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Who would have honestly thought that a Rob Halford holiday album would be superior to his latest effort with Judas Priest? When I first heard about this release, I cringed, as it seemed like an awkward and poor decision. I was expecting Rob to lend his voice to more traditional versions of these songs, but it turns out that he has metalized each of the covers, more or less successfully.
Winter Songs features a mix of classics and new originals, and at the very least, you could say Rob's voice is still in fine form. Most of the traditional tunes like "We Three Kings", "What Child is This", and "Come All Ye Faithful", sound much like you'd expect a metal cover to sound like. The vocal melodies remain the same as ever, but having Halford's cutting shriek atop them is not a horrible interpretation. As for the originals, it's a mixed bag. "Get Into the Spirit" features some good melodic lines and the more aggressive vocal edge ala Painkiller, all dowsing the low end groove and chug of the Halford solo albums. "Winter Song" is a passeable ballad with a 70s atmosphere, Rob's voice wavering over bells and bluesy solos. The rest of the album is hardly worth mentioning.
On paper this idea may have seemed corny, but the finished product is not nearly as bad as it could have been. The mix seems a little lo-fi, but I wouldn't expect much effort for an album of this sort, released largely for fun and probably, because Rob always wanted to lend his voice to these tunes. Do the songs live up to the great pair of solo albums he's released, or the Priest discography up to and including 1990? Absolutely not. But it's a lot less disappointing than Nostradamus.
Highlights: Get Into the Spirit, We Three Kings, What Child Is This
When I first heard that our dearest Metal God Rob Halford had some plans to release a Christmas album with the Halford band, I really gave up on the man. Every time I seem convinced the man has lost his voice, and when you see his live performances I am totally right, but somehow in the studio he manages to sing decently. Then there’s the choice of Christmas songs; despite three new songs he chose seven Christmas classics we all know but that almost never are done on other metal Christmas albums. How come? I’m very glad he did not choose to cover the most commercial songs like “We Wish You a Merry X-mas” or “Jingle Bells”. Instead, the man chose Christmas tunes with truly beautiful melodies that are fit for metal versions than those happy commercial ones. But how did the Halford band deliver those songs and is the album any good?
Opening track “Get into the Spirit” is not a Christmas classic, but a brand new Halford track through and through. We have the typical Halford heaviness and riffs and the band is doing great. Rob Halford however can no longer reach the “Painkiller”-heights here, but he does try to sing high-pitched again. This results in a Mickey Mouse parody. He swallowed helium to get this weird voice, and no matter what people say, this is not even comparable to what Halford does on “Betrayal” or “Resurrection”. He tries to do what he no longer can. And frankly, the Mickey Mouse Halford is actually quite funny in the end, leaving this song as okay. It’s really saved by Halfords backing band. Other self-written tracks on here are “I Don’t Care” and “Christmas for Everyone” and they are the weakest of the songs present on this release. The first sounds like some cliché 80s metal song with the cheesy Christmas ambience you’d expect metal to deliver and the second is a very wrong and awkward piece of... music? It’s fucking abominable! Cheesy bells ringing, horrible vocals and terrible arrangements. Didn’t they listen to it before they got it out as a single for Christ’s sake? Ah well, luckily we have a few traditional Christmas songs that always sound good, even when Rob Halford puts his fingerprints on them.
And damn right that is! First Christmas tune we’ll come across is “We Three Kings”, and boy this song sounds powerful! There is this terrific guitar riff added to the song and a firm double bass rhythm to accompany, not to mention the great solo. The only weak thing on this song is Halfords vocals, which are very low. I know his range is decreasing rapidly, but he could’ve at least sung as if he enjoyed himself? Then there is “Oh Come O Come Emmanuel”, another one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time and this one they can be proud of. This time we don’t have a Halford spoiling the vocals-department and we have a really successful conversion. One of my favorite songs on this album must be “Winter Song”. Even though this song is more pop-oriented in arrangements, this is by far Halfords best vocal performance and it is such a great ballad! We still have a few Christmas songs converted to metal left to discuss, but I’ll cut it short. The other songs are beautiful. They might not be total metal arrangements, but the band plays it so well and Rob Halford sings real well on his normal voice. Especially “Oh Holy Night” deserves a mention and so does well-chosen album closer “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. There’s really a powerful ambience on this album and the entire band performs great.
