Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Halford, "Winter Songs"
"Halford III: Winter Songs"
Metal God Entertainment, 2009
10 Tracks, run time: 41:25
When Rob Halford announced the release of his third solo album, Winter Songs, in 2009, the news was met with skepticism from many corners of the heavy metal community. Sure, it was good to hear that the leather-lunged metal legend was re-activating his solo project for the first time since he'd rejoined Judas Priest in 2004, but the bad news, at least for many, was that his new disc would be... a Christmas album.
I wasn't the only one who thought this idea sounded like a train wreck at first. Prior to the album's street date, metalhead internet forums were lit up like... well, like Christmas trees, with fans asking, “A Christmas album? Seriously? Dude, this is gonna totally suck. Has Rob completely lost his mind?” However, when I finally heard the album for myself, it wasn't the horrific listening experience I'd been dreading. In fact, Winter Songs actually began growing on me with repeated listens, like the fungus on that Christmas fruitcake that’s been passed around my family for several generations now.
"Get Into The Spirit"
Longtime Halford fans may recall that Winter Songs was not Rob’s first foray into holiday music. Back in 1993, he recorded a fan-club exclusive single called “Christmas Ride” with his then-current band Fight. Apparently Rob is simply an old softie who really digs the Christmas season, and he enjoys sharing that holiday cheer with the headbanging world. Is there anything really wrong with that?
Rob and his solo band tackle a number of traditional Christmas hymns on Winter Songs, and also offer several new original songs with a winter/holiday theme. Of the originals, the most "metal" sounding cut is the opener "Get Into The Spirit," a slick, fast paced number that sounds like it could've come off of Halford's previous solo disc, 2002's Crucible. "Light Of The World" is a mid paced piano-laden ballad with a nice orchestral feel. However, the fair-to-middling "I Don't Care" and the schmaltzy "Christmas For Everyone" are jingle bell-ringing Cheddar of the highest order; I guess Rob was attempting to cop the vibe of those old Phil Spector style "rock-n-roll Christmas" singles, but both songs turned out be be lumps of coal.
Thankfully, the rest of the disc makes up for those sub-par songs. The title track "Winter Song" is the highlight of the album's first half, with Rob giving a powerful yet restrained, almost plaintive performance on this sparse piano ballad (originally performed by singer/songwriters Sarah Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson) about missing a lost love during the Winter season.
The remainder of Winter Song's tracks are new Halford-ized arrangements of some well known Christmas perennials like "O Holy Night," "What Child Is This?" and "We Three Kings," electrified slightly and performed in Rob's distinctive style. I have to give the man credit, rather than tarting them up in tons of studio polish (like Trans-Siberian Orchestra does) or playing up the "Heavy Metal Christmas" camp value (like Twisted Sister did) Rob simply gives these traditional Christmas hymns the respect they deserve and sings them the way they should be sung. Period. Yeah, so there are some electric guitar solos added here and there that the original composers probably wouldn't have approved of, but this IS the Metal God we're talking about, after all. I especially liked his version of "Oh Come O Come Emmanuel," which was my late father's favorite Christmas song. Every time I listen to it, I can't help but wonder what his reaction to this metal-ized rendition would have been. (Wild guess: he probably would've hated it. Haha!) Rob's absolutely show-stopping take on "Come All Ye Faithful," which closes the disc, is worth the album price all by itself and has become my "go-to" version of the song in subsequent years.
"Winter Songs" on Amazon
Summing It Up
Obviously Winter Songs is a "seasonal" listen that has little to no replay value before December 1st or after the 25th. I honestly expected it to be a "one-and-done" listen or a "filler" release in my CD collection when it first came out in 2009, but it has had surprising staying power even all these years later. I still return to it for several listens every holiday season. I won't lie, I still prefer Halford's usual screaming, balls-to-the-wall style of heavy metal fury, but the relaxed, quieter vibe of Winter Songs shows a different side of the man and the album has a unique charm all its own. Give it a listen on a cold winter's morn and it may cast a similar spell on you. Merry Christmas, Mr. Halford.
© 2018 Keith Abt