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'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.