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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.)