One could safely propose that there are far too many Christmas albums in the world, but far too few good ones. For those of us with an aversion to anything referencing Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer, elves, and such, it becomes even more difficult. If one searches for something authentically Gospel-centered or artistically original (or even the slimmest possibility of achieving both), it may take years to come across a single one.
There are three Christmas albums in my life that have truly achieved both gospel-centrality and artistic excellence. Previously there were two: Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God (2004) and Sojourn Community Church’s Advent Songs (2007). Now, I can finally add one more. Purely by recommendation (several, particularly Steve McCoy’s recommendation at Reformissionary and Ryan Hamm’s at Relevant), I checked out Bifrost Arts’ new Christmas-themed album Salvation is Created and had my Advent season rocked anew.
First, the songs are all thoroughly Christ-centered. You will not find any of the typically pop standards of Christmas here. Yes, there are a couple of songs you will recognize (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night,” namely). However, these already established Christian carols are given new life, and you will certainly not find yet another cover of “Silver Bells” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” No, the featured tracks are songs birthed from the deep Christian wellspring, many drawing on very ancient lyrics, traditions, and sounds, often possessing an inherent chant-like sound.
If, in your imagination, you blend the styles of Indelible Grace, Sufjan Stevens, and a dash of Danny Elfman together, you have a chance of probably getting something close to Bifrost Arts’ sound in this album. I know that is hard to imagine, but check it out for yourself and I’ll dare you to tell me otherwise. There is a certain folkiness at the core, a simplicity of living-room style vocals reminiscent of Sufjan’s recording style. However, contrasted with this is the fact that the album moves into symphonic territory at times. The string, horn, and percussive elements also harken a bit to Sufjan’s style, but perhaps sometimes moreso to the dark moods of Danny Elfman’s compositions.
This is a dark album, no question. A haunting melancholy permeates the entire piece. This is not an upbeat album glistening with chimes, warm strings, and sleigh bells. A large percentage of these songs are in a minor key. The overall atmosphere has a certain loneliness about it. Perhaps this is a Christmas album like the first Christmas night was, cold and lonesome, but filled with hope. These song emit a radiant hopefulness in the mist of darkness. Not unlike our state here on earth. We are awaiting Christ’s return. The “already/not yet” tension is in full force. We are in a fallen world, but living with the hope of the New Creation coming with our Lord.
Basically all of them, but especially “Joy, Joy!!!” (featuring Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri), a fifth century hymn called “Let All Mortal Flesh” (featuring Elin K. Smith), “Out of Heaven” (a nice duet of Derek Webb and Evan Gregory), “Veiled in Darkness” (featuring Matt Bauer and Maeve), and “Salvation is Created” (sung in a remarkably haunting fashion by Aimee Wilson). The last, fittingly the title track, is probably the piéce de résistance of the album, starting out in a chilly, mysterious simplicity and building into a remarkably complex, glorious climax.