Welcome to RIFF Rewind, the column that living legend LeVar Burton once read. LeVar Burton read something I wrote and I’m going to bring that up at every possible opportunity for the rest of my life. But for now I have to write another column that LeVar Burton might (but probably won’t) read.
The other day it was brought to my attention that my friend Allie had never heard of the terrific band called Babymetal. This, inevitably, led to a heavy metal weird-off, where we spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to one-up each other with various cultures’ unexpected takes on metal. And it reminded me once again that face-melting metal is truly the universal language.
So join me, friends, as we go on the closest thing we can get to a vacation at the moment and tour the world via shredding guitars.
Babymetal — “KARATE”
Given the inspiration it only makes sense to start in Japan with the mothers of kawaii metal, Babymetal themselves. This fusion of J-pop idols and genuinely good melodic metal gets made fun of a lot but it’s genuinely good music—and I will fight anyone who disagrees.
I’ve said pretty much all there is to say about them in previous columns, but you should definitely listen to their 2019 album, Metal Galaxy. It’s a world tour of metal unto itself, and the pirate metal song featuring Sabaton frontman Joakim Brodén is worth the price of admission alone, which is free if you have Spotify but you know what I mean.
Bloodywood — “Machi Bhasad”
Allie immediately countered with Bloodywood, an Indian metal band that I didn’t realize I needed in my life before she blessed my ears with their work.
They got their start with metal covers of popular Bollywood songs on YouTube, which is easily one of the best origin stories I’ve heard for a band. But more than that, the fusion of Bollywood and metal is like aural chocolate and peanut butter. I knew it existed, and I’d even listened to some, but this song specifically got me hooked.
Tengger Cavalry — “War Horse”
Let’s stay in Asia for one more track, but move north into the steppes. That’s right: I’m talking about Mongolian folk metal again.
My love of Mongolian folk metal is well-documented, but I will never pass up a chance to mention it again. And of all the Mongolian folk metal—don’t be surprised there’s a lot of it, a country that conquered half the world is bound to lend itself to the genre—Tengger Cavalry is my favorite.
Sadly, the band’s frontman, Nature Ganganbaigal, died in 2019. But the metal will live forever.
Eluveitie — “Thousandfold”
Let’s leave Asia and move west to Europe with another of Allie’s selections.
The whole concept of “Asian fusion” food always bugged me. Asia is a big place, most of the world’s population lives there, you can’t just stick sushi next to pad thai and sweet and sour chicken and declare it a menu, especially since you don’t see that from any other collections of disparate countries.
That’s why I appreciate Eluveitie: They’re European fusion. They’re a band from Switzerland that blends a genre born in Denmark with Celtic folk. It’s a sampler of an entire region of a continent. At least be equal opportunity in your mashups, I say.
Myrath — “Believer”
I was sure I put Myrath in a column before. But the Google can’t find it, and who am I to argue with our all-seeing digital overlords?
Anyway, Myrath is a Tunisian band that blends Middle Eastern and Asian sounds with progressive metal. They call their genre Blazing Desert Metal and I have no reason to argue with them.
Unfortunately, due to the theocratic government of Tunisia not exactly being friendly to their style of music, they’re currently based in France. But the important thing is that they’re still doing their thing.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.