The James Clayton column: Wishing you a Metal Christmas

James talks about the Christmas cards he'd really like to receive...

How best to wish your friends and loved ones a Merry Christmas? Unless you’re going to be über-modern and send them an email – a soulless expression of seasonal goodwill if ever there was one; only a festive poke on Facebook would be more devoid of human feeling – it has to be the traditional Christmas card. Ah, what would the December be without the traditional putting of pen to bits of festive fancy paper? Screw all cynicism and moans of suffering as you stress over who you should actually send them to and what their address actually is: Christmas cards are an essential aspect of the holiday. They are the mutual manifestation in miniature form of everything that this time of year is all about: love for your fellow being, excess (when you think about it, it’s a tremendous waste of paper) and brazen exhibitionism.

The cards clogging up your postbox are just another thing that gets the Christmas spirit going. It’s palpably omnipresent now and there is no escape as shops blast out Christmas pop hits, the TV schedules cram in as many tinsel-flecked flicks as possible and fake Santas hold court across the department stores of the country. Even the most hung-up misanthrope gets hazy and can’t help but be overwhelmed by this Christmas atmosphere. Seeing as resistance is futile, you’re best off joining the majority of the merry-making populace, cracking a carefree smile and sitting down to some mulled wine and the stack of Christmas cards that need composing…

Christmas cards are also excellent in that they can be personalised, both for the sender and the receiver. You can send a sweet 17th century-style religious card to your devout church-going uncle and send a sleazy comedy card to the wayward relatives on the other side of the family, at all times expressing your own personality not just through your writing, but in your choice of card. Unless you’re particularly parochial, you need not settle for a drab little card that doesn’t offer anything more than a dreary image of some holly and ivy. Should you have more character, you can go crackers, articulate your persona and have the good grace to not give the special persons of your life something that is insultingly insipid or bland.

The greetings card industry is now such a behemoth in the postmodern world that this is possible no matter what your hobby, character or cult devotion is. For me as a fan of hard rock music, I’m most interested in the Christmas quests of connoisseurs of the heavy metal genre. Are there any cards that can satisfy the bloodlust and brutality demanded of the typical metalhead? Looking to other methods of wishing a cool Yule to compatriots, mistletoe is too mainstream, cosy and corny for the committed metalhead and – going off stereotypes and the past form of some heavy metal personalities – most people wouldn’t be pleased if you brought a live bat or chicken to the Christmas buffet as a gift for them to chomp on (though really, the difference between that and the traditional turkey is limited). To lovingly say “metal up your ass!” to family and friends then, it comes down to the ever-reliable Christmas card and thanks to the prime titans of the musical genre, headbangers have that option.

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Unsurprisingly it’s Iron Maiden leading the way with their annual Christmas card competition. Every year, fans are invited to craft their own Maiden-esque photoshop mock-up or art masterpiece to enter into the battle to be the official band card. Though it’s a shame that the band’s website didn’t appear to collect the best entries in an online Advent calendar for the whole month this time round, a new selection is now on show each day and Luis Coronado has been crowned as the winner. It’s all very creative and exciting and I personally can’t wait to see just how Coronado has interpreted beastly band mascot Eddie for his honourary Christmas appearance.

Eddie the Head, of course, is the horror hero whose skeletal frame stamps every Iron Maiden release, product or artefact and has done since the band’s late ‘70s East London beginnings. He continues to grace album covers in an array of personas (from lobotomy patient to pharaoh, grim reaper to cyborg bounty hunter) and has been invading the stage in bizarre yet brilliant fashion from the get go. Eddie is the colossal core that Iron Maiden is formed around: instantly recognisable, in-sync with the artist’s epic brand of sophisticated, cerebral rock and captivating as a cult icon that audiences pack stadiums to see. The set-piece appearance of a giant Eddie is a highlight at every concert; to have him sat on the mantelpiece amongst the usual humdrum holiday greetings cards would be sweet indeed.

Thrash legends Megadeth have followed suit this year with their own mascot Vic Rattlehead serving as the sinister alternative to Santa as a Christmas figurehead (kids wouldn’t stay up and keep watch if they knew a bolt-eyed monstrous freak was coming down the chimney to deliver their presents). Fans drew up their fresh designs for a new Rattlehead and in the end it was Rick Orlando of Washington State who claimed top prize, getting his vision released as the band’s official printout for fanclub members plus a Christmas day phone call from bandleader Dave Mustaine and a guitar lesson from shredder Chris Broderick. The idea may not be original, but it doesn’t matter. To counter the surfeit of rosy robins and clichéd Father Christmas designs that clutter the shops and to allow alternative culture options, we need more cards that display alternative imagery. Megadeth’s adoption is thus a case of “the more the merrier”.

I’m sure that the mighty Maiden don’t mind others taking up their Christmas concept seeing as they are such down-to-Earth blokes and I’d encourage more to follow considering that there are a great many rock bands who have formulated an identifiable image (for more mascots see Motörhead and Snaggletooth and schlock-horror punkers The Misfits with their Misfits Fiend). Not just a great way for fans to interact with bands, Christmas card competitions encourage collective creativity and a communal experience for kindred spirits, uniting all under within an appealing cultural identity. Those are the kind of things that this season is all about, and as a bonus, you get some sweet artwork and something more interesting to look at than another lame Rudolf card. Metal up your ass! Merry Christmas!

More Eddie pics are over to the right.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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19 December 2008