Holiday music may well be the most diverse collection of tunes ever created. Over the many years, every traditional song, no matter its age, has been re-interpreted to fit within the framework of an era or genre. What other kind of music, other than classic holiday songs, will you find that contain a connective thread that binds people together in good will and that possesses a malleability that allows for even extreme transformations? Nowhere. No matter the beliefs that you follow, holiday songs simply draw the widest groupings of people together.
Projekt Records have released a series of holiday albums named Excelsis over the years, the series proving to be quite popular with fans. At present, there are three volumes containing some 30 songs. All volumes have sold out pressings at one time or another. In short, Projekt’s Excelsis series present some of the most interestingly arranged holiday songs you’ll hear.
With A Dark Noel: The Very Best of Excelsis , Projekt brings together 12 of the best representative songs of the series, some of them previously unreleased thereby making this new release an essential pick-up. The collection begins with a previously unreleased inclusion, “Peace In The Holy Land,” a song put together by Projekt artists Voltaire and accompanied by Unto Ashes. It is a medley that mixes gypsy violin, and classic old-world music with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “xxxx.” It is timely followed by The Crüxshadows’ excellent rendering of Lennon and Ono’s powerful anti-war classic, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over). As with the original, the message stays with you long after you have heard it. The Crüxshadows’ version is stirring.
Black Tape For a Blue Girl adds their interpretation of “Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah,” creating a ghostly atmosphere that is eerie yet spiritual. Rhea’s Obsession provides an old-world European flavour to their version of “We Three Kings” that is quite beautiful. Using percussion, time-honoured instrumentation, and a unique blend of vocals, you’ll be easily entranced.
Projekt artists, Audra, provide their own song, the acoustic guitar piece that loves Christmas for its blanket feeling of goodness and good times. The expressive “Let The Reindeer Live On My Roof” opines that the holiday could live forever and it would be all right. The album ends with choice selections from Excelsis 1 and 2. Faith & Disease classically perform “Silver and Gold,” El Duente provides the angelic 16th Century Swedish carol, “Guadete, Gaudete,” and the album closes with Lycia’s chillingly original ambient piece of “We Three Kings.”
There are three more unreleased tracks from The Mirror Reveals (“Radiant Snow”); In Gowan Ring (“Winter Flower”); and a short Unto Ashes track (“The Lord Is Born To The Lady On The Winter Solstice”), that help to make this set essential to own. There is a beautifully rendered “Carol of The Bells” by Angels of Venice that is defining. As with all versions of “Carol of The Bells,” care has to be taken to reproduce this traditional Ukrainian carol to preserve its rich inherent beauty and Angels of Venice does this spectacularly. They begin the piece with an atmosphere-setting church bell and continue through close with gorgeous vocal and musical skill.
The winter holidays are indeed special, speaking to many in quiet voices of brotherhood and peace. Throughout the ages, the holiday carols have reflected this. The fact that we still hold onto these musical explanations of goodwill show that we, as a whole, still find this quest a desirable one. And given the fact that we strangely and methodically apply the principles of brotherhood during this period, after a fashion, show that we still believe in the God-like purity of it. Projekt’s offering of alternate versions of holiday songs is another step in this direction. It is their application of goodwill. - Matt Rowe