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
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
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.
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.