20 rock and metal songs to welcome in winter
Inherently cold and dark, grim and frostbitten, winter is indubitably the time of year best-suited to a heavy soundtrack. Where most of society rages against the annual dying of the light with an onslaught of ugly jumpers, continental markets, rampant consumerism and interminably syrupy Christmas songs – from the gleeful (The Darkness’ Christmas Time) to the soul-scarring (Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas) – we feel it’s only logical to luxuriate in the icy majesty of the year’s end.
Whether that means submersing oneself in the scourging Northern terror of black metal, embracing the stark beauty of frosty alt.rock or basking in the wryly defiant glow of some non-holiday warmers, there are options aplenty. Songs intended specifically as part of the Yuletide celebrations are excluded here, as are those ostensibly “snowy” classics (Black Sabbath’s Snowblind, AC/DC’s Snowballed) that really refer to cocaine. Otherwise, it’s anything goes in our 20-point case for why winter really kills…
AFI – Love Like Winter
‘Warn your warmth to turn away,’ croons Davey Havok on the second single from AFI’s brilliant seventh LP. ‘Here it’s December everyday…’ As the Californian emo icons began to dabble with synth-rock and new wave, they clung to their roots with a concept pulled straight from the cold, hard earth of their past. Featuring Davey dropping through ice into a frozen lake, the Mark Webb-directed music video (reportedly influenced by movies like Kill Bill Vol.1 and Sleepy Hollow) is one of the most bracing in their history.
Linkin Park – My December
Written by Mike Shinoda while out on an end-of-year tour in support of their smash debut Hybrid Theory, and originally recorded for US radio-station KROQ’s “The Real Slim Santa” CD, My December is one of the most underrated songs in Linkin Park’s songbook. Eschewing crashing guitars in favour of downbeat keys, scratched turntables and a subtly layered vocal interchange between Mike and Chester Bennington, it is a spine-tingling counterpoint to the bombast of the time. Despite never making it to a full studio album, it is now one of their most released songs, featured on seven different CDs between 2000 and 2002, though its wintry genesis flickers through.
Woods Of Ypres – The Northern Cold
Hailing from Windsor, Ontario, legendary blackened doomsters Woods Of Ypres might be one of Canada’s most southerly-located metal outfits, but their music has always been full of the uncompromising iciness of the far north. Almost any cut from their tellingly-titled 2002 debut EP, Against The Seasons: Cold Winter Songs From The Dead Summer Heat could’ve made this list, but we’ve gone for the opening track from 2008’s Woods III: The Deepest Roots And Darkest Blues. Five-and-a-half minutes of misery that’ll work its way into your bones.
Gojira – Born In Winter
‘Before all things reborn again / You learn the painful breath of time / Cold mourning stretches out your arms / To the mighty warmth of the golden sun…’ Always the philosophical naturalists, French metal maestros Gojira view the deathly emptiness of winter as a necessary step in the circle of life on this penultimate track from stunning fifth album L’Enfant Sauvage. Understated guitars prickle like frostbite for most of the four-minute duration, with the final-third payoff swirling up and away like fallen leaves in a storm.
Darkthrone – Where Cold Winds Blow
There is a romantic view of wintry desolation that imagines the stillness and silence of being lost in some sprawling snowscape. As Norwegian terrors Darkthrone fully handed themselves over to the second-wave of black metal, they presented an alternative vision of the chaos and desperation of being lost in the storm. This classic cut imagines the plight of a forgotten warrior lost to the ice still contemplating the internal tension between his intellectual and warlike ways: ‘Where cold winds blow I was laid to rest / I can not reach my rusty weapons / The blood and sword that guided my path / For they drowned in the sands of wisdom…’
A.A. Williams – Cold
The haunting “death-gospel” of London-based singer-songwriter A.A. Williams feels almost inherently wintry in its execution: sparse and sullen sounds made heavy by the memory of seasons passed. Cold might be her wintriest offering to date, from the leafless trees reaching like skeletal fingers towards the sky in its washed-out music video, to the vocals that hang like freezing fog against the low sun, to that titular promise that she herself is truly ‘cold and gone…’ Atmospheric mastery.
Metallica – Trapped Under Ice
Viewed against the full span of 1984’s Ride The Lightning – or, indeed, Metallica’s broader mid-’80s run – Trapped Under Ice feels like relative filler: four minutes of horns-aloft thrash that’s happy to bang its head without worrying about changing music forever. It’s still fucking brilliant, though. Fixated, like much of the rest of the album, on the fear of impending death, it remains nightmarishly evocative in its panicked scramble, while that mid-point shoutalong (‘Scream from my soul / Fate, mystified / Hell, forever more!’) still feels hypothermically untouchable.
Biffy Clyro – Wolves Of Winter
While most artists would prefer to portray winter with a sense of stark minimalism, Biffy Clyro go about it with all the unabashed bombast of a boozy night out on Hogmanay. ‘You are no exception,’ sings Simon Neil, with real defiance, on the first single from 2016’s seventh studio album Ellipsis. ‘There are no reruns / Justify your reasons / Now it is my turn…’ Although the Wolves Of Winter concept is as stubbornly abstract as any in Biffy’s canon, their message about seizing your moment – even if it comes at the year’s lowest ebb – feels appropriately seasonal.
Smashing Pumpkins – My Love Is Winter
‘Silent fog / Let’s pass and wither / From the cold that saws me flat / My love is winter / My love is lost…’ This swooning stand-out from Smashing Pumpkins’ underrated eighth LP Oceania started life as a stripped-down ballad, with a far starker feel than the finished article. With the input of guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne, it took on more of a floaty shoegaze feel, evoking those bright, brisk cloudless days – a chink of light in the sea of grey.
