Schaffer/Barlow Project – Winter Nights Review

It was all fun and games at first. “Give the n00b this symphonic power Christmas album. That’ll weed him out.” Everyone had a good laugh, and I survived the ordeal, but then there was precedent. So the following year, a second flaming bag of reindeer shit marked “Christmas Cookies” was ding-dong-ditched at my be-wreathed door. I played along while Steel and AMG giggled behind the bushes. But when a seasonal lump of coal by power metal power players shows up in the promo bin, suddenly it’s not so funny. Suddenly there are whisperings in the break room. “Don’t give it to Cherd. He doesn’t even like power metal.” “I heard he doesn’t even celebrate Christmas. Didn’t someone say he’s Jewish?”1 Well guess what bitches, I’m subjecting myself to this one out of spite. I’m strapping a goat horn to my dog, painting my 2003 Buick LaSabre red and riding that thing down the mountain right into the middle of Whoville so I can swipe Metal Christmas out from under your shiny red noses.2

The album causing my cohort’s trepidation is Winter Nights by Schaffer / Barlow Project. That would be John Schaffer and Matt Barlow, current and former members of some band called (checks notes) Purgatory. Their first release under Schaffer / Barlow Project, one gets the feeling this may be a novelty one-off. You’ve done everything else in your career, why not wait for an historically awful year, when the earth is iced in cruel winter, then release some festive Christmas covers and a couple back catalogue reworks to cynically cash in help spread some cheer? Well, it’s the cheer spreading I’ll scrutinize first. The duo skew religious and somber with their cover selections. No toe tappers here, but there are two dour versions of “Silent Night”, a “Little Drummer Boy” rendition, and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which, while normally rather upbeat, has been turned into a slow to mid-paced chug-a-thon.

In fact, most of the traditional material on Winter Nights has been translated into tepid, generically chuggy metal versions. Opener “We Three Kings” escapes the languor a bit, being one of the few carols that sounds badass to begin with. Schaffer and Barlow give it a dramatic metal intro befitting the scene veterans they are before going low-key for the first verse. One pictures Barlow slightly hunched over, Santa hat tilted to one side, hand slowly reaching forward as he breathily croons “We three kings of Orient are…” They put the “go big” moments in the right places, and this is definitely more metal than the last two wrinkled fruitcakes I was forced to review, but that isn’t saying much. The first “Silent Night” follows with immediately diminishing returns. There’s just something about a steady chug and mildly symphonic synths slouching towards Bethlehem while semi-harsh vocals growl “‘Round yon virgin” that fills me with nope. Somehow worse are the two reworks of past hits. “I Died for You” and “Watching Over Me,” from 90s albums The Dark Saga and Something Wicked This Way Comes, respectively, are given relatively faithful makeovers that still manage to remove what little bite the originals had.3 They don’t make sense on a Christmas album, but they do maintain the listless pace of the other songs, so aesthetically they fit.

I’m not falling on my knees or hearing angel voices when I listen to Winter Nights, but there are tolerable moments. As noted, “We Three Kings” isn’t terrible, but the real rum in the eggnog is the second half of “Little Drummer Boy.” The song starts as you’d expect, with a measured pace and actual drums performing the “pa-rumpa-pum-pum,” but after a chuggy build-up, the song takes off. Up to this point, the album has been mostly a snooze, so when the song starts to gallop, Barlow’s vocals kick up a few octaves and Schaffer’s guitar solo lends some much needed character, I can’t help but crack a smile. A nativity montage flashes into my mind. A poor drummer boy strikes his instrument as Mary and Joseph exchange a weary but contented glance. Shepards solemnly kneel in the straw. Cut to Goose and Maverick high-fiving in front of their fighter jet. Three wise men on camels follow a star in the night. Cut to Prince Adam of Eternia holding the Sword of Power aloft as he transforms into He-Man. Meanwhile Harod orders the Massacre of the Innocents in a fit of jealous rage. He-Man warns Mary and Joseph and they smuggle Jesus out in Maverick’s F-14 Tomcat. Harod and Skeletor shake their fists at the sky as their fighter jets crash into a mountain. The greatest story ever told. 

In the end, the relative lack of these bombastic moments keep Winter Nights from being a Christmas miracle. Most of the traditional covers are uninspired and Schaffer / Barlow Project’s pointless retread of their own past material is about as thrilling as that channel that plays a burning fireplace on loop. So no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and the only thing growing three sizes this day is my vindictive streak. An angel named Clarence tried to show me what the world would be like without Holiday power metal albums, so I pushed him into the icy river and destroyed all the bells I could find. Merry Christmas.4

Rating: 1.5/5.0 Krampuses
DR: Partridge In a Pear Tree | Format Reviewed: Angelic Choir
Label: Ravencraft Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 20th, 2020

Show 4 footnotes
  1. True and false, respectively.
  2. The entire staff suffers from Rhinophyma due to years of hobo wine consumption.
  3. You heard me Holdeneye.
  4. The AMG staff have red noses solely due to low HQ temperatures as our furnace accidentally, maliciously collapsed into the Skull Pit. We always heavily indulge in hobo vintages in a responsible, reasonable manner. –Steel
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