Releasing an entire album of Christmas and Holiday tunes can be a rather daunting challenge for any band, let alone a metalcore band known for epic breakdows, chugging guitar riffs, and intense, screaming vocal like August Burns Red.
ABR has released Christmas songs in the past few years as singles during the Holiday season and had the time and energy to go into the studio and put together a full-length collection featuring new versions of those tunes, some traditional favorites, and a couple newly written tracks. The familiar ABR sound is here with the exception of vocals as all but one song is an instrumental, but their approach to the songs works very well and doesn’t overwhelm the material. The result is a collection of Holiday music that any fan of metal, metalcore, and even just guitar-driven music will enjoy.
August Burns Red formed back in 2003 while members were still in high school, and released an EP on CI records in 2004 before signing to Solid State Records in 2005 and releasing five albums for that label with Sleddin’ Hill being the latest. Throughout their career, ABR has refined their metalcore sound, which is at times very technical and at others very chaotic, and features strong drumming, frequent breakdowns, and vocals that can be similar to hardcore shouting at times.
I have to admit I was somewhat hesitant to see how ABR would approach a full album of Christmas and Holiday tunes and was hoping they would be similar to previous ones they’ve released as singles, especially Carol of the Bells. Perhaps somewhat thankfully, ABR chose to record all but one of these songs as instrumentals as trying to fit the normal ABR vocal style might have been a bit too much of a challenge. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is the only track with vocals on the release and these were done in a fun way, including gang vocals taking care of the younger children interjections that often are part of the song when sung by children at Christmas parties.
The overall feel of the album is one of snowy, Christmas-time with even the original songs Flurries and Sleddin’ Hill fitting in perfectly with this feel and almost sounding as if they are familiar Holiday songs. One of the most striking aspects of the instrumental songs is the guitar work by JB Brubaker, whose riffs are perfectly on tune with how the vocals would be and yet still carry a metal flair to them. Second most notable part are Matt Greiner’s drums, which add to the metal sound of the songs with blast beats and lots of double bass parts but still seem to fit and not overwhelm. ABR has brought in many other elements to these songs which are not part of the normal repertoire including jazzy piano parts, some acoustic guitar and even have the beginning of Sleddin’ Hill sounding like it’s a bluegrass or folky/Americana song before the electric guitar comes in. Perhaps the only downside to the album is that it is primarily an instrumental album and may not be something you sit down to listen through straight through without becoming a little distracted and relegating it to background music, but it would even serve that purpose well.
Taken as a whole, this album will make a nice addition to any Holiday and Christmas music collection. Yes, there are other bands, notably Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who have done similar albums but this one does have a nice variety and feel to it that separates it a bit from the others. I would even expect non-metal music fans would have no problem listening to this as the tunes are very recognizable and the musicianship is top notch.
Written by John Jackson
2. Frosty the Snowman
3. Sleigh Ride
4. God Rest Ye’ Merry Gentlemen
5. Jingle Bells
6. Oh Holy Night
7. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
8. Sleddin’ Hill
9. Little Drummer Boy
10. Winter Wonderland
11. O Come O Come Emmanuel
12. Carol of the Bells
13. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
Jake Luhrs – Vocals
JB Brubaker – Guitar
Brent Rambler – Guitar
Dustin Davidson – Bass Guitar
Matt Greiner – Drums
Record Label: Solid State Records, Oct. 2012