The funny thing about anticipation in music is how little a band can actually contribute to the anticipation to still make it strong. Within the metal scene, all a band needs to say is that one or more of the players is excited about an album or a song to get the fan buzz rolling, imaginations tingling with the possibilities of how a new album will sound. And when, as it happens with some frequently in the metal scene, an artist chooses a radically different or focused sound compared to earlier work, fans will often cry betrayal, feeling as though their expectations have been somehow exploited – even if the expectations are entirely self-made. This general formula doesn’t always work – with a band like Velvet Cacoon, who spent a good deal of time perpetuating an exaggerated black metal mythos (and other hoaxes) about the group, fans have good reason to doubt the hype – most importantly because primary songwriter Josh has said to pretty much disbelieve anything you hear about the group. But their tantalizingly ambient approach to black metal, best heard on the albums “Northsuite” and “Genevieve,” is simplistic, minimalist and inspired enough to really leave the ear wanting more – and with the announcement of both “Atropine” and yet-to-be-released “P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33,” it would be hard not to expect some metal from Velvet Cacoon this year. If that’s what you’re looking for, hold out for the next one.
“Atropine” reminds listeners without a doubt that this is a band fronted by a self-proclaimed DXM (dextromethorphan) addict, one who claims his hallucinatory visions and journeys provide the chief inspiration for the group’s music. Over the two discs, listeners are given two hours of towering ambient music, layers of cycling sound textures, occasionally featuring something resembling melody (comparatively speaking) or a rumbling bass texture that seems to be on some glacial rhythm. The sound is almost uninterrupted, yet minimal enough to allow the mind to fill in some gaps on its own – perfect for natural or artificially altered states of consciousness, almost guaranteed to be the conditions under which this album was recorded. Pieces are distinct enough in focus to not be completely indistinguishable, although by and large the volume remains so low as to allow tracks to fade into one another, provided you’re not paying complete attention. But each piece has its own type of movement, whether cyclic or linear – observe the swirling build of harmonic tension (like a brass choir recorded from the opposite side of a lake) in the relatively short Funeral Noir, compared to the glacial passage of Dreaming in the Hemlock Patch, a 37-minute excursion of sub-bass frequencies and organ drones. Drone pioneers COIL once recorded “Time Machines,” an album designed to evoke (and possibly induce) the altered states caused by particular intoxicating compounds. Velvet Cacoon does similar work on Atropine without the stated intent, acting as Virgil and guiding a listener through a tense (if not infernal) sonic landscape. It seems as though these pieces are more accomplished in their layering than previous Velvet Cacoon ambient work, but objectively I couldn’t tell – the band approaches ambient music with a real sense that the listener brings their own mind-space into the listening process, and in turn they create an almost interactive texture of sound that can allow different listeners (at different levels of sobriety) to focus on different aspects. Fans of Velvet Cacoon’s black metal material will probably have to wait until the release of “P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33,” or just spin the highly worthwhile Genevieve again. If you’re the type of listener who digs into their couch every time an album is on, or a listener who falls asleep to music, or a general psychonaut, “Atropine” is your medicine.