Let me be frank – I’ve been terrified to listen to this album. I really like CELLAR DARLING. I like Anna Murphy, I like Ivo Henzi, and I like Merlin Sutter. I appreciate their honesty, their straightforwardness, their passion, their heart, their soul, and I want more than anything to like their music. However, their first two releases, “Challenge” and “Fire, Wind, and Earth,” didn’t quite grasp me the way I had hoped. I’m also feeling like the chances of me being crucified by fans who will love their music simply because they love the people who make it is pretty high (though I am so glad to know that these guys have such loyal and dedicated fans before their album has already been released).
However, I also don’t want to judge an album by two songs, nor say that I don’t like the album before I’ve given it an honest-to-goodness chance. So I’ve put it on and listened to it a few times to figure out my overall impression of what these three lovely people are offering the music world.
The album starts off very strongly with “Avalanche,” which has an eerie and moving intro, with some of the most interesting use of hurdy-gurdy that I’ve ever heard. Murphy‘s creative way of singing the word “avalanche” over and over manages to create a certain ambiance that I find vastly pleasing. The album continues with another single that you’ve already likely heard, “Black Moon,” which is one of my favorites on the album as one of the heaviest songs, with it’s catchy and powerful chorus. Murphy again proves to be nicely diverse vocally, and I like her backing chants quite a lot.
Another single follows yet again in the form of “Challenge” – a song about rejecting complacency and always fighting forwards and challenging oneself. I appreciate this song’s message quite a lot, BUT this song gets stuck in my head like no other… unfortunately, while the lyrics are good, I find this song on the whole to be a bit boring and repetitive. Credit where due though, the use of strings and hurdy-gurdy work very well in this, and I can definitely see why people like it so much. “Hullabaloo” has a heavier intro, with a lot going on during the chorus – you can see the complexity of the writing shining in this one. The musical interludes are definitely fun, and I particularly like what’s going on around 2:45. A piano introduces “Six Days,” opening softly and darkly, with some cool guitar work, though the pianos take center stage in this unsettling track. Meanwhile, “The Hermit” picks up the pace and has a bright, cheeriness to it musically. “Water” changes the pace yet again, which I find somewhere between the mystical prowess of AYREON and old classics like LED ZEPPELIN. It doesn’t last long though, almost acting as an intro or interlude before the heavier and more energetic “Fire, Wind, & Earth,” which, while will never be a real favorite, has admittedly grown on me a little at this point.
“Rebels” begins to shine when the hurdy-gurdy comes in, blending nicely with the guitars at the 1:00 point. “Under the Oak Tree” sounds almost like an alternative rock song, which is a nice switch-up. The song feels quite familiar stylistically, though I haven’t been able to pinpoint what it reminds me of. “High Above These Crowns” starts out sounding a lot like an outro track, with gentle backing music that emphasizes the vocals, which are clearly the focal (aural?) point to start out with. Even when the music kicks in, the song feels rather final or conclusive.
“Starcrusher” is another fun, upbeat song. Murphy‘s deeper vocals kick things off, and this song actually starts to feel like a repetition of a few other songs on the album, making me wonder if there are a few too many songs on the album at this point – this is already track 12 after all. “Hedonia,” on the other hand, is the longest song on the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes, and Murphy is singing in another language that I’m afraid I don’t recognize. This is one of the coolest songs on the album again, picking up in a really interesting and fun way, and it definitely stands out as one of the more unusual songs on the album. “Redemption” again is feeling a bit like other songs we’ve already heard, and feels a bit less conclusive as an album closer than songs like “High Above These Crowns,” but it does end the album on a nice note.
In the end, this album is actually pretty good. It’s nice to put on in the background, and I’ll never groan if anyone I’m hanging out with wants to listen to it, that’s for sure. It has ups and downs, high points and points where you feel like you’ve heard a song already. Murphy‘s voice is diverse and unusual, and while I adore her style, I might have hoped for more of her higher singing and less of the lower, deeper parts, that aren’t quite as melodic. The album is a bit on the longish side – it could be fine-tuned a bit, maybe extending some shorter songs, or combining a few that sound essentially the same. If straight-up heavy metal is what you were hoping for, this album will not satisfy that urge, but if you like hints of folk, alternative, rock, and metal blended together, it should appeal to you, as it does have very diverse influences. All-in-all, if songs like “Challenge” appealed to you from the get-go, I think you’ll really enjoy this, but as for myself, I’m already interested to see what their second or third albums are going to be like, now that they’re officially in the swing of things.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Black Moon
- Six Days
- The Hermit
- Fire, Wind, & Earth
- Under the Oak Tree
- High Above These Crowns
Anna Murphy – vocals, hurdy-gurdy
Ivo Henzi – guitars
Merlin Sutter – drums
Nuclear Blast Records