On the latest UK leg of their umpteenth world tour, a sold-out crowd is nothing new for Babymetal. What does feel a bit more surprising is where that venue is; for an act who can pack stadiums in their native Japan and fill arenas everywhere else, the Apollo feels relatively intimate by comparison. Granted, novelty only goes so far, and three albums in, it’s really not a factor of their J-pop / metal fusion anymore, but to those detractors who continue to remain immensely vocal about how this should be hated for not being ‘real’ metal, this sort of dedicated, diverse crowd speaks volumes as to where Babymetal currently are in the musical landscape. They might be capable of filling bigger venues, without question, but few bands can boast an audience willing to champion something as fresh and unique within metal as Babymetal are.
Of course, if you’re speaking of bands capable of rising far above and beyond where they currently are, Creeper (9) have been prime candidates for an accolade like that for years. They might as well skip theatres like this straight away and go directly for arenas, such is the readiness that this band continue to display for why they’re among the absolute best working today. In front of an audience that really isn’t their own, the fact that there’s such a consistently warm and engaged reception feels like a victory in its own right, but it’s to be expected when Creeper’s brand of condensed wonderful moulded into goth-punk bangers has all the hallmarks of a band well on their way to the top of the musical ladder. They’ve got the style that’s instantly magnetic right off the bat, decked out in all white while frontman Will Gould, in the vein of the strutting, flamboyant rockstar that he is, casts a much grander presence with his current greaser guise that, given just how drenched in old-school romanticism this music is, feels all too appropriate.
And indeed, that’s romanticism in terms of both intention and reception, and song after song after song only reinforces the power and limitless populist populist potential that Creeper have. The new material already sits snugly within the setlist – Born Cold is pretty much as triumphant as opening salvos come, and Annabelle’s direct hits to the joy receptors prove even better – but with a catalogue comprising almost exclusively of unmatched brilliance, picking faults is just as difficult as ever. There’s the odd omission that’s a bit disappointing (Darling being left out in the cold could be done without), but this is a band who’ve become such a tight and proficient unit that the euphoria from the unassailable heights of Black Rain or the sugar-coated-yet-still-gritty hooks of Winona Forever and Suzanne are more or less flawless at this point. A closing run of Hiding With Boys introduced by Hannah Greenwood’s beautiful keyboard rendition feels like the cherry on top of the mountainous cake of reasons for why Creeper are just one of the best to do it, and with a crowd that’s been thoroughly won over, there’s not a stage in the world they couldn’t conquer at this point. Those My Chemical Romance stadium shows still need a support act – just sayin’.
But even after a performance like that – a headline-calibre performance that’s etched Creeper in the books ready to hit the big time all on their own – there’s nothing quite like the ripple of anticipation from a dedicated Babymetal (9) crowd, mostly because the live prowess they’ve displayed pretty much since the beginning speaks for itself. And for all assertions that self-serious metalheads will make about Japanese girls performing choreographed dance routines to a melodeath backdrop, to see Babymetal in the flesh and not be phenomenally entertained from start to finish would take a curmudgeon of the highest order. Both Su-metal and Moametal (along with a third live recruit to complete their trademark Triangle Formation) bring a spryness and an energy that’s just not a factor anywhere else in the genre, and there’s an inherent entertainment value that comes from just watching these routines and seeing how much of the overall spectacle they comprise.
It’s honestly surprising how much of a factor that still is considering the relative scaling back of this show as a whole. It was obviously always going to have a place, especially when there’s already such a heavy emphasis on the matching costumes and the anonymity of the Kami Band in their masks and cloaks, but the imagery projected behind them feels like an integral part of the Babymetal mythos that the show does undoubtedly benefit from. It’s all totally overblown and not taking itself seriously in the slightest, as one would expect from the army of Cossack-dancing robots modelled after Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén during Oh! MAJINAI, but the space and cyberpunk aesthetic is given a prominence that’s wonderfully realised throughout. The pre-recorded live footage isn’t quite as strong, particularly when it sinks in that this is probably meant to simulate the moment-to-moment events of the show which makes any deviations feel a bit uncanny, but even in these smaller confines, this isn’t a show that’s been skimped on; it’s still the big-budget, theatrical experience that Babymetal have made their bread and butter, and even with the limitations that are present, it’s hardly detrimental.
And while all of that has been given pride of position here without even a mention of the music itself thus far, that’s an unavoidable reality. The show is as integral to the Babymetal live experience as the music, perhaps even more so, and to disregard that out of fear of exposing the manufactured nature of it all (as if that was a fear in the first place) would be ultimately doing a disservice to how much goes into making this a rounded performance. Having said that, it does feel like this wouldn’t come together as much as it does if the music wasn’t as effective as it is, and between the tightness of the band themselves that can and do get remarkably heavy to some surprisingly clear sound that mightn’t be quite as airtight as on record but isn’t that far off, again, it’s hard not to sit back and marvel at how few punches have been pulled. Gimme Chocolate!! remains a relic of a time when the genre-blending wasn’t quite as refined, but it’s easily made up for by the laser-focused punches of DA DA DANCE and Shanti Shanti Shanti that sound utterly phenomenal, while the hip-hop-adjacent swagger of BxMxC and the more traditional metal burliness of Karate and the chaotic Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!! prove that gimmickry really isn’t needed in the capacity that many believe it to be. That’s not to say it’s not there entirely, but it’s part of the fun all the same, especially in a closer like Road To Resistance that goes all out on the power-metal flashiness and pomp, and condenses every element of Babymetal into its most potent form. It’s, in every regard, the pinnacle of what can be achieved of a metal show of this size, in terms of sound, imagery, performance and the synergy between the three, and considering that they’ve been the ones to push those limits in pretty much every venue they’ve set foot in, it only seems right that Babymetal are setting those limits once again. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to see those limits been redrawn with much haste by anyone else in the future.
Words by Luke Nuttall