As you've probably figured out by now, I tend to gravitate toward the darkest, most evil music of every possible stripe. However, you may be shocked to your core to learn that I'm also a pretty big fan of the holiday season, and I still have fond memories of the Christmas carols my musically-inclined family played and sang throughout my early childhood. This presents a bit of a dilemma for irredeemably corrupted kids like us: how can we unite our passion for horror and extreme music with our nostalgia for warm and fuzzy holiday sing-alongs? Apparently J.J. Hrubovcak, bassist for the legendary death metal band Hate Eternal, was faced with the same conundrum... but he found a way to apply his diabolical skills to an original and totally twisted solution.
The result is Death Metal Christmas: Hellish Renditions of Christmas Classics – which, as the old saying goes, is exactly what you think it is. Hrubovcak teamed up with his brother Mike (vocalist for extreme metallers Monstrosity and Vile) and his Hate Eternal bandmate Erik Rutan (a legendary guitarist and producer in his own right) to assemble an EP of five beloved holiday tunes with a decidedly sinister slant. The original songs themselves are rendered in two ways: as traditional arrangements with familiar melodies, and as a springboard for straightforward metal compositions. That's not the unique part, however: in a surreal twist, the metalized versions are mixed together with the melodies of the old standards. The result is not so much a novelty piece as a strange and fascinating experiment in extreme music that stands up well on its own.
J.J. Hrubovcak (photo © Mellotronic Photography)
Now for the part that's certain to ruffle some folks' feathers: to create a thoroughly blackened holiday concept, the Hrubovcak brothers substituted apocalyptic mythology in place of the familiar biblical references, with the Nativity story now centering on Azrael, who figures in many religious texts as the Angel of Death. The lyrics for these songs fall in line with that concept, presenting the baby Azrael as not a future savior, but the ultimate destroyer of mankind. If that's too shocking for you to digest, it's a foregone conclusion you're not going to dig the contents of this album. The rest of you are in for a wild and thoroughly entertaining ride, so buckle up.
In the first brutal helping of holiday anti-cheer “Unrest for Melancholy Men,” the Hrubovcak team wastes no time ripping into the familiar blastbeats and blistering tremolos that are Hate Eternal's stock in trade, while the melodic line of the original carol is maintained by relatively straightforward mid-tempo guitar chords that remain fairly prominent in an otherwise chaotic mix. Mike's guttural vocals fall squarely into the death metal style, but the lyrics are actually quite easy to follow... and if you know the original tunes, you'll find yourself unconsciously flinching in shock at some of the darker variations on the theme. But it's the grim, down-tempo “Earthen Kings” that really sells the concept, painting images of cosmic doom, carried on the same 3/4 time signature as the original “We Three Kings.”
Not even the kid-friendly sparkles of “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky's beloved Nutcracker Suite are safe from the Hrubovcak brothers' onslaught, but I've got to say this instrumental track – which begins with the opening bars of an orchestral version before launching into a feast of epic technical death metal – is pretty badass. The old English madrigal “Greensleeves,” which you may remember in its Christmas version,“What Child is This?” gets a similar violent deconstruction, though not nearly as inventive or entertaining. The EP closes with the slow, ominous, dissonant and experimental dirge “O Come, O Come, Azrael,” which is sincere enough in its evil mission to smack that confused look right off your face, especially at the crazed balls-to-the-wall conclusion.
If you're looking for the must unorthodox and challenging renditions of vintage carols and old-time madrigals ever recorded, or just want to hear one of the more fascinating death metal concept records, you should give yourself the gift of Death Metal Christmas this holiday season. It's available now at the project's Bandcamp page, but be sure to also visit DeathMetalChristmas.com, where you can read the original and updated song lyrics – you know, in case you want to serenade your neighbors this year for a Christmas Eve they'll never forget.