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Music Review: Various Artists – A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos

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Hi there, it’s the Raucous Rocker, and it’s Christmas time! Hopefully everyone else is having as good of a holiday as I am, and I would like to take this time to wish everyone Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays! Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to business: heavy metal!

How do metal and Christmas come together? If you’ve ever searched for an answer to this question, you’ve likely come across Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band that got famous mostly by just playing Christmas metal songs. But we’re not going to talk about them today, we’re going to dive in a little deeper as we usually do, and review for the first time a CD, not a band. This is my special Christmas review of A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos!

I wasn’t really sure about this when I first discovered it–was it just random metal bands doing covers of Christmas carols? Well, it turns out yes, that’s what it is, but fortunately, they’re all underground metal bands which are the ones I most like to review. Although it doesn’t really matter much in the long run, all of the groups are Christian metal bands, and the songs are all religious songs like “Angels We Have Heard On High’” rather than Christmas songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (boy, that would be something to hear a metal version of!). I would make some kind of comment to those weird Satan worshipping metalheads not to come on and troll the bands, but let’s face it, that would require them actually going onto the Internet and reading something that isn’t lyrics to a cheesy Immortal song.   I think it would be more likely for Metallica to release a good album than for that to happen. Anyway, let’s begin–I’ll be going in order of the tracks, and at the end of my comments on each song I will give it a rating from 1 to 10 and at the end I will rate the entire album 1 to 10. Got it? Okay, here we go.

1. “Angels We Have Heard on High” by Archer. Archer seems like a heavy/power metal band, and this song clearly displays it. It begins with some catchy guitar riffs playing the chorus of the song before speeding up and allowing the vocalist to enter the fray. Near the end of the song, a frantic guitar solo breaks out, something I’ve always wanted to hear in a Christmas song.  Wouldn’t that be cool if you were just walking through the mall and all of a sudden during the middle of “Jingle Bells” a guitar entered and broke out into a lightning fast guitar solo? Anyway, the worst part of this song is the vocals; the instrumentation is excellent but the vocalist seems to be having trouble keeping up with the instruments.  Although he’s trying to hit certain notes, his vocal range just doesn’t allow it. Ah well, it’s still a good song and a nice opener for this album. 7.5/10

2. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” by Kekal. This is a really, really weird cover, something I didn’t expect to hear from this album. Kekal, according to various sources, is a very experimental avant-garde metal band, and as on Archer’s cover, it really shows here. The guitars and drums just play black metal-sounding material for most of the song, and there’s no solo like in Archer’s cover, but the vocals. . .man they’re weird. The vocalist switches between three voices: a traditional black metal voice; a deeper voice that might actually sound natural singing a Christmas carol; and a crazy falsetto which sounds like an even more bizarre version of Rob Halford’s. It’s an okay cover, not as good as Archer’s but the vocals are pretty entertaining. 7/10

3. “Mary Did You Know” by Royal Anguish. So far, this is my favorite song off of the album; I like the song even without metal, and with metal accompaniment it just becomes even more awesome. While the instrumentation is only about average, as are the vocals, it somehow comes all together to form an excellent cover. Keyboards add a nice touch while the vocals lead the metal charge. 8/10

4. “Coventry Carol” by Frank’s Enemy. This song starts with a cool intro featuring what sounds like a church organ and a very strange falsetto voice singing in the background. I don’t know why there are so many falsettos on this album, but whatever. Anyway, the intro continues for almost two minutes, after a while becoming so creepy that it would likely be better suited for a Halloween themed album, and then cue the metal! The guitar and drums come in along with. . .pig squeals. Oh wow, I hate pig squeals; they’re like the most annoying form of vocalization ever. And in a Christmas carol, really? It comes as a great relief when the falsetto and organ come back, although by now the falsetto is so strained it sounds just plain stupid. The song then dies down, thankfully with no more pig squeal interruptions, and ends. 5/10

5. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/O Come Emmanuel” by Frost Like Ashes. This band is the only one on this entire CD that I was aware of before listening to the entire thing, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Like the last song it has a good opening, this time with a harpsichord, before breaking into a stereotypical black metal sound until nearly three minutes in, when what sounds like a miniature choir joins in the song (which is kind of interesting but not really anything special). The instruments are standard, the vocalist is good for a black metal vocalist, but the drumming reminds me of the horrible snare on Metallica’s St. Anger album. 6/10

6. “The Little Drummer Boy” by Tortured Conscience. Let me tell you right now that this is one of the worst song pair-ups on the entire CD; I mean, a grindcore band trying to play “Little Drummer Boy?”  It starts out, predictably enough, with some drumming before the vocals enter, and that is where it starts to go downhill really fast. All I can think about during this cover is the Little Drummer Boy going insane and attacking Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus with his drumsticks. 4/10

7. “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Hearken. Yet another miss, this time a (painfully average sounding) brutal death metal band covering “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  Based on the songs that were selected to be on the CD and the bands chosen to perform them, I would have thought they would have wanted to be sincere, but by this point it’s just starting to sound like a big parody CD, like a bunch of bands got together and wanted to make fun of Christmas carols by making death metal versions of them. Hopefully we’ll get some better bands coming up. 4.5/10

8. “Child Messiah” by Death Requisite. The best way to explain this band and song is good quality black metal (I didn’t think it existed either) with a guitarist who actually knows what he’s doing. IT’s a pretty boring song; black metal fans would love it, but I can’t get into it. It does have a pretty cool keyboard outro though. 6/10

9. “O Holy Night” by EverSINcEve. Yeah, that’s really how they spell it, capitals and everything. I guess it’s pointing out how Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, but it just looks weird. Anyway, this cover is better than the last several but still not great; the metal is catchy but the singer is terrible.  His voice is all right, but he seems to have absolutely no idea how to incorporate pitch or tune into singing; hitting the correct note is a rare occurrence for him. After a while another voice, this one screaming,  joins in, making it even worse. He leaves after some time and the instruments play for a bit, but this song goes on for over seven minutes! WHY? 6.5/10

10. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Take 2)” by Faithbomb. Yeah, I guess they figured Kekal didn’t do a good enough job, so they had to get someone else to give it a shot. Well, this song is worse than Kekal’s and all I can say is that I quite understand how the “bomb” got in “Faithbomb.” This song is just over a minute and still manages to annoy.  The singer is pretty bad, the instrumentation is of poor quality, and the guitars are almost completely overwhelmed by the drums for the whole song. 4.5/10

11. “Joy to the World” by Pure Defiance. It’s the last song–about time! I’m pleased to say, however, that this song is not nearly as bad as most of the others; it’s actually fairly good due to having a guitar solo and a prominent bass. However, it becomes repetitive quickly and the singer, like the singer from EverSINcEve, has very poor knowledge of proper singing.  He’s constantly going in and out of tune, which kind of ruins the song. There is no joy to the world to be found here. 6/10

This album was kind of a disappointment for me; I guess I figured Christians singing Christmas carols would be a little more passionate. There are some good bands like Archer and Royal Anguish (a band I might actually check out), but the overuse of death metal bands, poor vocalists, and the bad quality many of the tracks possess cause the album to fall flat. Immediately after the final song ended, I found a Black Label Society cover of “The First Noel,” which I found myself enjoying much more than the rest of the album. Anyway, that’s all I have for you all–have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you in 2012!

A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos gets a 5.5 out of 10.

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