Review | Tarja – Dark Christmas
2024 is about to set sail and Mariah’s cringing Christmas screech ,,All I want for Christmas” blasts relentlessly from speakers worldwide. It crushes everything these festive days are about; heart and soul. Us metalheadz have embraced the festivities and relay to their own remakes of classics. One of the most glorious is the Christmas soundtrack ‘Dark Christmas’ by Tarja. The Finnish Grande Dame of metal has flexed her vocals around numerous carols over the course of her 25+ year spanning career, rejuvenating these classics and overthrowing them with the juices of darkness. ‘Dark Christmas’ is dark…
‘Henkäys Ikuisuudesta’ was Turunen’s first strike. This 2006 album featured her self-penned title-track as well as a collection of Christmas classics in English and Finnish of which ABBA’s ,,Happy New Year” is performed in both languages. Landing her a platinum album for sales commenced, Tarja delved further in these festive chants, putting a memorable mark on them with ,,From Spirits and Ghosts”, subtitled ,,Score for a Dark Christmas”, the album that laid the groundworks for her brand-new ‘Dark Christmas’.
Colorful and fragile ,,The First Noel” opens light-footed before casting its dark shadow forward. Tarja pitches a high clear register atop intensifying modern instrumentation. Symphonic strings and orchestration are laced with synths and empowering drum and kettledrums sealing the deal.
Ponderous throbbing bass and drums pull ,,Frosty the Snowman” into action with strings added luxurious arrangements. It is powerful and dark, almost cinematic how the staccato sections scat, and Tarja belts out glorious, touching all of her range. Children’s vocals enhance the color of its dark setting, and again orchestral arrangements boost the tenure. This effective rendition-style is also followed on ,,Jingle Bells”. This richness is found all over the album, catering a dark and extremely cinematic feeling. Ominous dark sections tractor onward the carols, making them the perfect offset for a different Christmas.
All songs are re-arranged to maximize its heavy and gloomy output making for wonderful moments with Tarja injecting her amazing vocals. Her flexibility and versatile approach are exactly what makes it work. ,,O Holy Night” is completely reworked as where ,,White Christmas” stays close to its elemental original approach. Stripped down with long silences casting gloom, the song shines with synths and echoing key strokes over which Tarja brings a warming vocal delivery. Tarja makes it work even better when she resonates of the clinical beat into the powered-up baritone choir fragment. ,,Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” is more colorful with its chants and children’s choir over which Mrs. Turunen shines brightly. Grimming-up towards the end, the cinematic accolades intensify.
Powerful bliss strikes on the heavy-gutted ,,Jingle Bell Rock” with its clinical pulse pompous dramatic elemental bliss of interplay between orchestra and modernity. Tarja flexes a frail high pitch with some grim short pieces to boggle the mind. ,,Wonderful Christmastime” follows the same rigid tracks. Full of string arrangements and heavier on its choruses, the song falls into heavy echoing guitars.
Making Mariah pale around her nose, Tarja shows how it is done correctly. Crystal clear she sets the song in motion with an isolated soprano run that scatters off the sliding guitars, kettledrums and strings. Gradually building its radiant stride, the song suddenly eludes powerful as the guitar lick brings more towering power to the plate. The jagged riff combined with the choral section makes it magical.
Turunen displays her creative abilities on Wham’s crooner ,,Last Christmas”, with its pitched guitar strikes and upsetting mood pasted by the grim synths and slow throbbing pulls.
Absolutely wonderful is the title track of the album, penned especially for the album. Crooning violin in ,,Dance Macabre” style sets the song in motion. Plucking strings underneath, the track gradually builds tension with jagged staccato strings and growing orchestration. Tarja herself displays her creative stride belting out a wonderful job that fuses her epic (band) past with dark and the new ominous channeled chants. The reverbing violin feeds of the powerfully sung melody line that could easily be featured on any Disney score. Glorious it shines amidst the tedious dark crawl.
The album is wrapped up by the more classical execution of ,,Angels We have Heard on High” (Gloria) that is rich on orchestration and finds wonderful moments in the interplay of Turunen and the choir. Stuck to the original arrangements, the song is slightly psyched-up modern with synths.
TARJA – THE CONCLUSION
‘Dark Christmas’ is Tarja’s take on Christmas. She paints a picture in line with the epic tenure that is magnified by her YouTube videos. Much like ‘Maleficent’ is the counterpart of every sweet ‘Cinderella’ movie, ‘Dark Christmas’ balances the sugarcoated festive days. Tarja’s album is the Krampus enactment for the heavier-hearted. It is the Yang to the Yin.
‘Dark Christmas’ is an album that will find its way into the heart of fans, once they allow it a spin. It grows on you and will not let go easily, making your dark Christmas more metal than anything else. TARJA- Dark Christmas: Love it!
Release date: 10 November 2023