I’m not what you might call a Scrooge, in fact I do actually quite enjoy the Christmas season. However, I cannot abide the usual barrage of festive tunes that get pumped out year after year, driven into our minds; the same songs over and over again. This matter isn’t helped by the fact that stores etc start playing far too early in year. I really don’t need to be assaulted by Christmas tunes in early November, please kindly refrain from this behavior Shopping center owner!
Of course, me bleating on about it won’t change a thing but I can moan can’t I?
A good solution to this problem would be to play this quite wonderful CD from Projekt; who recently gave us the cracking Ooky Spooky by Voltaire, who by the way does contribute a tune on this album. This really is Seasonal music that I can listen to and enjoy.
This album contains a mixture of well known tunes such as We Three Kings, Happy Xmas (War is over) and Silent Night, as well as tunes that are new to these years. All of which though have a distinctive sound that each contributing artist has brought to each track; although the vibe in general is quite mellow mixing as it does electronic music in with some more traditional sounds.
Personal favorites of mine are the aforementioned Happy Xmas, here performed by The Cruxshadows, with its electronic beat, searing strings and suitably wry vocals, the haunting Gaudete, Gaudete by El Duende and For I am Winter Born by Unto Ashes, which starts of sounding as though it was pulled from a Spaghetti Western before the vocals kick in.
Each song though is a worthy addition which makes this release work much better as a whole rather than the sum of its parts. It’s a unique take on Christmas which washes over you and reminds me that there are actually some decent Festive songs out there. Finally, no Christmas album would be complete without a rendition of Silent Night which here is brought to life by Attrition who give it a good old shake through the musical blender. This album is definitely a welcome and alternative addition to Christmas music; surprising, eclectic but above all it is incredibly enjoyable. You’ll get no Bah Humbugs from me here! *** - Jude Felton
It may still be a few months before Christmas, but A Dark Noel sets a cozy mood for the winter holiday season. Various musical artists from the Projekt records catalog contribute their talents to this holiday compilation of traditional remakes. Voltaire teams with Unto Ashes for a modern rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and Black Tape for a Blue Girl honor Hebrew traditions in fine style with "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah." Love Spirals Downward delivers a magical rendition of "Welcome Christmas," otherwise known as the "Hoo Carol" from the Dr. Seuss classic "How the Grinch stole Christmas." Rhea's Obsession teams with Athan Maroulis to deliver a mystical version of "We Three Kings," while Faith and the Muse keep things festive with "A Winter Wassail." A Dark Noel is a welcome alternative to the sappy Christmas carols of yesteryear, and is sure to set a gothic atmosphere for your holiday season. -Camille Ambrose
I have been a huge fan of the Excelsis series of holiday music released over the last several years. For those not familiar with it, be sure to check out projekt.com/excelsis for more details. Either way this is a great way to pick up a great selection of a dozen great tracks from this series and some of the recently released holiday singles.
I have always been impressed with the music from this series and this disc is no different, choosing some highlights from these past releases. The overall album stays well within the more heavenly genres of beautiful ethereal music with a nice holiday touch. The music remains hauntingly beautiful in most cases and is accessible enough that non-gothic audiences can enjoy as much as anyone else. Yet it all remains well within these genres that this is a great treat for those of us sick of all the same old songs over and over again done in the horrible pop flavor of today.
To kick it all off is Arcanta with the presentation of "Carol of the Bells" in his unique, old-world chanting vocal style with haunting ambient music as backdrop. Voltaire is present with "Peace in the Holy Land" which I could have gone without listening to, but I know there are lots of fans out there, so this is sure to be a hit for them. However, you really get into the beauty of this album with one of my all-time favorites from Love Spirals Downwards with their rendition of "Welcome Christmas" from the classic movie How The Grinch Stole Christmas. One thing is certain that through this era of their career, this band was one of the best ethereal shoegazer bands around and this piece really proves it. Showing us how they've come in to pick up the pieces within this genre, Autumn's Grey Solace provides us with an outstanding and mesmerizing piece "Through the Snowy Trees".
Shifting gears slightly we go back several years to Black Tape for a Blue Girl and their piece "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah". This features the hauntingly beautiful vocals with plenty of reverb and mystery behind it all in the music and percussion in true Black Tape style. Building up with that middle-eastern flare we have Rhea's Obsession and Athan Maroulis presenting us with "We Three Kings". This has been a favorite of mine and seems to fit the authentic nature of what these magi would have been singing back in the time. At this point we come to an interesting choice for The Crüxshadows to cover with "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". They add their electro-dance-goth style to this popular song as only Rogue and company can do.
