About a year ago, on may fifth 2016, the world of folk metal was in shock. The Swiss giants from Eluveitie announced that after more than a decade, three musicians would leave the band: Hurdy Gurdist Anna Murphy, guitarist Ivo Henzi and the cynical drummer Merlin Sutter. In the period leading up to that fateful day, Sutter had been increasingly expressing his frustration about the division of incomes and the way musical input was treated. Merlin got kicked out of the band, but his close friends Anna and Ivo decided to join him out of protest. A beautiful story of friendship (honestly, why else would you EVER leave a band like Eluveitie?), but it did raise some concerns among the fans. What now? What with the future of Eluveitie? What with Anna, Ivo and Merlin? One year later, the fans can be put at ease: not only are Eluveitie still dancing their way through metal stages worldwide, but the three friends also founded a new band: Cellar Darling. Their first realization This Is The Sound has been released for two weeks, so it’s about time for a first trial by fire. Can Cellar Darling meet the high expectations?
First of all, This Is The Sound is definitely a genre piece. Cellar Darling confidently chooses for a somewhat gothic, dark romantic gloomy “Tim-Burton-meets-rock” atmosphere (metalheads be aware: we’re talking about rock rather than metal!). Anna’s etheric voice, the dreary tunes of piano and hurdy gurdy and choir chants all contribute to the visions of spooky desolated mansions op top of a barren hill that I got while listening to this album. No lack of atmosphere here! Another distinguishing trait of this album is the propensity towards the narrative and the theatrical. This Is The Sound strongly reminds me of the noble art of storytelling. In that respect – but ONLY in that respect – one could compare them to Nightwish. This is especially explicit in the undeniable Peter and the Wolf-feeling on the rather epic track Six Days, the quite musicalesque prelude to the chorus on Rebels and the theme and lyrical style on Starcrusher.
So atmosphere and the narrative are two trumpcards for Cellar Darling. On the other hand, we feel like maybe barely one year might have been just too short notice to publish an album of this magnitude already. Several tracks seem to fall short in terms of content and depth. The way the chorus on Avalanche was filled by just repeating “avalavalavalanche”, feels a bit cheap. Especially Fire Wind & Earth is a huge missed opportunity to sturdily break the tame calmness of the album. It starts off with a nice rocktune but then de-escalates into a very goody-two-shoes track with limited musical depth. Another miss is Hedonia, the only song in their native Swiss language. Not that it is a bad song, but there was more potential to it. Musically speaking, the long intro is followed by a quite happy melody that could have broken the somber trend of the other songs, but unfortunately the effect is nullified by the eternally esoteric singing. High Above These Crowns and Redemption pass by without leaving any remarkable impression, except maybe that they get a little naggy after a while.
Fortunately, there are some bright spots as well! First of all, there’s Anna’s soft and warm timbre and broad vocal reach! When tilting her voice, she reminds us of Within Temptation’s Sharon, but as soon as she puts more pressure on her vocal chords, it rather resembles the poppy sound of e.g. Amaranthe’s Elise. Speaking of poppy: Challenge might seem like the odd one out because of its poppyness, but it is in fact one of the better and more cozy songs on the album. Anna literally challenges her voice, which breaks the esotery of Avalance and Black Moon. Hullabaloo starts as a strong and balanced rock song with dark romantic mid sections and a passionate chorus. Sic Days is much more diverse and defiant than many other songs: gloomy, then lingering, then modest, then rather epic… It is no coincidence that these are the songs on which the folky element is most strongly represented! Do not be mistaken: as opposed to Eluveitie, folk instruments play a much less significant role in Cellar Darling (except for the omnipresent hurdy gurdy of course). Another exception to this is Under The Oak Tree, with a nice but somber melody. The Hermit is a bit more up tempo with a refreshingly dramatic chorus. Interesting detail: on this track, you can actually hear that guitarist Ivo hasn’t gotten rid of his typical Eluveitie sound. Thàt is the sound! Finally we have the acoustic intermezzo Water, gently cutting the album in half and reminding slightly of the atmosphere in the solo work of Jens Ryden: very gloomy and melancholic, yet enchantingly rippling.
In conclusion: on its first birthday, Cellar Darling already displays a lot of potential. Solid gloomy rock with the charming atmosphere of hurdy gurdy and a versatile storytelling singer. Diversity and variation are still to be improved, but if given more time to elaborate tracks in depth, they should be fine!
Release date: June 30th, 2017
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
2. Black Moon
5. Six Days
6. The Hermit
8. Fire Wind & Earth
10. Under The Oak Tree
11. High Above These Crowns
A reworking into English from the Dutch article by the same author originally published on www.musika.be.