The Heavy Metal Christmas Project

Every year for five years (2013-2017) I arranged and recorded a heavy metal version of a classic Christmas tune. Here they are.

A bit of detail on the project:

I had really been neglecting music due to grad school, cross-country move, birth of child – you know, small stuff – and I was worried I was going to lose this thing that has been part of my life pretty much from the beginning. I needed some sort of project that would motivate me to keep up my chops during the year. Having a tangible result at the end would be nice, too. Something annual. I’d tried the RPM Challenge before – and I still think that Challenge is amazing, and so much respect for people who complete it. But it suited me more to focus on a single song, and pour my energy into that. Christmas was coming up, and the idea was born…

This was the general process: After Thanksgiving, I’d look at a few traditional Christmas carols and see if there was anything that seemed promising. After choosing a tune, I’d figure out what the basic riffs were for verse and chorus. Then I would mine the original melody for additional material, to be used for intros, solos, bridges, etc. A couple of examples:

In Rest In Peace (Ye Merry Gentlemen), the big outro is several overlays of the first eight notes of the melody “God rest ye merry gentlemen,” each played at different rhythmic divisions and shifting the melodic contour.

Following the intro to (It Came Upon A) Midnite Metal, the big octave riff is simply the four-note motive from the chorus “Peace on the earth…” The start of the solo is the two notes of “It came…” Lots of other stuff like that in there.

From there it would grow exponentially. I was writing simultaneously with the recording. Entire sections would be scrapped. Every year I thought I wouldn’t make it, but somehow did. All of the recording was done with a USB input box, recording directly into Reason (most, and later all, of the effects were in there too). At the time I had a couple of electric guitars and a bass. For the first two years I had a Line 6 Pod that I used as the “amp” and effects, but eventually (year 3 or 4) went entirely software. The synths are all in Reason as well, with a little 31-key MIDI keyboard for input. I wrote all of the drum parts and manually programmed those, with Reason Drums as the samples. All of the mixing was also done in Reason. I am admittedly not a good mix engineer, so I hope that the music and performance overcomes the many flaws in the recording itself. In general, each song would take 20 to 30 hours from conception to mixdown.

And that’s it. Enjoy!