The debut album from Cellar Darling is perhaps perfectly titled . This is the Sound introduces the band and their unique blend of folk, metal, and rock and showcases the talents of the band in a way that should create a sizable fan base.
Cellar Darling traces its roots back to the Swiss folk metal legends Eluveitie and the summer of 2016 when Anna Murphy, Ivo Henzi, and Merlin Sutter left the band but realized they still wanted to craft music. Fusing metal, folk, and alternative styles with traditional instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, ethereal vocals, powerful drums, and heavy riffs, Cellar Darling began crafting their songs of lyrical tales of old. In fall of 2016, the singles “Challenge” and “Fire, Wind & Earth” were released and the band signed to Nuclear Blast Records in January 2017. Three more singles followed and This is the Sound was released at the end of June 2017.
One of the great things about reviewing albums is when you get a new artist you haven’t heard of, to just fire up the album and start listening. That’s what I did with Cellar Darling’s This Is the Sound and this is one of those albums that grabs you immediately. After seeing they are on Nuclear Blast, I had a feeling I likely knew something about the band, and after a bit of google, suspicions were confirmed as the band is made up of former Eluveitie members. While they can’t escape that, make no mistake, this is not Eluveitie-style folk metal. I would best describe this as folk-influenced almost hard alternative or perhaps radio-friendly metal, heavy enough to keep the metalheads engaged but not heavy enough to drive off the casual metal listener.
Throughout the album, one of the obvious shining points are the vocals of Anna Murphy. Obvious comparisons will be made to Amy Lee (Evanescence) on some songs but on other songs, I hear some Lacey Sturm (ex-Flyleaf) and indulge me here a bit, some Candace Kucsulain (Walls of Jericho) but only from the mostly acoustic Walls of Jericho album Redemption and perhaps some clean vocals from Maria Brink (In this Moment) and even some Deborah Harry (Blondie). Certainly quite the variety there and even that grouping doesn’t capture nearly everything as this is just my best attempt to describe Anna’s vocals to someone who’s not heard them. From soaring highs to subtle inflections to darker tones, Anna Murphy handles them all and injects life and a variety of tones and styles into the various songs that keeps the sound fresh and makes it truly her own. As if that wasn’t enough, the band makes liberal use of the hurdy-gurdy as well which is one of the folk elements present, but while present often in the songs, it is not the focal point and is worked in well to the point the somewhat odd sound fits.
Merlin Sutter and Ivo Henzi take care of the rest of the instruments and provide both a solid rhythm section but also ably handle any chances for leads that work to add complexity to the songs. The more closely I listen, the more smaller, subtle touches of brilliance I hear in the riffs and drum rhythms. While the songs would work perfectly well without them, these small touches demonstrate the abilities of the performers and their understanding of what their audience will appreciate.
The album itself is 14 songs and essentially an hour long, and to my ears has three general categories or styles of songs, two of which I like and one where I’m not such a big fan. The group of songs, I’m not the biggest fan of on the album would be the ones that typically start out acoustic or with keyboards and tend to be slower and more atmospheric in nature, at least compared to the other tracks. This only accounts for four of the fourteen tracks and includes, “Six Days”, “Water”, “Under the Oak Tree”, and “High Above these Crowns”. For clarity sake, these are not bad songs in the least and in the case of “Six Days” actually provides a timely break for a new sound in the song lineup.
One other grouping of songs are those that I’ve loosely bundled together that have more of the folk elements to them. The hurdy-gurdy plays a more prominent role in these songs and to me at least, these are the ones that tend to be a bit darker in tone and a bit heavier than the first group discussed. Songs like “Avalanche”, “Challenge”, “Rebels” and “Hedonia” fall into this category. In these songs and in the softer ones, the storytelling approach to the songs comes more to the forefront and even reminds me of Dio-era Rainbow in terms of lyrics and themes, which is another really cool element.
My favorite grouping of songs would the heavier ones that often start out with a cool guitar riff, from the Danzig-esque opening of “Black Moon” to the great riff and pounding drum opening of “Fire, Wind & Earth” to the interplay between guitar and hurdy-gurdy in “Starcrusher”, these songs are much heavier and driving and give Anna a chance to change up vocal styles a bit more, leaning toward darker tones and perhaps even channeling some Stevie Nicks from time to time.
Cellar Darling have simply released a great album. Given the lineup and pedigree of the band, this should be no surprise, but the change in style compared to the band they came from may be a bit surprising to some. Songs are complex and there are a several different styles on the album, all of which play to different strengths of the band while highlighting the song crafting and not varying too much to be unrecognizable.
Written by John Jackson
02. Black Moon
05. Six Days
06. The Hermit
08. Fire, Wind & Earth
10. Under The Oak Tree…
11. …High Above These Crowns
Anna Murphy – Vocals, hurdy-gurdy
Merlin Sutter – Drums
Ivo Henzi – Guitars, bass
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records, June 2017
Video for ‘Avalanche’
Video for ‘Black Moon’
Video for ‘Challenge’
Video for ‘The Hermit’