Tarja – Dark Christmas (earMUSIC)

Wednesday, 15th November 2023
Rating: 8/10

Back in 2017, Tarja brought us an aptly titled from Spirits and Ghosts: Score for a Dark Christmas. It was a gothic re-imagining of some Christmas classics as well as some original cuts that fell within the same vein. Six years later, we are given the successor to said album with the shorter title, Dark Christmas. You can expect more of the same with this particular batch of tracks if you are familiar with what she did for Score. The only real difference here is the breadth of songs that are in this collection – she’s effectively turned more ‘poppy’ Christmas tracks into Tim Burton-esque gothic wonderlands.

The set-up works, so why bother to change it up – Tarja avoided the goofy, over-the-top feeling that many ‘metal Christmas’ releases go for last time, and she does so here as well. Certainly there’s some hesitance to listen to the dreaded (by many at least) Mariah Carey classic “All I Want for Christmas is You,” or Wham’s “Last Christmas” without having to shake off some annoyances, but this is exactly where Tarja shines. “All I Want for Christmas is You” comes across as more of a yearning, dreary track – dark electronics infiltrating the mix and mingling with Tarja’s somber vocals make for a track that feels reborn compared to it’s sugar-coated original. Likewise, “Last Christmas” comes across in almost a macabre tone at it’s onset, literally pulsating with eerie beats and soundscapes – twisting the song into something that feels as beautiful as it does chilling. Even a classic song like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” isn’t off-limits to a more sinister, brooding vibe – complete with a murky choir to send it into almost creepy territory (it’s Tarja’s vocals that keep the track in angelic waters) as the orchestration booms in a war-like manner. The title track is a Tarja original, and it is a poignant piece that aligns itself well with the classic cuts, elevated by some elegant strings and utterly compelling and soaring vocals by Tarja.

While some scoff at the idea of holiday music, particularly when it originates from metal territory, Tarja comes back to reassure us that even Christmas music can sound genuinely gothic and macabre in the right hands – without sounding forced or cheesy. Dark Christmas offers a nice, dreary alternative to the upbeat saccharine tones of what will be at every corner of life for the next month and a half. That she is able to manipulate those same classics and turn them into somber bouts of dread and beauty is half the fun itself.

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