Album: "La Masquerade Infernale"
Style: Avantgarde Progressive Metal
Release date: 1997-10-27
1. Master of Disguise
2. Ad Astra
3. The Chaos Path
4. La Masquerade Infernale
6. The Throne of Tragedy
7. Painting my Horror
8. Of Nails and Sinners
Imagine the weirdest metal you've ever heard. That deserves a weird record cover does it not? Remember that this was very early in terms of Photoshop-editing. I really like how they added those two really creepy photos of Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg - one with the gun and one with the weird look - and combined them with what looks like a hand painted moon amongst the clouds. That's pure genius mind you. What's definitely not genius is the horrible color and the very out-of-place rectangles that keeps falling from the font and it's color. Other than that, this is a cover that suits the music like a glove.
1. Master of Disguise (06.42)
Once you press play, you actually have to be prepared that this record won't sound like anything you've ever heard before in terms of metal. Weird noises, weird keyboards and even weirder and more distorted vocals is what greets the listener during the first 40 seconds of the album. Then the album starts with the midtempo-classic "Master of Disguise" and the listener must get used to both Garm's deep, dark baritone vocals and Vortex' soaring tenor voice. There's a cacaphony of guitars, keyboards and strings that leaves the first-time listener with jaws wide open. Arcturus then changes moods and tempos four and five times and it is impossible to get a grip of what the hell is actually happening in the song. Don't even bother until you've heard the song ten or twelve times...
2. Ad Astra (07.49)
An instrumental song that is close to 8 minutes long - this has disaster written all over it, right? Wrong! "Ad Astra" is an epic fucking masterpiece if there ever was one. The combination of violins, violas, cornets, flutes, keyboards, electronics and guitars makes up for a pretty impressive song that actually manages to be both beautiful and sinister at the same time. And the close-to 8 minutes actually never feels that long. Really impressive.
Never before has a song been so aptly titled as "The Chaos Path". This is the place where Vortex (of Borknagar-fame) shines the most on the album. This is one of the band's most instantly recognizable songs of all time and people have been titling Arcturus' music "carnival metal" and "circus metal" because of this song. And that "carnevalesque" feeling really stands out on this song and also makes it one of metal's best tracks ever.
4. La Masquerade Infernale (02.00)
Dim the lights. Put headphones on. Crank up the volume. I promise that you will see creatures crawling out of the walls. Hands down, this is one of the best instrumental scary songs I've ever heard.
5. Alone (04.39)
The lyrics are written by Edgar Allan Poe, the music is a perfect mixture of atmospheric black metal (without any grim vocals mind you) and pure Arcturesque metal and Garm impresses with his deep, dark baritone voice throughout the song. This song has such a wonderful flow and is absolutely perfect to sing along to.
6. The Throne of Tragedy (06.33)
This one begins a bit hesitating, with just weird background keyboards and a very distorted voice mumbling some stuff. But after a minute or so, an incredibly cool guitar melody takes hold of the song together with those wonderful atmospheric sounds, courtesy of the keyboard wizard Sverd. As most other tracks on this album, "The Throne of Tragedy" shapeshifts a lot even though it is a bit calmer in general. I don't think the band has ever played this one live and I can understand why. It is a great song in every way and it does it job perfectly on this album, but it has a more laid back feel to it.
7. Painting my Horror (05.59)
Gotta love those bass lines in the beginning! And then we get the usual Arcturesque metal which is so hard describe in words. This is perhaps - after "The Chaos Path" - the closest the band comes to playing circus metal again and I totally adore the madness Arcturus creates in the song. Especially around the 3-minute mark when the band stops everything and really goes jester on us where Garm and Vortex once more duels with the vocals. And after that part comes the ending in which the band speeds things up a bit and I cannot keep neither feet nor head still. A fucking masterpiece this is!
8. Of Nails and Sinners (06.06)
The ending song of "La Masquerade Infernale" is no different than the rest of the album and if one should come with any criticism, it might be that some of the songs sort of float together. But this is actually a concept album about Satan and the familiar feeling that one might get just adds to the sheer brilliance in my opinion. Some of the guitar- keyboard- and vocal-melodies on this song is absolutely fucking ace and the band still manages to surprise the listener with various oddities and weird song structures.
If there ever was such a thing as a perfect record, I think that "La Masquerade Infernale" would be it. This is the only time in my 20-heavy metal-listening years that I've heard an album that has two instrumentals and still manages to be interesting and where there's absolutely not a dull moment anywhere to be found.
The instrumentation on this album is nothing but amazing and while Garm might not be the best vocalist out there, his voice suites the music like a glove. Forget "Reign In Blood", "Master of Puppets", "Slaughter of the Soul", "Paranoid", "Appetite for Destruction" and "The Number of the Beast" - in my world this is the quintessential metal album of all times - and perhaps it has much to do with the fact that in reality, what Arcturus does, is to play traditional heavy metal and then combine and twist it in ways that has never been done before or after. And after listening a lot to "La Masquerade Infernale" for more than 10 years now, I still discover new pieces and layers here and there. How many of your favorite metal albums can you say that about?
"I have not been the same since,
I took on the profession of a devil
The world I see in grotesque light
Evil perform with the gestures of a clown"