Bringing the tempo and intensity back down a bit we have Audra with their piece "Let the Reindeer Live on My Roof". This is a nice turn for this duo as they've always been pretty heavy into the classic gothic rock style, so they take that and perform this in an acoustic style that works out really well. Unto Ashes appears and dig deep into the haunting and dark medieval styles with "I Am Winter Born". Build into a certain religious old-world flare we have Oscar Herrera (former male voice of Black Tape for a Blue Girl) with his group El Duende performing "Gaudate, Gaudete". We leave this realm and build up to a fun piece "A Winter Wassail" with a fun celtic style that Faith and the Muse are able to do so well. This brings us to the dark finale to the album with Attrition and their dark ambient rendition of "Silent Night".
There you have it, the perfect soundtrack to the holidays for those into the gothic ethereal music genres. The only way to make it better would be to pick up the entire box set and the holiday singles for a full collection. And if you were lucky enough to pick up the Hot Topic "Best of" version of the Excelsis, you might find a few extras there as well. Rating: 4.5/5
This is one of the well-known Projekt seasonal releases, and as you have probably guessed by now, referring to Christmas. It starts off with Arcanta’s “Carol of the Bells”, an a capella male voice chorus with a deeply catholic touch to it, and the usual quality Arcanta’s music faultlessly portrays. Even though they are religious Arcanta have always been one of my favourite projects. Their music is at all times soothing, and elevating to the spirit. Then we move on to Voltaire’s unique musical style, mixing gypsy violins, folkish melodies and the quickest of wits, and as odd as that may sound the result is quite astounding. This time he behaves though, to my slight disappointment. But ah well, it is Christmas after all – Jesus will have none of this. And it is still one of the best songs in the album.
Love Spirals Downwards take it up from there, offering a dreamy track with beautiful, ethereal female vocals. “Through the Snowy Trees” by Autumn’s Grey Solace that comes next is my favourite track from this album, combining even more ethereal female vocals with shoegazing guitar melodies – plus it is the least religiously burdened track of the compilation. “Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah” is more of an ethnic track if anything, reaching the dramatic at points with female voice choirs, strings and operatic female vocals. Very imposing. “We Three Kings” continues in the same ethnic atmosphere, but the music is more folkish in nature, mingling female and male vocals with acoustic guitars.
The Crüxshadows are one of the worst gothic bands I have ever listened to, and I’m sorry to say they constitute no exception here. With all their agonizing efforts to establish themselves in such a predictable genre, they offer here the same boring, banal imitation of 80s goth / dark wave vocals and recycled goth-pop melodies. This track could have easily been missing from the compilation without it suffering any loss. Audra’s track is an easy acoustic guitar ballad in a more modern mood, with nostalgic, sentimental lyrics. Not bad but nothing exceptional either. Unto Ashes bring us back to good taste with “For I Am Winter Born”, a down-tempo Christmas carol with male and female vocals. If only the religious element weren't so emphasized, damn... If only Christmas wasn’t about Christ.
“Gaudete, Gaudete” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaudete) is a medieval Christmas carol with Latin lyrics, and my second favourite song of the compilation, probably because I love medieval tunes at all times and in all occasions. Faith and the Muse put forward the only song that isn’t strictly religious, rejoicing for the new season in a heathen dance of tribute, and supplication for the happiness and love that is to come. Attrition do us the honours of chopping up the traditional “Silent Night” to pieces, making out of it a spooky dark ambient track, with the female Christmas carol vocals sampling here and there, as if sung by a ghost wandering in an empty, cold and frightening old mansion. And good riddance with tradition, might I add. Loved it. If I got my hands on a Christmas carol, I would’ve done something similar to it.
Personally, I am not a Christian, and I find all kinds of religious sentimentalism rather tacky. I am guessing many of you feel the same. But on the other hand, there are people who still want to enjoy what is largely known as “the Christmas spirit”, regardless of their religious beliefs. And there are others who even adhere to those religious beliefs. And then again, there are those such as myself who want to go through the holidays as painlessly as possible, because, let’s face it, when the holidays are all around you it is impossible to remain completely untouched by them. Unbearably cheesy melodies haunt you everywhere in your daily routine, along with kitsch ornaments and enforced fake romanticism. There comes the dreadful time when you have to entertain friends and relatives at home, and music is an essential part of that entertainment. In one of those times I would much rather have this CD playing than any of the “conventional” ones that usually go around during the holidays. It certainly won’t annoy the aforementioned relatives and friends, and it doesn’t annoy me either. In fact, most of the songs in it are actually well-written, good tracks. So to cut a long story short, if you are looking for a seasonal release that is a little bit out of the ordinary and will add that extra flair to your holiday season, this is a good purchase. Just don’t invite me over for turkey. -Luminatrix
I love Christmas, so the Projekt Noel specials always take my interest (in fact I just shelled out for the Excelsis box set which has all three previous releases from which these tracks come) and it is a curious mixture. It isn’t really Dark at all, but it isn’t sentimental either, so it must have a foot in both camps and those camps must be awfully close together.
