Ho ho ho! The Christmas season is upon us, and as the holiday draws nigh, thoughts turn to chestnuts, eggnog, peace on Earth and… death metal??? Apparently Hate Eternal bassist and man of good cheer, J.J. Hrubovcak felt Trans-Siberian Orchestra weren’t stuffing enough metal in the stocking, so he decided to craft a short, vicious collection of harrowing carols. Since Christmas is a time for family, it’s appropriate that J.J. handles bass, guitar and drums and brings in his brother Mike (Monstrosity, Vile) to provide death croaks. While clearly a novelty and easily dismissed as such, the five classic Christmas songs that get deathified are done so seriously and sound so sincere that it actually becomes a worthwhile, if unusual listen.
This admittedly tenuous concept works as well as it does largely because they avoid hokey, cornball tunes like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or, Heaven forbid, the execrable “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Instead, they wisely went with darker, more somber choices like “We Three Kings” and “Greensleeves.” These classics are then whipsawed into broootal death metal along the lines of Morbid Angel, Massacre and naturally, Hate Eternal.
The very fact these ancient ditties work so effectively in this new light is a tribute to the musical skills of Mr. Hrubovcak. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” becomes a slow, slithering and malevolent work, quite like Morbid Angel‘s “God of Emptiness” mixed with Massacre‘s “Corpsegrinder.” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” alternates between a Nile and Immolation approach and “We Three Kings” flits between quasi-funeral doom and brutal blasting. Even their take on “Nutcracker” cracks plenty of nuts and I find it more enjoyable than the over-the-top, symphonic silliness T.S.O. brought to bear when they attempted it. Hell, even the newly evil lyrics work after a fashion.
J.J.’s performance left me very impressed on several levels. His guitar-work is sharp and manages to be both crushingly heavy and tastefully melodic. I especially enjoyed his Rick Rozz-esque whammy dives. His drumming is even more of a revelation and I’m quite taken by the brutal, yet oddly technical kit session he turns in. His fills and rolls are slick and help make the songs pop and his penchant for festive blast beats is admirable. Mike Hrubovcak’s death roars are solid too and he delivers the same kind of super low, deep belch that David Vincent once made so compelling.
The production (courtesy of band mate Erik Rutan) is good, the vocals sound huge and oppressive and the drums have a ton of power. The guitar tone is ugly enough to punish, but clear enough for the melodic, somewhat techy moments to be appreciated. The only downside is the largely inaudible bass, which is weird, since J.J. is a bassist first and foremost.
At the end of the day, this is still a seasonal novelty album, but it’s worth a listen due to the surprising quality of the music. If you miss it, yule be sorry! Hail Santa.