If you’re familiar with Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, The Christmas Dream by holidazzle super group The Wizards of Winter is the metal equivalent. I myself am no stranger to these cinematic fruitcakes, as Mrs. Cherd and my jolly old father-in-law take perverse pleasure in subjecting me to them every Yuletide. It’s become such a tradition that we’ve devised a game of Christmas movie trope bingo, and it’s easily adapted to this brand of metal holiday album. For the films, the center free space is marked “upwardly mobile career woman taught a lesson about ambition by small town folks.” For the music, it’s “symphonic power metal with all the heaviness of a party balloon.” Another square is marked off whenever we spot once popular TV actors of yesteryear, for instance Saved By the Bell’s Mario Lopez in the film Holiday in Handcuffs. Similarly, a quick glance at The Wizards of Winter reveals one-time members of Rainbow, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Def Leppard, Blue Oyster Cult and Ted Nugent‘s band. The bingo card really starts to fill up as the “song inspired by classic holiday film,” “once-a-year moralizing about the less fortunate” and “instrumental mash-up of classic carol and improvised noodling” boxes are checked by “Polar Eve,” “In Plain Sight” and several songs, respectively. It doesn’t really matter who gets bingo first, since there are no winners in this game.
The Christmas Dream is the fourth album by The Wizards of Winter—currently boasting 11 official members—and it smacks of veteran musicians who know how to keep one foot in something approaching metal1 while catering to the Holiday Industrial Complex. The album begins with a vocal falsetto warm up, a simple groove of synths and guitars, and smooth, unremarkable female vocals singing of vague magic on “Secrets of the Snow Globe.”2 It’s the kind of song that could easily pop up on a Sirius XM stream on a lazy Christmas Day afternoon, prompting Grandma to raise her eyes from the 1000-piece Thomas Kinkade puzzle she’s been assembling since Thanksgiving to passive aggressively announce that she’s never liked electric guitars in holiday songs, but it’s not so offensive that she wants a station change, and besides, she likes the flute parts. This balance is struck elsewhere, as on “Gonna Snow,” where a generic 80s hair metal guitar intro somehow gives way to a very light rock rendition of “Jingle Bells” by the end of the song.
For those who remember my n00b review of A Hero for the World‘s Winter Is Here, this is not the same sort of “so bad it’s kind of good” holiday cheer, and that’s about the best and worst thing I can say about The Wizards of Winter. Yes, the singers here can actually sing, the production is polished and the instrumentation is tight, but if you’re looking for the musical equivalent of mulled wine to warm the stomach and heart on the longest night of the year, this is more like a big cup of calculated mayonnaise. It’s very bland music, very capably played. It’s hard to believe I’d miss Jacob Kaasgaard’s strained vocals, but at least they kept one’s attention.
That said, there are two eyebrow raising moments on The Christmas Dream. The first comes in the form of “Polar Night.” It’s the most metal song on the album, but this detail is quickly forgotten once the vocals kick in. Contrary to how it sounds, that is NOT Danny Elfman reprising his role as Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, though the pastiche is unmistakable. This is an odd choice, as lyrically the song is a straight forward description of Santa preparing for his night flight. No one is asking these guys to give us another “Christmas with the Devil” a la Spinal Tap, but they could have injected A LITTLE mischief into the lyrics to fit the theatrical delivery. This awkwardness is topped just two songs later by “The Four Kings,” a rollicking blues strut that introduces a surprise fourth wise man to the old tale and recounts their musical boogie woogie multi-city Middle Eastern tour as they travel to see the Christ Child. If you’ve ever heard a cover band made up of middle aged white dudes decide they’d like to add some Bruno Mars to their usual Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffet repertoire, you’ll understand why this song is so jarring.
You might be wondering why I’ve subjected myself to the symphonic spirit of the Season for a second consecutive year. It’s because Steel Druhm told me I could either delouse his ape enclosure or review The Christmas Dream. Trust me, you would have made the same choice. If you’re fine with Holiday metal mayonnaise, go ahead and spread The Wizards of Winter on your candy cane sandwich. If you’d rather spend your time differently, Grandma could use a hand with that puzzle.