Arcturus – La Masquerade Infernale

August 29th, 1998

For months I’d been reading about this disc, Arcturus’s La Masquerade Infernale. It had picked up more ’10’s and perfect scores than any album I could remember, so I obviously bought it as soon as I saw a copy. As it turns out, it’s a progressive metal masterpiece, so I figured I’d review it here. I haven’t written a review in a while, I just sorta feel like writing one, and I think I’m going to try my best to ape the LarryD format.

The style-

Hrmm…well, here’s the hardest part right at the beginning. As I said, it’s progressive metal. 🙂 Of course, some people think of progressive metal as metal with operatic singing, complex songs, intricate playing, keyboards, and all that other stuff, as exemplified by bands like Dream Theater. Then there’s other people who think that it’s music to which few comparisons can be drawn, music that is at the cutting edge of the metal genre, like Amorphis or Opeth. La Masquerade Infernale is one of those rare albums that fits both definitions equally well. The band describes the style as “Faust Rock”, and that’s as good as any term I could come up with. But while the style is completely unique, there are parts with amazing similarities to Dream Theater’s Awake…it has some low guitar/bass parts very much like in “Mirror/Lie”, and keyboards that could easily appear in “Scarred” or “Space Dye Vest”. Anyway, to give some concrete terms to the style, it’s mostly metal, with lots of edgy melody. But then it’s all mixed up with a whole lot of “weirdness”. That “weirdness” comes in the form of complex song structures, quick time/mood changes, and interesting sounds and effects. It ends up being something majestic, powerful, and above all, frighteningly dark.

The production-

Someone made a post about this album a couple days ago (which partially induced me to post this now) and said that the production was a bit muddy. I dunno, maybe I’ve just been listening to too much crappy black metal, but to my ears, it sounds great. Overall it has a very warm, glossy sound to it. And the whole album seems to have about a thousand layers. In addition to the usual instruments, a string quartet, a flute, and a cornet are used from time to time, and they all mesh right into the flow of things. There’s also quite a bit of effects thrown in from that “weirdness” bin, like strange percussive noises and short backwards sounds. Once you get an idea of what they were going for, it doesn’t seem a bit overdone…everything works together to create this amazing mood.

The singer-

The vocals are clearly a focal point of this album. The majority are provided by G. Wolf (aka Garm, who has also sung in Ulver and Borknagar), in a style that could only be called “theatrical”. Basically, you get the feeling that the guy should be up on stage in an opera. Most of the stuff that he sings is on the low end (which is what makes it so unique), although he does vary his range a good bit. And unlike his previous work, there isn’t a single example of harsh black metal vocals on this album. In fact, his voice is crystal clear the whole way, LarryD should love it. Lead vocals on one song and backups elsewhere are provided by Simen Hestnaes. Like Garm, his vocals are also very theatrical (and clean), but in the higher range, and much more frantic sounding. The effect is incredible when they sing together. I don’t think a singing style can be called “unique” too often, but it definitely is in this case.

The band-

Besides the vocals, a clear standout in this band is the keyboards. Played by Steinar Sverd Johnsen (also in Covenant, which also has great keyboards), the keys are an integral part to the whole sound, but they never try to be a second guitar, which is nice. There’s plenty of piano stuff, orchestral-type sounds, and then, all kinds of “weird” things. The guitar is cool, most of the time not getting in the way of everything else, but sometimes stepping forward for very flowing solos. Bass is nice, nothing I notice too much, but it forms another layer in there. And finally, the drums are provided by Jan Axel Von Blomberg, aka the legendary Hellhammer. I recently saw him play with Mayhem at the Milwaukee Metalfest, and he’s amazing. Surprisingly, there are a few seconds of Mayhem-style blast beat on this album, but the majority of it is just very tasteful, well played drumming. There is a good bit of double-bass work, but it’s usually rather subdued. Two of the tracks are mostly instrumentals, and they make you see that the vocals aren’t the only thing that’s great about this album.

The comments-

Basically, I’m really curious what other people around here might think of this album. I’ve tried to hide this fact a little bit so people wouldn’t be prejudiced, but Arcturus’s first album was mostly a black metal album. Actually, like many “black metal” albums, the music wasn’t black metal at all, just the vocals. Anyway, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got this album, beyond “weird”, but the more I listen to it, the more I think that it’s something that people at Perpetual Motion should be going nuts over. The background of the band is the only reason I can think of that this album isn’t being hailed as one of the top progressive metal albums of all time. Oh, it also seems really hard to find for some reason, which sucks, because everyone should hear this album.