Maer / Iamthemorning / Cellar Darling

Oslo, London

7 October 2023

Tonight's audience is young. It doesn't look like a proper rock audience at all. Even Marjana acknowledges it—except, the way she puts it is that last night's audience was old. And I don't know if it's just the London factor, or if it's the Iamthemorning/Cellar Darling combination that attracts a young, diverse crowd. But it's interesting, and it gives me hope for the future of proper music. It's not going to die when the last old white man does.

So last night I didn't mention Cellar Darling at all, which is very rude considering they are the headliners. Because this isn't one of those cases where I have no interest in the headliners and I'm only here for the support band. I've seen Cellar Darling before, and they are an extraordinary bunch of musicians.

The thing that bemuses me is, I'm not sure that they and Iamthemorning belong on the same bill. Cellar Darling's fast, powerful progressive metal is a world away from Iamthemorning's delicate, pseudo-classical, piano-based sound that had them labelled “chamber prog”.

And Cellar Darling are immensely powerful. I move right to the back of the (fairly small) venue during their set, and still the drumming is so brutal I feel it vibrate through me. I don't mind the power and the volume, but I'm not a big metal fan, and this is at the limit of what I can tolerate.

Being honest, if all Cellar Darling had was brutal metal riffing dialled up to 11, I wouldn't be a fan at all. But they are much more than that. The addition of hurdy gurdy and flute to the instrumental mix obviously makes them stand out from the metal crowd, but it's more than that too, it's their mastery of song dynamics that makes them special for me. The way they can instantly switch from the most intense guitar riff to a solo flute or piano part. The constant shifts in rhythm and metre. The stunning drum patterns. It's always on the edge of me going, no, this is too much, and then immediately pulling me back in with some moment of musical brilliance. And of course the killer element in the mix is Anna Murphy's extraordinary voice, soaring melodically over even the most intense metal passages. Yes, this band is pretty amazing.

But I'm still not sure how they fit on the same bill as Iamthemorning. Except, of course, to give Anna and Marjana the opportunity to play Maer songs together (and, honestly, Maer sounds more like Iamthemorning than Cellar Darling).

Yet, even as I write this, and I'm thinking next of how to describe Iamthemorning's set, I realise that this is the most powerful, rocking version of Iamthemorning I've ever seen. Gone (but I hope not for good) are the days where they played acoustic sets with a string quartet. And I don't say that with regret, I say it with wonder that this band can encompass so many different sounds. I saw them earlier this year playing as a vocal/piano duo, and now I'm seeing a powerful rock band: not exactly in Cellar Darling territory, but certainly worthy of a place on the same bill.

Part of this new powerful approach I put down to the addition of Liam on guitar. But Evan's usually delicate percussive accompaniment has also been turned up to full-on rock drumming. This is pretty much a perfect quartet of rock musicians. You can not only hear it, but see it in how they interact on the stage. One day, I want to see string-quartet Iamthemorning again. But today, I am immensely happy with rock-band Iamthemorning.

Cellar Darling are an amazing band, and I spend their set marvelling at the complex dynamics of their music.

But Iamthemorning come on, and at the three-chord opening piano motif of Scotland I am already on the verge of tears.

That's the difference between a great band, and a band that plays the best ... well, you know the rest.