Give me your most Goth Christmas music!
December 6, 2019 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I don't like most Christmas music. In fact, I'm an atheist. But I do love Christmas / Christian music which has a sense of the numinous and the sublime – such as Noël Nouvelet, the Coventry Carol, this, or anything by Hildegard von Bingen. What else should I be listening to this December?

Hopefully, my examples speak for themselves – but, to clarify, I'm looking for music which (1) dates back centuries (at least in style), and (2) has a rarified, reverent feeling.
posted by escape from the potato planet to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
O Magnum Mysterium, Tomás Luis de Victoria. Should be right up your alley.
posted by humbug at 5:28 PM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Anything Palestrina.
posted by selfnoise at 5:40 PM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I Wonder As I Wander
posted by Ideefixe at 5:41 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I used to like Honegger's Christmas Cantata a lot. I haven't listened to it in years. Listening now! I don't know much about Honegger's worldview but judging by the company he kept, I have a hard time imagining anything too oppressive there.
posted by less of course at 5:51 PM on December 6, 2019

Try Down in Yon Forest

And, maybe, Lo, How a Rose E’er Bloomimg This is the German version, but there are English versions as well.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:55 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love this version of O Come Emmanuel
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:50 PM on December 6, 2019

Red Water is the most Goth Christmas song possible, but might be too modern for your tastes.
posted by jordemort at 7:29 PM on December 6, 2019

Anonymous 4 has done several Christmas albums. I'm a particular fan of their album Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary.
posted by gudrun at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Are you me? Did I write this question in a fugue state? I am a huge fan of exactly this type of Christmas music. Some of my favorites:
Allegri's Miserere by the Tallis Scholars
To Drive the Cold Winter Away (whole album) by Loreena McKennitt, includes beautiful rendition of Coventry Carol
Sacred Music from Medieval Spain
Voice of the Blood (Hildegard, in case you weren't familiar with this album)
posted by Atrahasis at 10:16 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

OK - if you are into the vocal stuff I suggest Navan a quartet, sometimes trio, that sings celtic music, in original languages of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Their full discography is available on Spotify. Limited tracks like Ellas Mari from their album Lowena are available on YouTube.

I know them - I had the privilege of working production on several live holiday-time events where they sang. The memory of the four of them walking into a darkened theatre singing An Eos Hweg walking through the audience still brings goosebumps to my skin.
posted by sol at 10:38 PM on December 6, 2019

posted by dogsbody at 3:22 AM on December 7, 2019

If you're up for centuries-old songs done non-traditionally, try the most recent release from wonderful English avant-folk group Stick in the Wheel:
Drive the Cold Winter Away & Down in Yon Forest
posted by neroli at 6:38 AM on December 7, 2019

The Darkest Midnight in December
posted by darchildre at 7:22 AM on December 7, 2019

Voces8 has a couple of seasonal albums, but much of their repertoire is in that realm. The Dale Warland Singers (sadly now defunct) had a number of albums, Christmas and otherwise, with this type of music.

There are some modern composers that fill the same niche:
Morton Lauridsen (his O Magnum Mysterium soars).
Eric Whitacre's original compositions (Lux Arumque, When David Heard, etc) . For something that may just weird you out entirely, his arrangement of hurt is indescribable.
posted by jlkr at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm almost afraid to recommend it because for some of us it's Music That Hurts Too Much (paraphrasing Roger Ebert), but David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion is unforgettable.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:08 AM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Huron Carol
posted by JonJacky at 11:52 AM on December 7, 2019

I came in to recommend Jan Sandstrom's arrangement of Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, but I wonder if you might also like some of the other responses to this Ask - not all of them are Christmas themed.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Kronos Quartet’s version of Thomas Tallis’s 1570 Motet Spem in Alium off of their album Black Angels might be just what you’re looking for. The quartet overdubbed themselves 10 times and it has a pretty overwhelming result.
posted by umbú at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2019

Peter Warlock's Bethlehem Down is the gothest Christmas song ever.

The only thing that could possibly outgoth it, Bairstow's Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, is I guess technically an Advent anthem. (The linked recording is in a properly echoey space; Bairstow wrote it for York Minster, which has an echo lasting a couple of seconds. Listen to that resonance after each Alleluia. Mghnnghffff.)

The Coventry Carol (done properly, in the original) is spiky, modal and full of death.

The Paul Halley arrangement of What Child is This starts off creepy and ends up *scary*. The sort of music that reminds you that angels are covered in eyeballs and multiple wings and swords and stuff.

Moving into the modern era, The Bird And The Bee's version of Carol of the Bells is creepy as anything.

I quite like Annie Lennox's version of God Rest Ye Merry, the only Christmas carol to mention Satan. Maddy Prior's version is also great-- her band of Renaissance instruments is just beautiful.

AskMe: Christmas carols for pagans?
Christmas music for those sick of Christmas music
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume (dark Christmas music thread)
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:54 AM on December 9, 2019

Perhaps Mark Lanegan's Christmas album? The carols Cherry Tree Carol, Down in Yon Forest, and Coventry Carol are all fairly dark in content and Lanegan's delivery is suitably bleak. There's also the Burning Babe, a Christmas poem by 16th-century Catholic mystic Robert Southwell adapted with a melody by Chris Wood. Sting, of all people, does a version of it.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2019

This Phil Tanner version of Gower Wassail gets the mood, I think. This Shirley Collins version is also great! And if you want a ghostly carol, it's hard to beat John Jacob Niles' Cherry Tree.
posted by quatsch at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2019

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