Review: Tarja – ‘Dark Christmas’

With the Walt Disney Company seemingly in freefall, thanks to the mass under-achievement of so many of their recent feature films – as well as the vast majority of shows made for Disney+ bombing – the movement calling for the House of Mouse to get back to basics is gathering momentum. And those “basics” seem to be a return to the good old-fashioned fairytale values of Good vs Evil. Enter stage left Tarja Turunen with ‘Dark Christmas’, the follow-up to 2017’s majestical ‘From Spirits and Ghosts (Score for a Dark Christmas)’, and the Finnish Queen of Metal is ready to inject some much-needed spookiness into the festive season.

Disney’s ‘Twisted Tales’ book series puts a darker twist on many of their best-loved tales and asks “What if?”: “What if the Sleeping Beauty never woke up?”, “What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper?”, “What if the Evil Queen poisoned the prince?”. And without actually mentioning Disney, or singing Disney songs, Tarja has created the perfect aural companion to the books that sell by the hundreds of thousands and in doing so, basically said to Disney: “Call me.”

In a tale as old as time itself, Tarja has taken 11 Christmas hits and carols, and the brand-new original song ‘Dark Christmas’ (12 songs in total, 12, as in the 12 days of Christmas) and put her dark twist on them, so much so that at times it is only when the listener stops and pays attention to the vocals that it becomes apparent what the song is. It’s dark, brooding, and in the case of moments like ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, quite eery – thanks to the haunting children’s voice in the background that comes out of nowhere and if you are listening through a pair of cans, will have you checking over your shoulder to make sure that the creepy twins from ‘The Shining’ are not standing staring at you.

‘The First Noel’ is a perfect opening track, and the quick acceleration of music, along with a single bell toll, stunningly sets the scene. When Tarja’s unmistakable vocals come in, they are powerful and restrained, allowing the song to breathe. The simple arrangements gradually build into an uplifting explosion of music, with Tarja’s extraordinary vocals taking centre stage. One of the lightest of the featured tracks, the end result is simply delightful. Same with ‘Frosty the Snowman’ which features the playfulness of a children’s choir – unlike ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ where the children’s voices are creepy as hell.

‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is an insane mash-up of part James Bond theme, part Christmas carol, and part symphonic metal classic – the arrangements are stunning, and the thick, boot-stomping percussion mid-song is especially noteworthy. One of those songs where once it ends it’s an automatic reaction to hit rewind and enjoy it all over again. That impressive percussion hangs around on the haunting version of ‘White Christmas’ which would surely freak your Gran if you popped it on the decks on Christmas morning. The track is mainly just Tarja’s stripped-back vocals and some industrial-like touches in the background, Bing Crosby in front of a roaring fireplace this most certainly is not. With a few spooky samples and crucial use of a cello, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ is rendered almost unrecognisable, and the penny only drops when Tarja speaks the immortal lines: “Last Christmas I gave you my heart/But the very next day you gave it away…”. When she sings/speaks “This year, to save me from tears/I’ll give it to someone special” it’s easy to imagine Tarja standing over a cauldron as she casts the heart of the wrong-doer into the boiling water.

Cinematic from start to finish (‘Jingle Bells’ is jaw-droppingly good), ‘Dark Christmas’ thrills at every turn, and surely it is only a matter of time before these songs are licensed to some major movie studio for a big-budget blockbuster? Christmas music has never sounded this creepy, or this good.

Available now via earMUSIC

Live dates:

Dec 13 – Kouvola, FI (Kuusankosken Kirkko)
Dec 14 – Tampere, FI (Tuomiokirkko)
Dec 17 – Desden, DE (Alter Schlachthof)
Dec 19 – Olomouc, CZ (Flora)
Dec 20 – Brno, CZ (Sono Centrum Brno)
Dec 21 – Ostrava, CZ (Gong)

Review – Dave

Photo credit – Tim Tronckoe

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