It’s easy to think of Christmas music as inherently annoying and not metal. There are only so many times you can hear a manic, sparkly song about sugarplums before you want to kick over a light-up plastic reindeer. But the truth is that plenty of Christmas carols are actually pretty heavy, and would sound badass with a lot of chainsaw guitar riffs and double-bass drums applied to them.
So for your seasonal pleasure, we’ve put together a list of the heaviest Christmas songs — one for each day of Christmas! — ranked by how metal they actually are. And if you think these songs could use a full-on metal makeover, get in on our Jingle Hells charity challenge and help a good cause by making Christmas carols metal!
Here’s how the sleigh bells tolls…
12. “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas”
“And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again…” Not the jolliest of sentiments, but there you go. That’s what makes “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” a little edgier than its peers: it’s a more realistic Christmas carol. The song is obviously very sweet, but there’s also a sense that the singer is as hopeless as they are festive. Whether they like it or not, Christmas is coming. It’s practically here. Nothing can stop it.
11. “Sleigh Ride”
The thrash song of Christmas carols. “Sleigh Ride” has a manic energy that makes one wonder if the person whipping the horses drawing the titular sleigh has slept much in recent days. In that respect, it’s also a perfect Christmas song for annoying the hell out of people who don’t like Christmas music, so there’s something truly mad about it. This holiday season, learn it on guitar and play the melody as many times in a row as possible, and then see how long it takes for your one aunt to lose her shit.
10. “We Three Kings”
It’s all in the minor chords. “We Three Kings” sounds inherently arcane and old-world in its melody, no doubt hearkening back to the orientalism surrounding the three wise men (they even use the word “orient,” which has obviously not aged well). The whole thing lends a level of magic to the nativity – not sparkly magic, not Christmas magic, but big-old-book-bound-in-human-=skin magic. Never forget, this is really a pagan holiday.
9. “O Come All Ye Faithful”
What exactly makes “O Come All Ye Faithful” in any way metal? Maybe the fact that a classic metal song is based off of its melody! Yup, Dee Snider has admitted that the tune of the chorus of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is inspired by this classic Christmas track. This might explain why the band’s Twisted Christmas shows were such an instant hit: they were already positioned to win with them. Now you’ll never be able to un-hear it!
8. “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”
From the get-go, “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” has a really haunting, medieval vibe to it. One can hear the solemn, candle-littered, Catholic Christmas lurking at its core. But more metal than that is the opening line of the song, which describes the angel Gabriel as having “wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.” Fuck yeah, this Todd McFarlane-ass angel Gabriel! Fuck yeah, Image Comics Christmas!
7. “The Holly and The Ivy”
While not exactly high-octane or especially evil, “The Holly and The Ivy” might be the most pagan Christmas carol out there. All of the lyrics are really about Yule, not Christmas, with lines like “The rising of the sun/The running of the deer” making one imagine a lone Viking encountering a herd of beasts moving through the dawn. It’s a solid reminder that most of what we consider Christmas is in fact borrowed pagan winter traditions. See how many times you can say, “Jesus was actually born in late May” before someone in your family asks you to shut the fuck up.
6. “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”
Okay, we admit it: calling Louis Armstrong’s “Zat You, Santa Claus?” a ‘Christmas carol’ is pushing it a bit. But maybe we should start considering it one, because this song smokes. Armstrong and The Commanders really create a perfect mixture of mischievous bass lines and skyscraper brass accents, resulting in a cartoonishly huge Christmas tune that sounds like it’s about Old Saint Nick stealing your girl. Though definitely part of the awful oldies trend of ethnic Christmas songs (the Italians got it real bad, too), this track is too killer to lose to revisionist history.
Nevermind the fact that “Greensleeves” sounds inherently pagan in its tune and romantic lyrics – it’s probably about sleeping with prostitutes. According to Wikipedia, “green” was often used to describe a woman as promiscuous, and a green gown might reference a woman’s dress being grass-stained due to getting shtupped in the fields. As such, it stands to reason that everyone’s favorite Christmas ballad might be about lusting after a hooker who liked to do it by the side of the road. Consider this your Christmas dinner conversation.
4. “O Holy Night”
There’s nothing more metal than going big, and “O Holy Night” has one of the biggest moments in Christmas music. That “Fall on your knees!” leading into the first refrain is just absolutely massive, and kicks off a beautiful, soaring section that Bruce Dickinson would be honored to belt out. What makes Christmas music, and the Christianity surrounding the holiday, kind of grating and terrible is that it’s often so sugary-sweet and nice, but here, the spirit explodes into the night.
3. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Why is this tearjerker ballad so high on our list of metal Christmas carols? Because the dudes singing it were pretty much waiting to die. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is from World War II, and is meant to be a wish made by a soldier who will not, and may never again be, home for Christmas. That’s why it ends with, “If only in my dreams.” That dude is going to spend Christmas in Paris or North Africa feeling bullet shrapnel move from his liver to his bladder. So yeah, pretty heavy.
2. “God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen”
As far as we can tell, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is the only Christmas song that directly references our dark lord Lucifer. The third line of the first verse reminds the listener that Christ came “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we had gone astray,” which is a more direct reference to Christianity’s core concept than you hear at this candy-coated time of the year. For that reason alone, it gets the #2 slot; that the chorus makes “comfort and joy” sound deeply ominous only cements this ranking.
1. “Carol of the Bells”
There is something uniquely haunting and melodramatic about “Carol of the Bells.” Maybe it’s the swaying rhythm of its chimes and eerie old-world tune. Maybe it’s the fact that its steady, driving vocals often sound like they’re being sung by a choir of ghosts. Whatever the case, the song has an arched, cathedral-esque power that makes one think less of the hot new toy under the tree and more of a child with icy fingers leading you down a cobblestone street by the light of a single candle. None more jolly.
Words by Chris Krovatin