Priscilla Hernandez – The Underliving (2011) review
Cliff de Booy
I usually don’t start a review talking about the artwork of it, but in the case of
second album, The Underliving it is the only obvious thing to do. The fantasy folk scene is known for the beautiful artwork with one being even more stunning than the other. You probably remember the beautiful booklet that covers Mythos, the second
album, or the equally impressive booklet accompanying Eden, that famous concept album
released in 2011, The double-sided picture book illustrating the Riven double CD by
is another example, not to mention the illustrated fairy tale that was added to
Pagan Folk Lore DVD. Well, I can tell you that the casing that Priscilla Hernandez designed for her The Underliving album can hold its own with all the aforementioned books.
Not only is it 3 centimetrers longer than a normal CD casing, it also filled with lovely fantasy drawings in Priscilla’s own slightly eerie, slightly gothic, slightly fairy tale style. Blended between them are photographs edited and coloured in the same blue-greyish hue as the drawings that fit the theme of The Underliving so well.
Priscilla Hernandez is not only a composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer AND poet, she is also an illustrator and writer. On her
she tells us that even before she started making music at a young age, she was already making drawings to illustrate her own stories.
One of those stories is an unpublished graphic comic called
Yidneth started as a horror/fantasy novel that Priscilla then illustrated to turn into a comic.
– “It consists of a 74 coloured page gothic-fantasy comic graphic novel I scripted when a child and that took shape as a graphic novel done through the ’80s until ’90s.’ Priscilla tells us on her webpage. On the fact that it was never published she says the following:
– “Yidneth is my trademark and the name of my company and record label but also name that I invented for my personal project, and not my artistic name (though after using it so long it’s almost like my alter-ego). When I was younger I was more focused in my works as an illustrator and then somehow music got more successful and carried away some of my projects that remained then on hold.”
Parts of that artwork did make it into her CD booklets though, and also songs like Ancient Shadows or Lament, found on Priscilla’s first album Ancient Shadows – the Ghost and the Fairy, are directly inspired by pages of that unpublished Yidneth story.
The Underliving is one of the worlds Priscilla created in her novel. To quote her again: -‘The Underliving is a world of reveries in the mist, lost veiled memories concealed in an alluring grey and white realm….
…Dormant in the corner of your eyes, always there but hidden from your sight, The underliving creatures sway over the living without our awareness. They observe us. They play with us. They inspire us…. … The album portrays the story of a chosen child that can perceive this “Otherworld” and longs to be part of it.’
So that’s the story behind The Underliving and that’s also the reason why I hope modern song downloads and Spotify will never fully replace a CD. Especially in our scene the music (almost) always has a story, a reason why it is made. And the artwork made for those albums reflects that. They are not random pictures, but an intricate part of the whole theme a musician wants to express. With us buying complete albums we keep that alive. And by diving into the artwork we also come so much closer to the essence of the music we are hearing. We understand more why it is created, what it means to the one creating it, what the artist wanted to say to us. In my eyes, The Underliving‘s artwork conclusively proves that point.
OK, it’s time to climb off my soapbox and finally get that CD in my Discman. From the first notes of In The Mist you notice the beautiful cello melody played by
Biel Fiol and
Both part of Priscilla’s band at the time,
(rightside photo) giving the ambient/new age music a more earthy feel than I knew from Ancient Shadows. More classical. The beat under it is also different, less triphop, more pagan folk. As this delicate new age ballad develops into a full song it’s an orchestra I hear, not a keyboard generated sound. That may be the biggest difference between Ancient Shadows and The Underliving. Where on Ancient Shadows Priscilla ‘only’played piano and keyboards, on The Underliving she also plays harp, mountain-, baritone-, and hammered dulcimer, psaltery, Koshi chimes, kantele, jouhikko, double ocarina, glass harp, singing bowls, flute, Irish tin- and low whistle, bansuri, and chalumeau. It’s mesmerizing only reading the list. It makes the music much richer, much fuller, quite different from the keyboard sound of Ancient Shadows.
The rich earthy sound continues with the cello in the title song The Underliving. Strong strokes straight away pull you into the song and Priscilla’s opening vocals captivate you even more. With the power of the cello, I have to think of an ambient version of
straight away, but Priscilla has her own style of singing, dreamy, warm and soothing, but also sharp and eerie when needed.
When I hear the electric guitar creeping in towards the end, I’m even more convinced Priscilla is the ambient/new age sister of Amy Lee, or of a young
Sharon den Adel
or should I say all three are the adopted daughters of that most famous fantasy pop singer of all:
It’s all concealed in the mists of time I guess.
Talking of Kate: Feel the Thrill is the first song with the ambient pop feel that I know from Ancient Shadows. Where the previous song The Underliving is more a classical, acoustic version of a gothic rock song, Feel The Thrill takes me back to
Frozen. The keyboard sound underneath it takes me even further back, all the way to the ’80s and the synthpop sound of bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. It’s also a really catchy song, and could have been an instant hit if it had been picked up by radio stations.
