A Look at the Swiss Metal Scene: Meet Cellar Darling
Founded in 2016, Cellar Darling has since emerged as a leading figure of the Swiss metal scene, with several critically acclaimed albums and successful international tours. As the band is currently touring in the US, we were lucky enough to meet them for an exclusive interview. In honor of National Metal Day on November 11, we got their take on metal as a genre, its clichés, and how its perception has changed in popular culture.
For years, metal has been quite misunderstood as a musical genre, and is often called “noisy”, “aggressive”, and even “inaudible”. What’s your view on these clichés?
Ivo Henzi (guitar): Well, I think the metal genre is very broad; there are many metal subgenres, and they are extremely diverse. For example, some of these subgenres are more melodic, some are more aggressive, some are more intellectual: that is why I think it’s really hard to describe metal as a whole genre in one sentence. But I also get why the loud guitars and the fast drums are not as easy to listen to as the ones you would find in pop or rock music. Like all clichés, these might contain a small bit of truth, but to me they really show that people usually don’t take enough time to give metal a proper listen.
Merlin Sutter (drums): I can understand that, for people who are not into this kind of music, some genres of metal can sound like noise. Some of them also sound like noise to me! But most people don’t know that there are many different types of metal that don’t sound the same at all. However, I think what unifies metal is the fact that it’s a very positive and open community. It is true that a lot of people often misunderstand this aspect. Probably because of the loud, heavy, and fast music, people also tend to see this community as aggressive. But for the vast majority of metal fans, this music is all about passion and positive energy.
Recently, we’ve witnessed some metal songs trending on social media, as well as more references in pop culture, like the famous show Stranger Things spotlighting a Metallica song. Do you think people are finally seeing beyond the clichés?
Ivo Henzi: I think that is definitely true. I’ve noticed it too, even though I couldn’t really say why. Maybe it’s because, unlike some others musical communities, metal fans don’t really care who’s listening to their music or who’s coming to the shows, and that makes the metal scene very open and welcoming for anyone who’s interested in joining. I also think that we’re coming back to a time in which people have a growing interest in music made by hands and real instruments instead of a computer.
Merlin Sutter: I agree with Ivo, and for me the role of social media and online communities is also something to highlight. As we mentioned before, metal is a mix of many very specific genres, and the internet offers a space for every one of them. Every niche can find an active community, no matter how small or specific it is. For example, someone who’s into Norwegian Black Metal may not find many people in their hometown who are into the same music, but will be able to share with a worldwide community online. TikTok is very good example of a platform where you can share literally anything with people that have the same interests.
From your perspective, what makes metal interesting? Why is it worth giving it a listen?
Ivo Henzi: First of all, I think that metal is interesting because of the many, diverse, and unique sounds and bands it has to offer. But to give it a chance, I guess you need to take some time to sit down and dig a little to find what type of metal fits you, instead of staying with a first impression that you may not like. Secondly, metal covers a wide range of emotions, from anger to joy and beauty. For me, it’s quite similar to classical music in the way that both can get quite loud and dramatic while being beautiful as well.
Merlin Sutter: Well, that’s a good question… For me, I think it’s the fact that there is so much to discover. I really think that’s the best reason for someone who hasn’t given metal a listen to do so. It doesn’t really matter which genre you come from or what your references are, everyone can find a subgenre of metal that matches them. Some bands combine metal with classical music or opera singing, some with folk music… It’s definitely a very diverse culture with a lot to discover.
What band or bands would you recommend to someone who wants to discover metal?
Merlin Sutter: That’s quite a difficult question… For me, it all started when my dad’s brother gave me a CD of Dream Theater (a very famous progressive metal band). As they are not an easy band to listen to, I didn’t like it at all after the first listen. A little while later, I came across that record a second time, gave it another chance and this time the magic happened. And that’s exactly why I said that one has to dig a little bit to discover this type of music. Otherwise, I think the easy way into metal would be classic bands like Metallica. Or maybe give Cellar Darling a listen?
Ivo Henzi: I agree on that last one! But in general I would say Metallica as well. It’s a quite accessible and melodic band, but they are also a very good introduction to some of the more typical metal sonorities like distorted guitars and fast drums, while offering some great ballads too. I think that’s a very good entry point.
Tell me a little about the Swiss metal scene. What makes it unique?
Merlin Sutter: The first thing to note is that Switzerland is a very small country. From a band’s perspective, that means that you have to go abroad in order to grow and build a career. An American or British metal band could spend years building a successful career without leaving their country before they need to go abroad. In my experience, Swiss bands have to go to Germany, France, or Italy as soon as possible if they want to make a living from their music. Even though the Swiss metal scene is really rich and there’s a lot of good local bands, it’s really hard for them to grow at the beginning, because although we enjoy a very high standard of living in Switzerland, the cost of this standard is also high. That’s why small bands struggle to afford the costs of recording and touring. On the other hand, we are lucky to have a lot of cultural funds that can help artists like us. We probably couldn’t go on tour as we do now without those support structures.
Let’s talk a bit about your music. How would you describe Cellar Darling?
Ivo Henzi: I would say something like progressive and melodic metal/rock, but it’s really hard to categorize our music…
Merlin Sutter: It’s really hard to settle on a category, as I think we are a very creative band, especially with our two main songwriters, our guitarist Ivo, and our singer Anna. She plays the piano, the classical flute, and the hurdy-gurdy (a medieval string instrument). That allows us to incorporate a lot of folk and lyrical elements into our music. The important point is that we don’t set any limits.
What drove you to form this band?
Ivo Henzi: The three of us were previously in a band called Eluveitie, in which we played folk metal. We played and toured together for over a decade before we split up about six years ago. After that, it was a no-brainer for us that we would continue making music together. We decided to start writing new music without taking a real break, and that’s basically how Cellar Darling was born.
Merlin Sutter: As a metal musician, I think that you have no choice but to be an entrepreneur as well. So after splitting up with our previous band, we had to keep going and create something new and different immediately. After a little while, we came up with the name Cellar Darling, because it was the title of a song from Anna’s 2013 solo album. We liked the sound of it, dark and bright at the same time, which we think is also representative of our music.
Any plans for the near future?
Merlin Sutter: As the last two years were quite different in many ways, we had to interrupt our tour for the last album, which came out in 2019. We were meant to tour in America back then, but it was unfortunately cancelled. We are very happy that we can finally complete that tour! After that, it will definitely be time for us to write and record new music.
Learn more about their tour in North America here.