In what is developing into an annual tradition with last year’s Monster Ballads Xmas and A Twisted Christmas the year prior, the heavy metal parade this year lines up somewhere between the North Pole and the hallowed nativity with the marching feet barely out of the pentagram circle for We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year.
If there’s any difference between We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year and say, Monster Ballads Xmas (blunt heaviness of the former aside), it’s the fact this stable of metalhead carolers bears a mixture of players of the scene versus entire bands. With nearly as much classic rock and metal (and a handful of new gen players) constituents wrangled beneath one banner as Hear ‘n Aid, We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year is a largely funmetal social mixer.
Just to hear Lemmy of Motorhead juke out a shucking version of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” with Dave Navarro and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is a crowd-pleasing ditty, while Alice Cooper (who is having a banner year with his back-to-horror-business Along Came a Spider) gets away with murder by turning a terror-laced tweak upon a jolly yule classic with “Santa Claws Is Coming to Town.” Aiding Cooper on his shriek-filled monster mash Santa-style is Vinnie Appice, Billy Sheehan and John 5.
The name of the game with We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year is to not only heavy up traditional holiday hymns and carols, but to also mingle the players together, some to obvious effect, some not so much but to pleasantly hip delight in many cases. Sure, you can expect Ronnie James Dio with past and present cohorts Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo and Simon Wright to do up a droning doom-laden take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” You can also expect Tommy Shaw of Styx and Damn Yankees to do a by-the-numbers aspirant take on John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Blue Murder’s Marco Mendoza and rock drummer journeyman Kenny Aronoff.
You get Stephen Pearcy and Tracii Guns doing a sloshy play on the already unscrupulous “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” with the David Lee Roth band-reunited Billy Sheehan and Greg Bisonnette along with Bob Kulick (Bob and his bro, former Kiss axe slinger Bruce check in all over the place on this album). You get Tim “Ripper” Owens wailing like a wildcat all over the greasy lickin’ good “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” with Marco Mendoza and Vinny Appice as well as Juan Garcia and the Dixie Dregs’ Steve Morse.
One of the coolest cuts on We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year is dUg Pinnick of King’s X leading a gorgeous and soulful send-up of “Little Drummer Boy” with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Prayerbox/The Orb’s Simon Phillips. Pinnick, who is always reliable to carry any tune with calm syncopation is the glue to this laidback sidewalk ditty based on a Christian staple.
On the other hand, Testament’s Chuck Billy and his demolition squad of Anthrax’s Scott Ian, Testament/Slayer/Exodus/White Zombie drummer John Tempesta, Shadows Fall’s Jon Donais and The Cult’s Chris Wyse rip out a hilarious thrash version of “Silent Night”upon which Chuck Billy pukes all over the words. Hard to take the song’s message of hope and peace to any kind of heart with these guys going positively berserk on it; however, this may be the greatest cut of “Silent Night” outside a conventional chorus version, if not the nastiest. If you thought Six Feet Under’s roasting of AC/DC’sBack in Black album was a hoot, you’ll be busting a gut over this blazing and brutal “Silent Night.”
Unfortunately, the mix of Geoff Tate’s sometimes overcooked vocals for “Silver Bells” overpowers his rhythm section of Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier, while you do have to chuckle as Ronnie James Dio well-dramatizes “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” with slow-brewedirony. Of course, Cavazo peels off a wicked cool solo on “Silver Bells” and the main rhythm drives along admirably, while Tony Iommi is a harbinger of the proverbial ghost of Christmas future with his iron-shackled power riffs.
Good to see Jeff Scott Soto getting loose on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” following his unceremonious departure from Journey (viva la Panther, Jeff!) and perhaps there’s a subtle statement of accord that the former Yngwie Malmsteen frontman rubs elbows with the impresario’s current vocalist (“Ripper” Owens) on the same project. This is the inherent avowal of We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year, to align a heavy metal get-together in the spirit of unity and goodwill. As Soto interchanges between “We wish you a merry Christmas” and “We wish you a metal Christmas,” therein lies all the spice you need to make that heavy rocking egg nog more palatable.
Various Artists – We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year
review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.