By this point in the year, you’re being inundated with Christmas songs playing in the grocery stores, malls, and wherever else you frequent. So yes, I’m going to throw some more of these tunes at you, but thanks to ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen, these have a bit of a twist.
If you happened to listen to Explodey Jo and I skewer Tarja’s last solo release, The Shadow Self, you might wonder if this is masochism on my part or some unwavering faith in Ms. Turunen to create something greater. Actually, I knew in advance what I was getting into here, so let’s just address the reindeer in the room: From Spirits and Ghosts is not a metal album. While some metallic elements sneak into the arrangements, this is more of a dark symphonic interpretation of the Christmas classics.
Assuming you’re still reading at this point, let’s go ahead and see what Tarja does with the material. From Spirits and Ghosts opens with the Christian hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The song opens slowly and with a Midnight Syndicate-style melody softly playing in the background. About halfway through the song, the tempo builds and percussion appears. Tarja also switches between English and Latin lyrics as the song builds to its climax.
I wasn’t familiar with the second track, Together. I’m not sure if this is an original song, or if it just isn’t ringing any (silver) bells. Either way, it’s one of the less interesting songs, never doing anything particularly special. We Three Kings, however, improves things up with some Middle Eastern strings and some bombast in the chorus.
One of the strongest songs on the album is Deck the Halls. Tarja turns this typically happy cheese-fest into a haunting number. With the minor keys and creepy children voices, it feels a bit like a Danny Elfman piece from a Tim Burton movie. Tarja pulls a similar trick with O Tannenbaum (sung in its proper German). The backing orchestration is spectacular and really gives the song its character.
You’re going to hear the O Tannenbaum formula used again in What Child is This and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Maybe it’s just my ears, but it seemed like Tarja was putting on an Irish accent at the beginning of the latter. Mercifully, she stopped doing this after the first verse, because it wasn’t working. The album closes with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, which employs similar techniques as Deck the Halls.
While From Spirits and Ghosts works as a whole, some of the songs don’t hit quite quite as strongly as they likely were intended. Feliz Navidad seems like it’s building toward something, but ultimately falls flat. Pie Jesu and Amazing Grace show off Tarja’s voice, but aren’t particularly interesting otherwise.
Let me just close this review by saying Tarja sounds as good as ever, and overall I enjoyed the album. The arrangements are suitably haunting and succeed more often than not. If you’re looking for a fresh take on classic Christmas tunes, give From Spirits and Ghosts a listen. If you were hoping for a blistering metal album or simply hate these songs as a rule, then you should have stopped reading a long time ago.