DATE: Tuesday 3rd April 2018
VENUE: Rebellion in Manchester, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Opening act this evening are Diamond Black, newcomers on the scene, whose debut live performance was just two days ago at Cellar Darling's Glasgow show. With tonight in Manchester being their second ever gig, you'd never know. Evidently well-rehearsed, they're slick, tight and dynamic from the off. During their half hour set, they deliver some melodically tasty tunes that fuse darkly gothic atmospheres with an engaging rock/metal impetus. Reminiscent, in parts, of defunct Finnish goth metallers To/Die/For, with a few compositional nods towards The Cult, Depeche Mode, et al, this talented quartet's dark rock discharge is well received with the large crowd gathered in Rebellion.
Finnish frontman J.I.Turunen leads his bandmates through their thirty minutes of material with some fine, emotionally-charged vocals, and guitarist Ben Christo, who's also been a member of goth pioneers The Sisters of Mercy for the past twelve years, provides a slew of engaging riffs and leads. Visually, whether deliberate or not, the band are but mere silhouettes for the majority of their set, due to some harsh back-lighting...which I gather Sisters themselves have been perennially renowned for throughout the years. Sound-wise, though, everything's spot on, courtesy of another Sisters guy manning the desk - Dave Creffield (aka. Ravey Davey).
With their half hour set feeling all too short, I guess it's always good to leave punters wanting more. And, based on tonight, I'm sure it won't be too long before this bunch are elevated to playing headline sets, and filling clubs on their own terms.
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Cellar Darling at Rebellion in Manchester, UK, 3rd April 2018
Photograph copyright © 2018 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Just before 9pm, as house lights dim and crowd chatter transforms into an eruption of loud cheers in a packed Rebellion, vocalist and hurdy-gurdy virtuoso Anna Murphy, guitarist Ivo Henzi, drummer Merlin Sutter, and live session bassist Nicolas Winter take to the stage. There's a discernible buzz about the venue as Cellar Darling launch headfirst into their set with an energetic rendition of 'Black Moon'. The place is ignited with a spark of mutual metal merriment, as both band and crowd spring into action, and the place feels alive with a sense of jubilance.
It's an elation that's sustained for Cellar Darling's set, on a journey through each and every track from their debut full-length offering, 'This is the Sound'. The album was its own beast, but the narratives of compositions come to life through both lyrics and instrumentations, and flourish in all kinds of emotively potent ways tonight. There are no set highlights. Why? Because the entire set is a highlight. Even the occasional flaw, such as a minor flute mishap and giggle fit during an interlude in the epic sounding 'Six Days', is seamlessly and coolly shrugged off by Anna with a little jovial banter.
In fact, it's Anna's frequent banter with the crowd that helps sustain such a fun, cool vibe to Cellar Darling's show. She looks a hundred per cent at ease on stage, and enjoying every single second; not only of the performance, but the rapturous audience reactions, too. She seems unable to stop smiling between songs and informs everyone on more than one occasion that it's flattering to see and hear so many people sing along to all of the songs. It's this kind of genuine sincerity that makes Cellar Darling such an endearing band. She even manages to transform her hurdy-gurdy re-tuning into part of the show, with some amusing chitchat as she fiddles around with her instrument.
But endearing stage personas are only one part of the story. Cellar Darling's songs, in a live context, are so utterly compelling. And their emotionally powerful tales are brought to life with musicianship par excellence. I, and I'm sure many others, always wanted to hear more of Anna's wondrous vocals in Eluveitie. With such a unique and emotionally expressive voice, and with a tonally wide range, a dream has come true with Cellar Darling. Such is her talent, she was destined to front her own band at some point. And her seemingly virtuosic hurdy-gurdy widdling flourishes as much as her voice, post-Eluveitie.
Merlin Sutter's drumming impresses just as much. I was already aware of his drumming talents from his time in Eluveitie but, in Cellar Darling, his sticksman chops seem to have thrived big-time. This is so apparent in Rebellion tonight, and he delivers one of the greatest performances behind a kit I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. I do not say this lightly, but I'd put him on a par with the likes of Sean Reinert and Steve Flynn for sheer tub-bashing, free-flowing magnificence.
Ivo Henzi shines, too, with his fretboard work, that succeeds in riding and conveying the musical diversity within and between songs. For Cellar Darling are all about musical diversity. Their self-proclaimed genre is that of "New Wave Of Folk Rock, with a bite!"... quite a significant bite, I would say, as the many heavied-up passages are rooted firmly in metal territory... but we're talking boundary-pushing metal here, rather than trite regurgitation. As such, Cellar Darling are a refreshing blast of originality, and their music provides an invigorating kick of irresistible charms in Manchester this evening.
After they wrap up their pre-encore set with an incredible rendition of the melodically sublime 'Hedonia', the four musicians exit the stage. The crowd immediately begin calling for Cellar Darling's return, with some sort of truncated band name chant that seems short of a syllable or two, which seems to amuse Anna when all members arrive back on stage after a minute or so. Cue their take on Queen's 'The Prophet Song'. It's a brave band that tackles a track by such an iconic and sacred band, particularly with a less obvious song choice. I told them as much earlier in the evening, to which Anna references before they commence. But their version of this 'A Night at the Opera' track is absolutely phenomenal, through all of the song's movements, including a rather impressive mid-song vocal interlude where Anna loops her voice to harmonise with herself. A final burst of Cellar Darling arrives in the form of 'Challenge', and this concludes a performance that has felt like an emotionally enriching journey and, most importantly, one of unmitigated entertainment.
If the crowd reaction to tonight's show is anything to go by, it seems there's a lot of love for Cellar Darling on these shores. And with a forthcoming appearance at this year's Download Fest, their popularity will undoubtedly continue to soar over here. This ex-Eluveitie trio have, in a relatively short period of time, already proved their worth as an autonomous musical force, and indubitably have an incredible future ahead of them. And let's hope they're able to come back over here as soon as possible, for a longer run of headline shows. All promoters out there take note - these lovely Swiss peeps are crowd pullers, crowd pleasers and room fillers. Entertaining in all respects, from their arsenal of incredible tunes to the jovial and buoyant vibes they reciprocate with their rabidly enthusiastic audience, Cellar Darling are fucking phenomenal.
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