Metal is no stranger to gimmick bands.
For a genre that can get derisively stereotyped as beardy men in black t-shirts getting absolutely clobbered by both Pabst Blue Ribbon and circle pits, there’s a truly impressive diversity of ways to package distorted guitar riffs and pounding kick-drums. You want metal with complex orchestral arrangement? Symphonic metal bands can score you an entire epic. Troll metal? Black metal mythologians Finntroll are here to deliver. Pirate metal? Piece of piss, matey—Alestorm have seven goddamn albums.
Even Dethklok, the death metal stars of Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse, are a bit: they’re literally fictional. So in a way, it makes perfect sense that Dethklok are currently on a co-headline tour with Babymetal: another act who laughs at the idea there’s only one way to be metal. The BabyKlok tour sweeps into Vancouver on October 3, promising an expansive night of metal mania.
When Babymetal turned up in 2010 doing something genuinely different, people paid attention. The band was born from a deceptively simple premise: what if teenage girls fronted some epic power metal? (According to the band’s official backstory, this is all an undercover ploy: they were actually chosen by the Fox God to be the saviours of metal.)
Originally formed in Tokyo, Babymetal combines sonically satisfying crunch with the angelic vocals of a trio of goth-garmented idol singers. They are one of, if not the most, internationally popular Japanese bands, pioneering the high-energy mash-up genre of kawaii metal that remains almost synonymous with their name. Think k-pop lyrics over Dragonforce; or JoJo Siwa smearing on eyeliner to front Sabaton.
Due to the two seemingly diametrically opposed genres, Babymetal have drawn both controversy and celebration. They are the opposite of most metal bands, being created by a producer (sorry, Fox God) and positioned within a competitive music industry to maximize marketable talent—the way pop stars of the ‘90s were launched as entire brands.
The original trio of Su-metal, Moametal, and Yuimetal had never listened to metal before being thrust into their roles in the band. They perform with coiffed hair, ruffled skirts, and chunky accessories, often with carefully choreographed dance routines. It’s all artifice, in a way that certainly pisses off the crunchier “this isn’t real metal!” diehards.
But metal already has so much theatricality to it. Glam rockers and hair metal scuzzballs of the ’80s curated their own coiffed images; planned stunts or pyro are part of any well-oiled stage show. It’s telling that legends like Rob Zombie and Judas Priest are avowed Babymetal stans: art recognizes art.
Even beyond that, the band doesn’t just appeal to metalheads. J-pop fans got caught up in the craze, as did people interested in anime, subculture fashion, and aesthetics. So, too, did another group sometimes pushed out of metal: women. You’ve got to admit, it’s kind of easier to get an avowed Swiftie to listen to metal if it’s sung by a girl who could front a skincare campaign.
Babymetal’s femininity isn’t some accident where they rule despite being young women—it’s a core part of their identity. The current lineup (Su-metal, Moametal, and Momometal) are all in their twenties: they’ve been doing this since they were teenagers, putting out music for over a decade, and navigating the misogyny and racism of the international metal scene while inspiring countless kinds of people to try the genre out.
When: October 3, 7pm
Where: PNE Forum, 2901 East Hastings Street, Vancouver