‘Tis the season, and for many of us, we have fond memories of spending the holiday season in Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda series is a popular gift to give, and long hours of vacations have been spent exploring the enchanting land. But what’s a way to invoke the feelings of a warm hearth and cold mountaintop when you’re away from your console?
Eric Buchholz and the team at Materia Collective, a video game music group, have bestowed upon the world a true gift: A Merry Hyrule Christmas, an 8-track collection as robust and accurate as it is nostalgiac and beautiful. Today, we’re going to do a track-by-track review of my family’s new favorite album.
A Merry Hyrule Christmas is available on all digital music storefronts, including Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music. However, I will absolutely urge you to purchase the album on Bandcamp, especially as today (12/4) is Bandcamp Day. That means that the distribution site waives their fees, and the entirety of your purchase goes to the artist.
I’ll start by saying that when I initially caught wind of this project, my anticipation was fairly low. I thought it would be similar to the hundreds of fan-made tracks we see uploaded to YouTube, with bedroom-quality production and minimal additional work beyond the original music.
In this case, I couldn’t be more wrong. This has immediately become a staple of my home’s holiday playlist, with even my children requesting it over other typical holiday tunes. There’s some incredible work done here, so let’s get into it.
TRACK ONE: KAKARIKO VILLAGE
The opening song of the album is based on the music that we hear in the classic Zelda town. First appearing in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Kakariko Village has appeared in many of the traditional main series games and is usually an example of what everyday life is like in Hyrule.
This track is a wonderful opener to the album, starting with the original melody before kicking in with the rest of the band, led by the tenor saxophone of Steven Higbee. It’s fun, it’s jaunty, and it feels like the type of song they’d play in the Kakariko shops during the holidays. The band maintains the original blueprint laid out by Zelda composer Koji Kondo and slips in and out of beautiful flourishes.
TRACK TWO: O SACRED LIGHT
This was the part when I realized that I was listening to something special. Based on the popular carol O Holy Night, this song is exactly what Hylians would sing to commemorate their Princess and the prophecy. Wayne Strange, who provides the vocals, has a beautiful voice and the rewritten lyrics convey a celebration of the baby that’s anchored in the world. There are no hamfisted references to the games, but merely a desire for the Princess to live up to the expectations set forth from history.
TRACK THREE: CLOCK TOWN SLEIGH RIDE
In many ways, this third song is much like the first one – it’s a delightful rendition of something that we’ve all heard many times before, with added elements that repackage it with a holiday theme. But Clock Town Sleigh Ride alters the original tune more than Kakariko Village does, and it’s all the better for it.
The way that Jesse Myers uses the drum kit to improve nearly every single beat is masterful. It’s again an example of what I believe holiday music would sound like in the world of Zelda. To top it all off with the Sofia Sessions Orchestra & Choir covering it in some gorgeous clock noises, the entire song comes together in a beautiful package. Who would have thought that hearing people sing, “BING BONG BING BONG” would make things better?
TRACK FOUR: SILENT KNIGHT
There’s always some room for campiness, right? An alteration of another famous Christmas Carol, Silent Knight brings the choir back in for a straight-faced ode to everyone’s favorite silent protagonist. With references to the way he speaks (Silent knight, Hyrule knight, Screams, “Hyaa! Tsaaiii?!” in a fight;”), and his affection for destroying good pots (All pots be forewarned), we get a tongue-in-cheek announcement of Link’s birth.
Once again featuring the vocals of Wayne Strange, it’s another spin on a real-world carol that has been reworked to fit the world of Zelda. It’s fun, and while it has the spirit of a novelty cover, there’s enough heart here to allow the song to stand on its own.
TRACK FIVE: CAROL OF THE GODDESS
I do feel like this is a weak point of the album. Based on Ballad of the Goddess from Skyward Sword, the track has received the orchestral treatment again, much like other covers of songs from the games. I just feel like it could have somehow incorporated Carol of the Bells a bit more than it did. As it stands, the famous carol from Mykola Leontovych feels like it was tacked on to the end, rather than mixed together with the game track.
It’s performed beautifully, and there’s no fault to be found in the actual performance of the piece, but it instead feels like two separate tracks. Or rather, it feels like I went to a Zelda concert stop during the month of December and the musicians threw in a little diddy at the end as a bonus.
TRACK SIX: DRAGON ROOST HYMN
Dragon Roost Island is where some of the first big story progression happens in Wind Waker, and players return a number of times throughout the game. It’s where we meet one of the sages, Medli, and it’s where you can sort the mail, arguably the best minigame in a Zelda title.
By again performing the melody of the Dragon Roost theme with a choir, we get a sense of what the holidays would be like in the game world. It’s haunting, and it feels like what you’d hear during a midnight snowfall. These holiday-infused versions of Koji Kondo’s music are my favorite pieces from the album, and they all bring me back to very specific moments of my childhood.
TRACK SEVEN: DIN REST YE MERRY DEKU SCRUBS
This is definitely the track that most resembles a Trans-Siberian Orchestra performance. The electric guitar of Ro Panuganti is, well, electric. In this beautiful rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, the choir is put aside in favor of pure instrumentation.
However, there isn’t anything that speaks to Zelda. It’s a straight rendition of an existing song, but beyond the entertaining title, it could just as well be included on Now, That’s What I Call Christmas! There is something to be said about the most straight-forward piece immediately precedes the most eccentric, but if you’re looking for more game references, this track misses the mark.
TRACK EIGHT: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Everything has been building to this. Kyle Martin and Wayne Strange have reworked the traditional song to entirely incorporate Zelda references. The entire song is even interspersed with a skit between a parent and child on Christmas morning, discussing the first Legend of Zelda cartridge. They talk about misunderstanding the title of the game, logical fallacies within the plot (why do the kids do all the work?), and sing about ghost kings.
It all breaks down into a list of gifts that Princess Zelda gives to Link, with entries such as “six cuccoos clucking”, “eleven Gorons dancing”, and “five Hyrule Kings”. There are even some supporting appearances by Navi and various panicked villagers. The finale is an entertaining and nostalgic look at a series that means something to a lot of people and wraps the entire piece up with a nice bow, although I’d pay even more money to get a straight-forward version. The skit is cute, but I can only listen to the conversation so many times before I just skip the track altogether.