There isn’t much to say about Christmas albums; they’re either good or they’re bad. We’ve seen our fair share of the bad, with numerous compilations thrown out just before the start of the holiday season with poor pop-punk Christmas anthems on them. To be honest, worthwhile traditional Christmas albums by rock bands are a rare breed. Thankfully, Duvall has offered up a wonderful ten-track effort chock full of yuletide cheer.
The aptly titled O Holy Night features traditional Christmas songs rather than Christmas-influenced original songs (see: The Vandals’ Oi to the World). Each song is performed in the trademark Duvall / Smoking Popes (Josh and Eli Caterer both played in the Smoking Popes) manner, with heavy influence on melody and harmonization. It’s excellent rock music if I’ve ever heard it, not just throwaway punk riffs with flat Christmas lyrics over them. The music corresponds nicely with the traditional songs; you won’t find some Me First And The Gimme Gimmies-esque simple punk rock riffs here. What puts the album over the top, however, are the vocals, done wonderfully by lead vocalist Josh Caterer, but not without help from brother Eli and drummer Rob Kellenberger, who also drums (or drummed) in Colossal, Tuesday, and Slapstick. Their three voices (with added vocals from a slew of guests) create a beautiful atmosphere for the songs, which in turn makes the songs sound even more Christmas-y and traditional. Had the vocals not been so strong, this album would not be nearly as good as it turned out to be.
Highlights include the stellar “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Holy Night,” and the opener, “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The first song catches you off-guard for a moment, beginning with strictly vocals and harmonization, but then transforms into a rocking Christmas anthem. Another surprise to be found was “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” for it contains no music; just vocals. The song is nothing short of beautiful; you won’t even notice that there is no music, for the band’s voices are more than enough. Finally, the instrumental “Joy To The World” is probably the hardest-rocking track on here, and the omission of vocals allows for your own interpretation of the lyrics. Of course, you can always sing the traditional lyrics, but who doesn’t love singing the grade-school favorite “Joy to the world, my teacher’s dead - we barbecued her head!?” While listening to the entire album, I couldn’t help but smile; that’s when you know you’ve got a great piece of work on your hands.
Regardless of your religion, you should find more than a few enjoyable moments on O Holy Night. As far as Christmas albums go, it is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever heard. However, any fan of straight-up, no-bullshit rock music and excellent vocals should listen to this pronto. Even in the post-holiday, pre-January period, it's worth it.
“Angels We Have Heard on High”
“Little Drummer Boy”
“O Holy Night”
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful”