It’s not every day that you hear a hard rock/metal album that contains liberal uses of the hurdy-gurdy. It isn’t really the go-to instrument when you think of starting a melodic metal band, and I truly believe the world is a less happy place to live in because of this. In my little make-believe fantasy land, there would be a specific genre just for its inclusion. Hurdy-gurdy metal. Just look at that phrasing. Hurdy-gurdy metal. It’s glorious.
Thankfully, I can be relieved that a band like Cellar Darling exists for me to indulge in my new found love of hurdy-gurdy metal.
The trio, fronted by the ethereal Anna Murphy, formed after departing folk metal outfit, Eluveitie, have dropped their debut album titled “This Is The Sound”, and it’s suitably epic in every way.
The sweeping 59-minute opus is awash in an amalgam of sounds. From beautiful melodies that detail old folk tales which are reinvented for our modern times, guitars that swing from uplifting to mournful, sometimes in one song, drums that are equally crushing and restrained, and yes, the majestical hurdy-gurdy that can be heard throughout each of the 14 tracks.
The album opens with the hypnotic Avalanche, with Murphy repeating the word in an almost monotone low register at the beginning before adding powerful melody in the chorus. Accompanied by the controlled fury of a slow lumbering drum beat, it really feels as if this could be a soundtrack to mountains falling.
We then move to the new single, Black Moon. The four minute track is like a snapshot of what Cellar Darling is all about: catchy, multi layered melodies from Murphy; great guitar work from Ivo Henzi that alternates from chugging rhythms to majestic sustained chords; tight drumming from Merlin Sutter that showcases his restraint, but also his technical prowess with quick, nimble fills; and an awesome little hurdy-gurdy solo from Murphy herself.
Following this is the band’s original single, Challenge, that was released last September. It’s easy to see why there’s major buzz over this album, since it’s yet another excellent track that manages to be heavy and restrained at the same time; something that Cellar Darling really seem to have a knack for and put to good use.
From there on we are treated to a beautiful soundscape of epic beauty. From the slightly Middle-Eastern tinged melodies of the slow-moving and heavy, Six Days, the deep groove-laden jam of Starchrusher, and the speedy, tempo-shifting, The Hermit, Cellar Darling exude a confidence, prowess and unity that only comes from experience. Their hard work in Eluveitie has paid dividends for this release.
By far my favourite track is the penultimate, Hedonia. Beginning with an achingly beautiful passage featuring a wonderful melody sung in German, before ripping into a fast guitar and drum-led assault which feels almost prog-like, it then settles into a waltz; with every instrument coming together wonderfully. It’s a great achievement in an album full of already great songs.
Cellar Darling has set a high bar with “This Is The Sound.” It touches on a range of different styles and is an absolute gem of an album. It will be very interesting to see where they go from here.
All I can hope is that this is the first release of many in the hurdy-gurdy metal genre.