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Black metal awakens - 97%

Berserker, October 28th, 2004

Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger, Ildjarn – Forest Poetry… timeless albums such as these proved that minimalism was one of the strongest techniques a black metal band could utilize. Now, minimalism in black metal has become overused and cliché, the result of abuse by thousands of Darkthrone clones, with only brief flashes of ingenuity appearing from time to time (such as Demoncy – Joined In Darkness.)

Velvet Cacoon resurrects hypnotic minimalist black metal in a single step with Genevieve (probably earlier than that, but this is their only official release.) It’s a resurrection that comes not through tribute, not through derivation, but through purity.

Perhaps because of their secrecy and alleged utter isolation from the black metal scene were Velvet Cacoon able to create an album with such an uncompromising vision of purpose, such a strong artistic direction that seeps through with every progression. This is a band who simply couldn’t care less about internet scenesterism, socialization, or external validation. Not surprising then that their music (up until now) has been literally impossible to find outside of their own personal sphere of close friends.

Velvet Cacoon’s method of instrumentation, however, is no secret, as taken from the Blazing Productions website: “clandestine recording methods allow Velvet Cacoon to experiment with an array of unconventional techniques, most significantly in 2000, when the band developed a guitar which functions off of the collected pressure of gasses from the flames of diesel gasoline instead of traditional electric pickups. The sounds are then channeled through a fiber optic cord into a 40 gallon aquarium where vibrato sensors record the final outcome.”

Indeed, perhaps the greatest strength of Velvet Cacoon’s music is their tone. I’ve never heard anything like this. It’s a thick, damp, strikingly deep tone whose only comparison I can imagine would be Burzum – Filosofem. It’s a netherworldly tone that gives the impression of uncounted layers, and immediately raises the question, “are those layers real, recorded purposefully, or are they figments of my imagination?” Ghostly murmurings, echoed whispers, resonances that sound like keyboard lines, and other strange sounds are buried deep within Velvet Cacoon’s guitar tone, perhaps all directly resulting from their use of the “dieselharp.”

The songwriting itself is simply hypnotic yet unsettling. Minimalist droning passages build on eachother, and although the songs contain repetition, the chord choice is such that the progressions give a forward-moving illusion (Burzum – Filosofem again comes as a similar example.) I am also reminded a bit of Sort Vokter, although Genevieve is like if Folkloric Necrometal was recorded by Gollum himself deep in the bowels of his lightless cave. I’ll note that while intently listening to this album, even in my brightly lit apartment, any immediate happiness I had was sucked away, and I started to think about other things: not weekends, beer, and videogames, but rather, all the strong imagery of desolation that it seems Velvet Cacoon intended.

Velvet Cacoon have been touted as “ecofascist,” an ideological slant that I can only presume means the complete and objective preservation of nature; perhaps a return to nature, or unity. Thematically, I could deduce that the music on Genevieve was meant to portray the prehistoric, utterly feral, and cryptic spirit of nature, and the true nature of man as seen in parallel: void of conscience, unknowing of guilt, and survival being a sole motivation. A transcendent worldview.

Vocals are present, but not often. They’re some of the absolute creepiest black metal vocals I’ve heard, and are so unnatural that I thought at first that they were just another sound emanating from the dieselharp. The vocals are rasping, whispered, reptilian, and of course, wholly unintelligible.

Song one opens very typically with a familiar-sounding movement, and I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the music. However, Velvet Cacoon’s tendrils slowly creep up and around you as you keep listening, and soon you’re so enraptured that there can be no escape. A droning distorted interlude slowly morphs into an ominous keyboard line, and then the song unexpectedly returns to intensity. Velvet Cacoon’s interludes by no means take one “out” of the music, but rather act as an intense transition in atmosphere, actually drawing you further in; this technique seems to be a staple for the band.

Song two, “P.S. Nautical,” is my second favorite track on Genevieve. The progressions at first sound deeply sorrowful yet contemplative, like the feeling one gets from staring into the void and wondering what lies beyond it. This song is an example of how Velvet Cacoon can be perfectly hypnotic; it seems over too soon, despite being six minutes long. The outro is beyond eerie, with the faint sound of windchimes coming through all channels. Minimalist outros like this one also seem to be one of the band’s favorite techniques.

Song three, “Avalon Polo,” is the sample track provided on Blazing Productions’ website, so I was already familiar with it. Its aspirations are epic in the same manner as the previous song: epic not from the conquering of the outside world, as is the case with other bands like Immortal, but epic from the conquering of absolutes, the discovery of beauty from ugliness. The brief acoustic overlay at the three minute mark is a brilliant addition; that small 15-second interlude adds to the atmosphere of the music more than any keyboard line could. Once again, the song ends with a minimalist, reflective outro.

Song four, Laudanum, is my favorite track. The passages here are so darkly disconsolate and engulfing that they give “The Work Which Transforms God” a run for its money. The outro here starts at four minutes and continues for another one-and-a-half. It’s beautiful in its coffin-like isolation; images of a pristine, ash-covered landscape were brought to my attention.

Song five, “Fauna and Flora,” picks up the pace, and is probably the most minimalist track on the whole album. The changes in phrasing are more reserved overall than the other songs. This is the only song where I think the interlude, despite being very brief, was unnecessary, though it’s certainly not a hindrance.

The sixth track, the title track, simply explodes with harshly dissonant riffing, as if nature is finally taking its revenge on the cult of Christ. The song is the most foreboding and darkest—in an “evil” way, rather than a sorrowful way—on the album. I really like the change at 1:24; the segment here is drifting and wraithlike. This segment would be repeated again for a much longer period at around the four-minute mark, at which point it lulls you into a trance and refuses to let you go.

Track seven, “Beta Noir,” is simply amazing. It’s a hyperminimalist dark ambient synth track, with truly unearthly sounds and layers that creep in subtly, heightening the atmosphere intensely in a way that Lustmord would most certainly approve of.

This album is elitist. Anyone who enjoys Ildjarn and Burzum should go ahead and buy it from Fullmoon Productions (and go get a good pair of headphones too, if you don’t have one already.)