I've been eagerly awaiting Cellar Darling's debut. Ever since it was announced last year that Anna Murphy, Merlin Sutter and Ivo Henzi had parted company with Eluveitie to form their own musical entity, it was with mixed emotions that I both mourned their departure from said band, but looked forward to the music they might make peripheral to it. After all, I always craved more of Anna's wonderful vocals in Eluveitie. Her hurdy-gurdy playing was, of course, fantastic, although she was criminally underused as a vocalist. However, Cellar Darling's debut full-length offering, while loaded with Anna's incredible singing and wide-ranging voice from start to finish, has transpired to be something of a mixed bag.
Let me clarify right away - there's nothing poor, terrible or even below average on the album, although it does veer ever so close to mediocrity during a small number of tracks. Bottom line - 'This is the Sound' has an equal number of good and very good songs mixed in with half a dozen standout/fantastic ones. I've listened to this a fair few times since it arrived for review, to ensure the okay/good numbers weren't growers, just in case they took hold of me on repeated listens. As such, they remain as they were during my initial listen through... at least, in my opinion.
Interestingly, the okay/good songs have been placed at the start of the album - 'Avalanche'; 'Black Moon'; 'Challenge'; 'Hullaballoo'. 'Avalanche', in which the melodies, song structure, and execution are generally very likeable, is abated by the repetition of its "ava-lanche, ava-lava-lanche, ava-lava-lava-lanche" chorus. This overly-prominent, ubiquitous motif entirely undermines the positives of the track, as it becomes a little grating after a while (it probably would've been better if restricted to just the intro and outro)... but, I'm guessing this was written for live, where it'll undoubtedly have greater relevance with beer-fuelled crowd sing-alongs. As such, on record, it's overkill of what would've been a good melody if used in a more minimalist manner. While the other three of these okay/good numbers aren't plagued as much by repetition (although overly repeated motifs also rear their head), they are cliché stricken tracks that are crying out for innovation and freshness. All that said, what saves these tracks from mere mediocrity are some great performances from the musicians and, more specifically, Anna's incredible voice.
From then on, the album gets stronger and more emotionally powerful as it progresses from clichéd compositions into more ambitious compositional territory. Four very good songs - 'Starcrusher'; 'Fire Wind & Earth'; 'Under the Oak Tree'; 'The Hermit' - are mixed up with some undeniably fantastic tunes, where composition, arrangement and performance are all aligned with emotionally explosive results. These arrive in the form of 'High Above These Crowns'; 'Rebels'; 'Six Days'; 'Water'; 'Hedonia' and 'Redemption'. For me, these are the songs that make it all worthwhile, and provide a much more rewarding listening experience.
There are echoes of Eluveitie throughout the album, with folk embellishments in some passages. I guess this is in no small way surprising, considering Cellar Darling is comprised of three former members. However, this trio shouldn't be regarded as Eluveitie-lite... despite some passing stylistic similarities, 'This is the Sound' is its own beast. Hurdy-gurdy features prominently throughout, which blends perfectly with Ivo's guitar/bass playing, all over the backbone of Merlin's rhythmically varied drumming. Other instruments creep into the mix, too, to embellish, and diverge from, the metal core, including flute and piano... so, despite being a mere trio, they've fleshed out their instrumentations with some pleasing variety (even on the okay/good tracks!)
Where the album particularly shines is when songs take on the essence of what feels like storytelling narratives in the longer compositions. 'Six Days' and 'Hedonia' exemplify this and have repeat playability value, as opposed to repetition within the actual songs themselves. The album also shines through a great production by the tried and tested hands of the always reliable Swiss knob twiddler and Coroner guitarist, Thomas Vetterli (with whom the trio have previously worked in their former band). He's attained a full, resonant, sound for the album - polished, yet organic, in its richly textured nature.
For a debut album, this is mightily fine stuff. If these Eluveitie abscondees can refine and hone their songcraft a little more, to push their strengths to the forefront, and avoid slipping into unnecessary clichés and overly repetitive motifs, then they have the potential to equal the might of their previous band. An impressive start, nonetheless, for their post-Eluveitie career.
THIS IS THE SOUND
Review by Mark Holmes
30th June 2017
1) Avalanche; 2) Black Moon
3) Challenge; 4) Hullaballoo
5) Six Days
6) The Hermit
8) Fire Wind & Earth
10) Under the Oak Tree
11) High Above These Crowns
12) Starcrusher; 13) Hedonia
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"If these Eluveitie abscondees can refine and hone their songcraft a little more, to push their strengths to the forefront, and avoid slipping into unnecessary clichés and overly repetitive motifs, then they have the potential to equal the might of their previous band."