Arcturus
La Masquerade Infernale


5.0
classic

Review

by Werny USER (10 Reviews)
March 22nd, 2006 | 15 replies


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist


What do you do after you've assisted Emperor in adding intelligence and depth to the otherwise shallow movement of Black Metal throughout Norway?

After Arcturus released Aspera Hiems Symfonia, an innovative classic, they encountered endless praise for their revolutionary approach to music. The guitar was practically non-existant (except for the occasional, amazingly technical solo), instead placing Sverd's synthesizer at the forefront. This, combined with Hellhammer's amazing drumwork (although he was rather reserved) and Garm's horrifying screams alternated with Gregorian chants created a terrifying carnival atmosphere. The Bodkin & the Quietus in particular was quite the spooky number.

The band looked set to continue bringing their intelligent Black Metal all across the globe, yet they began to think that even this weird variation of the genre was getting redundant. Garm especially expressed his views that he was simply sick of Black Metal (Nattens Madrigal, by Ulver, was meant to get it out of his system, he says).

Sverd and Garm shared a love and passion for classical music. Thus they decided to make something very operatic and classical that would still appear fresh, bold and spooky. La Masquerade Infernale was born.

Garm gave up the Black Metal screech, instead adopting a more operatic and bizarre style of singing which is completely unique. It was the same style that he used on Borknagar's The Olden Domain. At first it sounded sound stale and, well, too strange, but after a while it was shown to have beauty and unique character. This was best shown on The Throne of Tragedy, with his singing not as deep as usual, thus sounding more happy and less over-the-top.

What was definitely not happy was the material Garm wrote for his lyrics. He was a satanist (in fact the album was nearly called The Satanist, but renamed because the title was thought to be too obvious and upfront) and sang about his lord for all of the songs he penned (all but four, I believe). Rather than sounding evil and vicious, this gave the record an even more bizarre and quirky quality. It is worth noting that he didn't write the lyrics for The Throne of Tragedy, instead it was his close friend Jørn H. Sværen. Garm's individuality and quirky personality came through within seconds of the shocking (and hilarious) first verse of Master of Disguise, with no small help from future Borknagar crooner Simon "Vortex" Hestnæs' high wail.

In future this pairing would be seen as a classic piece of music. Not only in Master of Disguise but also in a small part of Painting My Horror. Garm was so pleased with Vortex's performance that, to emphasise his desire to have each song as a seperate entity, he let him write the lyrics and sing lead vocals for The Chaos Path, a favourite amongst fans. Vortex's hilariously jolly singing was not the only reason this track stood out so much; it featured obliterating, mid-paced metal guitar and a section with incredibly grating and powerful keyboards.

Another reason The Chaos Path stood out so much was the electronic, trip-hop beat that came in at the end. This was at a time where Garm started becoming Trickster G, putting more effort into sampling, electronics and production rather than amazingly versatile vocals. His clever placing of loops and samples on this record enhanced the epic and expansive feeling, especially with the looped vocal samples in The Throne of Tragedy and the neo-classical epic Ad Astra.

Ad Astra came to be a sort of theme song for Arcturus. It was their epitome, the culmination of an outstanding ambition combined with amazing composition skills and musicianship. The main aspect of the track, and for some of the better moments of the album, was the string quartet that Sverd hired (composed of Vegard Johnsen on violin, Dorthe Dreier on viola, Hans Josef Groh on cello and Svein Haugen on double bass). Instead of taking the usual metal approach to strings and putting them into the background, they played very pretty melodies and got very energetic at times. This gave Ad Astra, and the album as whole, a very genuine feeling (unlike other "symphonic" artists who thought of themselves as classical musicians when they got their new Yamaha keyboard) and made it very epic.

Ad Astra contained arguably the best moment of the record; Sverd playing a piano with the string quartet backing him up (no other instruments). It defied definition, such was its beauty. Other notable contributions to the track were a flute solo by Erik Olivier Lancelot and a coronet solo by Idun Felberg.

It is undoubtable that La Masquerade Infernale, indeed the entire Arcturus discography, would not be anything without Sverd. He handed all of the composition, and being a lover of classical music, the organ and Danny Elfman's work on The Nightmare Before Christmas, it was simply obvious that this was truly the work of a classical composer. His playing was very individual, showing his Danny Elfman influence in the carnival-esque beginning of Master of Disguise and the carnival blow-out in Painting My Horror, which got heads bobbing everywhere.

His finest moment was the title track, which was simply a 2 minute piano solo. The tune was just gorgeous and it was just absurd to not have fallen in love with it. What made the track even better was the samples put in by Garm, which were just people having a conversation around the listener. This made it sound like a pub, which sounded out of place in writing but did wonders for the album. Now, what stopped it being the best moment of La Masquerade Infernale was Garm's desire to be 'artistic'; he put a ridiculously loud and jarring beat in it. To this day it still remains incredibly annoying and almost makes an awesome track fail completely.

The beat on the title track may have been horrible, but when Hellhammer sat down at the drumkit it simply exhuded power from the heads. He was known for his incredible stamina and speed combined with mind-blowing technical skill. People who complained of extreme metal drumming having the same feel and approach for every track changed their mind when Of Nails and Sinners began with its soft snare clicks and jazzy grooves. The man was simply a powerhouse on La Masquerade Infernale, with no small help from the production job which gave his drums enough reverb to strengthen the epic nature of the record but still have a punch when he blasted the snare drum, most notably at the beginning of Alone.

