couple of years as a band, with longstanding member Yui leaving last year. They surprised crowds at Glastonbury by having a third member back on stage with them again, which definitely completes the act choreography wise, and we’re treated to a trio once more in Brixton. Whether Riho will become a permanent member of the band remains to be seen, but we’re certainly grateful to have her on stage with Moa and lead vocalist Su.
Babymetal are very much known for their live performances, injecting plenty of drama alongside their dancing, almost being actors at their own show, and tonight is no different. As the lights go down, the opening drums of popular hit Megitsune start. The crowd roars in anticipation as the trio appear silhouetted on stage with their backing Kami band ready to rock, and the energy only increases from there. As tonight’s headliner, they have the benefit of being able to throw out new songs left, right and centre and still get an incredible reaction from the crowd, and that’s exactly what they do. They blast through a selection of new songs released in the last year, including Elevator Girl and a brand new track that doesn’t even have an official title yet, with which we get some new choreography that’s as mental as any of their other work. It’s worth noting at this point, once Babymetal have choreography set for a song, it doesn’t tend to deviate much from it for any future shows, if at all, which you certainly can’t blame them for given the sheer amount they have to learn. Considering just how much they constantly move around the stage, especially the two younger members, the vocals are consistently clean and powerful and you never see the girls look tired, even for a moment.
If their musical career ends up slowing down at any point, I’m sure they could make millions releasing workout videos to the kawaii loving masses, it’s enough to make any 90s band proud. Zooming ahead into Distortion, we get a glimpse of the stage show yet to come as plumes of smoke fill the air to the growling chants of “give up, give up”, and while the girls are expectional vocalists by themselves, the blend of the more traditional heavier vocals in some songs really makes their sound complete. As we saw earlier, Babymetal are quite happy to throw out lesser known songs into their shows and this continues as we get treated to the first performance of Syncopation outside their home country of Japan. As a track that’s exclusively featured on the Japanese release of their second album, Metal Resistance, the die hard fans truly get a treat and it’s very evident to hear the influence of iconic speed metallers DragonForce through plenty of tracks on this album. Continuing into newly released PA PA YA, the crowd wake up even more than before and gladly chant the anthemic tune back to the band. It’s pretty safe to say that most of the crowd won’t know more than a word or so of Japanese, and so quite probably have absolutely no idea what they’re saying, but are more than happy to yell out the lyrics anyway, as flames fill the front of the academy and the show takes it up yet another notch of intensity. At this point, you have to wonder where Babymetal are going to take the show to top the previous song, and after a couple more songs they retire for a well earned break off stage for a moment.
Su-metal returns back on stage alone for a low key piano based version of their well known hit, The One, and I swear you could hear a pin drop in the room, with everyone focused on the young performer’s flawless vocals. It makes for a rather poignant moment, which becomes even better as the remaining members and Kami band join her back on stage to finish the track in the traditional style. From the front to the back, every hand in the crowd is raised in Babymetal’s version of the traditional metal horns, “the fox”, truly cementing the meaning of solidarity that comes through the song’s lyrics. As the band finish their set with the title track of their second album, accompanied by even more pyrotechnics, a large sheet drops in front of the stage, leaving no uncertainty as to whether there would be an encore. However, as is the usual with Babymetal’s headline shows, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end, as a giant projection onto the sheet informs the crowd that the band are on an odyssey to the “Metal Galaxy”, incidentally the title of their forthcoming album. This is accompanied by an announcement of the album’s release date and an upcoming world tour, including a return to London next February. If this band know how to do anything (besides make great music, perform great moves, gain a worldwide fan base… Okay, they do a lot of things rather well), it’s to build anticipation even as they walk off stage.
I’ve never seen a band perform a show quite like Babymetal do. Some bands incorporate myriads of lasers into their shows, some have live trapeze artists and giant robots (Muse, I’m looking at you) but few bands put so much effort into their own performance as this young group. It’s hard to not be impressed by how much they relentlessly give, as if every show is both their first and last they’ll ever play. If this doesn’t inspire you to see them time and time again, not much will. I, for one, look forward to their return to the UK next year.
Ind-metal (New song. It’s a working title they’re using on tour and not announced officially.)
Starlight (First performance outside Japan.)
Syncopation (First performance outside Japan.)
PA PA YA!!
Road of Resistance
All Babymetal Photos: (C) Tina Korhonen