Babymetal, Roundhouse: these Japanese heavy metal chicks prove more than mere gimmickry

Babymetal performing at the Roundhouse
Babymetal performing at the Roundhouse - Awais Butt

On paper, Babymetal sound absurd: a Japanese trio who fuse their national culture of cute – “kawaii” – with the chainsaw chug of heavy metal. But in the studio and on stage, their “kawaii metal” proves a remarkably well-soldered concept, one that has appeared to outlive any accusations of gimmickry.

Monday night saw Babymetal play the first of two sold-out dates at Camden’s Roundhouse, though in their 13 years as a band, they’ve previously played venues as big as Wembley Arena and Glastonbury. The downsize might suggest that after countless international tours and festival circuits, the novelty is finally beginning to wear off.

Nevertheless, a queue had been forming along Chalk Farm Road from 5.30am – a bit of a raw deal for a show that lasted barely an hour, but Babymetal fans take devotion to a new level. “Are you ready to headbang?” asked a fantasy-style introductory video when the show began more than 15 hours later, inciting a deep roar from the crowd, before the band launched into ritual opener Babymetal Death amid the stealthy insertion of more than a few pairs of earplugs.

A strong sense of community prevailed as the crowd observed many more rituals, from bandana-waving during Pa Pa Ya! to the Babymetal flags unfurled at the end of the night. Not to mention the thousands of “kitsunes” (the Japanese hand gesture for fox) held aloft throughout: Babymetal’s adaptation of the devil horns hand gesture usually seen at metal shows, symbolising the Fox God – the band’s “divine inspiration” and “spirit of heavy metal”.

Thankfully, there was no obligation to participate in the lore in order to enjoy the night. Babymetal’s blend of metal and pop tends to draw a diverse crowd, and in the Roundhouse there were children, grandparents, fleeces, neon rave glasses, a kilt: all manner of sights you might not expect at a metal show. Then again, nor would you expect to see three women on stage sporting twee matching outfits, sugar-coated melodies, and tight choreography. From start to curtsied finish, the trio were terrifyingly in sync – original members Su-metal and Moametal have been in the band since they were children, after all – their dance moves as merciless as the guitars behind them. Masked metal musicians known as the Kami Band provided the required high-octane pummel, presided over by the band’s svengali figure, Kobametal.

Japanese trio Babymetal performing at the Roundhouse
Japanese trio Babymetal performing at the Roundhouse - Awais Butt

Babymetal’s four albums are incredibly polished, with a selection of carefully placed synths, whiplash riffs, video game bleeps and J-pop hooks that supply their style of metal with a bright sheen. Live, however, their music is a rougher affair – far more metal show than pop concert – but it carries a warmth and sense of fun that clearly continues to be irresistible. Sceptics and purists may tut at the band’s manufactured elements (and the show was inexcusably short), but the Babymetal arrangement works so seamlessly you begin to struggle to imagine a metal band without three bouncy, pop-choreographed frontwomen.

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