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Arcturus - La Masquerade Infernale CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.95 | 161 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Further development of the unconventional genius that is Arcturus.

In order to begin this review it must first be cleared that Arcturus had never been a Black Metal group in the true essence of the term before releasing this sophomore full-length record, nor did they derail afterwards. Surely rooted and influenced by the early 90's Norwegian movement, Aspera Hiems Symfonia should not, contrary to the common belief, be considered a Black Metal album, as the only thing it had in common with the scene was the energy, the spirit coming out from each instrument, and the trademark shriek of those times. Only a year had passed since the debut was released, the musicians already had another album prepared and ready to see the light. It may seem impossible that somebody would be able to progress so unbelievably in such a short period of time, yet what we have is quite possibly the most flabbergasting progression to have happened in music under the label of Progressive Metal.

La Masquerade Infernale was initially intended to be called The Satanist, and it is a relief that it ended up with this exact title, as many people would have bought this album based on the cover art, the title and the strange stereotype about Arcturus being a Black Metal group. Nevertheless, the original title would make sense, as the lyrics are based on occult. Fear not though, as the lyrics are philosophical and deep, and no listener will be distracted by any 'appearant' nonsensical primitivity, so to speak. Another noticeable change that can be pointed out easily is the vocals. Garm no longer does the extreme Black Metal- style shrieks and instead he sings with his 'clean singing' voice throughout the album. That is not a sign of 'mellow up', by the way, as the album is full of disturbing sounds, moods and themes. What do you know, you don't need to scream in order to achieve a dreadful mood in your music. The musicians themselves had released that, as Garm never resorted to the extreme style of singing again and Arcturus wouldn't emphasize their direction on the BM influence either. Sverd, the keyboardist and the group's main composer, said it himself that the collective felt that it was unnecessary to keep the 'legacy of rebellious punks', as he put it(not an exact quote, mind you), which was not one of the elements of the group's artist pretentions. Returning to the subject of singing on the album, it must be noted that this has to be the most unconventional performance Garm has ever done in his career. Always independent and instantly recognisable throughout his entire career, Garm must have tried to record his vocals as unusually and queerly as it is humanly possible. He does not deal with his duties alone though, as Simen Hestnaes, the future Arcturus singer, helps him on a few tracks - Master of Disguise, Painting my Horror and performs the lead vocals on The Chaos Path, quite successfully at that, I must add.

We begin the journey with Master of Disguise, an bizarre, eerie opener, that quickly set the pace and the atmosphere for the rest of the music to come. The track, showing Garm's brave take on vocals, excellent audible basswork, brilliant lead guitar work, prominent keyboards played professionally by Sverd and legendary Hellhammer's flawless drumming, prepares the listener for more technically pleasant music, without sacrificing the vibes for technique and making it the centre point of the music. If this track disturbs you too much, do not worry, as the group decided to make their creepiest creation the opening number, so don't get scared off so easily and keep on playing the music, as the next composition, titled Ad Astra is truly a piece of part. The string orchestra, heard on the first track, plays the main role here, creating a lush, rich soundscape. It is accompanied by the group playing their respectable instruments, and even some brass. Garm remains silent until the end where he sings in a distorted way, after which the composition builds up and ends in a very inspiring way, with melodic lead guitars and low strings. Such a magnificent track!

The Chaos Path follows it, and as the name suggests, this is a chaotic track, with Simen taking the singing duties and succeeding at it. He sings with passion and has an undoubtedly unique voice, which, to my experience, doesn't sound like anyone else, and simply goes wild in certain parts. The performance of the musicians is also just as impressive. Next we have the brief instrumental title track with a simple keyboard melody, with weird sounds and Garm talking to himself(remember about the album being based around the concept of occultism and madness, okay? Good!)in the background. What we have afterwards is a track that borrows lyrics from an Edgar Allan Poe poem Alone, and I must say I approve that great idea(so do Green Carnation, by the way. Sorry, couldn't resist!). These guys have exploited the lyrics in creating a destructive, energetic heavy metal song(still nothing extreme here though), all musicians playing as fast as possible, Hellhammer especially. Some interesting bass solos can be found here; speaking of which, Skoll's bass playing is great and is audible throughout the record(not that you wouldn't expect something different from him!). The song ends with Garm shouting ...of a demon in my view! in your ears, as if he had been locked away without the toilet facility before he recorded his part, and next we have The Throne of Tragedy, which is calmer if compared to its predecessor, with sophisticated layers of acoustic guitars opening the track, followed by the highly memorable clean electric guitar melody with haunting whispers in the background. If you, however, take this track out of context and listen to it without hearing the tracks from the album in the given order, you will not find it that quiet actually! Sverd tried to mimic brass with his synths here, which doesn't sound cheesy at all, to my surprise, and Garm creates a passionate, emotional vocal delivery. Painting my Horror, beginning with a nice bassline, returns the album its dreadful vibes and is a heavier, darker track than the previous one, sounding like a crazy, demonic circus, much like the opening track. There is a part when the music stops, and there is a bizarre keyboard-based melody with Garm and Simen creating a nonsensical vocal harmony. Of Nails and Sinners closes the record excellently, with great keyboards and electric guitar interplay, making you wish it should have lasted just a little bit longer(it even seems incomplete).

In the end, it seems surprising how a group Arcturus suddenly dived deeply into the Avant-Garde realms, unknown to men before, ignoring all cliches and rules in music and played their music with such confidence, that it seems that they have been playing a genre years old, which they have got used to playing. The musical performance is flawless and will please each listener, regardless of his requirements for technical skill and complexity of songwriting, yet what makes La Masquerade Infernale an album standing out above the genre which it was put into is its feeling, its atmosphere, its originality. I have not mentioned that the historical importance of LMI is immense, however, the main reason why it should be heard is for the quality of the music not merely for its influence on countless followers, which made their conclusions carefully.

However, do not expect, by any means, an accessible release that opens itself on the very first listens, as your first impression on the initial encounters will be either complete misunderstanding or uttermost confusion. La Masquerade Infernale is the second in line of three Arcturus masterpieces, the next and the last one being Disguised Masters(even less accessible), followed by the much more accessible The Sham Mirrors(this is the one I suggest for starters). The group will continue to change their sound and will remain fresh with each release.

Essential for any serious intellectual listener of Progressive Music!

Trickster F. | 5/5 |


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