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Arcturus - Disguised Masters CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.05 | 30 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is, perhaps, too brave - even for Arcturus...

What first must be said is that Disguised Masters is neither truly a follow-up to the excellent La Masquerade Infernale, nor merely a compilation of remixes, as it goes beyond those two simple categories. More importantly, what else wonders further away from classification is the music itself, not only its status or format. On their sophomore effort, Arcturus weren't afraid to show their disdain towards the Black Metal scene, where they were raised and reached enormous levels of glory, popularity and prosperity(well, in a relative way). Showing off was never a term that could be used to characterise the group - they didn't break the bonds with the scene in order to make it clear they are independent, neither to provoke negative reactions, which were almost inevitable in the end, nor to prove anything to anyone. While La Masquerade Infernale was a huge leap from the debut, there is not much similar between the innovative Aspera Hiems Symfonia and this creation, although under a different approach you can still see restless, unconventional minds crafting their art marked with impressive inspiration.

So, what exactly are the tracks on this album? If you are familiar with Arcturus's pre-The Sham Mirrors output at all, the names of the tracks will spring to your mind - all of them but the first two, which form a new composition. Let's put it this way, if you ever want to approach an album as extraordinary as this, I suggest you to forget everything you thought or knew(or thought you knew)about remixes. Disguised Masters feels neitherlike a childish effort, nor messing with technology or simple enhancing, which are some of the common stereotypes associated with remixes. Describing how big the changes are is quite difficult, if that interests you, you might want to read my track notes, as it varies from one composition to another. Another thing that may disturb the unprepared listener is that the music has gone further away from the soundscapes of group's previous albums and the remixes contain heavy doses of various styles of electronica. Nevertheless, It is not just an electronic Arcturus album, but an intricate record that has all the right qualities to be considered a masterpiece without a shadow of doubt and even posesses the values Arcturus have always been known fo(that they would eventually lose later on, but we're not covering that issue here)r. The collective's unique sound remains unaltered here, and it is very remarkable.

Do not get the wrong impression though, as there are enough real instruments here, and the electronics almost never pass that cold, sterile feeling many strongly dislike, and with real drums and everything else it sounds very organic, only adding to the group's overall atmosphere.

The album starts with two brand new tracks in White Tie Black Noise /Deception Genesis, which essentially form a single composition, as the former can be considered an intro for the latter, or for the entire album. What should be noted is that each track doesn't just go directly into the next one, but the beginning of the next track can be heard in the predecessor's end(those familiar with the group's work will immediately discover that on the very first listen). You may already be familiar with Deception Genesis as it has become a part of the group's live performance once Vortex joined the musicians. This song posesses disturbing and eerie qualities many songs on La Masquerade Infernale did, so it would make sense if it was used there, however, it does not feel out of place on this remix album either. Interesting vocal approach by Garm, who whispers the lyrics creepily into the microphone and wails during more dramatic moments. What else can be noted about this track is that the tendency to make instruments sound flashy and majestic is gone, and every layer sounds more atmospheric and mysterious for these reasons. Overall, this is a great song and I can totally see why it is often a part of Arcturus's setlist.

Next is Du Nordavind, an old composition remixed, originally from Constellation/AHS. The sound has been altered here, and things that come to mind are Garm's extreme vocals, which were mixed in a way that nobody has used before(although one may draw a parallel between them and the vocals of one of the members on Darkthrone who performed guest vocals on Ulver's ambitious Themes From William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, as well as some additional singing absent in the initial version, and some new sounds/effects. The other classics will be changed in significantly more noticeable ways, as you will see on the very next track, Alone. Beginning with an extended(from the original) ambient intro, the ex-energetic Metal song with Edgar Allan Poe's lyrics, has been mixed in a way that makes it almost unrecognisable for the people who heard LMI. Remember how the short ambient intro led to the cacophony afterwards in the original? Well, the (much longer) ambiance slowly evolves into a cold techno- influenced composition. The following track The Throne of Tragedy is more lively and atmospheric than the one before, and whilst its predecessor sounded nothing like the original, you can clearly hear the best parts of the LMI version utilised to their fullest here. I especially enjoy my favourite riff played just a minute before the end, I like how they changed its sound too.

La Masquerade Infernale continues the obscure journey, and if everything else you can argue about, this is definitely a track enhanced for the better - there are many more layers and interesting things going on than in the original, which served but as a short interlude. Anywho, once you hear the 'evil' excerpt from Master of Disguise, in the end of the track, don't have any sharp objects at hand, and I also suggest you wear a diaper, as Garm is about to rap! Speaking of which, I remember it has been discussed for a long time whether it really is Trickster or an hired rapper supplying the vocals here. Having been listening to Arcturus and Ulver creations for a long time, I am now absolutely sure it really is him. What does it matter anyway? This isn't the type of Hip Hop you hear on the radio. The original has been radically changed and you will hear just some scents of the familiar LMI version. Fortunately, there are actually new parts here, played by instruments even - I enjoy the way electric guitars are used here myself. This song has been used as a tool to criticise the group for things they never did, but I don't see why somebody would hate it so much.

If you are frustrated, do not stop listening as the other three tracks left are less likely to disappoint you. Painting My Horror is a spontaneous, quiet Tangerine Dream-like ambient composition and should calm down whoever became furious over Garm's first Hip Hop appearance(hehe). Some parts of the original can be recognised, but it has also been altered so much that you may not even notice the similarity. The album is closed by two remixed versions of Ad Astra, which are pretty much polar opposites of each other. The former is another interesting surprise - it once again derives only a little from the magnificent LMI version(for which the album would be worth buying even if the other tracks were horrible and, fortunately, they were the exact opposite of that)and... it is the first danceable party-like Arcturus track. If you are not familiar with the group enough to find it absurd, I will tell you that dancing to Arcturus it is like going skateboarding while listening to Magma. One moment, I once actually talked to the group's fan, who claimed having been able to dance to Raugt Og Svart, but we are not counting maniacs, okay? Heh. This version includes a fabulous beat, samples, synthesizer work and even female vocals. Sounds like party time? The second remix sounds very naked, and it is a different kind of remix - the group simply removed their respective instruments and the only thing left is the string orchestra playing. It feels more naked without the powerful rhythm section and the guitar leads, but we must remember they did not aim to achieve anything flashy with this release. The album ends with a culmination, which is very remarkable.

Disguised Masters deserves its praise not only because it is a courageous, independant step from the group's side - the songwriting, creativity and especially originality are involved as much as they were on the previous releases. If you haven't got it yourself yet, this is easily the least accessible record by the group, and starting with it would be silly. Not only that, I suggest to 'tackle' it only once you are familiar with the material from La Masquerade Infernale well enough, seeing how seven tracks out of ten are remixed from that exact album. It's not the sole reason either - if the sophomore effort does not scare you off, chances are this release will not either. In the end, it requires an open mind and many time before you find its true brilliance.

A Masterpiece, but don't rush to buy it if you're not prepared!

Trickster F. | 5/5 |


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