Welcome to Gay-Nerds biweekly review of music made by members of the GLBT community and their allies. Since Gay-Nerds is trying to get into the holiday spirit, I decided to find a holiday music record that might have some hopes of being played and, more importantly, enjoyed more than once a year. This week, we’re looking at the original head honcho homo of metal to guide us through the hells of holiday shopping and forced pleasantries between fair weathered family.
For those who aren’t familiar with Judas Priest, they were one of the founding fathers of heavy metal, kicked untold sums of ass, and have been lucky enough to enjoy a forty year career out of music. While vocalist Rob Halford’s bandmates always knew he was gay, but he didn’t feel comfortable coming out to the public until 1998, cementing himself as an icon to two vastly different communities. Always keeping busy with multiple projects, Rob decided to make an album of winter songs for his third solo release. Could the motifs of brotherhood, gluttony and spirituality found in holiday music coalesce with metal’s bravado, absurdity and muscle?
Never being one who enjoyed holiday music, I was not looking forward to reviewing this album. There are only a handful of tolerable songs for this time of year (The Beach Boys’ “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, Vince Guaraldi’s score for “A Charlie Brow Christmas”, and Jimmy Eat World’s cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas rounding out the list). The genre, if you can call it that, always reeked of mawkish sentiment and detachment from reality. While a handful of artists have managed to write heartfelt or more realistic accounts of Christmas, the vast majority of holiday music reminds me of painful hours standing in line, sparring matches between relatives, screaming children, and other trademarks of the holiday season. At best, most of these songs are equivalent to nefarious processed cheese; mostly harmless, but clogging every one of your senses.
“Winter Songs” has a 40/60 split between original material and cover songs. The covers tend to lead more towards the spiritual and somber side of the holiday music spectrum, making excellent use of the lower half of Rob’s vocal range. Many of these songs wouldn’t sound out of place in slower, more reflective moments in Judas Priest’s catalog; the minor chords and slowed rhythms give Rob’s voice ample room to shine while the frequent piano adds a touch of vulnerability without sounding weak. Rob also made a wise decision in not hitting his signature wails, allowing the double-drum petal rendition of “We Three Kings” and meat and potatoes interpretation of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” memorable. “Oh Holy Night” becomes a near prom-night slow dance with more power chords. For me, the best moment on the album is when Rob turns Sara Bareilles’ “Winter Song” from a timid whimper to a confident reflection on lost love.
While the assembled forces successfully adapted other’s work into their own sound, their original works are very hit-and-miss. At best, we get the one-two punch of “I Don’t Care” and “Light of the World”, an endearing tale of a man racing home to his lover for Christmas; the southern-tinged rock melds nicely into the near slow-jam. At worst, we get the opening track of “Get Into The Spirit”. I’m sorry, no matter how hard you try, Christmas can’t be that metal; Dethklok couldn’t make Christmas metal with all the pyrotechnics and bloodshed in the world. The song simply tries too hard and sounds like something that should have been pitched by Twisted Sister on their own Christmas album.
I’m relieved to report that Rob and company made a tasteful, mostly painless album for this chaotic time of year. While you won’t find this in your local CVS or Hallmark store, this wouldn’t be a bad compromise gift for the metal fans in your family.
Recommended if you like: Holiday music that isn’t awful, Judas Priest’s “Sin after Sin”, Spinal Tap’s “This is Spinal Tap, Mercyful Fate’s “Melissa”
Rob Halford’s Official Website
Judas Priest’s Official Website
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