When producer/composer Paul O’Neill founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra and launched the yuletide franchise with the album “Christmas Eve & Other Stories” in 1996, he helped lay the foundation of an unexpected niche genre: hard rock Christmas carols.
Eleven years later, TSO is a mainstream yuletide tradition. According to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore since 1999, TSO’s touring company has sold 2.9 million tickets and has grossed $111 million from 487 shows. The project is mainly known for extravagant concerts filled with lights, pyro effects and amplifiers, but its recorded-music titles are also solid sellers. Five titles have sold nearly 5.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Atlantic senior director of A&R and marketing Greg Nadel predicts that TSO will extend its reach farther this year. Its single “Wizards in Winter” is gaining traction on radio, and Atlantic is working on a promotion with iTunes. “It’s just a phenomenon,” he said.
But though TSO has staked the biggest piece of the snow-covered metal market, other projects in a similar vein are seeking a place under the tree, and they’re being created by bands whose careers peaked during the ’80s hair metal era.
As far back as 1997 and 1998, Steve Vai got some fellow guitarists together to record two Christmas albums, which have since scanned 4,000 units total, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And now with a little digging, such albums as Koch Records’ “We Wish You a Hairy Christmas,” Perris Records’ “The Glam That Stole Christmas, Vol. 1” and Rusty Diamond’s “Bangin’ Round the X-Mas Tree” can be found at Amazon.
One record that has achieved solid success is 2006’s “A Twisted Christmas” by Twisted Sister on Razor & Tie. The band earned more publicity than it had in decades, and the album has sold 70,000 copies. To sustain the title’s momentum, the band released the DVD “A Twisted Christmas: Live” Sept. 25; however, it has sold fewer than 1,000 copies so far.
Razor & Tie, pleased with last year’s “Twisted” success, approached band guitarist J.J. French to co-produce “Monster Ballads Xmas.” The compilation, released Sept. 11, has such bands as Dokken, Firehouse and Winger put their stamp on seasonal evergreens. It also has sold fewer than 1,000 copies to date.
The album is part of Razor & Tie’s “Monster” compilation series, which gathers hits from hair metal acts for such collections as “Monsters of Rock” and “Monster Ballads.”
“We had had so much success with the ’Monster Ballads’ packages over the years that (the Christmas album) was just a really natural hybrid to make happen,” Razor & Tie head of marketing Michael Krumper said.
Relapse mail-order and wholesale buyer Brian O’Neill pointed out that the holidays are a time for nostalgia, and ’80s nostalgia is in vogue.
“Thanks to YouTube, now you can watch everything from Twisted Sister from the videos that were in high rotation on MTV back in (those) days,” he says. Though he considers holiday metal a novelty, “I will say this,” he adds. “All this stuff, it beats hearing ’Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ for the 4 millionth damn time.”