An album of Christmas-themed music from Rob Halford, the self-proclaimed "Metal God", surely qualifies as one of the odder music releases of the year. Halford had the idea in mind years ago, but never got around to fulfilling it due to a busy work schedule (this is his first solo release since rejoining Judas Priest in 2003). The thinking was to put out an album of original and traditional Christmas songs that would both celebrate his favourite time of the year (who knew?) and throw his fans and critics for a loop. Job completed on the latter.
Opener "Get Into The Spirit" certainly doesn't sound Christmas-y, aside from the lyrics. It's a gut punching mix of loud guitars, double bass drums, and Halford's distinct wail. And it röcks. If this album somehow makes its way into the CD player on Christmas Eve with the family gathered around the tree then I give it about 10 seconds of life before somebody old replaces it with something tamer...which would be just about anything else. Second track "We Three Kings" completely transforms the traditional number into an even more amped up metal stew than its predecessor, this time with some piano thrown in that somehow manages to stand out amongst the jackhammer drums and extended guitar solos.
"Winter Song" brings a nice change of pace four songs into the album, exchanging the metal for mellow. It's a cover of a song by, of all people, pop singer Sara Bareilles (of 2007 hit single "Love Song" fame). Halford and his production team use piano, xylophone, a string section, trippy keyboard effects, and some tasteful blues guitar in their arrangement, resulting in one of the best songs I've ever heard from him. I'll even go as far to say it's one of the best songs I heard this year.
The album sags somewhat in the middle with the leaden "I Don't Care", which probably should have given way to another traditional number. "Christmas For Everyone" is a tad stronger, but serves as more of a curiosity. It's downright surreal hearing a fun Christmas song with chiming bells and honky tonk piano from the almost always serious Halford. Case in point, his last album with Priest was a bloated double length concept album about Nostradamus. Lots of levity there, no doubt.
The final three tracks breathe life back into things, even if the songs are all in the moody, more restrained vein of the title track. Album closer "O Come All Ye Faithful" rolls out a military style percussion arrangement to lift it up to epic heights, aided by Halford's bombastic vocals.
Winter Songs likely won't find a future on any holiday playlists at the local malls, but it's a damn sight better than the other limited options out there for metal fans, such as A Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister or anything by the awful Transyberian Orchestra.