December 13, 2021

For those familiar with Gilbert’s metal-based guitar shredding technique, the idea of him releasing an album of Christmas covers might seem a little twee. Others though, might see it as a great opportunity for a loud and proud karaoke singalong to a bunch of familiar party tunes played at full volume. They would both be wrong though – Gilbert’s take on this bevy of Christmas classics is to play as little of the main tune as he can reasonably get away with, using the title instead as a hook to hang a prog-metal jam on. For instance, opener Let It Snow is well-known as a jolly, melodic holiday romp, but the recognisable tune only surfaces slowly after a minute’s intro of full-on shredding. The melody reappears a few times, in between full-on improv rock sections, before settling down to a gentle conclusion with plenty of chorus pedal.

Photo: Jason Quigley

Frosty The Snowman is given a surprising minor-key treatment to start with, before the more familiar good-time melody asserts itself, although in jerky 7/8 time, which is a pretty good twist. Most of the songs are well-known modern Christmas tunes, with only a couple of traditional carols as such, including a rendition of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Duetting between straight electric guitar and a beefy slide, Gilbert eventually gives up on the tune and plays a lovely major-key jam before remembering what he’s about and pulling it back at the end. There’s another break from the metal pounding with a lightly jazzy rendition of the old Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire song, but Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is effectively abandoned after a couple of funky minutes, in favour of a slamming dual-guitar rock jam. There’s a surprising amount of George Thorogood’s Bad To The Bone about Gilbert’s bluesy rendition of I Saw Three Ships, which is probably the highlight of the set for this reviewer, and probably for that exact reason. Then we start on some less familiar tunes with the groovy soul of Every Christmas Has Love and the bluegrass rockabilly of Three Strings For Christmas, a pair of Gilbert originals. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is once again given the ballad treatment, which breaks up the intensity nicely, whilst We Wish You A Merry Christmas starts with a rocking, almost punky stab at the tune before going full prog again, ending up as a kind of James Brown funk jam with no reference to the original tune at all.

Again, the less familiar Silver Bells is really just an excuse for a slow triplet blues jam with overtones of Robin Trower, whilst Winter Wonderland is little more than a title to hang a balls-to-the-wall shredding session from. There are some weird and wonderful howling guitar effects in this one, another highlight to close the set. Buyers of the Japanese edition are treated to a bonus track after this, which is simply a traditional slow blues jam given the Gilbert treatment. It’s called Down The Chimney Blues, but the title is neither here nor there, as it’s nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever.

The whole set was recorded by Gilbert and a quartet of other guys from Portland, Oregon, with a minimum of overdubs; effectively each tune was live-tracked over a period of just six days. The title, of course, is a reference to the 19th-century poem ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

We’ve already established that there’s no point trying to sing along to any of these numbers; you’d rarely get past half a verse before having the tune pulled out from under you by prog-metal pranksters. It’s not a dance set for sure, and it’s certainly not a contemplatively spiritual record, to accompany a hot cup of cocoa while you’re waiting for your favourite Christmas rom-com to start on the telly. It’s a party record, pure and simple. Honestly, if you’re the kind of host who likes to hear thudding rhythms and and shredding guitar behind the conversations, with occasional familiar snippets of Christmas tunes occasionally popping their heads above the parapet to add to the ambience, you should probably be pulling on your coat right now to go out and buy a copy.