Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Thurs 20 Feb
There was a time, not so long ago, when a non-English speaking band would have been met with either confusion or apathy by mainstream Cardiff crowds. So-called ‘world music’ – that being most artists not from the UK, US or Oz – could at best hope to be hosted on the city’s smaller, more niche stages. But times have changed, and music fans who take more of their recommendations from unpredictable Spotify algorithms than the limited preferences of their peers are likely to be open to some of the wilder musical concepts that the big wide world has to offer.
This fundamental shift in the way we discover and relate to new artists has paved a golden road for Japan’s Babymetal to shake up our preconceptions of what metal can be. Hyper-choreographed kawaii dancing instead of headbanging? Bring it on. Switching screams for Bollywood-inspired anthems about karma? Big yes. Ten years ago, it would have been damn near impossible to imagine a heavy-as-balls Japanese metal collective fronted by three teenage pop idols as anything other than a laughable gimmick. But these days even hardened metal fans are willing to accept Babymetal as one of the future faces of the genre.
Though arguably their initial breakthrough was a result of their jaw-to-the-floor novelty factor and eminently shareable, insane videos, the band has consistently proved themselves worthy of the space they now inhabit in the mainstream consciousness. The rabid fandom they inspire is glaringly evident at this sold-out Great Hall show. In one of the most mixed-up crowds this writer has ever seen, girls with space buns and Lolita dresses bounce and enthuse alongside old-timers in Anthrax jackets with speckled grey beards that reach their chests.
Riffing on the theme of new album Metal Galaxy, the show opens with a journey through time and space-style projection of colour and light. From the off, it’s clear that Babymetal plans on stretching the bounds of mid-level venue production. It’s hard to tell that the kick-off is album opener Future Metal over the audience’s screams, which reach dangerous decibel levels when Su-Metal, Moametal and their unnamed backup dancer (a stand-in for recently departed third member Yuimetal) stride in and begin their relentless, hour-long dance party at the front of the stage. It’s almost scary how much energy these girls have; imagine watching the Duracell bunny throw shapes without a breather after necking an entire box of Pro-Plus, and you’re halfway there.
The ride is wild and steamrollers through their most viral hits from the past five years. Gimme Chocolate, a thrashing ode to enjoying a bar of Dairy Milk, is note- and step-perfect, and the three jump through the entire four minutes of synth-laden Megitsune. But their newer, experimental material is even more impressive. Indian influences abound on 2019 single Shanti Shanti Shanti, and Sabaton vocalist Joakim Brodén makes a cameo appearance via video for a nuts fusion of J-pop, metal, traditional Czech folk and Irish jigging. Unbelievably, it works like a lucky charm.
The show’s a relatively short one, but doesn’t suffer for it. By the time closer Road Of Resistance rolls around, everyone – including the band, most likely – is totally bounced out. Exhausted, bewildered and beaming, we pour out a little more willing to accept that the hard and fast rules of any genre can always be rewritten.
words BETTI HUNTER photos MORGAN DEVINE