Just when we thought that there were no frontiers left for Christmas music to explore, Scythian has proven us wrong with an outstanding new holiday album. Their upcoming record, Christmas Out at Sea, is a remarkable turn for the holiday genre, presenting Christmas classics in their most raw, unprocessed form for a genuine, all-around wholesome and faithful album.
Christmas Out at Sea is Scythian’s first excursion into the holiday genre and the excitement they bring to the work is matched only by the enormous and prolific talent of the band. Bringing listeners back to the days of “shanties, whaling, sea monsters and squalls,” Scythian promises to take their audience on a journey “from port town pubs to the open seas,” navigating our ears and hearts towards the Star of Bethlehem.
Carols and shanties
Opening appropriately with the port bells ringing out, the work begins with “I Saw Three Ships,” an 18th-century carol that Scythian infuses with joyous folk tones that give the impression of sailors celebrating a successful voyage at the nearest port pub. It was an excellent choice for an opening track, not only because the repetition of “Christmas Day” reveals the nature of the work, but because its lively energy sets the tone for the entire album.
Another track worth noting is “The Wellerman,” a song that TikTok users may recognize, as the platform led a resurgence of this New Zealand shanty. While there’s something to be said for the popular solo a cappella arrangement, Scythian presents a much grander rendition, filling the space around their rich masculine voices with accordions, strings, chimes, and an intense marching drum. The band even added a Christmas-themed verse at the end to tie it in with the other songs.
A Christmas story
Our favorite aspect of Christmas Out at Sea is how the album is arranged to tell a story. Scythian explained in a press release that “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent,” a strong male vocal that brings to mind the old Viking song “My Mother Told Me,” is a call that is responded to with “In the Bleak Mid-winter,” sung by a choir of female voices. The former represents the sailors singing of their yearning for home, while the latter calls to mind their wives awaiting their return by the shore.
These two tracks present a striking juxtaposition between the sailors and their wives. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” is an intense, droning chant that includes a lilting string solo that bears a somewhat Middle Eastern tone. This element gives the impression of a long voyage that has taken the boat far from the generally Celtic origins of the previous tracks.
Meanwhile, “In the Bleak Mid-winter” is a much calmer and more tender song that is performed like a prayer, pleading for the safe return of the sailors. The gentle singers have to-die-for harmonies that create an atmosphere of peace and comfort. By the end of the track the listener really understands just why the sailors are so determined to return safely to their loved ones.
A merry voyage
Lastly, but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention how much we loved their treatment of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Not only do the acoustic instruments bring a certain joyfulness to the generally haunting melody, but they break it down about halfway through, changing the marching rhythm to a more rocking beat. We never thought we would say this about a Christmas song, but this one is a banger.
These are just a few of the 11 tracks on Christmas Out at Sea, but there’s a whole lot of more music awaiting on this deftly composed masterpiece of a holiday record.
Of the album, Scythian’s Dan Fedoryka explained:
We were drawn towards a maritime take on Christmas for several reasons: Similar to the shepherds of Jesus’ time, sailors were often seen as the unwanted of society and this “outcast” character shines a light on the true state of affairs. To quote GK Chesterton — “we’re all in the same boat and we’re all seasick.” We’re all in need of a savior.
Harkening back to ancient carols, sung with manly voices, we’re hoping to create a space that lets the true power and theology of the hymns affect the listener. In an age of polished crooners who focus on the “feel-good” of Christmas, we hope this album brings renewed appreciation for a season which points towards our need for a savior and the gratitude which comes from being saved while lost at sea.”
Dan also noted that the album comes in thanks to Scythian’s fans, who donated 100% of the funds needed to release their previous album, Roots & Stones, released during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“So it’s a double gratitude album — Gratitude towards God the Father for sending us a savior and gratitude to our fans for being our record label and helping us survive the toughest of scenarios for a touring band — almost two years of lockdowns.”
The album officially sets sail with the full release on December 6, but pre-sales have already begun on Scythian’s official website. As a gift for the season, Scythian will release singles for free listening on Spotify. Look for their first single, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day), and their second, “The Angel Gabriel,” on December 12 (The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe).
Be sure to follow them on YouTube so you won’t miss a single magnificent release from the pride of the roots music scene.
Speaking of roots music, Scythian organizes the annual Appaloosa Roots Music Festival, which brings together some of the finest folk musical acts and distinctly Catholic ones, like The Hillbilly Thomists. Read Aleteia’s review of Appaloosa here, and learn more about the festival on its official website.