Christmas is almost here, and what better way to celebrate than by jumping to the Wham! and Mariah Carey’s classics covered by a horned monster from Central European folklore? That’s more or less the deal with Krampusnacht, the nickname of a mysterious fan of vintage keyboards from Greenland. Each year in December, he adopts the character of the demonic figure “Krampus”, known for his seasonal punishments of naughty children throughout Austria and southern Germany, and releases an EP of festive tunes.
With every release – six since 2017, on Bandcamp – he delivers baroque and bubbling electronic versions of his party favorites, from “Last Christmas” to “Good King Wenceslas”. For the unnamed “synth dungeon” musician, it’s a Christmas compulsion. “I am literally possessed once a year by the demon Krampus and forced to create an album serving his purpose to bring terror and joy to those who choose to listen,” he once explained.
Krampusnacht’s unlikely reign as the bearer of seasonal strangeness is a reminder that Christmas music comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not just the same old schmaltz you hear in the John Lewis commercials or the classic knit sweaters from Frank Sinatra or Perry Como. Sometimes it’s downright weird – weirder even than David Bowie in a duet with Bing Crosby or the Pogues’ “Fairy Tale New York” narrators discovering the spirit of Christmas deep in a well of mutual antipathy and of self-loathing.
Welcome, in other words, to the fascinating and special world of the Christmas Misfit album. This crazy genre spans decades, weaving into the Christmas tapestry such improbable subjects as science fiction, HP Lovecraft’s horror writings, and pagan folklore.
You could fill a life’s supply of stockings with examples from the middle. There are Mr Hankey’s Christmas classics from 1999, in which the singing poo of South Park performed songs such as “Merry F *** ing Christmas” and “What the Hell Child Is This”. We also cannot forget the years 2018 Shatner claus, or Star trekFormer Captain Kirk William Shatner wraps his tonsils around “Little Drummer Boy” and “Run Rudolph Run” (“oh no, no, no,” according to a review on Amazon).
These Christmas quirks allow for a broader expression of the holiday season. “People want to hear from all sides [about Christmas]Says Chad Fifer of goth-punk band Pitch Black Manor. The band just released an abrasive glam metal Christmas double-sided titled “All Bagged Up / The Wendigo” (sample lyrics: “Were you mean? Were you nice? Did you sleep on thin ice?” “).
One of the inspirations for Pitch Black Manor was The Kinks and their 1977 single “Father Christmas”, in which the narrator threatens to cause serious injury to Santa in a department store. “Santa, give us some money / We’ll beat you if you piss us off,” the chorus said cheerfully. “The character in the song wants a machine gun for Christmas to protect himself from bullies,” says Fifer. “There is room for every reaction this time of year.”
Christmas records have seen a huge increase in popularity since the arrival of streaming. Spotify’s Christmas Hits playlist, which opens with “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey and ends six hours later with Dolly Parton and Michael Bublé singing “Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas”, counts 4.5 million followers. Meanwhile, more and more artists are looking to join the festive gold rush. Gary Barlow and Norah Jones are among those to release seasonal music in 2021, following Goo Goo Dolls, Delta Goodrem, Jamie Cullum and Tori Amos last year, and Robbie Williams and Rod Stewart in 2019.
But sometimes it’s nice to take a break from wall-to-wall merriment. This is where the Misfit Christmas LP comes in.
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“The holiday songs were just played to death,” says Sean Branney, producer of the 2003 collection. A very frightening solstice, featuring members of the HP Lovecraft Literary Society. Described as an amalgamation of “the wonderful tradition of the happy holiday season with the cosmic horror of the myth of Cthulhu,” the album brings a touch of gothic horror to December with songs such as “Do You Fear What I Fear? And “Far in a madhouse”. This year, there’s an added treat for fans of Eldritch horror, with the company planning a dark and stormy version of “Little Drummer Boy”.
“More [Christmas songs] have become musical clichés that have been shattered by decades of overexposure, ”says Branney of playful covers of the Society’s Christmas classics – where traditional lyrics get a Lovecraftian makeover (“ Have yourself a Scary Little Christmas ”) . “By swapping the lyrics for something surprising and funny, the songs come to life.”
