You won't have heard of Dulcimer Melody. We hadn't when we stumbled across a social media post hidden deep in a Facebook group about this remarkable debut album. It's been released with no fanfare, no singles, no marketing campaign yet something about the title and the mystery of the album's cover drew us in and revealed a meticulously constructed set of ten songs, taut with tension, rippled through with dramatic moments and with a voice that soars, drifts and takes the listener off on a journey through its creator's detailed mind maps.
We know little about Dulcimer Melody other than she is a North-West based multi-instrumentalist with a love of the harp and who declares on her Facebook that she loves "composing music and using the technology and instruments I have at my disposal to create big orchestral symphonies and ambience in my music. This was a huge undertaking as it took hundreds of hours to record each individual instrument you hear on the album and then produce each piece in a way that it sounded professional" Hit play on Dark Alchemy and it's immediately evident that she's achieved all that and more.
The Hunter kicks off the album and her voice swirls around the room; it sounds magical in its own right, irrespective of what she's singing, as she merges words with harmonies to delicious effect as she ponders on kill or be killed. The vocals take centre stage on Ballad Of The Black Knight, the richness and depth of voice accentuates the song's story as she asks "have you got the strength to keep this evil at bay, is there something inside of you that could stop all this dismay" as the mystery of the song deepens - is she singing about a medieval battle or about fighting inner demons or both. The intensity in the detail of the instrumentation once again is exceptionally striking.
Pools Of Blue starts with a rippling piano sound before she tells the tale of a romance - "you were 22 when I first set my sights on you, nervous glances flashed your way until you asked me for a date" - the pools of blue of the title an analogy for the object of her desire's eyes. Descriptive in words, accentuated by the range in her voice that she uses to full effect, it's the sort of song that send shivers up your spine as it ends slowing down and becoming more reflective with the two of them looking back at their own children. Tales From The Universe is a little simpler in its approach, but the sense that every single note here has been pored over doesn't go away, and the crisp, uncluttered production allows us to really hear every little bit of emotion in each syllable of every word.
Jake The Drummer picks up the pace and adds a little shimmering electronica to the mix without compromising all the qualities we've described so far and demonstrates further her's mastery of her art as she sings the praises of the song's subject. The Devil Is A Gentlemen starts with piano that's disconcerting and unnerving in its irregularity, before the song speeds up and she half-sings half-speaks the story of a man who uses his charm to disguise his darker side. The unsettling nature of the song continues as strings kick in three minutes in and take it off in a different direction - yet it never, like the rest of the record, feels an unnatural move.
Ocean Lullaby is claustrophobic in its instrumentation, adding to the sense of loss of the song where the song's subject is searching for the soul of a love she lost to the sea a decade ago and trying to channel his spirit. Hell Hath No Fury is a warning to someone not to take her for granted like she does with so many - "hell hath no fury like a woman, you better watch out... I'm getting ready to take you down" - and that the manipulative tricks that are used to control men can't be used on her.
A foreboding piano ushers in the penultimate track A Young Heart and while the opening line "I feel as though time is standing still" might suggest this is a song about despair, it's got an optimism underlying it that you can survive against the odds and when others have written you off. Emerald Showers leaves us on a positive note, a wonderfully uplifting reflection on love - "when I'm with you, my heart fills with joy, life's so easy" - set to an understated backing of strings and more vocal harmonies.
Dark Alchemy is a gem of a record, one that hopefully won't get lost in the crowd, as it deserves so much more than that. It's stamped with its creator's personality who has adopted a very singular approach to its creation - to pour everything into it, body, heart and soul. Often when this level of detail is applied to a record it can stifle it and make it feel clinical, the album is the polar opposite, the subtle details, however small, really bring the album to life. It winds its mazy way through a whole range of styles from classical to electronica and never feels out of place in any of them. The painstaking approach Dulcimer Melody has taken to making Dark Alchemy has paid dividends - it's an exceptional debut record best taken, like all the best albums, as a whole.
Dulcimer Melody is on Facebook.