Cellar Darling at Jazz Café

Support: Blanket| Appearance of Nothing
March 31, 2019 at Jazz Café
Promoter: KM Music

The Swiss folk-rock trio Cellar Darling cut their teeth as long-term members of the legendary folk-metal outfit Eluveitie before splitting to form their own project. Compromised of singer and hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy, guitarist and bassist Ivo Henzi and drummer Merlin Sutter, the band released their debut album This Is The Sound in 2017. The sound in question was a more melodic and stripped down take on the genre, with Murphy’s soaring vocals being the main focus of attention. Since then, Cellar Darling have toured on a constant basis supporting the likes of Kamelot and Delain, with another support slot for Katatonia coming up for them in May. This however was their first headline tour of the UK in support of their exceptional second album The Spell, which came out just two days before their performance at London’s Jazz Café.

Fellow Swiss progressive-metal outfit Appearance of Nothing opened the show. Entering the stage draped in black hoods they looked more like a black-metal band than anything, and there were elements of that to their music which was lapped up by the metal-loving crowd. Despite the heavy sound the band produced though, vocalist Omar Cuna’s soft voice adds a more melodic element to Appearance of Nothing’s sound and allows them to produce some terrific tracks like ‘Storm’, which cued Anna Murphy to join them onstage for the duet. The most notable coupling of the evening however was Cuna inviting his girlfriend onto the stage before  getting down on one knee to propose (she said yes!). A heart-warming moment that you don’t really expect to see at a metal show, which was followed by their final song ‘The Huntress’ to close a highly enjoyable performance.

Next up were Blackpool’s Blanket who brought a far more experimental approach to proceedings. The four-piece are an interesting blend of art-rock, progressive metal and seemingly everything else in between, and showcase an extraordinary range of musical ability; as versatile as their songs are, what remains constant throughout their performance is a sense of melancholy which pervades all of their writing. The band were touring off the back of their highly rated 2018 album How to Let Go, and their set consisted of the highlights from this record, including the expansive ‘Turn Ourselves To Stone’, which received one of the better reactions from the crowd. A lot of the time however, it was clear that large sections were unsure what to make of them, as they were such a different experience from the headliners and from what most would have been used to. Still, the fact that they were able to open some minds to a new sound is always something to be valued, and it will be interesting to see what further opportunities the relative newcomers will get to do so in future.

The impact of Cellar Darling’s entrance was somewhat lessened by the fact that they were responsible for setting up their own stage before the show, but this is soon forgotten as guitarist Ivo Henzi’s trademark riffs come in for ‘Black Moon’ and the audience are firmly transported into Cellar Darling’s world. The Jazz Café is a perfectly atmospheric setting for them, as it creates  intimacy right from the first note, with frontwoman Anna Murphy playing the crowd as well as her instruments. Cellar Darling begin the show by going through the favourite songs from  2017’s This is the Sound, with Murphy showing off her vocal dexterity in ‘Hullabaloo’ and ‘Avalanche’ in particular. The band have two additional touring members who join the trio onstage to play bass and keys, which produces a sound that fills the entire venue, backed up by Merlin Sutter’s powerful and precise drumming. It is clear that there is a lot of love for the band in the UK, which is why, according to Murphy, they decided to kick of their tour to support their new album The Spell here. There are some more older songs to get to before that though, with a particular highlight being ‘Challenge’, which is notable for its flawless execution for what is again an incredibly diverse song in its vocal ranges and instrumental sections.

The Spell has been rated consistently highly across the board, and despite it only being out for just over a week before this performance, the announcement that the band were moving on to play through most of it was greeted with rapturous excitement. The Spell is a much darker record than their previous effort, but any concerns that this would mean it did not translate so well into the live setting were quickly eradicated when the first track ‘Pain’ began and it became clear that the change of pace if anything suited Cellar Darling, not to mention gave Henzi an excuse to show off his skills a little more. He was not the only one though, as the small stage meant that Sutter was not stuck behind the rest of the band, as would usually happen, and could dazzle us all with his faultless accuracy. As we move into ‘Death’ and ‘Love’ this trend continues, with Murphy also demonstrating her talents on the hurdy-gurdy and flute. The musicianship would be impressive enough were it not for the fact that Cellar Darling have an incredible ability to draw the audience into the story and darkness of The Spell‘s songs at the same time as wowing us with their talent.

There was no better example of this than with ‘Insomnia’, where the vocal performance from Anna Murphy was at its very best, having already set an incredibly high bar throughout the rest of the show, but also allowed the crowd to completely lose themselves in the music to an extent that really was incredibly emotional. An ambitious project such as bringing a concept album about death to a live setting such as this could easily have fallen flat in less capable hands, but Cellar Darling use all of their experience and passion to create the perfect environment for their music to have the effect it deserves. This was helped by the fact that most of the audience were clearly very dedicated fans, as they knew most of the words to the very recent release. Once the songs from the new album had been exhausted, we were treated to a cover of Queen’s ‘Prophet Song’, which Cellar Darling were able to put their own unique spin on, the epic nature of the song suiting them incredibly well, before ending with ‘Redemption’ from This is the Sound. The truly incredible thing about Cellar Darling is that they make an astonishing performance like this feel so effortless and natural. They combine technical brilliance with entrancing ambiance, yet with a real human side that leaves everybody in the venue leaving feeling as though they had witnessed something very special indeed.

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