by Callahan Jones
In the year 2008, a fairly little-known compilation album, “X Christmas,” was released by Capitol Christian Music Group to celebrate various rock related groups signed under their labels Solid State Records and Tooth & Nail Records.
Fresh off the success of their 2008 release, “Messengers,” the up-and-coming metalcore band August Burns Red recorded a song for “X Christmas,” their own arrangement of the popular Christmas tune “Carol of the Bells.” Little did they know, this release would eventually snowball into a full Christmas album of their very own, “Sleddin Hill.”
This recording of “Carol of the Bells”, further popularized by its rerelease on the band’s 2009 B-sides album, “Lost Messengers: The Outtakes,” set off a tradition of August Burns Red recording and releasing a Christmas tune with their own spin on it every holiday season.
Then, in 2012, August Burns Red released “Sleddin’ Hill,” a complete, mostly instrumental holiday album, featuring remastered versions of their previous holiday singles, seven new ABR-ified classic Christmas tunes, and two original instrumentals “Flurries” and “Sleddin’ Hill,” both written by the band’s lead guitarist, JB Brubaker. Since then, the album has been re released twice, once in 2015, adding the tracks “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Joy to the World,” and now again in 2017, adding last years single, “What Child is This (Greensleeves)” and a new track, “Last Christmas.”
Clocking in at a little over 55 minutes on its second rerelease, the album’s biggest struggle is its repetition. Almost by nature, the album is all very similar to each other. The guitar tones are exactly the same across the entire album, so by the time one reaches the end, you’re almost sure to have grown tired of the one heavier crunch August Burns Red uses for their rhythm guitar and the high whine they utilize for their lead guitar.
Many of the songs on “Sleddin’ Hill” are driven by these chugging guitars and pounding drums with a the solo guitar carrying the melody line. Bass lines that are often quite clever round out the songs sound, but are sometimes lost in the noise of the rhythm guitar and drums, mainly due to the tone of the bass being quite pure instead of the normal distortion put on the guitars. This constantly aggressive sound can be weary on the ears and on the brain. If anything, the familiarity of the songs adds to the repetition.
However, there is some welcome variation from time to time, such as the acoustic, slap bass and banjo driven “Sleddin’ Hill” and the brass section contained within the otherwise pedestrian “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Some of the tracks also include vocals, though they are usually yelled in a punk-esque group choir fashion, with all of the band member’s voices meshing together into a frenzied chorus. One song, “Joy to the World,” features a full-fledged screaming passage from the band’s lead vocalist, Jake Luhrs. This could be a positive to some and a negative to others.
Overall, August Burns Red’s “Sleddin’ Hill” is an interesting departure from the norm of Christmas music. It’s fast, aggressive and sometimes even introspectively quiet. For fans of the various genres of metal or for people looking to escape the more normal, jazzified holiday fare, this might just be the perfect Christmas album, at least if taken in moderation. For anybody else, it probably will not hit the spot.
Callahan Jones is a junior journalism major and the Digital and Design editor for Cedars. In his free time, he enjoys making coffee, collecting headphones and playing games with friends.