thu 13/06/2024

Album: Tarja - Dark Christmas | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Tarja - Dark Christmas

Album: Tarja - Dark Christmas

Operatic and epic but do you want it on while you wrap the presents?

Gothic season's greetings from Scandinavia

In Finland Tarja Turunen is an institution. There, she’s regarded as a kind of heavy rock-flavoured fusion of Sarah Brightman and Maria Carey. She first came to prominence as the multi-octave singer for symphonic metal kingpins Nightwish but, since they rancorously parted ways with her in 2005, she’s still maintained a strong career.

This is her third Christmas album. She also did another album all about winter, so she clearly has a thing for this time of year. However, her bombastic cod-classical take is very much an acquired taste.

Critiquing Christmas albums is not the same as everyday album reviewing. More slack is given. While there are genuinely excellent albums centred on Yuletide, much seasonal fare is cheesy fun. That’s what it’s for so there’s little point in berating it as such. There are also albums that crystallise the festive season’s melancholy, the loneliness of many and the way this brief annual celebration can emphasize the transitory nature of existence. Dark Christmas goes in none of these directions.

It is, it’s true, often dolorous in tone, its default setting an orchestral grandiosity, underpinned by a dirgey industrial-lite chug, the whole reminding of the music for a huge, action-packed Hollywood thriller. At least until Turunen arrives with her operatic soprano, an instrument of steely strength, sometimes accompanied by a children’s choir. Then it becomes… well, what, exactly? Who wants a version of “Frosty the Snowman” that sounds like the opening chase from a Bourne movie? Or “Jingle Bell Rock” coming on like the climax of World War Z.

When it’s pared back momentarily to Tarja, some bells and synth atmospherics, it starts to be effective, and the versions of occasional songs are so doom-laden there’s comical appeal. For instance, the line “simply having wonderful Christmas time” sung as though at the funeral of a national hero. The title track, epic but unmemorable, is by Tarja, but the rest are all familiar standards, old and new, from “Last Christmas” to “All I Want for Christmas is You” to “White Christmas”.

There is an originality of tone, so I willed myself to like it more, but, while this morose bluster is different, it’s not more-ish. Or, more to the point, Christmassy.

Below: Watch the video for "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Tarja

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