With lyrics touching on Satan’s power and might, being scorned by society and unifying brotherhood, you’d be forgiven if you thought the latest offering from Whitehorse photographer and musician Rick Massie was just another metal track.
Those enthusiastic about the yuletide season though, or who are capable of reading song names, will recognize something perhaps a little more familiar to the general population — it’s actually a cover of the classic Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
The cover, which Massie premiered on YouTube on Dec. 11, is the second time he’s metal-ized a carol that’s typically very un-metal (he’s also previously covered Frozen’s “Let It Go”).
“I’m into metal and I’d listened to Christmas music and I thought it’d be fun to do something that was a little more along the lines of what I listen to,” he said in an interview Dec. 18.
“And so this year came along and I thought, well, I gotta do this again.”
Massie covered “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in 2018. For the 2019, the customary choir and orchestra backings of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” his partner’s favourite Christmas carol, are still there, but they’re also accompanied by double-bass-drum kicks, growling vocals and squealing, distorted electric guitar. Elements of black, doom and thrash metal — Massie counts Paradise Lost, Devin Townsend, Slayer and Pantera as among his influences — are infused with the carol’s traditional lyrics and melody in the three minutes and one second of loud, fast-tempo playtime.
Not only is the exercise entertaining, Massie said, but it also gives him a chance to hone his self-taught playing, recording, mixing and mastering skills; the production was a one-man effort that he estimated took him about 12 hours over the course of a couple of days in his home studio.
“I don’t have time to try and organize schedules with a band or other musicians or anything like that, it would be a nightmare, just couldn’t even imagine it,” he said.
“… I don’t have a lot of time to record, honestly. Most of my recording is done, starts at probably 10 o’clock, 10:30 on a Friday night and will go until 4 o’clock, maybe 5 o’clock in the morning.”
The drums, violins and cellos, drums and bass were all synthesized; Massie played all the guitar tracks on an actual guitar and also sang all the vocals, which he said took “lots of lots of takes because I’m a terrible, terrible singer.”
“It’s a good thing I’ve got time and my own home studio to use otherwise I’d never be able to afford to do vocals,” he said, adding it also took some time to figure out a key he could actually sing in.
Like last year, Massie said he plans on burning his version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” onto several CDs, wrapping them in Christmas gift-wrap and hiding them around town for curious passersby to pick up and, hopefully, pop into a player.
While all his CDs were picked up in 2018, he said he didn’t receive any feedback — or anything, really — from any of the picker-uppers.
“I did go back around and I checked the locations, they were all gone so that could be a good thing unless people think I’m just littering and they’re like, throwing it in the garbage,” he said.
“But that definitely isn’t my intent, to create garbage… Hopefully someone will pick it up and listen to it and enjoy it and if that happens, you know, I’ll probably never hear about it, but if someone enjoys it, then that’s awesome, that’s all I want.”
Massie is part of a long line of metal bands and musicians who have put a darker, edgier spin on otherwise peppy or soothing songs, with entire compilation albums and YouTube playlists dedicated to the phenomenon.
Metal covers of Christmas carols or original metal songs about Christmas, in particular, are so abundant that Rolling Stone magazine recently published a list of 15 tunes for “unsilent, unholy nights” featuring numbers from the likes of AC/DC, GWAR and Amon Amarth.
It’s not always just one-off songs or covers, either; acclaimed British actor Christopher Lee, who moonlighted as a metal singer, released the album A Heavy Metal Christmas in 2012, and Twisted Sister’s last studio album, released in 2006, was A Twisted Christmas. Punk veterans Bad Religion also released their own holiday album, simply titled Christmas Songs, in 2013.
For his part though, Massie said a full-on Christmas album is definitely not in the works — he has three non-Christmas-themed albums on the go, one of which is ready to be released into the world any day now.
“I think it’s going to be one a year because I’ve got so much in the works right now,” he said of his metal Christmas carols. “It’ll probably be one a year and then maybe when, oh my god, after 10 years, maybe I’ll be able to release them all as one, but yeah, it’s going to be more of a single thing at this point.”
Massie’s cover of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is available on YouTube, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play Music and CD Baby.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org