Excelsis

Excelsis

Volume 2: A Winter’s Song

Projekt

When most people think of Christmas music, gothic and industrial aren’t usually the first genres that spring to mind. But this excellent new Projekt anthology of Yuletide songs covered from the somber side proves them wrong in spades. From the jubilant sixteenth-century motet “Gaudete, Gaudete” performed by El Duende, to Human Drama’s disturbing version of the skeptical classic “I Believe in Father Christmas,” A Winter’s Song will show you the holidays in a whole new (dark) light.

I’m a sucker for Rhea’s Obsession, so I was very pleased to see two tracks from them on this album. The first is a mystical, haunting version of “We Three Kings,” with a little help from Athan Maroulis of Spahn Ranch. The second, “Huron Indian Carol,” showcases the incredible voice of Sue Hutton, which has been justly compared to that of Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard; between Sue’s drones and wails, the delicate tablas, atmospheric synth, and interwoven guitar, the track has a dark, brooding, almost trance-like feel.

Of all fifteen songs on this album, though, “Lord of the Dance” by Unto Ashes sends the most shivers down my spine every time I hear it. Beginning with bells ringing in a bitter cold wind from beyond the grave, with slow-strummed guitar, lonely cello, and female vocals chanted almost like an incantation, Unto Ashes turn this traditional Shaker tune into a gothic masterpiece that reminds us of times when people did not go out during the nights of the Yule, fearing the demons that roamed the land and stole the souls of the unwary.

The Crüxshadows get serious brownie points for playing one of my favorite Christmas songs for peace, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” And the Zappa-esque harmonica and electric guitar duet near the end of Thanatos (with William Tucker)’s version of “Silent Night” has to be heard to be believed.

Those are just my favorites, though, and it was hard to choose, because most of the tracks on here are great. A couple songs plod on monotonously a bit too long for their own good, but aside from these few the rest are creatively chosen and compellingly arranged and performed.

Projekt/Darkwave, P.O. Box 166155, Chicago, IL 60616; http://www.projekt.com

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