Excelsis: A Dark Noël by Various Artists (Review)

An honest, sincere, and moving tribute to one of the most beautiful seasons of the year.
Excelsis: Dark Noel, Various

Ideally, Christmas should be one of the most magical times of the year. Symbolically, it is meant to represent “peace on earth” and “good will toward men.” I celebrate the birth of my Saviour; others may celebrate family and friends. All in all, the time surrounding Christmas is meant to be a beautiful, moving time.

Why then, is so much “Christmas music” sheer, utter crap?

I mean, look at all of the music that gets played on the radio. Horrific renditions of beautiful Christmas carols, along with those gaudy, overly clichéd, mass-produced songs of the season. Every banal pop star and his/her mother decides to release a Christmas album. Along the way, the beauty and majesty of the season are traded for a cheap buck.

Having got that off of my chest, I can honestly say that Exclesis: A Dark Noël is the best Christmas album I’ve heard in a long time. Don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t dark and depressing, and it’s not meant for lonely Christmas nights. With the Projekt label, the music is always beautiful.

The album opens up with Arcanta’s “Carol of the Bells.” It’s a beautiful piece, with the primary instrument being the human voice. The songs makes me think of monks gathered around in the cathedral, lifting their voices up to God. Thanatos’ remake of “The First Noël” is stark and haunting, and my favorite track on the album. Padraic Ogl’s low vocals help give the song an earthy, human feel, while otherworldly sounds swirl about. Lycia’s offering of “We Three Kings” is majestic, with Mike vanPortfleet’s haunting whispers leading the way. Attrition’s “Silent Night” closes out the album quite nicely; beautiful female vocals mix with cold electronics and distant samples for an interesting effect.

Besides just having Christian carols, the album also features some secular ones, such as Love Spirals Downwards’ beautiful rendition of “Welcome Christmas”(I was hoping someone would do “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and a lovely Jewish piece. The only miss of the album is Lovesliescrushing’s “Jingle Bells,” which doesn’t really sound like anything.

I find it funny that a label associated with “gothic” and “dark” music would put out one of the finest Christmas albums I know of. Most people associate goths with doom and gloom, but this album is far from it. Excelsis is an honest, sincere, and moving tribute to one of the most beautiful seasons of the year; it contains far more depth and power than any mass-produced, pop Christmas album.