It’s that time of year again, everybody. The turkey’s been devoured. The leftovers have been turned into every possible concoction possible. The in-laws are (hopefully) gone. The Christmas tree and decorations are set up. The annual deluge of Christmas movies is running across the networks. And the overwhelming surge of cookie cutter Christmas albums is in every store shelf and on every store radio. The movies are bearable. The decorations and tree are no problem. The problem is the cookie cutter Christmas albums. Save for Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, every other Christmas album from every major artist and band sounds the same. And making it worse, it’s the same albums on shelves and radios every year. Thankfully this year, Spinefarm Records and Caroline Records have given audiences quite a welcome breath of fresh air from all of those albums with the new “Christmas Metal” album Ragnarok Juletide. The latest release from the ever-evolving metal super group, it was recorded this year by members of Amaranthe, Nightwish, and Sonata Arctica. For those that don’t know, Rakasta Joulua translates to “Heavy Christmas.” And heavy is just what audiences get in this mixed collection of holiday standards and original Finnish holiday material. Rakasta Joulua celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. While it obviously hasn’t been around nearly as long as Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Rakasta Joulua’s new album will entertain the metal legions and lovers of Christmas music alike from start to finish. From the very TSO-esque take on ‘The First Noel’ to the James Bond-style sound of ‘The Elf’ to the absolutely stunning closer that is ‘Ave Maria,’ Ragnarok Juletide offers audiences so much to like. That includes the songs not noted here, too. Collectively, the songs included on this record make it a holiday record that every lover of Christmas music should hear at least once this holiday season.
It goes without saying after hearing Ragnarok Juletide that this compilation is one that every lover of Christmas music should hear at least once this holiday season. It is a breath of fresh air from all of the cookie cutter Christmas albums churned out year after year by all of the mainstream acts out there. One example of what makes this album so enjoyable for audiences is the band’s take on the holiday standard ‘The First Noel.’ While it does boast a sound similar to that of TSO, it still maintains its own identity. It isn’t just ‘The First Noel.’ It mixes that song together with elements of ‘Carol of the Bells’ and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ to make a song that will have every headbanger putting their horns high this holiday season. Even more interesting to note are the guitar solos. Audiences will hear in the guitar solos elements of not only TSO but of Dream Theater, and certain well-known 80s hair metal bands. Throughout it all, the performers tapped for this performance exhibit great talent and respect for the original songs on which the song is based. Needless to say it is one of the highest of points on this record although not the album’s only high point.
Rakasta Joulua offers plenty of high points from start to finish throughout the course of the dozen total tracks that make up the body of Ragnarok Juletide. The group’s take on ‘The First Noel’ is one example of just how much this album has to offer audiences. American audiences likely aren’t so familiar with ‘The Elf.’ But the group’s take on this song will entertain listeners in its own way. The song follows a little elf that is hard at work at night. The song sounds foreboding. But it really isn’t that dark of a song. The use of the James Bond style guitar riff adds to the song’s impact, enhancing the visual imagery of the elf working in secret. And the vocalist’s deep, baritone makes for even more impact. It is the polar opposite of ‘The First Noel.’ But it is still such a great addition to this compilation. It is just one more example of what makes Ragnarok Juletide such a great listen for any lover of Christmas music and any metal head around the world this holiday season.
Ragnarok Juletide has so much to offer audiences on its latest full-length release as has been noted here already. The metal legions around the world will appreciate the album’s heavier side exemplified by the likes of the album’s opener ‘We Celebrate at Christmas’ and its take on ‘The First Noel.’ There is also the lesser known ‘The Elf’ that will impress those looking for something a little less heavy but still with a certain edge. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there is the absolutely stunning rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ that closes out the compilation. This song is the single most powerful and moving piece on the entire record. So it makes sense that it would be saved for last. Whether for its solo vocal parts, the ever-so-subtle dual harmony in the song’s closing moments, or its gentle fade out at the end, there is so much to admire about this piece. Anyone not moved at least to some point in listening to this song is either not listening closely enough or simply is not human. It is a wonderful, final moment and one that along with those other songs noted here (and those not noted) makes this record a memorable anniversary celebration for Rakasta Joulua. It makes it just as memorable for anyone looking to escape from the cookie cutter holiday albums that populate most store shelves and radio systems.
Ten years in, Rakasta Joulua has shown yet again that even while it may not have the popularity of Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Mannheim Steamroller, it still impresses just as much today as in its earliest days. From the group’s renditions of more well-known and beloved holiday classics to those that might be more familiar to only certain audiences, Ragnarok Juletide, this record proves in the end to be the best new holiday record of 2014, hands down. It is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered online direct from the Rakasta Joulua website at http://www.rakastajoulua.com. More information on this and other releases from Rakasta Joulua is available online at:
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