Review Summary: The babies are all grown up.
I guess it was bound to happen. How many times can you deliver songs like “Gimmie Chocolate” or even “Elevator Girl” before it starts to get weird and slightly uncomfortable for all involved? With Su and Moa now in their twenties, and the fans that started with them almost a decade older, it was probably time for a change. Apparently, the powers pulling the Babymetal strings felt the same way because that change is now. The Other One
is the beginning of a new era for Babymetal. It’s an era where they rely less on shock and cute meme-worthy image, and more on songwriting chops and talent. The Other One
is an album where all the ‘gimmicks’ have been removed, and with it a lot of the ‘fun’ element – for better or worse.
There’s no more call-and-response vocals between Suzuka and Moa. The controlled chaos where songs teeter on a cacophonous edge of J-Pop, huge riffs, ferocious beats, and break-neck tempos is gone. Essentially, the Babymetal formula of J-Pop clashing with various metal genres is over – Kawaii metal has been abandoned. Instead of the jarring back-and-forth between metal and J-pop where the delineation was almost always obvious, they’ve been refined into one cohesive sound – a serious and mature sound bereft of fun. If I’m being honest, though, that’s probably my only major complaint; no matter what else they were doing, they were always fun. It was the element that let them get away with so many things that could ruin a more serious band, and now it was gone. Fortunately, losing their crutch doesn’t ruin The Other One
; although it is sorely missed.
On the topic of ‘no fun’, The Other One
is bookended by two songs too long to be legit intro/outro tracks, but they also lack momentum and interesting ideas which also makes them bad as songs. Fortunately, they’re the only two songs worth actually complaining about. The rest of the album features songs such as the first song with lyrics written by Suzuka; “Divine Attack”. “Divine Attack”, as well as “Mirror Mirror”, “Believe” and “Maya”, are Babymetal’s metal-oriented songs; except they’re probably not what you’d expect. Instead of bouncy pop choruses there are long sustained notes and more carefully crafted melodies. Instead of sugary J-Pop electronics dominating everything they touch, there’s solid programmed beats and subdued synths – and the metal elements don’t dominate the music either. Instead, everything is blended into a single smooth sound. While all these other elements are surprising, the most surprising aspect of The Other One
must be Babymetal’s decision to include more English lyrics in their songs; it almost feels like a 50/50 split between English and Japanese.
I’m not going to lie, I looked up some translated Babymetal lyrics once, and I quickly decided I was better off not knowing. It’s not that they’re terrible, they’re just superfluous and a little strange; often building off the weird concepts the band are always introducing – in this case parallel universes. Either way, Su could sing the phone book and I probably wouldn’t notice. She’s a great vocalist, and she augments the music perfectly but, even in English, I rarely catch what she’s saying because I’ve become accustomed to treating her voice as a melodic instrument and not a deliverer of lyrics. It’s a good thing, too, that she is such a great vocalist because there’s another style of song on “The Other One”, and she is the featured elements of those songs. I’m referring, of course, to the more electronics-oriented tracks such as pre-release single “Monochrome”. They still feature metal elements, but they’re mixed even further back, giving more room to electronic melodies, Suzuka’s vocals, and even a saxophone solo on the closing track. The song that bridges these two styles is “METALIZM” and it is easily my favorite track. Musically it features the kind of driving industrial beats, pulsating electronics and ethnic melodies that dominated Samael’s latter-day output, as well as one of the coolest guitar solos in the Babymetal discography.
So, Babymetal isn’t immature fun anymore. With the members and longtime fans ten years older than when Babymetal first hit the scene, an obvious decision to mature the music, lyrics, and image was made. The end result is The Other One
, and it may shock those that stayed away from the pre-release songs. Gone are most the Babymetal staples; the call-and-response, the slick J-Pop melodies and choruses, the crazy metal/pop juxtaposition, the chaotic energy… you get the point. Instead, The Other One
takes its metal/pop influences and fuses them into a seamless sound that trades Kawaii for seriousness and atmosphere. While it might be initially disappointing to lose a decade of Babymetal influences, it was probably time and the more mature and serious Babymetal sound is still as captivating as always.