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Avant-garde metal is a label given to a wide range of artists, each presumably pursuing their music from a different angle. One thing that all who earn the avant status have in common however, is that the music is 'weird' to some extent, and aims to challenge our perceptions of what music (or metal, specifically) can do. Arcturus is one such band that comes up very often in discussion regarding avant-metal, and perhaps their most recognized achievement is 'La Masquerade Infernale', a diabolical trip through hellish carnivals, and realms of the psyche that are best left alone. Featuring some very well- acclaimed individuals from the Norwegian black metal scene such as Krystoffer 'Garm' Rygg (of Ulver) and ICS Vortex (of Dimmu Borgir), the listener is in for a memorable, and strange ride with this one.
Like quite a bit of avant-leaning music I have heard, Arcturus derives some of the weirder portions of their sound from circus music. Arcturus is one of those bands that exploits our common childhood fear of devilish-looking clowns and surreal contraptions. With vocal duties being shared both by Garm (for the lower, more evil sounding parts) and Vortex (for his trademark operatic pitch), Arcturus is able to paint a pretty convincing mental image through their music, and it's something otherworldly at that. The instrumentation is eclectic, although it has a fairly steady base in the instruments one find typically find in gothic metal; being eerie sounding keyboards, guitars, and what have you. On top of the usuals, there are violins, carnival organs, and even a fair sum of electronic tweaking to give Arcturus an added edge. The samples and electronic additions are quite unexpected at first, and contribute to the eerie atmosphere, although not nearly as much as the vocals themselves. Although there has been some meticulous attention obviously paid to the instruments, the real highlight here are the vocal performances. Vortex warbles and shrieks like an ecstatic madman here, and Garm contrasts that with a deep and ominous drone quite unlike how he sounds with Ulver.
The songwriting here is clever and dense, although I found the challenging nature of the album eased somewhat by the pleasant shock of the eerie atmosphere; felt best on the most memorable track, 'The Chaos Path'. There is a very distinct style that runs throughout the album, although for some reason, the record peters off without much of a climax; it's as if there is a song or two missing from the finished product. The carnival eerieness that drives 'La Masquerade Infernale' is very powerful, although I will say that the album rarely extends beyond any emotion besides quirky fear. Even so, this is a fantastic album from one of Norway's most innovative bands, and it's an incredibly engaging album for any listener ready to enjoy it.
'La Masquerade Infernale' is, to me, where the adventure all began for Norway's Arcturus. Of course, this wasn't the debut from the band, but it was where the style of the band, as a whole, radically began to change. In the beginning, 'Aspera Hiems Symfonia' showcased an avant-gardé style mixed with a sufficient amount of symphonic overtones meshed together with a supremely different take on black metal than what the majority of us fans were used to back then. Black metal had it's set ways and Arcturus were here to tell a familiar story in a completely different light to what we had previously seen. 'La Masquerade Infernale', from the offset, is a radical change, as I stated already. Given the fact that there was only a year in between the first and second records, I'd imagine that the vast majority of listeners were surprised by the injection of avant-gardé into the mix. Whilst, of course, the debut did include a fair amount of it already, the exploration in sound was taken to new levels at the point of release of this particular piece.
So, what's new? In a sense, everything. It really is a different take on a similar kind of music to the first. Whilst one could argue that the style of Arcturus was always a more avant-gardé sound, and that the structures of the songs were always as progressive as they are on 'La Masquerade Infernale', there is a generally different sound to it. The vocals have changed, for sure. No longer are we faced with black metal renditions from Garm, but instead, the clean vocals have completely stolen the show. Given the more symphonic sound of Arcturus, this is a positive. Whilst on the debut, the vocals did suit the sound, they wouldn't be as outstanding as they once were because of the progression of the band and the overall production of the album. There was a dark twist to the debut, but the production is much cleaner on 'La Masquerade Infernale'.