In short, the Halford band created a great Christmas album. Even though it goes wrong on a few songs, the others make up for them. This release is one of the more gentle Halford releases ever and shows a whole different side of the band. And although the man sounds weak at some points, Rob Halford convinced me that he can still sing beautifully and full of emotion. This is my new favorite Christmas album and I highly recommend this to those who are interested.
Strongest tracks: “Winter Song”, “Oh Holy Night”, “Oh Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”.
Weakest tracks: “Christmas for Everyone” and “I Don’t Care”.
I know there will be metal fans who will be completely dismissive of this project by Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. "A Christmas album from the Metal God? What rubbish!" But if you're a little more open-minded, and simply want to have some fun, check this record out. It's not the worst Christmas album I've ever heard, and it's not the worst work by Halford I've ever heard, either.
For one thing, Halford's voice still sounds amazing. Very few singers of any age have the sheer power and range of Rob Halford. I won't pretend that he sounds exactly the same as he did in the old days of Judas Priest, but he still can sing...well. The song writing/arranging on the record is pretty creative, as well. The title track shows a much more sensitive Halford than usual. A track with a (dare I say?) pop feel to it, "Winter Song" shows a reflective side of the metal god that one rarely hears. But he can still scream on the upbeat rockers. The opening track "Get Into the Spirit" shows off the more "traditional" side (metallically speaking) of Rob Halford. Judging from the music video of the track, the band had a considerable amount of fun recording this stuff, and "Get Into the Spirit" reflects that sense of fun.
Some of the Christmas classics really work amazingly well in the metal idiom. "We Three Kings" (always one of my favorite Christmas tunes) has never rocked harder. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (technically an Advent song) has had its tune adjusted a bit, but the overall contour of the original is intact. Some JP fans will probably not appreciate the lighter, Mannheim Steamroller/Trans-Siberian Orchestra feel of arrangements such as "What Child Is This?" But I doubt Halford and company really are too worried about what the metalheads think of them on this record. My sense of the whole album is that the band and their leader simply wanted to have a good time trying their hand at the classics that they (and most of us) have grown up with. The original tunes are a little more of a mixed bag. The aforementioned "Get Into the Spirit" is a fun rocker that has an admirably Judas Priest-ish feel to it, but "Light of the World" sounds more like David Bowie. Pretty, but not especially impressive.
As a Christian, I can't help wondering what Halford's personal feelings about the Nativity are. After all, he's chosen a good number of explicitly religious Christmas tunes for this album, rather than the many secular Christmas songs out there. In fact, one of the more secular tunes on the Winter Songs album is the relatively unimpressive "Christmas for Everyone." Despite the bells ringing, the tune is a throwaway. The metal virtuoso really shines on the religious stuff, interestingly enough. "O Holy Night," for example, gives the lead guitar a chance to let loose, and Halford's wails at the end are treat. (Eat your heart out, Andrea Bocelli!) And I'd rather listen to Halford's "O Come All Ye Faithful" than Bing Crosby's Latin/English crooning. Halford's rendition is truly majestic.
Simple fact is, many famous Christmas albums have been done by non-Christians (Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand), and Halford has joined his voice in with the rest of the throng here. I find the attempt to be quite admirable. This holiday season, forget Bob Dylan's Christmas album. As you're tipping more rum into the punch, put on Halford III: Winter Songs, and crank up the speakers. Your kids will thank you for it...Santa Claus will thank you for it. (Santa won't mind a little extra rum in his punch, either.)