Death Metal has long struggled to be taken seriously. Since its 1980s origins – check out Slayer – the genre, characterised by breakneck pace, computerised overdrive and growling, has often been looked upon by the rest of the metal community as its immature younger brother, who thinks that everything is better when you do it quicker and louder. It’s been looked down upon the rest of the music world, who view at as both unlistenable and unbearably earnest.
That last charge of earnestness is probably one of the most accurate things you could say about Death Metal. Lyrics like ‘Unleashed men of sin/ Hatred hell within’, relentless screaming and a resolutely doomy tone contribute. Worse, its completely misplaced earnestness, or at least in the eyes of most people. Sure, they would argue, it’s ok to be serious about famine or discrimination, but when you’re placing so much anger into telling people you are the devil you’re bound to sound stupid.
Unfortunately for Death Metal, earnestness is something which Britain hates. We can all the count the amount of times we’ve rolled our eyes at some American expressing emotion, and at weddings – great turning points in peoples’ lives – we stand up and make awkward jokes, and then get drunk to block out any real thoughts.
This explains why Death Metal has done fairly poorly in Britain, both amongst critics and in terms of sales. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’m sure this is just me speaking as a British person, but to me there is something about screaming about hell over a computerised guitarist on meth which is stupid.
Babymetal might just shift the goalposts in Death Metal’s favour. Imagine a typical Japanese pop trio of Japanese teenage girls, wearing short skirts and pig tails, good as gold and with voices squeaky as fuck. Set them against one of the heaviest backing tracks I have ever heard. Set them against it, whilst refusing to shift their image or vocal style. That is Babymetal.
Babymetal should sound ridiculous. It is, after all, a mash up of two of the most unlistenable and ridiculous music genres. But somehow, it works. It almost seems to mock the earnestness by giggling over it. The vocals offset what can often be sonic drone. In other words, Death Metal here is not earnest. It is not unlistenable.
Will it move Death Metal to the mainstream? In Japan, it already has, in a stunning fashion, with the band possessing two top 3 albums and two top ten singles. But it won’t in Britain. The lyrics are, after all, in another language, something which the famously xenophobic British hate. But all over the English speaking world, teenagers will hear this band and think of the possibilities.