Published Jan 26, 2021It's been a good decade for heavy music in Japan, but while many of these acts have been enjoying success in Japan and Europe, very few have taken off in North America. You may have heard of BABYMETAL, the band that brought kawaii metal to the world (and became the first Asian act to top Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart), but the vast majority have yet to cross the pond.
You'd be forgiven, then, for never having heard of BAND-MAID. Despite releasing seven records in seven years, touring the world, and hitting the UK charts twice (topping out at No. 4), they've never had any presence in North America. The quintet, founded by guitarist and backup vocalist Miku Kobato, dress in stage garb based on the type of outfit Kobato wore during her time working in a Japanese maid café.
BAND-MAID's hard rock is a mix of bass-heavy punk, garage metal and pop rock. With their latest record, Unseen World, the band largely keep to their formula and deliver head-banging, high-voltage music that's perfect for hitting the highway with the windows rolled down and the volume turned up to 11.
Bassist MISA outdoes herself. She slaps out complex, technical lines like Flea, but pushes her tone into more gainy, heavy territory. She leads "NO GOD," the Motörhead-esque second track, with a nonstop, maximum-attack bass line that breaks out into an eruption of a solo right before the song's culmination. Drummer Akane Hirose fills up the album with an airtight freight train of percussion that incorporates a hint of double-kick, Dave Grohl-esque hand-foot combos, and prog-rock patterns. The vocals, led by Saiku Atsumi and backed by Kobato, absolutely soar in the choruses; in a few songs, Atsumi throws in a sing-rap verse over one of MISA's signature basslines, Chili Peppers style.
Highlight track "MANNERS" takes all these elements and arranges them in a near-perfect form, resulting in a four-minute trance of clean vocal hooks, sneering guitar riffs, and chugging percussion that will push your stereo to its limit.
While the album does largely stay true to BAND-MAID's signature sound, a few songs branch out into unexplored territory. The closing track, "BLACK HOLE," ticks all the BAND-MAID boxes while pushing every element to new extremes. The chorus reaches higher echelons of thrash, the verse reaches new levels of bass-punk attitude, and the bridge is filled with charismatic guitar and vocal riffs. The song, in many ways, represents the band beginning to realize their potential.
BAND-MAID's newfound range makes Unseen World a great album for new listeners, for its approachable-yet-dynamic side can (and will) get anyone hooked, while its more distinctive side showcases the emerging niche the band are making for themselves.
There are other acts in Japan — such as Gacharic Spin and DOLL$BOXX — that have far more adventurous takes on hard rock, and deliver them with more character. But where these acts venture dangerously close to becoming gimmicky, BAND-MAID stay earnest. The quintet are still developing their sound, but Unseen World resembles the beginnings of the personal stamp they're about to establish on the genre. (Pony Canyon)