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Album review: Christian music and not-so-Christian music

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The holiday season is here, and so we're going to take this week to check out some holiday music by a group called Eira, a Duluth-based string-and-vocal combo that will be promoting their Christmas album "Glen Tidings" with a performance at Peace Church tonight. It just feels like the right thing to do, even though masked Satanic pop-metallers Ghost surprise-released a new live album a few days ago, and it might be nice to check that out, too.

It makes more sense, though, to cover Eira, as they're local musicians with an upcoming show, and Ghost is a Swedish rock group with a singer who dresses up like a zombified Pope and sing songs that humorously glorify the devil. So let's crack open this CD copy of "Glen Tidings" and let the spirit of the season wash over us.

Now, we just have to find a way to play this CD. They're not really making computers with disc drives so much anymore, are they? Let's see. Might have to get the old Discman out of whatever box it's in for this one. And, y'know, while we're doing that, we could probably check out this Ghost album.

"Ceremony and Devotion," it's called, and it kicks off with the song "Square Hammer," a non-album track featuring a chorus so big and anthemic, it makes worshipping Satan sound like a real hoot. Really, these guys are as commercial as Billy Squier or Rick Springfield were in the 80s, only they sing about the occult. "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" is much more metal, with a winding riff supporting Papa Emeritus III's nasal, clean vocals. It doesn't sound much different from the album version, which is to be expected when a lot of your in-concert elements are pre-taped, and you're playing to a click track. Somehow, though, these offensive moves aren't so offensive when it comes to Ghost. Maybe it makes sense to have your backing vocals on tape when everyone in the band is wearing a "Clockwork Orange" mask.

Oh, look at that. Eira's on Spotify. They should probably note that somewhere on their website. Discman, you can stay in your resting place. Fun fact from the CD booklet, though, while it's open: the liner notes state that "Eira" is the Welsh word for "snow," and also "the tayra is an omnivorous animal from the weasel family, native to the Americas. It is the only species in the genus Eira."

Weasel facts. Eira thought it was a good idea to include weasel facts in the liners to their Christmas album. Luckily, their music is much better than their sense of design. From the outset, it's evident this is a group with a masterful grasp of what they're doing as performers and arrangers. From the opening notes of "Taladh Chriosda," the group's skill and confidence is on display. The singing goes from female to male and into a harmony between the two, goes from English to Gaelic, and goes from a quiet folk rumination over acoustic guitar into a stacked choral section with voices and string instruments flying all over the place. And not a note is misplaced. These folks do what they do very well.

When the group goes into the traditional number "Russian Dance," violinist Liesel Wilson reveals herself to be a stunning player, every note strong and forceful when it needs to be. And the cello and guitar behind her are just as impactful. It should be noted, too, the recording (by Dave Hill of Inland Sea in Superior) sounds fantastic and lush.

The only issue with Eira is they play traditional music that isn't as awesome as Ghost. Look, apples, oranges, sure, but a song like "Children's Winter," with its gentle tinkles and lyrics about the winter snow being a "child's delight" is just not as cool as Ghost's "Year Zero," a disco-metal song featuring a mass of voices chanting the various names of the devil.

The moral of this review: bands, please stop sending CDs, if you can help it. Just drop a line and let us know you're on Spotify, and then no one has to go to the post office or look for a Discman, and no one will be tempted to listen to Satanic rock music instead of your Christian holiday album.

Artist: Eira / Ghost

Album: "Glen Tidings" / "Ceremony and Devotion"

Website: eiramusic.com / ghost-official.com

Personnel: Ghost: Papa Emeritus III (vocals), Nameless Ghouls (all other instruments); Eira: Cheryl Leah (vocals, recorder), Ed Willett (cello, vocals, guitar), Liesel Wilson (violin, fiddle, erhu, vocals), Jim Ofsthun (bodhran, vocals, bells, whistles), Sue Spencer (guitar, vocals)

Upcoming show (Eira): 7:30 p.m. today at Peace Church, 1111 N. 11th Ave.

Tickets: $8, $15

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