What does a cartoon death metal band concerned with misanthropy and violence have in common with kawaii-metal pioneers who sing about dancing and chocolate? I’m not sure either. When Dethklok and Babymetal announced their coheadling Babyklok tour, I was skeptical. But it turns out I didn’t need to be.
First up was Jason Richardson, who made up for having an extremely normcore name by displaying it in an almost unreadably spiky font behind him. As well as being a touring member of metalcore long-timers All That Remains, Richardson also has a solo career where he stands alone on stage. And shreds.
Dressed in a red leather trench coat and playing sweet licks over raging backing tracks (generally sans vocals), his overall effect was pretty weird—like watching an incredibly intense round of Guitar Hero. Sure, there are benefits to being a one-man show, and there’s no doubt that he’s the star…but hiring a couple of friends to play drum and bass wouldn’t hurt.
Dethklok came on next to thunderous applause. In the line before the show, everyone around me seemed to be ardent fans of the death metal five-piece that starred in Adult Swim’s four-season satire Metalocalypse. In-universe, the band members have the suitably outrageous names of Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Toki Wartooth, William Murderface, and Pickles. A new film, Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar dropped this August as the first new media content in a decade, alongside fourth album Dethklok IV.
I was curious how the live show would translate the cartoon quintet onto the PNE stage. The answer was, essentially, shadowcasting.
The four people onstage weren’t lit at all by the stage lights, leaving them to pound guitars and double-kick drums and unleash guttural growls in complete darkness, while the audience watched an hour of 2D gore. Some songs, like “Murmaider”—charting the revenge quest of a murderous mermaid—had a fully realized music video; others seemed to be clips from the TV show. But everything was timed to a science, leaving no room for interaction or improvisation.
Breaks in between setlist chunks were narrated by a decaying skull called Facebones. Facebones informed fans to shower, and not take more drugs than they could handle; a huge cloud of smoke coincidentally billowed from stage to cover the sudden uptick of metal fans hitting their vapes. The tongue-in-cheek, knowingly dumb humour matched the show’s vibe. But a video can’t replace the visceral adrenaline that comes from a sweaty black-clad vocalist demanding that you headbang.
Mosh pits, on the whole, were small and sporadic; there were few raised fists, singalongs, or even headbangers. And this is the rub. The band’s dedication to kayfabe meant they could absolutely kill it, but couldn’t ever amp up the crowd or call for more moshing. The assembled masses were largely static, with occasional mosh pits and chants—a far cry from the true chaos that a metal band this good should incite.
Some meetings could have been an email; Dethklok’s set, for all its incredible technical proficiency, could have been a YouTube video.
Contrarily, Babymetal are a live act first. They come with their own lore: that they were chosen by the Fox God to save metal. Or maybe bring metal back. Either way, the video announcing the band’s backstory made the venue thrum with excitement.
Babymetal’s unique combination of Japanese idol culture with genuinely punishing riffs lends itself perfectly to entertaining an audience. J-pop stars know the importance of engaging with the crowd—encouraging specific dances, singalongs, or call-and-responses. The genre doesn’t matter: fans will still lose their shit if commanded to do so to a hype breakdown.
From the first orchestral strains of “BABYMETAL DEATH”, the opening track of their very first record, absolute chaos broke out. There’s no circle pit bullshit here: nobody’s going for a jog when you could be throwing your body at a random assortment of muscular bros, enthusiastic teens, and anime girlies. Impressively, the moshing remained almost constant through the band’s hour-long set, with different pockets of revellers jumping into the fray as others got tired.
The three Babymetal vocalists—Su-metal centre stage with a mic in hand, flanked by Moametal and Momometal—bounded across the stage with impeccable choreography, making complex synchronized motions in huge black dresses look effortless, while maintaining clear soprano vocals. The instrumentalists, all clad in head-encasing fox masks, delivered an impressive and energetic set, too, proving anyone who says they can’t breathe in an N95 is probably embellishing.
Su-metal’s exhortations for a wall of death spawned at least four through the set. Eager fans crouched on cue, ready to jump up in Slipknot-style unison.
Debut album singles “Gimme Chocolate!!” and “Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!” were heavier, with sludgy guitars that crunch live, while more recent tracks like “PA PA YA!!” and “BxMxC” saw the music more tinged with other genres: rap, power metal, symphony. “Megitsune” was a high point, as Su-metal dramatically held a fox mask to channel to fox god’s spirit while Moametal and Momometal continued the crowd hype work.
I left the PNE drenched in sweat, back aching, ribs crushed, exhausted—and wishing there had been a night two.