The song writing behind this record is good, not great. There are times when one feels like Arcturus have hit their stride, but are brought straight back down to earth with a thud because there are some, though not many, mediocre moments. Songs like 'Ad Astra' and 'Alone', whilst being fairly well written, are boring. Being an avant-gardé band doesn't guarantee success. There are occasions when the progressive nature of the record can become quite tedious, which wasn't the case on the debut. The black metal sound of the debut gave it a fixed edge, which was constant. However, the case is not the same here. Songs like 'Ad Astra' and 'Alone' seem fairly poor when situated next to songs like 'The Chaos Path' and 'The Throne Of Tragedy'. Take the first song, for example. It's catchy symphonic soundscapes are amazing. They make me feel euphoric. The vocals are perfectly portrayed by Garm, who is a very good vocalist anyway, who sings in a highly melodic manner which has the ability to hypnotise it's already captivated audience.
The keyboards have always been a strong part of Arcturus. Their keyboardist has been with the band since the beginning, so he has a firm grasp on what it takes to achieve success in a big name band such as Arcturus. The atmospheric diversity of 'La Masquerade Infernale' relies heavily on the keyboards because of it's symphonic nature, and believe you me, the keyboards are up to standard on songs like 'The Chaos Path' which it's catchy keys and sing-a-long vocals. Though I'm not entirely sure the lyrics give it that karaoke feel:
'Atoms like incense rising, like a
thousand candles all blown out at once.
Fear tangled with despair.
This ghastly symphony of malice breaks it.
The spirit sails out on waters.
An intergalactic sea of sorrow.
Solemn oblivion with thee.
Ways of darkness.
The third eye reflects the images
of vast reluctant pasts.'
The drummer, Hellhammer, is known for his ability behind a set of drums and again, he delivers a mesmerising performance with his high standard playing style. His use of double bass is particularly notable. The bass is also a noteworthy addition on this song. Whilst the lead guitars create catchy riffs, the bass plugs away in the distance, enhancing the sound laid down for us already.
Whilst Arcturus manage to create songs that sound like that, they do have their mediocre moments. The inclusion of an instrumental track, which serves little purpose, straight after the monumental song 'The Chaos Path' really did them no favours. Songs like 'Alone' simply serve to annoy with it's cheese induced moments. Generally, this album is a good album. It's not the best from Arcturus and certainly not a patch on the debut, which was a brilliantly fused album, mixing black metal with progressive music. Certainly worth listening to for the moments of brilliance.
“La Masquerade Infernale” by Arcturus is an extremely innovative and progressive album for it’s time and even for the present. They were one of the first black metal bands to abandon the cliché black metal sound. And I am so glad they did!
Arcturus traded in the black metal sound for something very unusual and unique. It is almost classical music using metal instruments.
Hellhammer provides the drum work here. However, he does not play with the same extremeness that he does for Mayhem. He just kind of keeps the beat. On the other hand, his unique drumming does provide that insane sound the band was going for with this album. Hellhammer gets a chance to blast beat at the beginning of “Alone,” and he does a superb job with it.
The guitars are used for the atmosphere as well. Knut M. Valle shows off his skill in select parts of “Master Of Disguise” and “Of Nails And Sinners.” Again, he is just keeping the crazy sound alive and not stealing the show.
Speaking of stealing the show, Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg does just that. He is the major focus of this album. He exchanged his high-pitched black metal rasps from the last album, for very deep, theatrical, almost operatic singing. He is clearly a bass/baritone, and he knows how to use it. His vocals on this album are not for everybody though. If you do not like the vocals, chances are you will not like the album. This is how special they are. “Master Of Disguise” shows how well Rygg can sing. He sings at his lowest here, and does a beautiful job. Garm also performs samples for this album. They are used frequently and sometimes can get annoying. This is only because they are lines that Garm could have sung instead.
There is also a guest vocalist here in the name of Simen “Votex” Hestnaes. His voice is very good on this release as well, but nearly as good as Garm. Vortex does lead vocals on “The Chaos Path.” He is obviously a tenor and can hit high notes really well. He is almost operatic with his delivery like Garm. He also does backing vocals on “Master Of Disguise” and “Painting My Horror.” He really adds to the insanity of the album.