It sounds like a mellow, ambient version of
music actually. The same goes for Through The Long way. If you’re into ambient fantasy music, this album is definitely for you. Good beat, beautiful orchestral arrangements, a catchy melody, and Priscilla’s beautiful vocals, you don’t need much more than this.
The cool thing with Priscilla’s music is that she doesn’t believe in the boundaries of a style. She just wants to make beautiful dreamscape type music and will add whatever instrument or influence needed, as is clear from the list of instruments featured on this album. So at one moment, I hear a tune or a cello reminding me of
the next moment I’m thinking
Dark Crystal, the original movie soundtrack
and seconds after that I’m rushing to get
Bare EP out. For me that is the power of Priscilla’s music, it is pure and genuine, and as you probably have gathered by now, I find it extremely beautiful.
The dreamy, slightly eerie In My Mind’s Eye, the spooky piano ballad Off The Lane, the Native American/Cesair-like pagan folk song Northern Lights, the piano/string ballad Morning light or the stunning ballad At the Dream’s Door, the experimental pop-art of The Aftermath, they are all equally beautiful.
My personal, favourite part of the cd is not one song, but the sequence of The Wind Song and Ode To The silence following each other. Both strong pop-art songs they are just arranged masterfully together, combining the best bits of Jyoti Verhoeff, or an acoustic Within Temptation together.
Somehow I constantly come up with these gothic rock/female-fronted metal comparisons although I actually don’t want to. I know it would mislead you, reader, into thinking this is a rock CD, but it most definitely is not! Although it also isn’t a sugar-coated new age/ambient/fairy record. It just happens that Priscilla’s singing style, in its lyrics and the wat she performs them, how she plays with the melody lines, reminds me of singers like Amy Lee. A thing Priscilla herself also mentioned in a note she wrote to me while we were discussing the details around these reviews. Priscilla has her own unique style. Something that hovers somewhere between new age music, ambient dance, pagan folk, and gothic fantasy.
Something else also becomes very clear as you wander deeper into the music and artwork of The Underliving, this is a really, really personal CD.
Yidneth may not be Priscilla’s alter Ego, but it surely is an integrated part of her being. Yidneth is Priscilla’s gateway into the dream world she herself has created. It is also the gateway she needed to get to terms with her childhood’s sleep paralysis and nightmare experiences. It’s those lyrics that keep pushing me towards those gothic references. They are not sweet and sugarcoated, they are deep, fairytale-like but with those dark shadows that make movies like Underworld and The Dark Crystal so beautiful. It’s also the lyrics that make the music of bands like Evanescence, Within Temptation or Leave’s Eyes so powerful. Priscilla’s music lives there, right on the edge of acoustic gothic music and ambient dance. Unique and beautiful.
I’ve talked long enough, put this record in your CD player, put on your headphones and close your eyes. Start dreaming. See that small child waiting in the shadows? Don’t be afraid. Grab her hand and let her lead you into the beautiful world of The Underliving. The world of Yidneth.
Editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth
Art & Photo’s: Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth
CeltCast Classic Priscilla Hernández – Ancient Shadows (2006)
Cliff de Booy
Where did this pearl hide all this time??? At Celtcast HQ we knew about the lovely music of
Trobar de Morte
; we danced many a time on the dark Pagan folk of
Cuélebre, who have a new album out called Dijara;
we were in awe by the beautiful pagan world folk that
was making, and we were blown away by the debut of
So we already knew there was amazing talent in Spain, but none of us knew about another Spanish artist who was recording beautiful – and I do mean beautiful – ethereal poetic triphop fairytale folk since her debut album Ancient Shadows, the ghost and the fairy, way back in 2006. It was
‘s Mich Rozek who eventually connected
and our station, and we are very very grateful that he did, because it would have been a shame if we didn’t give Priscilla Hernández the place the spotlight she so fully deserves.
Priscilla Hernandez was born on the Canary Islands but now lives in Navarre Spain. From a young age she was fascinated with illustrated fairy tales – especially the more eerie ghost tales and, as she calls them, ‘supernatural spectral romance stories’. Not to mention a love for the old
fantasy films like
or her favourite
the dark Crystal.
Fed by her personal experiences with sleep paralysis and nightmares she started to create her own stories, either in the form of music or art.
She first showed that art through drawings, part of an unpublished graphic novel – I’ll go into that more in the review of The Underliving – but later on also in music. As Priscilla says in her bio she started writing songs as a child but only got the courage to perform them herself in 2002. She recorded the I Steal The Leaves demo in that year, accompanying herself on the keyboard and to her surprise that demo got really positive reactions and reviews. At that point, the music started to take over.
In order to keep the spirit of her art untouched, she decided to stay independent and together with the love of her life Hector Corcin she started her own label
Yidneth, and then in 2006 Ancient Shadows – the ghost and the fairy – was born.
The opening sounds of Facing the Dream, the intro to Ancient Shadows, leaves no room for doubt regarding this album’s theme. It has an eerie fairy feeling oozing all over it. The shiver caused by dark shadows hidden in eerie lights, while shards of mist are broken by gusts of sudden wind, deep dark clouds are rushing overhead, and a Banshee suddenly screams through the midnight air. That’s the feeling you’ll have while hearing those first haunting notes.
