Review: August Burns Red – Sleddin’ Hill

Sleddin'_HillWhen most people think of Christmas music, they probably aren’t thinking about heavy metal power chords or pounding drums. But after metalcore band August Burns Red released a few holiday instrumentals to a warm reception, they decided to put together a full-length album called Sleddin’ Hill. The title is fitting, because this is not a cozy, fireside-carol kind of Christmas album. It’s a heart-pounding, grin-inducing, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride, and yet it still has moments of rest and quiet beauty.

Sleddin’ Hill includes two original instrumentals that manage to be easily recognizable as holiday songs. The first one, “Flurries,” opens the album on a cheerful note, interweaving soft piano, bells and chimes with shredding guitars and blisteringly fast drums. Throughout the album, this blend of metal, punk, pop-rock and more classical styles creates a surprisingly diverse sound. August Burns Red has always shown technical skill, but the focus on instrumentals seems to really bring out out the band’s creativity.

One of the best songs on the album is “Sleigh Ride,” a fun, rollicking take on the old-fashioned carol – complete with drum effects that sound like a whip. A jazzy section with piano and horns pops in around the middle of the song, and some hand clapping toward the end brings a pop-rock feel. The band mostly leaves traditional melodies intact on Sleddin’ Hill, but August Burns Red plays around more in “Jingle Bells” with skillful guitar solos and a jazzy bass groove section. This one actually does sounds like a fireside carol at first. It begins with a soft acoustic guitar, piano and jingle bells before the drums and electric guitars make their roaring entrance for the chorus.

The tracks that stay closest to August Burns Red’s usual metalcore style are “Frosty the Snowman,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells.” The first two are straightforward and somewhat forgettable, but “Carol of the Bells” is beautifully haunting. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is also fairly straightforward, but it’s the only song on the album with vocals, which are melodic but raw and almost hidden behind the instruments. Amusingly, the lyrics are complete with the familiar childhood shouts of “like a light bulb!” and “like a flashlight!” The biggest departure in style on Sleddin’ Hill is the title track, which is the second original song. It features acoustic guitars, banjos and fiddles playing a folksy tune over clacking percussion. It’s not until the latter half that the electric guitars and pounding drums are reintroduced.

“Little Drummer Boy” and “O Come O Come Emmannuel” bring a more solemn mood with march-like drums broken up by softer sections and smooth interludes. Both “Oh Holy Night” and the album closer, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” interweave the band’s metalcore style with other musical styles and instruments, including strings, horns, bells and a tambourine. The last track even breaks into a polka sound before diving into the last wailing guitar solo.

While it may be too loud and fast-paced for some, especially on repeat listens, Sleddin’ Hill should appeal to more than just fans of metalcore or August Burns Red. This collection of holiday instrumentals is more than just a novelty. It showcases the band’s skill and creativity, and it offers a unique alternative to the mainstream for those looking to rock harder at Christmastime.

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