originally written by Chris McDonald
Velvet Cacoon, a two-person project from Oregon, remains one of the most controversial figures to surface in the metal underground. The project initially gained recognition through the outlandish stories spread by its members through interviews; these included wild tales of insane asylums, eco-terrorism, dramatic deaths of imaginary musicians, fake demos that were publicized but never existed, and crazed live performances that were never performed. The duo’s rampant abuse of powerful psychedelic drugs was also well documented.
It was finally revealed, after several years of having everyone fooled, that all the stories about Velvet Cacoon (except the drug use) were, in fact, lies created with the intention of the project attaining the ultimate mythic notoriety in the metal underground; the band even went as far as to blatantly plagiarize work from other artists. Once this became known, the band was instantly disgraced and abandoned by many of its supporters and a firestorm of divided opinions erupted on the Internet. It’s unfortunate that this outfit’s potential appeal is so limited by their previous transgressions, because behind the controversy of Velvet Cacoon’s name, there is brilliance.
Genevieve is definitely the band’s most recognized work, primarily because it’s one of only a handful of genuine releases by the project. The album’s individuality drew strong judgements from many black metal fans when it debuted; others were so turned off by the outfit’s “fake” status that they weren’t even willing to acknowledge the band’s own work. While a shallow glance would likely misrepresent this album as little more than straightforward black metal, Velvet Cacoon’s approach here is unquestionably groundbreaking; not in the sense that it moved its respective genre forward progressively, but rather that it found a totally new way to represent its sound at the most basic level.
Velvet Cacoon are hardly the first black metal band to take influence from dark ambient and integrate it into their sound, but they are one of the first black metal bands to base their music primarily off of ambient music and not the other way around. Make no mistake; this is an ambient record, it just happens to be played in a “black metal” style. Each of the first six tracks is composed solely of one or two hazy riffs with an accompanying drum beat for each, while the lengthy “Bete Noir” is entirely ambient. The vocals are almost more suggested than a contributing element to the songs, adding a scant few whispered words, gurgles, and rasps that are buried deep in the mix, while the drum programming is subdued and entirely minimal.
The real achievement of Genevieve is the atmosphere achieved through the texture of the guitars. Velvet Cacoon infamously claimed that this album was recorded using a “Dieselharp,” a homemade invention that involved playing a guitar amped with diesel-powered pickups. While this was obviously another farce, it doesn’t sound as far fetched once you hear the sound of this album. It has often been said that the riffs sound “oceanic,” with layers and layers of distorted guitars and subtle keyboards washing over repeatedly in ambient waves, while the straightforward drumbeat pulses like a current in the background.
The way I’ve described these songs so far may sound like typical black metal, but when experienced firsthand, it becomes clear that Velvet Cacoon is really only a black metal band in the loosest sense. There’s very little hateful or aggressive about this album, its more psychedelic and relaxing than anything else. And yet, there’s an undeniably dark undercurrent to the general mood that permeates every song in spite of how untypically mellow they are; this constant feeling that there is something horrifying waiting beneath the surface, obscured from view, but ready to expose itself when least expected. Even though it may have been inadvertent (the band openly disliked most traditional BM and what it stood for), Genevieve is simply one of the most effective realizations of black metal’s atmospheric potential to ever grace the genre.
I urge all black metal fans, particularly of bands like Walknut, to seek out Genevieve immediately. It’s unquestionably one of the most important black metal albums to emerge from the U.S., and despite what you may hear, the music contained therein is just as noteworthy as the band’s convoluted history. Southern Lord’s double-disc reissue includes Velvet Cacoon’s solid debut Northsuite as well, so if you’ve always been curious to hear the band behind the controversy, you should now have all the motivation you need.