There seems to be something very apposite about Mark Lanegan bringing out a Christmas record to round off this rather strange year. Lanegan’s “Dark Mark” moniker first appeared in 2012 on a Christmas EP that was only available at his shows, but now he has expanded on that to bring us a collection of doomy takes on traditional and original songs for the season.
Part of the beauty of this record is how he breathes new life into old material, as if Charon the ferryman of Hades has taken a day off transporting souls and wandered to the North Pole instead. This is most clearly illustrated on Death Drums on the River, where electronica meets choral music (with added sleigh bells).
O Holy Night, We Three Kings and In the Bleak Midwinter are brilliantly affecting, with Lanegan’s croaking, creaking vocal adding a weary loveliness to songs that have lived among us for so long.
He pares everything back on The Everly Brothers’ Christmas Eve Can Kill You, allowing a subtle melancholy to beam out. However, Lanegan’s own Christmas Song is surprisingly delicate – pretty and prayerful – and The Cherry Tree’s drone-folk bleeds into Down in Yon Forest and its swampy atmosphere.
The discordant melody of the guitar on Roky Erickson’s Burn the Flames amplifies Lanegan’s closing testimony about “unending echoes...a little Christmas spirit...Children of the night…what music we make’. What music indeed.