When Hate Eternal bassist J.J. Hrubovcak announced that he was going to be releasing Death Metal Christmas - Hellish Renditions of Christmas Classics, the idea was met with chuckles and smiles. Hrubovcak is a skilled musician, but surely this was going to be a silly one-listen affair, right? So, imagine our surprise when we learned the overarching vibe of the EP is one of complete straight-faced seriousness.
"I hate the holiday jokey novelty thing with a passion," enthuses Hrubovcak in a recent Exclaim! interview. "I don't want to see Santa zombies or hear exact covers of 'Frosty the Snowman' with growls... I wanted to do it in a serious manner and make it a real metal record and twist the original lyrics to apply to the present time with darker themes. I wanted to do something I would want to listen to myself, and I love serious old-school death metal. The joke novelty perception is probably the biggest hurdle when introducing folks to the EP. That's why it was so important to focus on the seriousness and themes in the press releases and let folks know it's not what they might think."
Enlisting his brother Mike on vocals (who also happens to sing for Vile and legendary death metal underdogs Monstrosity), Hrubovcak says he grew up hearing religious Christmas hymns in his household, and he loved them. The dark lyrical themes and minor keys were very appealing to a boy who would go on to become a lover, and player, of dark, extreme music.
"Some of these tunes made the time periods in which they were written feel so forlorn and like such a struggle," he says. "Obviously, if you take a look at Roman Catholicism, there are a lot of dark themes of struggle, pain and oppression in everything. I've wanted to do this for a while and I chose songs that were some of my favourites. Even if it wasn't a Christmas record, I thought these hymns still need to be heard in a death metal context."
And he branched out from hymns as well, tackling the Nutcracker theme song, which is still associated with the season. It's probably the EP's standout track (although the sludge-death take on "We Three Kings" is most excellent), and for Hrubovcak, it all comes down to passion. Again: this is no novelty album.
"Obviously, 'Nutcracker' wasn't a hymn but it's aggressive and dark and Tchaikovsky rules. I love any music with aggression and passion. I mentioned to someone else that every genre has its own version of aggression and passion — jazz has hard bop, classical has the early 20th century Russian composers, we have death metal. And I love it all."
Something else worth mentioning is the lyrical concept on the EP. Not content to rework the songs musically to fit a death metal framework, Hrubovcak (who says he has no plans to play this material live) also redid the lyrics. It's a bit of a daunting concept, as he explains.
"The lyrics depict a fantastical and possible future outcome to mankind's current path and focus on Azrael, the angel of death in some Islam, Sikhism, and Hebrew lore. Azrael is born to a wealthy, politically connected family during times of great turmoil on Earth. He develops his political career and is such a great orator in adulthood that world leaders turn to him for solutions to their citizens' issues. The times are ripe because everyone is looking for answers. This is out of the public eye. As he gains more power and influence, he soon realizes his own lust for power and seduces the leaders into crowning him king. He then betrays them and inflicts great suffering on man the world over in the name of power and greed. Once he is fully self-actualized, he realizes that this was his destiny — to cleanse the Earth of man."
Death Metal Christmas - Hellish Renditions of Christmas Classics is out now, and you can purchase it here.