Monday, July 18, 2011

Clair Cassis- Clair Cassis (2010)

In 2004-2005 Velvet Cacoon made a name for themselves by lying about their history and stealing other musicians’ music. Some considered their antics postmodern genius; others, shameless ploys for attention. Either way, everyone had an opinion about them. Velvet Cacoon also released an astounding work of black metal in “Genevieve”, the only album that achieves a cold, haunting “neither-dead-or-alive” atmosphere comparable to Darkthrone’s “Transylvanian Hunger”.  

Between the rumors, hype and misinformation on one hand, and the expectations of following up “Genevieve” on the other, Velvet Cacoon was under a great deal of pressure. When they finally released on “P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33” in 2009, Velvet Cacoon sounded like a band caving under the pressure. While the atmosphere was extraordinary, much of the songwriting was sub-par. It was as if the band had spent the last five years suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. 

Perhaps it was just the pressure of living up to the name “Velvet Cacoon” that was causing the writer’s block; less than a year after the release of “P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33” Velvet Cacoon ended and Clair Cassis began with the release of their self-titled debut. Clair Cassis is composed of the members of Velvet Cacoon –Josh and Angela—plus drummer D. Martin. Musically Clair Cassis’s debut is similar to “P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33” but lighter and fresher. It is as if the change of name lifted a weight off the band’s shoulders, allowing them to once again write excellent atmospheric black metal.

Like Velvet Cacoon, Clair Cassis plays slow to mid-tempo atmospheric black metal with a distinctly oceanic sound. The main difference between the two bands is that Clair Cassis is nowhere near as dense as Velvet Cacoon. Velvet Cacoon sounds like black metal recorded at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The music is heavily textured, with echoic guitar, bass and keys reaching to the very limits of the recording. The sound is vast, yet wholly consuming; there is no “clear space” in Velvet Cacoon recordings. In contrast, Clair Cassis sounds like it was recorded at the ocean’s surface. While layers of guitar and bass still create an oceanic atmosphere, their reach is not as vast. The high end of the recording is left open, allowing the band to add light, catchy melodies atop the thick waves of fuzz.
The results are impressive. Songs like “Hazelhearted in the Seaparlour” employ beautiful acoustic leads that sound like raindrops gently falling into the ocean.  Other songs (i.e. “Pearls & Pinesmoke”) involve phenomenal inversion of bass and guitar. The guitar holds a wave-like back and forth rhythm while gorgeous bass-line melodies dance every which way, like whale calls arriving from the distance.  Thus the album is composed of a consistent foundation that sets the tone and a series of leads that add variety and character to the songs. 

Overall, this is a very consistent record. The running length is only 33 minutes and there are only seven songs, but there is absolutely no filler. Each song has its own identity and its unique aspects that captivate the listener, yet the album is very cohesive. My only real criticism of the album would be that it is perhaps too consistent—everything is good, but nothing is great. However, that might be exactly what Clair Cassis is about. Instead trying to live up the absurdly high standard set by “Genevieve”, the band members can focus on creating beautiful, oceanic music. Insofar as that is goal, Clair Cassis’s debut is a success. 

Overall: 8/10

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