Tarja – from Spirits and Ghosts: Score for a Dark Christmas (earMUSIC)

Monday, 13th November 2017
Rating: 8.5/10

When it comes to metal music around the holidays, fans don’t have a ton of options. Admittedly, a more jovial holiday such as Christmas doesn’t really mesh well with the ideology and ethos of heavy metal, but some like to enjoy a darker spin on these upbeat tracks after wandering through the crowded halls of the holiday season. Sadly, most “metal” Christmas music is that of hokey extreme death metal metal blasting “Rudolph,” or something equally chringe-y. But fighting against the current is Tarja Turunen and her refreshingly dark take on some holiday classics.

When Turunen stated that the vibe was dark, she wasn’t kidding. Some of these songs undergo some massive transitions, making for a very intriguing take on some songs that you thought you knew well. While one wouldn’t exactly call them “metal” by exact definition, the darkness that flows through them certainly embodies its spirit. The almost Tim Burton-esque gothic feel to “Deck the Halls” is almost chilling at points, particularly with Turunen’s daughter providing additional support behind her. Even the normally cheery “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is given a bleak once-over, with more atmospheric electronic elements alongside the orchestra. Perhaps the most dramatic alteration is that of “Feliz Navidad,” where Turunen really shines in takes the song into much more serious territory. There’s more traditional fare, such as “Pie Jesu” and “Amazing Grace,” which easily shift gears into more grim territory. An original cut, “Together,” blends in so well to its surroundings that you might not even realize Tarja wrote it herself. That said, it’s easy to hear how much effort Turunen put into the material – while many would look at a Christmas album as an “easy payday” in mainstream music, there’s a sense of authenticity here that keeps the album in-check from beginning to end. Turunen’s voice soars, front and center, with only the orchestra and some occasional sampling behind her. It’s easily some of her most inspired work post-Nighwish.

If your vision of Christmas carols leads more into the way of darker film scores and ambient soundscapes, you’ll find from Spirits and Ghosts to be an excellent early holiday gift. Tarja has crafted an elegant and sophisticated take on a number of holiday classics that even non-metal fans should be able to appreciate.

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