REVIEW: Tarja – ‘From Spirits and Ghosts (Score for a Dark Christmas)’

Review by Jeff Maki

I was a fan of the Tarja Turunen-fronted Nightwish but hadn’t followed her since her 2005 departure from the groundbreaking symphonic Finnish band. Her classically trained, operatic voice paved the way for the subgenre. I finally took notice of her solo careeer with her 2016 heavy rock album, “The Shadow Self.” Time will tell, but this album is bound to be her biggest success since her former band.

Between touring for her solo release, Tarja managed to record a “dark Christmas” album while in the Caribbean. The album features 11 classic Christmas songs reworked into beautiful, dark gothic versions, plus a new Tarja original.

“Producing a dark Christmas album in the middle of the summer is a very interesting process, especially if you are doing it by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It’s significantly different from the snowy Christmas that I am used to in my home country Finland — another proof that the darkness comes from deep within.

On this album, I explored the other side of Christmas — the Christmas of the lonely people and the missing ones, the Christmas for those that do not find joy in the blinking lights and the jingle bells.”

I know what you’re probably thinking. There are few rock and metal Christmas recordings that are any good. Other than the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”) and Type O Negative’s “Red Water (Christmas Mourning),” metal bands performing Christmas carols come off as cheesy and unnecessary. (I’m sure there are a few other standouts, but these are the first that come to mind.)

So why bother with Tarja’s Christmas album,? That’s exactly what I thought. Except this Christmas album is unlike anything you’ve heard out of the realm of metal.

Like Tarja explains above, Christmas isn’t the joyous, loving and glamorous holiday for some people—for many people. Maybe your dad dressed up like Santa only to break his neck and burn in the fireplace when you were a young child? In all seriousness, many are depressed and lonely at Christmastime, missing loved ones who have moved on to the afterlife, leaving empty seats at the table. It’s a time of reflection, and those reflections aren’t always good.

Geesh. Wow, merry Christmas to you!

So again, why should you listen to this album? Because Tarja, backed by an orchestra that never reaches peak decibels, allows her beautiful voice to carry the listener into this darkness, this alternate, ancient world of Christmas. And yet, in the end, you feel uplifted. Powerful tribal rhythms are heard on “We Three Kings,” one of the many standouts here. Her version of “Deck the Halls” is by far the creepiest ever on record, sounding like it could’ve been on “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Interview With a Vampire” soundtrack. “God Rest Ye” is reworked into what is basically an orchestrated Nightwish song through and through, bringing tidings of comfort and joy.

This truly plays out as a score to a film, songs building and climaxing, but Tarja is the centerpiece. This is one of the best performances I’ve heard from her. This is certainly the darkest and maybe the most memorable Christmas recording from anyone associated with metal.

“From Spirits and Ghosts (Score for a Dark Christmas)” track listing:

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
“We Three Kings”
“Deck The Halls”
“Pie Jesu”
“Amazing Grace”
“O Tannenbaum”
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
“God Rest Ye”
“Feliz Navidad”
“What Child Is This”
“We Wish You A Merry Christmas”

earMUSIC, Nov. 17, 2017

Rating: 9/10

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