Ahh, Christmas albums by rock bands! To me, the current wave all started with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. However, it is undeniable that Twisted Sister’s version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” also changed the playing field, giving them their biggest hit in decades. It meant that any metal band could record Christmas songs now.
So Helix’ Brian Vollmer, no stranger to Christmas music (check out his Raising The Roof on Mary Immaculate disc) decided to record some Helix versions in that hot summer of August 2008. Yes, Christmas music is often recorded in summertime — that’s how they get it on the shelves for December. The effect this has on the music is worth questioning. It must be hard getting inspired to go caroling when it’s beach weather.
A Heavy Mental Christmas is not a bad Christmas album if you’re a metal fan. I wouldn’t nessesarily play this for grandma, but for people who already enjoy metal versions of Christmas songs, it’s a good listen. It’s not really my thing, personally. I loathe Christmas music in general (too many years working retail) and metal versions are not something I really get into. Having said that, with Vollmer’s excellent delivery here, these songs do shine. They are enjoyable, the band is in top shape, and all the songs are classics or traditionals except one original, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” by Brian’s friend and collaborator Steve Georgakopoulos. (Obviously, this isn’t the Beatles song “Christmas Time Is Here Again”.) Like some other Helix albums, this one clocks in at under 30 minutes, so be aware. Only one song clocks in over 3 minutes.
The Helix band pictured on the sleeve is not entirely the band playing on the CD. Drummer Brent “Ned” Neimi, bassist Paul Fonseca, and guitarist Rick VanDyk (ex-Zero Option) are present, but long-timer guitarist Jim Lawson is not. (He lived in Sudbury, far from the London recording studio where this was made.) Instead you will find the wonderful guitar stylings of the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos (say that five times really fast), who played Ace Frehley in the London-based KISS tribute band Alive. Steve also played guitar on the previous Helix album, the excellent Power Of Rock And Roll, although he has never been an official member of the band. Either way, he’s a great writer and player, and he does have a Frehley-like vibe to his shredding.
Highlights: The slick metal blues of “A Wonderful Christmas Time”. The Lennon classic “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” which to me is kind of sacred territory. It’s hard to sing a song that John Lennon made famous, but Vollmer does so successfully. And then there’s the original tune, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” which is really just a vintage Helix rocker with Christmas lyrics. Musically it could have been on Long Way to Heaven, but there’s no mistaking the lyrics. “Santa’s coming to the show!” announces Brian.
So, to sum up:
- I loathe Christmas music,
- but I love Helix,
- and this is still a pretty good album.
I think rock fans out there will like it a lot. The running time doesn’t bother me personally, as the album does not overstay its welcome and I have paid more money for less music before. If you’re a Helix fan, this album is a must to have. It’s just fun, and it has balls. It was somewhat of a landmark for them, while it is only their 11th studio album, it was their 20th official release overall, and certainly that is worth celebrating.
3/5 stars, maybe 4/5 if you’ve already gotten into the egg nog!
If you want more Helix Christmas tunes, check out their 7″ single for “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup”.