Every song here is great. My favorite is “Master Of Disguise.” “Ad Astra” is a unique song as well. It is almost an instrumental, with some samples towards the end. It gives off an exotic seductive sound for some reason. Guitars and drums really shine here. “The Chaos Path” has a cool circus sound to it. It really reminds me of clowns, jesters and such. “Alone” kicks ass too. It is a poem put to song, and Arcturus really captures the madness Edgar Allen Poe was inducing with his poem. Garm is powerful on this song, and the violins at the end are nerve racking insanity. “The Throne Of Tragedy” is the weakest song here. It has a jazz-like introduction and kind of stays the same throughout the whole song. “Painting My Horror” is another masterpiece. It has some awesome Garm singing, and takes an eerie carnival-like vibe towards the end. “Of Nails And Sinners” is another killer. Garm is extremely low and operatic in the beginning and the song has a nice chorus in it.
This pretty much sums up the album. It has brought me so many wonderful listening hours, and it is my favorite album of all time. So, if you are looking for a great, unique album, then go pick up “La Masquerade Infernale” now!
After releasing a critically acclaimed debut which ascended black metal to new realms, Arcturus decided that this was not enough and created an avant-garde classic with only select sounds carried over from the past release.
Now although I love this release, there is hardly anything that is distinctly black metal about it, or even metal at all to be honest. The guitars play a subtle role which compliments the music very well when the keyboard lines and vocal arrangements are written to this degree of excellence, although there are also some great melodic leads and solid riffs still to be found.
The vocals courtesy of the infamous Garm are no longer of the aggressive black metal variety found in early Ulver and Arcturus, but now concentrating on the clean vocals heard in the debut, yet much more varied. He goes from strange background electronic sounding vocals to epic operatics that have to be heard to be believed. These vocals themselves make this release very difficult to categorise and worth every penny of the asking price!
As I have stated before the keyboards play a large role hear, but they are brilliantly interspersed within the record so it never gets boring and the many different influences, ranging from electronic to classical, make for an invigorating listen. Although there are plenty of influences present here Arcturus still manage to keep the album with the same kind of atmosphere all the way through, from the circus feel of The Chaos Path (featuring an excellent lead vocal performance from Vortex) to the neo-classical feel of the immense instrumental Ad Astra, it all seems to fit.
The drumming of Hellhammer plays another important part throughout the album, not showing off for the sake of it, but complementing the music perfectly. The blast beat at the beginning of Alone is a great touch as are the bass drum runs on Ad Astra. This is by no means his most technical or brutal performance, but just what was required to provide a firm backing for the schmorgasborg of melody.
The production is also perfectly fitting for the music. Aspera Hiems Symfonia had appropriate production for the black metal sound mixed with odd symphonies, but here the production has been upped and has little to do with the black metal of old. All the instruments are heard clearly which essential for a release like this where there is plenty going on at once throughout the songs.
I will explain that the reason I take off 5% from the album is just a personal problem with the track listing, as it did take me quite a few listens to get used to the pattern of it. Despite this I also think it could add to the album in a way, an unpredictable order for an unpredictable album, maybe. Nevertheless I do not like the way that an instrumental is the second track, followed by another instrumental. Also I would have opened the album with a different song, but anyhow, this is just my personal opinion and probably is not widely shared.
Overall this album is pretty much a must buy for anybody into the more diverse side of metal and does not mind classical music, clean vocals and a variety of different styles.
Thoroughly recommended along with all of the other Arcturus releases.
An exceedingly moving album, instrumentally “La Masquerade Infernale” established Arcturus as an ensemble that are curiously innovative as well as progressively ambient. No further substantiation is required than what may be the group’s most dauntingly epic composition, the enigmatically appealing “Ad Astra”, a track that reaches soaring sonic platitudes and equally dismal depths with passion, power and grace.
The group’s performance here takes on a majestic authority and is further enhanced by strict attention to dynamic. A strong sense of dramatics in arrangement is also apparent, with the strings carrying adept keyboard work in a highly proficient and ear-pleasing manner.
“The Throne Of Tragedy” bristles with a blissfully dim ambience before catapulting into a vast feel that is both cavernous and highly melodic, the group’s metal influences permeate this track much more so than on “Ad Astra”, with the song’s fantastic combination of intensive rhythm and percussion standing out as a high point.
Meanwhile, the title track entertains a macabre, mysterious feel with manipulated sounds placed in tempo as a percussive element and a somber yet rollicking piano melody ringing in the background of the track.