Arcanta’s ‘Carol Of The Belle’ makes for a serious churchy start, strong of vocal hue and strict of ambient atmospherics. It isn’t my idea of Xmas, seeming rather harsh, like the monks are coming to thrash for even wanting a present, but there you go, it certainly has a commendable austere vigour. Voltaire with Unto Ashes do ‘Peace In The Holy Land’ with some flighty ethnic tumbling rhythm with familiar carol lyrics and playfully disturbing mood shifts which is fun, like your parents having a particularly ambitious drunken singsong.
Love Spirals Downwards’ ‘Welcome Christmas’ is very pretty, like the Cocteaus if the medication had ever worked, blissful ethereal sentiments harmoniously deft and glossy.
Autumn’s Grey Solace’s ‘Through The Snowy Trees’ is similarly coy with chunky sweaters and visible breath on as winter’s morning almost tangible. Black Tape For A Blue Girl deliver ‘Oh Chanukkah’, which is not an ‘My Sharona’ cover, fun though that would have been, grave but stirring. Rhea’s Obsession with Athan Maroulis steering the rickety craft tackle ‘We Three Kings’ in a prickly, traditional flow. The Cruxshadows go for a modern family favourite with ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, spidery violin skittishly leading into a bleepy and cute dawdle.
Audra’s ‘Let The Reindeer Live On My Roof’ is drier in tone but delightfully warm and daft, Unto Ashes’ winsome ‘For I Am Winter Born’ smooth and crinkly with charm. El Duende’s ‘Gaudete, Gaudete’ is another traditional take on Hallelujah and swells grandly, beautifully, mightily! Faith And The Muse keep things twee and yokel-friendly with ‘A Winter Wassail’ while Attrition toss the still warm carcass of Santa through your bedroom window in ‘Silent Night.’ No, no, they wouldn’t dare go terminal Industrial on such a classic. They whisper and vibrate, oddly, demurely, sensitively. It goes on a bit, but then so does the whole festive season, really. I’m exhausted just thinking about it but let me summon up the energy to be the first person this year to say something to you.
Merry Christmas Everybody!
Various Artists A Dark Noel Projekt Records’ A Dark Noel series is three volumes of excellent Christmas music with a Gothic tinge. The music found on these three volumes is different interpretations of familiar classics but with the greatest variations in them. One thing that is shared by all of them is the mystery that neo-classic gothic brings to music. Christmas is already a unique holiday that has a splash of mystery to it. That mystery is enhanced by the Santa Claus myth and underscored by the mix of religious beliefs that grows with us even if we eventually change those beliefs. This year, Projekt Records reaches into ‘the bag’ and brings out an excellent mix of songs from those three volumes, assembling the most representative into a 12-track compilation.
You’ll find avant-garde experimentation in Attrition’s “Silent Night.” Faith and the Muse do an excellent version of “A Winter Wassail” as if it were the original version. Black tape for a blue girl tackles the traditional “Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah” in a ritualistic chant of sorts. There is a hauntingly beautiful version of “Welcome Christmas,” a song from Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas TV cartoon, as performed by Love Spirals Downward with Suzanne Perry on vocals.
The emerging Christmas traditional status of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” from John Lennon is here as an interesting electro-pop take by the Cruxshadows. There are others on this compilation, all of which entertain and exemplify the holiday seasons. If you have a penchant for holiday music and you can stretch beyond the usual Sinatra/Crosby presentations, you may find yourself wonderfully enamored of Projekt’s different way of listening to holiday classics. And if you like this sampler then I highly suggest exploring the complete 3 Projekt volumes of A Dark Noel. -Matt Rowe
FIRST, just in the nick of time for Christmas, a special "Thanks!" goes to Patrick Ogle of Chicago for urging us to tell you about "Dark Noel," one of the strangest and most awe-inspiring holiday music CDs that we've heard in years. "It is a very different angle on holiday and sacred music," Patrick wrote. And that's a perfect way to describe the appeal of this CD, produced by an independent music label known as Projekt.