Agalloch – Falling Snow
Almost certainly the greatest folk-black metal band in the history of American heavy music, Portland, Oregon’s Agalloch paid homage to the frostbitten brilliance of their Scandinavian forbears, while emphasising the dense flora and wild beauty of their home in the Pacific Northwest. This second track on their phenomenal third LP is one of their finest compositions, drawing comparisons between the shifting human condition and changing scenes of nature, as their blend of electric and acoustic guitars alongside harsh and clean vocals build into a soundscape unlike any other.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Snow (Hey Oh)
Okay, okay, we said in the intro that “snowy” songs referring to cocaine were excluded, but we’re making an exception for this 2006 diamond from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ otherwise bloated 2006 double-album Stadium Arcadium because John Frusciante’s gorgeous guitar riff so perfectly evokes the magic of soft snowfall. The song actually refers to coke and China White heroin, lamenting the difficulty of escaping addiction to start anew. That quest to leave the past behind and start anew equally fits the theme of the year (finally) ending.
Amon Amarth – Arrival Of The Fimbul Winter
If anyone knows about the unforgiving face of winter, it’s the Vikings. Named after the Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology – the long, harsh winter that precedes Ragnarok’s ultimate Armageddon – Arrival Of The Fimbul Winter was the title-track to Amon Amarth’s 1994 demos, before being resurrected for 1996’s Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds EP and as a bonus track on 2002’s Versus The World. Showcasing the Stockholm warriors’ early buzzsaw death metal sound, it still feels like a stirring soundtrack to the end of all things.
Foo Fighters – February Stars
Although the ‘Winter Is Coming’ motif feels writ large across pop culture nowadays, little note is given to the other end of the cycle where we’re coming out of the dark and back into the light. This underrated classic from Foo Fighters’ second album (suffering, perhaps, from comparisons to Everlong) grapples with that idea that it’s darkest before the dawn, promising that no matter how hopeless things can seem, they will get better: ‘February Stars / Floating in the dark / Temporary scars / February Stars…’ Keep reaching for the green shoots of spring.
Trivium – Silence In The Snow
Residents of the subtropical state of Florida, Trivium were never really familiar with the changing of the seasons while growing up. On tour supporting Heaven & Hell (aka Dio-fronted Black Sabbath) in Japan in 2007, however, they were exposed to the ingrained significance of the snowfall in Japanese culture and saw a match for its widescreen minimalism in the sprawling classic metal of their tour mates. Those inspirational seeds wouldn’t bear fruit for eight years, but the title-track to their seventh album certainly captured the power and grandeur of that country’s great snow-capped peaks when it saw the (cold) light of day.
Run The Jewels – Walking In The Snow
There was a powerful sense of contrast when this ostensibly snow-themed banger became one of the most potent protest songs of America’s 2020 summer of discontent. Playing on the imagery of a cold-hearted and overwhelmingly white-biased socio-political landscape, Killer Mike and El‑P – with help from Gangsta Boo – plough through a lyrically dense tirade against the systemic racism of the country they call home that feels painfully relevant all year ‘round. ‘Just got done walkin’ in the snow / Goddamn, that motherfucker cold…’ Quite.
Mastodon – Cold Dark Place
Recorded during the sessions for 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun, the eventual title-track to 2017 EP Cold Dark Place feels like a song out on its own for the Atlanta metal titans. We toyed with including their Game Of Thrones-inspired White Walker here instead, but the combination of acoustic guitar, wailing pedal-steel and Brent Hinds’ distant vocals – before an outrageously melodramatic electric crescendo – on Cold Dark Place showcases Mastodon at their most powerfully introspective. An avalanche of feels.
Weezer – December
The thirteenth and final track on Weezer’s fourth LP Maladroit isn’t expressly a Christmas song (hence the inclusion here), but it does smoulder with the same sentimental warmth as many of the classics of that genre. ‘Only love can ease the pain / Of a boy caught in the rain,’ croons Rivers Cuomo, with real woundedness. ‘Only hope will remember / Burning flame in December…’ Where so many songwriters would go OTT with the schmaltz, though, this is a superbly stripped-back composition – all bare bones and beating heart.
Palm Reader – Internal Winter
In contrast with that picture of internal contentment tucked up against the cold outside, this shapeshifting nightmare from Brit-metal firebrands Palm Reader suggests how much harder tragedy can hit through the gloomy months. “As a phrase, [Internal Winter] means a season of negative emotions, feeling down and coming out the other end of it,” vocalist Josh McKeown told K! on the single’s release. “It’s about how I dealt with that and acknowledged it and moved through it. It was incredibly cathartic.” Proof that true mental resolve is forged in the cold.
Nightwish – Storytime
Although many fans regard the tenure of Swedish singer Anette Olzon as a forgettable chapter in the Nightwish story, her higher vocals – as glassy and brittle as polished ice – perfectly fitted the winter-themed lead single to seventh album Imaginaerum. Mainman Tuomas Holopainen was inspired by 1982 animated classic The Snowman and envisioned the song as an alternative soundtrack to Walking In The Air. Safe to say, this packs a little more punch.
Immortal – Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms
The classic. As much as Norwegian black metal legends Immortal sing about the demonic grip of the icy North (sample lyrics: ‘Wander by desecrating winds / Blinded shadows / Cast out from daylight / And from the beaten lands / Frostbitten I became…’), there is a sense of almost pantomime glee in their execution – in contrast with the very real misdeeds of some of their peers – that has endeared them to generations of fans. Coupled with one of their trademark, joyously shonky music videos, Grim And Frostbitten… has become a by-word for black metal excess in the years that followed, setting a bar that has yet to be reached. Metal claws aloft!
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