Last night we had the opportunity to witness two outstanding performances by bands that share a few obvious things in common: they are both fronted by creative, talented young woman, they both have two full-length studio albums released via Nuclear Blast Records, and they both play music that is hard to tag within a specific subgenre. Since CELLAR DARLING released their sophomore album “The Spell” back in March, it instantly became one of my favorite releases of the year. I found an inexplicable emotional connection with the sad story behind this concept album and with the dark atmosphere of the album in general, so I was very excited to check out how it would translate as a live performance.
The special guests of the evening were FOREVER STILL, a Danish band fronted by the energetic and versatile Maja Shining. Because their bassist is currently recovering from a back injury, they performed as a trio, with Maja taking care also of the keyboards, Theremin, and some extra percussions. Their set was very intense and showcased the many different elements of their music. We heard some of their heaviest stuff such as “Fight”, “Scars” and “Survive”, where Maja delivered some kick-ass harsh vocals. They also played some of their more melodic and catchy tunes that resemble popular gothic metal acts such as EVANESCENCE in tracks like “Awake the Fire”, “Is it Gone?”, “Miss Madness” and “Rewind”. I personally like their melodic stuff better.
They also showed that they can write more complex and intricate stuff with songs like the title-track “Breathe in Colours” and “Do Your Worst” from their latest studio effort. But my personal favorite of theirs was the lovely “Say Your Goodbyes”, preceded by a short speech about the current state of the world and performed with a lot of soul and passion. Maja’s voice was particularly powerful and touching in this beautiful ballad. Altogether it was a great show. I was surprised by the use of the Theremin in a live performance and by the very positive response from the audience, who had already filled the club by then, with a group of dedicated fans who seemed to come especially to see them.
When CELLAR DARLING came to stage, the club was already boiling from the energy and the high expectations we all had for the show. As usual, during this tour, the set was divided into two parts, since the band wants to show their fans the best of their two albums, which have a very different vibe. The first part of the set focused on their latest release: the aforementioned concept masterpiece “The Spell”. After an intro taken from the audiobook version of the album, they kickstarted the show with the first four tracks of it, played in the same order as in the record without interruptions, except for some technical issues with the band’s backdrop.
“Pain” set the mood for the story we are about to hear. The use of hurdy-gurdy is one of the things that characterizes CELLAR DARLING’s music and Anna Murphy masters this instrument in addition to her unique vocals. The performance by the band is tight and it’s hard to tell if they are playing live or just miming to tape since their rendition is so faithful to the original. The continue with “Death”, one of their darkest and heaviest tunes, which works so well live. Anna multitasks again, going from to hurdy-gurdy to keyboards to flute, outdoing even RUSH’s Geddy Lee. In addition to the three official members of the band, they are joined on stage by Nicolas Winter on bass.
With “Love” they bring more melodic elements, with a great performance by drummer Merlin Sutter towards the end of the song, banging his see-through Tama drumkit. “The Spell” must be one of the finest songs released this year, it’s just so touching and heart-breaking, synthesizing the essence of the album. The performance is simply mesmerizing and gives me goosebumps. They skip a few tracks and jump cut to “Insomnia”, another of my favorites from “The Spell”. We get to witness once more Anna’s skills on the flute and the result is just wonderful, the vocal melodies are also some of their most memorable ones and the middle section at full-speed with hurdy-gurdy shredding make it an unforgettable performance.
After such an intense track they slow things down a bit with the eerie “Freeze”, a very suitable song for the cold Finnish autumn. The light show helps to build the atmosphere and the energy keeps flowing between the band and the crowd. They end the first part of the set with the intricate “Drown”, a track they have only recently added to the setlist. And I’m glad they did because it’s one of my favorite ones and they really nailed it throughout its numerous passages. Anna takes some time to talk to the audience and asks us if we want to hear some of that more upbeat material from their debut album, and the answer is: Hell yeah we do!
The mood at the club is so great that it’s hard not to smile, especially when the audience goes crazy shouting guitarist Ivo Henzi’s name after Anna reminds us that he is half-Finnish. The Swiss feel very welcome by the Finnish people, having played in Tampere the previous night. The second half of the show begins with the catchy “Black Moon”, with an inspired Anna delivering amazing vocals. Ivo also excels with his guitar solo, and the band looks like they are having a ball on stage. Next, they attack with a one-two punch of energetic songs separated only by an outstanding drum solo. “Starcrusher” and “Fire, Wind & Earth” are certainly two of the finest tracks off “This is the Sound”.
One of the highlights of the show was the cover version of “The Prophet’s Song”. Being a huge fan of QUEEN, I was more than pleased to hear their fabulous rendition of this complex track. I must admit that “Redemption” almost brought me to tears, which I rarely do in public (or crying at all, for that matter). The combination of the piano and Anna’s vocal performance always hit the spot for me. A moment to remember for the rest of my life. After a short break, they come back for the encore with the apocalyptic and dark “Six Days”, closing their set with the radio-friendly “Avalanche”, one of their biggest hits. They leave the stage for good and the crowd is loud as fudge.
Based on the fantastic response from the audience, it seems like CELLAR DARLING has managed to capture a fanbase of their own very quickly. In just three years they have released two amazing studio albums and they have found their own sound and identity, without looking back at their past. For me, they are one of the most promising bands out there, because they are not scared to experiment with unlikely elements, so their music probably won’t get boring as the years go by. Extra points for hanging out with the fans after the concert at their merch booth, which shows that they are still down-to-earth regardless of their success. I can’t wait for their next album and to see them live again!
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Article written by David Araneda
Photos by Laureline Tilkin
- The Spell
- Black Moon
- Starcrusher / Fire, Wind & Earth
- The Prophet’s Song (Queen cover)
- Six Days