I wound up going to unusual lengths to review "Dark Noel." That's because this CD is a sampler of genres that are different from most of the music in my personal iTunes collection. For instance, I don't carry many "darkwave"-genre tunes around with me.
So, I invited three college students to listen to tracks from the CD and their responses all were raves -- sufficient praise for me to feel confident in my own recommendation of the CD.
My favorite student reviews were: "Sweeeeeeet!" (that was a 1-word emailed review complete with 7 e's) and "Weird! I LIKE it!" and finally, "I think my Mom will think she hates it until she hears it and then she'll like it, too."
This release from 2007 offers 42 minutes of darkwave, gothic and ethereal covers of Christmas tunes. Tired of Yuletide classics and barking dogs? Yearning for a significant change of pace? Something left of center and decidedly underground? The type of subversion you can sneak past the relatives? Well, this CD delivers all that...and solid, enjoyable music too.
Here's what you get:
Arcanta (Thomas-Carlyle Ayres on voice and bells, and Jason Everette on samples and programming) doing "Carol of the Bells." A decidedly cathedralesque rendition of this classic, with heavenly chorales and bells so delicately processed that you might not recognize them until the last ringing note.
Voltaire, featuring Unto Ashes (Voltaire on vocals and acoustic guitar, Gregor Kitzis on violin, Michael Laird on drums, percussion, and treatment, Natalia Lincoln on keyboards and backing vocals, Erich Hagle on backing vocals, and Jeremy Bastard on guitar) playing "Peace in the Holy Land." A gothic handling with strong Israeli seasoning that blends synagogue with a streetcorner band. Cheery and eccentric.
Love Spirals Downwards (Ryan Lumm on instruments, and Suzanne Perry on vocals) doing "Welcome Christmas" from Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A superbly modern, quite haunting execution of this normally-fanciful tune. Extravagantly dramatic with astral vocals and celestial guitar strumming steeped in nebulous textures.
Autumn's Grey Solace (Scott Ferrell on instruments, and Erin Welton on vocals) playing "Through the Snowy Trees." A dreamy excursion through the icy woods, replete with divine vocals and softly delineated guitar and gentle percussion. Rises nicely to a crystalline approximation of Cocteau Twins at their best.
black tape for a blue girl (Sam Rosenthal on electronics, and Lucian Casselman on vocals) doing "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah." Going dark with this one, the mood reverberates with reverent tension achieved with momentous muted crashes and funereal percussion and dense strings, while the vocal layers coalesce into a mesmerizing trance.
Rhea's Obsession with Athan Maroulis (Sue Hutton on instruments and vocals, Athan Maroulis on vocals, and Jim Field on instruments) playing "We Three Kings." Emphatic zithers. Clomping percussion mimicking horseshoes. Eerie atmospherics. Masterful vocal harmonies. All conspiring to produce a gripping rendition.
The Cruxshadows (Rogue on vocals and keyboards, Chris Bentley on analog moduling, Rachel McDonnell on violin and keyboards, and Kevin Page on guitars) doing "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Imagine a fusion of raucous rock and gothic sensibilities. Strident vocals, garbage can percussion, sepulchral violin, grinding arena guitar. John Lennon's song never sounded so dire, so intense, so electrified.
Audra (Bret on vocals and instruments) doing "Let the Reindeer Live on my Roof." A more straight-ahead version with determinedly strummed guitar, mournful strings, and positively commercial vocals. Still possesses a quirky aspect, though.
Unto Ashes (Mariko on vocals, Natalia Lincoln on vocals, and Michael Laird on guitars, dulcimer, percussion, and vocals) doing "For I Am Winter Born". Very moody application of instruments counterpointed with choral vocal arrangements that seem to impress theological mien on a seasonal anthem.
El Duende (Oscar Herrera on vocals, and Juan Carlos Rodriguez on keyboards, programming, and vocals) doing "Gaudete, Gaudete." A synthetic orchestral flair bolsters the regal vocals, ushering in music that has escaped a grand cathedral and found refuge in your ears.
Faith and the Muse (Monica Richards on voice, saxophone, and recorders, and William Faith on voice, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and percussion) playing "A Winter Wassail." A Celtic take with piercing female vocals, pennywhistle and traditional percussion and modern guitar.
Attrition (Martin Bowes on electronics, and Sister Teresa on voice) doing "Silent Night." An extremely dark finale as disquieting tonalities generate apprehension, while tiny vocals croon for a good night's rest. Eerie impacts and chittering effects do not bode well for that supplication.
All told, a remarkably satisfying dose of darkwave tuneage that has some serious fun with holidays favorites.