Among the many things that make Christmas so unpleasant is the never-ending collections of holiday albums that pop up each year. If people aren't trying to make up mundane new tunes, they're rehashing the worst of the traditional ones over and over and over. Thankfully, we may cringe no longer, as Projekt has provided a most beautiful antidote. Whoever heard of a gothic Christmas album? Could such a concept even work? You bet it does, with the result being some of the best Christmas music around.
In 1995, Excelsis: A Dark Noel was released, a collection of melancholy holiday tunes performed by some of Projekt/Darkwave's finest. In 1999, a second album as added, this one organized by Lisa Feuer, Projekt promoter and Black Tape for a Blue Girl's flutist/vocalist. Less reliant of Projekt's own roster, this collection pulls from a broader expanse of artists, including everyone from London After Midnight, to Julia Kent of Rasputina.
What makes the album effective is the selection of songs. Rather than opt to redo the most common holiday tunes, the artists cover songs as far ranging as John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" to "Silver and Gold" from the 1964 "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Those that took on more recognizable tunes took the cream of the crop, Julia Kent creating a sparse string version of "What Child is This," and Rhea's Obsession w/Athan Maroulis mixing Middle Eastern tinges and powerful vocals into their version of "We Three Kings."
The first Excelsis album was a dark look into Christmas, reflecting the typically dark stylings of the goth scene. A Winter's Song, in contrast, is more uplifting, its sparkle detected immediately through the cover art of a little girl dressed in white with silver wings. The vocals are softer and more ethereal, and the contributions are often surprisingly upbeat and charming. London After Midnight performs an original tune, "The Christmas Song," which - while pulling on a familiar spacey guitar sound - also showers twinkling bells into the music like glittering snowflakes. Siddal performs the charming "In the Bleak Midwinter," which, contrary to its title, is sweetly angelic and one of the more enchanting tracks on the album. But the peak song is, by far, El Duende's "Gaudete, Gaudete," a beautiful mix of choral voices and Black Tape for a Blue Girl's Oscar Herrera. It's the song that defines the spiritual aspect of Christmas, even if that spirit has long deteriorated under heaps of money and insane shoppers.
So, if you think all hope is lost in finding a holiday album that will keep you sane this holiday season, try out what the Excelsis collections have to offer. They're a lovely reminder of what these days are supposed to be about, and will compensate for those bloody holiday jingles blaring on the radio.
- written by Akane
The world's most respected darkwave/ethereal label took four year to follow up its first successful volume of holiday crackers (which is still available), and it was worth the wait. Highlights include London After Midnight's OMD-sounding original; The Crüxshadows' techno-pop take on John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas"; and Lycia's stately version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem." This disc succeeds because it's reverent enough that you can play it around your relatives without having anyone think you're a "weirdo," and intimate enough to complement a family-free holiday with your significant other.
- Jason Pettigrew
Toronto’s Rhea Obsession’s do double duty by singing beautifully (“We Three Kings”) with the help of Spahn Ranch’s Athan Maroulis. Their other contribution (“Huron Indian Carol”) is a gothic gem. Christmas beauty shines like a bright winter morning for the enchanting celestial “Silver and Gold” by Faith & Disease. This one blends perfectly with Lynn Canfield’s glorious rendition of “The True Present.” In the non-ethereal department, London After Midnight’s ominous performance of “The Christmas Song” seems like genius when compared to the horrid modern day “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by the Cruxshadows. Goths’ should be thankful however that Projekt have created another alternative to Manheim Steamroller. - Matt Mernagh
When most people think of Christmas music, gothic and industrial aren't usually the first genres that spring to mind. But this excellent new Projekt anthology of Yuletide songs covered from the somber side proves them wrong in spades. From the jubilant sixteenth-century motet "Gaudete, Gaudete" performed by El Duende, to Human Drama's disturbing version of the skeptical classic "I Believe in Father Christmas," A Winter's Song will show you the holidays in a whole new (dark) light.
I'm a sucker for Rhea's Obsession, so I was very pleased to see two tracks from them on this album. The first is a mystical, haunting version of "We Three Kings," with a little help from Athan Maroulis of Spahn Ranch. The second, "Huron Indian Carol," showcases the incredible voice of Sue Hutton, which has been justly compared to that of Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard; between Sue's drones and wails, the delicate tablas, atmospheric synth, and interwoven guitar, the track has a dark, brooding, almost trance-like feel.
Of all fifteen songs on this album, though, "Lord of the Dance" by Unto Ashes sends the most shivers down my spine every time I hear it. Beginning with bells ringing in a bitter cold wind from beyond the grave, with slow-strummed guitar, lonely cello, and female vocals chanted almost like an incantation, Unto Ashes turn this traditional Shaker tune into a gothic masterpiece that reminds us of times when people did not go out during the nights of the Yule, fearing the demons that roamed the land and stole the souls of the unwary.
The Crüxshadows get serious brownie points for playing one of my favorite Christmas songs for peace, John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." And the Zappa-esque harmonica and electric guitar duet near the end of Thanatos (with William Tucker)'s version of "Silent Night" has to be heard to be believed.
Those are just my favorites, though, and it was hard to choose, because most of the tracks on here are great. A couple songs plod on monotonously a bit too long for their own good, but aside from these few the rest are creatively chosen and compellingly arranged and performed.