Review Summary: We caught you plotting Christmas.
Being a heavy rock guy, I’ve not ever found a Christmas project to truly satisfy me. I’ve been through the X Christmas
compilation, the Rocking Around The Christmas Tree
compilation, plenty of other compilations, but I’ve always been left feeling dissatisfied. Maybe it’s because I’ve always preferred actual albums over compilations, maybe it’s because I’m picky, but it’s just the truth. To top that off, alternative metallers aren’t necessarily scrambling to create Christmas music. I would love it if RED or Breaking Benjamin would drop even just a Christmas EP, but realistically that’s not going to happen. So when I heard about Project 86’s Christmas project, I was stoked. This is a band that, while not necessarily one of my absolute favorites, I’ve followed and purchased albums from and relatively enjoyed all of them. I downloaded A Very P86 Christmas
without hesitation and dove right in.
All the Project 86 staples are here: Andrew Schwab divides his vocal style up between eerie atmosphere and jarring, heart-wrenching screams. He is unmistakably powerful throughout the project. Musically, I found this to be a blend between the new wave/goth-influenced Rival Factions
and the full force sonic found on Knives To The Future
. The lumbering, rhythmic detuned single-note riffs and bashed power chords are also alive and well, coming off as edgy without being too overwhelming. Yes, it is a heavy effort, but there’s still a fair bit of melody. The electronics are near overwhelming at times, though as a whole they add an wintry, almost haunting tone that propels the album even farther forward. Basswork isn’t near as integral as it has been in previous P86 work, though the fact that this is just a Christmas project should dissuade panic from any hardcore fans. There’s honestly so much else going on you won’t miss it. Drums are as they have been since Alex Albert left the band in ‘09: never bad, occasionally standing out, but not too much to write home about.
The whole album, similar to the aforementioned Knives To The Future
or 2011’s outing Wait For The Siren
, feels incredibly theatric. The group mixes in originals and covers, but they do it so articulately that it’s extensively immersive. To start with the covers, the band presents five here: “Mr. Grinch”, “This Time Of Year”, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, “What Child"”, and “Christmas Time Is Here”. Both “This Time Of Year” and “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” are heavy, riff-driven rock numbers that will literally kick you in the face with holiday spirit. Schwab sounds absolutely fantastic on the former, commanding and keeping the attention of any listener, and the operatic touches throughout the track add even more of a theatric, lasting effect. Oh, and the European-sounding synths interspersed throughout" Classic. “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” showcases the best guitar-work all album, a delicious blend between quiet vocals and swirling synths in the quieter moments, and an absolutely bruising bridge. Seriously, this bridge might contain one of the best P86 guitar riffs ever, complemented by an scratchy solo not unlike the one on “Sanctuary Hum”. “Mr. Grinch” preys (trust me, this song feels delightfully menacing) upon quiet/loud dynamics, slowly building with Andrew’s quivering vocals, glizty programming, and an ever prominent bass drum before exploding with harder screams and guitar riffs, then calming back down. It is absolutely beautiful. “Christmas Time Is Here” is the most melodic of the covers and works the best for it: Schwab practically whispers his vocals, there’s a fair bit of clean guitar picking, and even some alternate percussion. “What Child"” is actually an instrumental take on the classic, though it is probably the most forgettable upon the release. It’s not that it’s bad, but there are already so many instrumental takes on Christmas songs that it feels a little lazy.
The originals include “Wrought On This Holiday’s Eve”, “Shiny Skin”, and “Misfit Toys”. “Wrought On This Holiday’s Eve” is a punky number that brings back P86’s lyrical penchant for bringing down corruption with a slight holiday twist, speaking of two children that catch their father in infidelity similar as to how children may catch Santa coming out of the chimney. Andrew pretty much tears his throat apart and the drums are absolutely pulsating. Think “The Great Golden Gate Disaster”(from the band's 2004 effort Songs To Burn Your Bridges By
) decorated in red and green. “Shiny Skin” blends a winding guitar/snyth riff with the only standout bass presence all album and more of Andrew’s shaking but powerful delivery attacking over-commercialism and the bittersweet tone of the holiday. “Misfit Toys” probably betrays the band’s Christian roots and overarching themes the best, relating the idea of misfit toys to how broken humans are without Jesus and reminding all of us that Christmas shouldn’t just be about the gifts we get, all with the backdrop of what could be best compared to a dark, horror-house influenced carnival: fun, but darkly fun and brutally honest.
It’s tough to rate an album like this honestly. This would be best listened to around Christmas and have it’s best effect around Christmas. Is it accessible for the whole family" I would say so, if the family is prepared for a little bit of a different experience Christmas-wise. I don’t just mean that sonically, because there’s both rock moments and calm moments for all listeners, but lyrically. For a Christmas album, the originals tackle some fairly heavy themes, albeit optimistically. So, for those of you looking for a happy-go-lucky Christmas album, look elsewhere, you won’t find it here. But for those searching for an immersive experience each December, this is a worthy investment.