Sound: After seeing one too many Clay Aiken or Celine Dion Christmas albums staring at me in Best Buy, I've become a little leery of any contemporary holiday record in the past. These particular types of releases tend to scream commercialism and the producers do very little to bring anything new to standard carols. Well, that was until We Wish You A Metal Xmas And A Headbanging New Year came to my attention. My gut reaction was too be scared by what might pour of my speakers, but this Christmas album was not only far from a disappointment, it's possibly one of the most satisfying surprises of 2008. With a guest list that includes some of the most iconic names in rock (Tony Iommi, Steve Morse, Lemmy Kilmister, and Alice Cooper among others), each track on We Wish You A Metal Xmas is a distinct entity that completely fits the players behind it.
Twisted Sister's 2006 album A Twisted Christmas undoubtedly had a hand in inspiring We Wish You A Metal Xmas, and Dee Snider's spin on carols was a fun listen in its own right. I wouldn't go so far as to say that We Wish You A Metal Xmas takes itself terribly seriously, but good Lord, a lot of time was spent in the arrangements. With such musical dynamos as Billy Sheehan, John 5, and George Lynch lending their talents to the songs, the album is both technically impressive and, more importantly, filled with grooving hooks and jaw-dropping solos. There are some tracks that are more impressive than others (usually the result of whoever is on vocals), but as novelty albums go, We Wish You A Metal Xmas is a solid offering.
The highlight of the CD is easily God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, performed by Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright. You can tell that it's the English traditional underneath it all, but the band completely transforms the song to sound like something from the heyday of Black Sabbath. The lead riff is dark and foreboding, oozing Iommi's brilliance all over the place. Of course, Dio sounds as good as he did on Holy Diver and provides the track with a larger-than-life narrative.
Alice Cooper's take on Santa Claws Is Coming To Town (yes, Claws) is morphed into more of a nightmarish soundscape, particularly in the introduction. Although the song does tend to take a turn for the more traditional version during the middle, guitarist John 5 provides enough crazy solo work to keep your attention. Queensryche's Geoff Tate ably delivers a sped-up, metalized Silver Bells, while Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister opts for a straightforward, Chuck Berry-ish Run Rudolph Run (with Dave Grohl and Billy F. Gibbons). Providing the only ballad of the bunch is Tommy Shaw with Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (backed by Steve Lukather, Marco Mendoza, and Kenny Aronoff), and it's a respectful and impressive version of the John Lennon classic.
Each song conforms to the players' own styles, and usually that produces stellar resultsat least most of the time. Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer has always been good, cheesy fun, but it tends to get a tad drawn out with Ratt's Stephen Pearcy on vocals. While the guitars sound great thanks to the gritty Les Paul work of Tracii Guns, Pearcy basically just talks more than anything and it tends to get a bit dull after awhile - especially considering it follows Oni Logan's brilliant vocal work on Deck The Halls. // 9
Lyrics: There are no original compositions on We Wish You A Metal Xmas, which is probably for the best. These days contemporary artists tend to sound either overly preachy or cheesy when put in charge of writing a holiday song. In any case, you'll likely recognize all of the tracks, which include a good mix of religious and secular holiday songs. // 10
Overall Impression: Some listeners will immediately feel uncomfortable in hearing respected metal musicians take on tunes that everyone from Pat Boone to John Denver has tackled in the past. It's better to just listen to We Wish You A Metal Xmas with a completely open mind, and I can promise you that at the very least you'll be left impressed by the amazing guitar work. And I don't just mean the solos - these musicians took a lot of effort to take tired songs and inject them with some fresh, new ideas underneath the choruses and verses. The concept could have fallen flat with a bad batch of musicians, but it's very hard to go wrong when you've got the likes of Dave Grohl and Tony Iommi on board. // 9