The actual opening song Away is actually a surprise then. Where I was expecting
Trobar de Morte
Dead Can Dance
art-folk/pop, I got ethereal, almost ambient triphop music. New age meets dance in a very beautiful way.
The music is very keyboard-based and beautifully mellow, as you would expect from ambient music, with a cool triphop beat under it giving the song a lovely easy-going vibe. To put it in comparison, a lovely combination of Helisir meets Portishead. On the one hand unexpected, on the other so natural. Just imagine how 19th-century gothic ghosts, who make ambient dance music and perform it floating in eerie light blue light around the shadows of the ancient ruins would sound like. This is what the undead would be weaving around on in their silent, drifting slow motion dance around the ancient willow trees. This, dear reader, is something else.
Ancient Shadows is another surprise. I never ever thought I would refer to a
song in a review I would write for CeltCast, but I’ll do it here and now. Ancient Shadows could have easily been on Madonna’ s Ray of Light album and might well have been just as big a hit as Frozen.
With But If You Go Priscilla goes from mellow ambient into a beautiful piano ballad. It’s in this song that you really appreciate the arrangements for the first time. You can just hear how much time Priscilla and her partner Hector Corcin have put in getting all the ‘ornaments’ right, all the decoration that makes every single note a pleasure to listen to. The wind effect, the strings added, the beat just right, the cello flowing under it giving the music depth, the choir perfectly timed to enhance Priscilla’s vocal performance. It’s all there, not too much, not too little, just enough to showcase Priscilla’s beautiful vocals.
And those vocals ARE beautiful. Priscilla has a warm, really pleasant voice that, if I want to describe it, sounds similar to
with touches of
‘s Beth Gibbons and
. Not that Priscilla makes gothic rock, not at all. The colour of her voice just edges to that of Amy Lee and she uses the same original ‘artsy’ singing lines as we know from artists like Amy. Actually, if Evanescence’s My Immortal would ever be covered by a triphop band like Portishead, or Priscilla herself, it would probably have the same sound as But If You Go or I Steal The Leaves.
Coming to that song, if any DJ of a popular radio station would have picked up on that song back in 2006 it would have been an instant and huge hit! Plain and simple. It has everything a good song should have: it’s catchy; has good lyrics; magical vocals and a unique yet familiar sound. It’s a unique mixture of ambient, triphop, poetry and art pop with touches of
– the Dark Room side of her album Riven – to spice it all up. (again names used to describe Priscilla’s sound, not bands that directly influenced her)
That Kate Bush/Jyoti Verhoeff feel is the strongest in Call Of The Nymph. You feel it in the vocals and the arrangement but especially in the lyrics and how they flow into the music. Priscilla is a poet as much as a storyteller with lyrics like:
“Where do you go?
Where do you run away?
It seems it was ages ago
I last saw the shining sky
How many souls I may devour
to become a dragonfly?
-The Call of the Nymph-
Priscilla Hernandez performing Call Of The Nymph, Live at teatre Xesc Forteza, Mallorca, Spain
Listening to those lyrics sung in her fairy voice, with the strings keys and recorder weaving as chords of mist under it, I find it pure magic.
Priscilla has her very own perspective in her musical stories which are quite often very personal. Themes like the first weeks of a new found love, the anxiety of losing the safe haven of a child’s world when you grow up, the personal experience of sleep paralysis disorder, or the loss of a dear friend are just as effortlessly turned into fairytale poetry as ‘real’ fantasy themes like haunted ruins, bitter weeping willows -better to be avoided-, or the soul of a drowned lady trapped in the body of a dragonfly nymph waiting to escape her faith in The Call of the Nymph.
Priscilla Hernandez performing Call Of The Nymph, Live at teatre Xesc Forteza, Mallorca, Spain
I really could go on and on about this album: the beautiful
like cello under the Helisir like vocals in the piano ballad Nothing, the
electric guitar taking center stage in Nightmare – the only song where an electric guitar is featured on Ancient Shadows, making this song a true prog-rock pearl- the eerie whispered double vocals in Haunted or the, indeed, haunting Amy Lee double vocals and arrangement in Lament, a true ghost fairytale masterpiece, or the lovely instrumental tribute to her dear canine friend Kira, it is all equally masterful done. And then I didn’t even mention the stunning artwork yet, all drawings made by her own hand.
But, as always, I need to end this review, as much as I would love to tell more and more about it. If you want some fast upbeat songs to dance on, this is not the album for you, but if you – just like me – want to be caught in a web of beautiful notes, drown in the sound haunted vocals or get lost in a labyrinth of ghostly fairytales then Ancient Shadows – The ghost and the fairy – HAS to be in your music collection.
Priscilla told me there are not that many physical copies left, so if you want one, you shouldn’t wait too long.
Of course a digital version will still be available on her webpage or her
Now if you don’t mind, I want to dream on a wee bit more.
Editor: Sara Weeda
sleeve art:Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth
pictures & artwork: Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth