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Heavy Metal Holiday

Posted in: General by David Nantais on November 29, 2011

Throughout this Thanksgiving weekend, wherever I have been, I have heard Christmas music playing: the grocery store, the coffee shop, restaurants and bars.  As much as I/we may dislike the commercial onslaught of the Christmas season, it will be with us for the next 4 weeks.

As the carols played in the background this weekend, seeping into my consciousness, I began to think about the connection between rock music and Christmas music.  There are MANY rock artists who have released Christmas albums.  I count among my favorites the Aimee Mann holiday disc called “One More Drifter in the Snow”–check out a sample here:


I reviewed Mann’s disc 5 years ago for  You can find the review here.

Another favorite rocked out Christmas tune of mine is, of course, Springsteen’s, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.”


I am sure R&T readers all have their favorite rock and roll Christmas tunes–have you dusted off your top 5 for the season yet?!

This phenomenon of rock musicians covering Christmas songs is fascinating from a theological perspective.  Christians celebrate God becoming human–becoming enfleshed and living as a human person on earth.  There are multiple interpretations regarding what this means theologically, but the belief in the transcendent becoming more “real” or at least more “tangible” is attractive and hopeful to many.  One of rock music’s most appealing characteristics is similar–making that which is transcendent seem at arm’s reach, or perhaps at heart’s reach.  Do rock musicians understand this parallel?  Or are there other beliefs, ideals, desires that encourage the rock musician to perform Christmas music?

My cynical self might comment that Christmas music SELLS!!!  Rock stars who have drifted from the public eye may use Christmas music to get back onto the charts–or at least back out onto the road.  Consider rock guitarist Gary “Ho-Ho” Hoey, who has released multiple hard rock Christmas albums and trots back out on the club circuit each Fall/Winter to the delight of thousands of head bangers.


It was not out of character for Hoey to do cover songs–his early hit was a cover of Focus’ rock instrumental “Hocus Pocus.”

One of the most popular winter holiday rock acts these days (no, NOT the Mannheim Steamrollers) is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO).  TSO has transcended a “band” and has become a musical corporation.  The last time I checked there were actually 2 or 3 TSO’s which performed around the U.S. simultaneously.

The history of TSO is fascinating.  In 1995 the heavy metal band Savatage released a disc called “Dead Winter Dead,” a concept album about a Serb boy and a Muslim girl who fall in love during the Bosnian war.  One of the instrumentals on the album is called “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”–this song is a heavy medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells.”  Unexpectedly, this tune garnered a lot of attention for Savatage, which encouraged their producer, Paul O’Neil and the band’s primary songwriter, Jon Oliva, to spin off the side project called TSO.  Well, the “side project” has since become a full time job and Savatage has been tossed in the backseat.  This is too bad, as Savatage was one of my fave metal bands.



TSO has retained the orchestral/metal/bombast of Savatage, but since they play mostly metal-ized versions of Christmas songs they are filling 15,000 seat arenas.  Last time I saw Savatage I was with about 400 other fans in a small Detroit club.

What do R&T readers have to say on this topic?  Why do rockers cover Christmas songs?  Do you see other theological meaning behind this phenomenon?

Dave Nantais, Detroit, MI




  1. Dave, one of my favorite rock Christmas tributes is Winger’s version of “Silent Night”.
    You can see it here:
    I wrote about it two years ago under the title “Sleep in Heavenly Peace by Not Sleeping”, here:
    As I watch it again this year, I notice the US evangelical-sounding enunciation of “Jee-zis,” and wonder whether that is easier to sing in the rockish register or that comes from any band members’ cultural-religious backgrounds.
    Do I also notice the Oedipal/hetero-performing character of the invocation (and celebration) “round yon virgin, round yon virgin! mother and child, mother and child!”, and sense as if for the first time in the gusto of Kip and Reb’s voices the power of a male identification with that “child” who belongs to that fantasized virgin/mother — “mother” and “child”, indeed. There is a lot to contemplate in what is sung and how it is sung in these otherwise predictable Christmas ditties when they are taken on in rock performance.

    Comment by T Beaudoin — November 29, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  2. Dave, I find myself most moved when it seems as if the song connects with the soul of the singer, and the rendition has integrity with the life. That’s why, I guess, most of the stuff out there falls short of demanding my time and ears. To me, Christmas is about the absolutely crucial fact that despite the violence and horror of the world, God in Christ is with us in the most human ways, amidst shit and brokenness. I’m sure this kind of ‘being floored’ happens with songs in church during the holidays on occasion, but let’s not kid ourselves about the power of nostalgia to bring a tear or a warm heart. Candles and a competent version of silent night near mid-night do it for most people. I personally have always wished I could be with the crowd gathered at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC to hear Patti Smith’s annual concert. Her version of Oh Holy Night is so full of faith and guts that it tears me apart every time I hear it. I feel as if God IS with us in the moment of her performance of this song ABOUT God with us. Thanks for the post!

    Comment by cscharen — December 2, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

  3. Thanks for your comment, Chris! I am going to pull up Patti Smith’s “Oh Holy Night” and meditate!
    Happy Holidays!

    Comment by Dave Nantais — December 2, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

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