March 18, 2019 Cellar Darling – The Spell (Album Review)
A girl who falls in love with death, along with love, insomnia, and the perils that come with being the Mother of the Broken. All this and more is woven throughout the story at the heart of Cellar Darling’s upcoming The Spell, which arrives on Friday, March 22, 2019, thanks to Nuclear Blast.
Progressive Folk Metal outfit Cellar Darling formed in 2016, amidst a major shake-up in the camp of Eluveitie, Switzerland’s chart-topping and most successful Metal act to date. Needing to move forward with new projects, the trio set to re-establishing themselves in the Metal community, and released one truly moving debut, This Is the Sound, in 2017. Like a Metal fairytale that incorporated Progressive Rock with Folk Metal instrumentation and storytelling, and yet delighted in darkness enough to be Gothic, their debut was artistically macabre and beautifully sincere. This single-handedly proved that Cellar Darling were an enchanting new name in Progressive Folk Metal, and the band immediately took to the road to support Amorphis. Fans took notice!
Now it is time for their sophomore release, The Spell. For the 13-song album, Cellar Darling — Anna Murphy (vocals, multi-instrumentalist), Ivo Henzi (guitars, bass), and Merlin Sutter (drums) — explore conceptual territory, weaving their tracks around the story of a girl who has fallen in love with death. Produced by Tommy Vetterli (formerly of Coroner and Kreator) and Frontwoman Murphy, the album weaves a cohesive tale that relies heavily on the band’s exceptional storytelling strengths. This time around, there is no infectious “Avalanche,” but there’s certainly a boat-load of death!
The Spell opens to the fairly self-explanatory “Pain,” with Murphy’s signature hurdy-gurdy in the mix. Her songbird vocals anchor a track full of crunchy guitars and catchy choruses meant to entice while rocking out in the name of struggle. Next, an ominous intro crackles and rains into “Death.” The melancholy mood creates a lusciousness, a velvety black cloak that flows into a truly evil breakdown that features a beautiful alto flute. At just over seven minutes, “Death” is certainly an experience – but thankfully you will live to tell this tale.
The contrast to “Death,” “Love” is a beautifully lilting and bespelling experience with some vibes that throwback to the band’s debut album, particularly “Avalanche.” Here, Murphy falls for the very darkness which she so beautifully depicted in the previous track. This tango of love and death understandably leads to the haunting Folk Metal of “The Spell,” where Murphy’s signature hurdy-gurdy is featured prominently throughout.
Going heavier and delving deeper, thick guitar riffs weave around the thrumming rocker “Burn.” However, just as one might begin to think that there aren’t quite as many soaring melodies on The Spell as on the band’s previous disc, they break out “Hang,” a broken wing that still manages to travel through the forest. In her songbird voice, Murphy tells the story of the Mother of the Broken amidst delicate flute accompaniment.
Many of the tracks on The Spell come in contradictory pairs: the light and the dark, water and fire, love and death; such is the case with “Sleep” and “Insomnia.” Piano accompanies Murphy for the gently enticing lullaby “Sleep.” Though, for its contradictory cousin “Insomnia,” the band go into that mindless fog accompanied by the inability to sleep. With crunchy verses and soaring choruses, the battle for shut-eye wages on and comes full circle back to the gentle piano of “Sleep.”
The transcendental moments of “Freeze” see the return of the hurdy-gurdy before the band dip into the short “Fall,” a journey off the mortal coil. Next, the waves lap precariously as we begin the descent into the maelstrom of emotions that is “Drown.” Spiraling, our heroine finds herself lost, drowning in the blues and questioning what is would mean to fade away.
Bleeding and blossoming, the epic “Love, Pt. II” seeks to survive until sun up, to treasure the light, accept the sadness, but ultimately leave the darkness behind. This moves the trio into “Death, Pt. II,” the second piece of our grand denouement. “I killed the sun for you,” Murphy laments as she begins to twinkle the ivories in “Death, Pt. II.” Resolving to love from afar, to embrace the dark with the light, sleep is finally attainable as we approach the final rest of The Spell. Like something worthy of Broadway, we reach the conclusion of a triumphant and beautifully moving tale.
There is a definite melancholia to The Spell, one that has moments of doom alongside moments of hope. The songs throughout feel like orchestral movements: each providing a chapter in our story, an emotional character development or plot twist; assorted, wonderfully-authored pieces that add up to an epic finale. A tribute to the yin and yang of life, Murphy does a phenomenal job of portraying the cloak of death tangoing precariously with the curious young woman; painting a picture of the velvety goodness of both the darkness and the light.
Certainly, The Spell is very different from This Is the Sound, but it would be unfair to suggest that a band should ever repeat themselves. Where their debut highlighted the band’s storytelling talents and established them as capable of creating Folk Metal fairytales, The Spell revels in this strength and weaves one lengthy story from start to finish. However, fear not: if a conceptual album is not your thing, the songs stand beautifully on their own as testaments to the talents of a band who sound and think like no other.
Cellar Darling is unequivocally unique, and not many bands these days can say the same! Like the Hans Christian Andersen (he was not Swiss, we know!) of melancholic Progressive Folk Metal, these Swiss musicians are doing something so wonderfully right! For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Cellar Darling’s The Spell 5 of 5 stars.