A brief history of the metal Christmas song – and why there’ll (probably) never be a heavy holiday classic

King Diamond posing next to a reindeer that has tinsel on its head
(Image credit: King Diamond via X/Twitter)

It’s Christmastime! Time for all of us to start wrapping presents, prepare to eat gut-busting amounts of food and stick on those playlists of nonstop classic Christmas songs. Wait… we metalheads don’t really have a classic Christmas song, do we?

Of course, a whole host of heavy metal megastars have attempted to make their own standout holiday song over the genre’s history. Twisted Sister, Rob Halford, Tony Iommi, Type O Negative – hell, even Christopher Lee… all these idols and more have dabbled in adding a touch as black as coal to the otherwise joyous yuletide season. Whether they’ve been shockingly shit or brilliantly inventive, though, none of these efforts have ever become true hits in their creators’ oeuvres. What gives?

It’s not like there’s no precedent for hard-rocking bands making successful holiday tunes. Slade and Wizzard were key influences on a litany of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands in the 1970s: their respective singles Merry Xmas Everybody and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day remain their biggest hits, continuing to blast listeners with festive cheer every year.

However, once heavy metal took over in the ’80s, its musicians took one of two approaches to the Christmas song. Either they used extreme music’s anti-mainstream stance to satirically slash at the holidays, or they tried to earnestly continue the lineage of hard-rockin’ Christmas classics. Venom took the former approach for 1987 thrash metal scrapper Black Xmas, as did Spinal Tap on the nonsensically, comically dark Christmas With The Devil. Despite these songs both being solid, they were treated more as novelty deep cuts than the next breakout single.

At the other end of the spectrum was King Diamond’s No Presents For Christmas, which came out as his first single in 1985 (yes, seriously). But, in an inarguably dumb move, the Mercyful Fate monarch’s big holiday gambit wasn’t released until on Christmas Day itself! Any shot at building up radio goodwill in the lead-up to the day or charting over the holidays was dashed, just like that.

As the ’90s dawned, the metal Christmas song remained more a curiosity than a staple. Type O Negative included Red Water (Christmas Mourning), a goth metal narrative about death during the holidays, as a deep cut on October Rust, while Tankard drunkenly raged against holly jolly bullshit on 1995’s Fuck Christmas.

Then, towards the decade’s close, Trans-Siberian Orchestra capitalised on the exploding popularity of the Christmas covers album, rejuvenated by Mariah Carey and Kenny G’s massively successful efforts in 1994. Their first two festive albums, Christmas Eve And Other Stories and The Christmas Attic, were major-label sleeper hits: despite charting poorly upon release, both have now been certified platinum.

Such success opened the door for countless major metal players to give collections of Christmas covers a crack. Twisted Sister ended a 29-year dry spell with A Twisted Christmas, Rob Halford reactivated his solo band for 2009’s Winter Songs and Armoury Records released We Wish You A Metal Xmas And A Headbanging New Year: a compilation of 12 classics covered by Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi, Lemmy, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Dave Grohl and more. Disney even released an all-rock version of the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack in 2008, featuring Korn, Evanescence and Flyleaf.

Sadly, none of these albums became annual must-hears for the majority of metalheads. Plus, as bundles of readaptations, they didn’t bring heavy music any closer to producing its quintessential Christmas song. And, given metal’s mainstream apex of the 1980s has long since passed, our genre will now probably never get its own Slade or Wizzard.

But that’s OK. Heavy metal has always been music’s obnoxious and iconoclastic stepchild, so the idea of it ever truly embracing that most hallowed of Christian holidays is jarring, to say the least. And, on the other side, it’s a safe bet that most of your family don’t want to hear bombastic guitars and thunderous drums as they’re unwrapping their gifts.

Even if the tradition never catches on, though, we’ll still have sounds like King Diamond squealing “Santa needs a helping haaaaaaaand!” to tide the most devout metalheads over for the rest of time.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.