Another notable feature of Alone (which had lyrics ripped straight out of an Edgar Allen Poe literary piece) was the innovative guitar riff that kicked in after the introduction. It was a fairly typical Black Metal tremolo riff, but with one difference; Wah. The combination of wah effects and tremolo picking created perhaps the most energetic and insane riff Arcturus would ever create. Such is the innovation that the new guitarist, Knut Magne Valle, brang to Masquerade (Carl August still did some insane soloes in Ad Astra and Of Nails and Sinners. This time around Sverd decided that the guitar would be given its space to breath and show-off, and that was accomplished spectacularly. He wrote awesome riffs for Knut to jam out, and it was quite weird (yet mind-blowing) that the guitar kept the carnival feeling that the synthesizers carried across (shown best, perhaps, in Painting My Horror). Some felt that the guitar made no effort to keep a 'metal' edge to this CD... the fools were quickly extinguished after being forced to listen to The Chaos Path and the post-carnival rampage in Painting My Horror.

Painting My Horror was the only song to make Skoll's bass playing stand out. He played along with Hellhammer before the explosion of all the instruments. Skoll had experienced praise prior to joining Arcturus for his work on Ulver's folk-metal masterpiece Bergtatt which featured him high in the mix and laying down a fine groove. Sadly it could not be decided if his performance on Masquerade is up-to-par, for most of his work on it cannot be heard. Perhaps this was a good thing, because he didn't stick out in a good way, nor in a bad way.

That was one of the wonders of Masquerade, especially considering the usually intentionally-poor production associated with metal groups from Norway. All of the instruments were given their own place in the mix, everything felt equal, yet there was still enough reverb to convey the epic, operatic feeling throughout the record. The addition of the aforementioned placement of samples through-out by Garm made this one of the best production jobs to be heard in the metal scene for a long time.

La Masquerade Infernale was released to the public in 1997. It sold horribly and those who did buy it seemed to be repulsed by the immediately apparent bizarre nature of the "new" Arcturus. But those with patience and an open mind soon embraced the intricate and soulful work herein, and so should you.

A definite classic within... whatever genre you decide to put this under.



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user ratings (295)
Chart.
4
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other reviews of this album
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A classic of avant-garde metal - one of the few albums I could ever give a perfect score....

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Werny
March 22nd 2006


148 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I should really be less ambitious with my reviews.

The first track I heard by Arcturus was Master of Disguise, which is probably their weirdest song. The vocals sounded horrible to me at first (I loved Vortex though) but I knew straight away that the music was gorgeous.

Kage
March 22nd 2006


1172 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That was a very good review. In depth and long, but interesting throughout.
Good mix of talking about the songs and talking about the process of creating
the album.

This album is incredible. I first heard just a couple songs off of it and wasn't
too impressed, but when I heard the whole album I was floored. Excellent,
truly innovative, original and unique. You pointed out a few things I hadn't
noticed before, so I'm going to go back and listen for those.

Also, Garm's sampling is so awesome. I love the creepy feeling of this album,
and those samples add to it tenfold.
This Message Edited On 03.22.06

Thor
March 22nd 2006


10198 Comments


Very solid review, and keep up the good work.

Med57
Moderator
March 22nd 2006


1001 Comments


Yeah, nice review. This is a fantastic album...I was suspicious of it before I got it as a lot of people referred to it as black metal, which is a genre I've been unable to really find much in to keep me listening, but it's very avant-garde, and their best work, i'd say. Garm's voice is incredible.

Shadows
Moderator
March 22nd 2006


2530 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I like a little Arcturus. Ad Astra is an amazing song, but most people seem to worship The Chaos Path, which I cannot stand at all. The rest of the songs didn't really stand out to me, but overall I don't think this is that good. I'll take The Sham Mirrors over this.

Hammerheart
March 22nd 2006


25 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I think the sham mirrors is better also, but this one is still amazing.

Silenius
March 22nd 2006


305 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ad Astra has one of the sickest keyboard/guitar solos ever. Good review, awesome cd.

Cravinov13
March 22nd 2006


3854 Comments


I greatly enjoyed what little I've heard form this band. Good review.

Aakon_Keetreh
March 22nd 2006


448 Comments


Great band. Awsome release.

superpeer
March 23rd 2006


257 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Brilliant album in the literal sense of the word. One of the best things ever made.

Shattered_Future
March 24th 2006


1540 Comments


Sham Mirrors beats this out a wee bit IMO, but this is still one of the most original and bizarre releases I've ever heard. And original and bizarre is goooooood.

Go demented circus music.

Top notch review too. One of the best I've read. Just work on your grammer a little bit...few sentence fragments in there.

sgrevs
March 24th 2006


698 Comments


Awesome review!

I have only heard the first three tracks from this, and they are each really really brilliant, I just haven't yet had a chance to pick up the album, which is a bit annoying.

Doppelganger
January 2nd 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

^I think I'll have to agree with pretty much everything SF said.

badtaste
November 4th 2008


824 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Sweet review. Album isn't doing much for me, doesn't have the same impact as The Sham Mirrors, although I do too appreciate "Ad Astra".

The cure: needs more listens.

Hawks
November 4th 2008


35838 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is their best album.



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