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Holiday Headbanging
Posted November 24, 2014
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer

Although Christmas music has become an integral part of the yearly cycle of the music industry as a whole, this is a trend that has largely left listeners of harder music in the cold. Due to the seasonal stereotypes of silent nights and caroling choirs, few attempts have been made to bridge the gap between those images and the world of metal and hardcore music. This year Solid State sets out to bridge the gap with a special Christmas compilation from some of the biggest names in heavy music.

I have long contended that, contrary to popular misconception, hard music is actually one of the most sophisticated, skill-requiring genres in the music world as we know it. This means that some of the classic Christmas tunes are able to shine in incredibly complex, intriguing arrangements that engage the original material on level rarely heard on contemporary covers. Both of Christmas hardcore veteran August Burns Red's offerings (their album Sleddin' Hill is one of the only other major efforts in this area) exemplify this reality, offering up a complex blizzard of riffage on "Flurries" while "Joy to the World" features a searing solo on the seasonal classic.

For Today's "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" features flawless, technical guitar work and Mattie Montgomery's brutal vocals. This is an oft-chosen selection for Christmas efforts in recent years, but For Today justifies the decision by adding extra verses that beautifully expand on the concept of a cry for rescue: "I hear the cry of a dying world, so let Your light bring the life we've been fighting for." Although changing it up, the band allows the haunting melody of the chorus to stand through perfectly placed clean vocals, creating what is easily the best track on this album.

Another album highlight displaying what happens when hardcore artists leave their personal stamp on well-known tunes is "Jingle Bell Rock" from freshman act The Ongoing Concept. Their raucous, rowdy energy explodes to the fore as they completely own the song with a sound blending hardcore and even hints of oldschool ska. The Ongoing Concept displays capability well beyond their years in their treatment of the melody.

Not every artist adapted the songs entirely to fit their sound; some went the other way, adapting their sound to mesh better with the original material. The results are playful and at times hauntingly beautiful. Fit For A King, usually one of the most brutal acts on any given stage, tones it way down for an eerie rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," reserving blistering guitars and screams for the track's final minute. "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" by Wolves At the Gate is heavier, but it is much brighter sonically than most of their work, focusing in heavily on the enthusiastic expectation of the lyrics.

Although most artists opted to adapt classics, a notable exception is Memphis May Fire. "He Came With Love" is a breathtaking presentation of how the incarnation connects to the gospel: "a baby wrapped in peasant rags, born to a virgin as a gift of grace / the one and only Son of God, the only promise that will never fade away." Although fans should expect a track that is better suited to frontman Matty Mullins's solo project than the band's discography, with that understanding in place this is an incredibly stirring, poignant original Christmas offering.

Closing Thoughts:
There are quite a few risks inherent in blending two musical fields that rarely meet, but the risk of Midnight Clear absolutely paid off. Rarely have I heard a compilation album so strong, showcasing the perfect balance of being diverse and yet somehow coherent as a whole, creative and yet grounded, with enough strong artists to truly carry the project from beginning to end. This project is an absolute must-have in its entirety for hardcore fans this season, or for anyone burned out on standard Christmas fare.

Song to Download Now:
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" by For Today (get it on iTunes here.)

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