Often times, these alternate songs offer a biased take on Christmas that serves as a beacon for those for whom this time of year is more than a happy season. Mainstream records can do it too – “Last Christmas” is, after all, one of the most devastating pop songs of all time. Yet in general, Christmas music encountered on the radio or on playlists tends to be upbeat. The Misfit Christmas Album allows the listener to experience a range of feelings, from anger, sadness, or just screaming indifference.
“Christmas has become a holiday that is often sweet in its feelings and ruthless marketing,” Branney says. “But for many, the holiday season is a dark time when seasonal joy can be hard to come by. There are those for whom family time is not a source of joy or for whom spending the holidays is a burden and not a pleasure.
That’s not to say that the Christmas Misfit album always comes from a place of melancholy, mischief or anarchy. In 1996, the Portland-based ambient label Projekt released Excelsis 1 (A Dark Christmas), a “spatial and ethereal” compilation that featured cosmic interpretations of “O Holy Night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and other standards. A remastered edition has just been reissued.
“At the time when the Excelsis… The record came out, most of the Christmas records were Bing Crosby and Sinatra, ”said Projekt founder Sam Rosenthal. “Nothing wrong with that per se, but it was sort of tired. Most modern things seemed to be versions of jokes [like] A Punk Rock Christmas where someone once or twice shouted “Jingle Bells” in a mocking manner. We thought there was room for an ethereal reimagining of Christmas carols.
A similar sincerity motivated producer Meco Monardo when, in 1978, he contacted Star Wars creator George Lucas, suggesting that the Jedi franchise was ripe for a Christmas spin-off (Monardo had previously produced the disco collection Star Wars and other galactic funks in 1977). And this seriousness continued until the LP he made with Lucas’s blessing: the 80s Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album.
“I said [to Lucas], “You have characters that look so much like all the Christmas characters that we all love,” Monardo said in 2005. “I went into specifics and ended up saying, ‘I think we should do a Christmas album set. “
Lucas was at Elstree Studios in London at the time, doing The Empire Strikes Back. He must have been impressed with the pitch as he took the time to call Monardo. He then sent C-3PO himself, Anthony Daniels, to New York to provide voices.
The tracks were stranger than a tutu stormtrooper. The songs included “What can you get a Wookiee for Christmas (when he already has a comb?),” In which a storytelling robot worries about what gifts to buy for Chewbacca. There is also an issue called “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, which features the lead voice of a 17-year-old budding rocker named Jon Bongiovi, the nephew of project producer Tony Bongiovi. He would later change the spelling of his name to Jon Bon Jovi.
“He had that cute little voice,” Monardo said of Bongiovi’s contribution. “He was still a child and his voice hadn’t even reached tone yet.”
With its mix of Chipmunk “robots” and lyrics like “everyone will get a cookie, I bought an extra one for the Wookiee”, Christmas in the stars is enough to induce temporary madness in today’s listener. Nonetheless, it proved to be a major success for Monardo, increasing to 150,000 copies.
But anything Star Wars can do the Lord of the Rings can do. Or at least the evil wizard Saruman, in the form of his alter ego, Christopher Lee. As well as being a lifelong Tolkien devotee, Lee was a huge fan of heavy metal, and between 2012 and 2014 he released several Christmas-themed metal collections, A Heavy Metal Christmas, A Heavy Metal Christmas too and The darkest songs, Faithful Sing. Among the classics that Lee has tackled are “Little Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night”.
“I have a great belief that things – no matter what they are: music, literature, everything in life – should surprise people every now and then,” Lee said in an interview promoting The darkest songs, Faithful Sing. “And that’s what I believe in: surprising people. “
He is right. Surprises always make life more interesting. And in the midst of the annual deluge of sonic molasses, the Christmas album Misfit serves precisely that purpose. It reminds us that there is an alternative to the Christmas storybook. May the bleak midwinter be a time of nonsense and silliness – of wookiee cookies, Christopher Lee screaming like a banshee and the Krampus playing gothic keyboard solos. In other words, the Christmas Misfit album reminds us that it’s perfectly okay not to fit in and to mark December in whatever way we feel is appropriate.
Krampusnacht’s ‘Krampusferatu’ is now available via Band camp