Sometime in mid-June, I began getting references in my RSS feeds to a band called Northern Light Orchestra, which supposedly had free Christmas music available for download. At first, I dismissed these blog posts as spam for a number of reasons: first, they were rather poorly written, as if they had been written in another language and then auto-translated into English; second, when I clicked on the links in the posts, I could never find the music that had been promised; finally, well... who writes about Christmas music in June anyway? Still, I was curious, and as time went on, I began to learn a little more about Northern Light Orchestra. When I discovered that musicians like David Ellefson (former Megadeth bassist), Dizzy Reed (Guns N' Roses keyboardist), Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist), and members of bands like Whitesnake, KoRn, and Quiet Riot were involved with the project, it became something I simply had to hear.
After reading a couple of these blog posts each week for several months, I was finally rewarded in the last week of October when the link led to a page with actual downloadable MP3s. I downloaded the MP3s and began listening to them immediately. Since I had been waiting to hear this music for such a long time, I can't possibly think of a more appropriate way to officially begin the 2009 free Christmas music season.
As might be expected given the musicians involved, Northern Light Orchestra's sound is primarily rock and metal based. I was immediately reminded of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but I think that is more due to the fact that there just isn't that much rock-based Christmas music around. My favourite song so far is "God Was Born a Baby", which starts off with the sound of a choir before launching into an excellent rock groove. Just when it sounds like the song is over at around four and a half minutes, it picks back up for an epic guitar solo, which lasts almost two minutes, and then winds down with an orchestral outro. "Joy to the World" features a great instrumental breakdown with a drum solo and soaring guitar leads. There are mellower songs, too. "Joseph's Song" has an adult contemporary feel to it, while "We Have Come to Worship" you is a nice ballad with gorgeous vocal harmonies. "Goodnight" is a pretty little piano- and vocal-based lullabye sung to baby Jesus.
There seem to be alternate versions of some of the songs on the band's iLike page. "Joy to the World", for example, features some additional orchestration and vocal harmonies as compared to the version on the band's website. This exemplifies the only real problem I have with NLO - namely, a great deal of confusion. Their website states that their album, The Spirit of Christmas, contains nine songs, and that they have another nine songs in production "for next year" (not sure whether they mean 2009 or 2010 by that); however, the amount of songs available for download is neither nine nor eighteen, and the songs that can be downloaded have different album names and track numbers between the different versions. It's not enough to stop me from listening to the music, but I can't help but feel how much better it would sound as an album with a proper track list.
Though Trans-Siberian Orchestra may have popularized rock-based Christmas music with their trilogy of albums, Northern Light Orchestra proves that there is still room for more of this type of music. Their take on Christmas music is a thoroughly enjoyable one - this is something that I would gladly pay for if given the chance to have it as a proper album. I hope you enjoy it too - please leave a comment here or send me an email to let me know what you think of it. Happy listening!