Overt black metal influences are scattered throughout the record, such as during the introduction of “The Chaos Path”, a cut that morphs into a confused, yet entertaining mixture of carnival music, opera and meta’ that only furthers the notion that Arcturus are one of the most highly original acts in the scene in terms of sheer songwriting ability.
Their compelling sound is center stage on this excellent release, with “La Masquerade Infernale” providing listeners with nothing but the most intriguing of wicked sonority, underlining the fact that Arcturus are most assuredly one of the most critically appealing acts to experiment with a hybrid of dark textures and masterfully ambient musical stylization.
It’s common knowledge that I like a lot of music and lots of styles outside the metal spectrum, as long as it’s well performed, coherent music. Many “avant garde” bands manage to get on my nerves and give me the wrong kind of goosebumps somehow tho. Not Arcturus, as the title of this review reveals already: I really love this album. It has shit to do with black metal anymore in my opinion but it’s great. On to the songs:
Master of Disguise – this song starts with the opera vocals already, giving away what you can expect for the rest of this album. You hear high and low vocals together, very good. The music has lotsa unique keyboard riffs even, good start.
Ad Astra – probably my favorite song on this cd. It is almost a neoclassical song, great musician skills, the strings are really beautiful in this song. I feel that describing in detail what happens in this song musically is kinda like giving a secret away, so all I’ll tell other than that it’s a great piece of music is that only in the last minutes there are some vocals. They are barely missed. Really great.
The Chaos Path – Vortex does the vocals at this track and while his voice is a matter of to like or not to like this is a good ong too (it gets boring, I know) some reviewer mentioned that Vortex sounds like the vocals on Pink Floyd’s The Trial and I think that’s correct. Also notice the “break beats” at the end of the song, lol.
La Masquerade Infernale – Title song, instrumental and odd piece of keyboard music.
Alone – A poem from Edgar Allan Poe put on music. What I really like with this song is how the music is almost at black metal speed at times (Hellhammer shows his skills in the intro) but the singing is rather slow and almost “against” the melody lines in the music but it all fits together. My dad said the singer reminded him of Metallica’s Hetfield (well old school Metallica, heh) and I actually kinda agree with him. Other than that I’m personally touched by the Poe’s poem.
The Throne of Tragedy – my least favorite, the jazzy parts in it just don’t do it for me but due to the great musicianship it’s still a very good song. The lyrics are a translated poem from Jørn Henrik Sværen
Painting My Horror – Vortex again, this song really has a surprising turn in the middle and it’s like an evil kind of circusmusic you hear at the end.
Of Nails and Sinners – this is a more “standard” Arcturus new style song but I really liked it, also the keyboards in this song did work out really well.
Conclusion: this is a great piece of art. I just don’t give 100 points, never, because in my opinion a perfect work of art doesn’t excist, there’ll always be something better somewhere. This reaches perfectness tho. If you like more experimental music, neoclassical rock and you got no problem with a good old touch of evilness and satanism, you should get this album, NOW! Hehe.
This is a quality post-black/avant-grade metal album. Upon first listen, this CD may sound a little weird for those not familiar with the style. But once you get into it, it is extremely rewarding. This album is completely overwhelming in its dark yet beautiful atmosphere. The solos are excellent, the drumming is performed very well, and of course: Garm's vocals. His operatic and clean vocals in this album is exceptional as you would expect. Vortex's vocals are also done well, although not up to par with Garm's. I could go on and on...so lets get into the songs.
Pretty much every track on this album is great. Each of them have a unique sound to it to keep you interested throughout the whole album. 'Master of Disguise' shows how Garm is really capable of performing operatic vocals, and also provides as a nice introduction to the whole album. 'Ad Astra' is probably my favorite track off of this album. Its beautiful, dark, melodic, and everything you want from an atmospheric album. 'The Chaos Path' has Vortex doing the vocals too, and is another excellent song that sounds slightly weird at first listen. Another favorite of mine is 'Of Nails and Sinners'.
If you like post-black, avant-garde, or any of Garm's work, get this now. I found it at my local Tower Records, so it should not be so hard to find.