Arcturus - La Masquerade Infernale
Music For Nations
Avant-Garde, Post-Black
8 songs (45:11)
Release year: 1997
Music For Nations
Reviewed by Goat

Continuing the path to damnation laid by their considerably more traditional debut, Arcturus here became the experimental fairground ride that we now know and love. La Masquerade Infernale is a cornerstone of the Norwegian Avant-Garde Black Metal movement of the 90s, a crystalline masterpiece that hides behind a jester’s mask as it leads you into a very strange world indeed. Arcturus’ music is often described as the soundtrack to a particularly demented circus, and there’s a lot of truth in that as La Masquerade Infernale proves. From opener Master Of Disguise onwards, the band seem determined to musically reproduce the madness that flows through their veins, but where some bands take a dark view of insanity, the nod and wink in Arcturus’ work is obvious and playful.

The element that most will focus on is the vocals, provided by the eternally amazing Garm/Trickster G/G Wolf (of Ulver, Borknagar, etc). He takes the role of master of ceremonies, showing the listener the strange world which the music leads us willing tourists though. And what music! The restrained grandiosity of Ad Astra alone, orchestrated melancholy that would be equally at home backing the high point of some Hollywood epic as it is here, is proof of the band’s progressive credentials. Most, however, when they think of La Masquerade Infernale will find their thoughts naturally turning to the ‘hit’ – the catchy madness of The Chaos Path. Praise Garm as I do, there must also be kudos for his backing vocalist Simen ‘Vortex’ Hestnæs, who takes the lead for this track, leading the cavalcade down the path, glee turning to sorrow as the song writhes its way from silliness to darkness to madness, ending on a techno-fuelled romp. It’s a masterly piece of songwriting, definitely certifying Arcturus’ place amongst the greats, and is one of many highlights on the album.

Of course, it's easy to throw praise around but by their very nature Arcturus were a supergroup, numbering such luminaries of the Norwegian scene as Jan Axel ‘Hellhammer’ Blomberg amongst their numbers, and really Hellhammer’s presence alone is a hallmark of quality. His performance on La Masquerade Infernale is excellent, as is the guitar playing of Knut Valle and guest Carl Tidemann; the keyboard lines of Steiner Johnsen will have Prog Metal fans in a state of orgasmic bliss. The band are genuinely like an orchestra in their creations of sound, each listen revealing more complexity and depth in the music.

Really, there’s nothing whatsoever that can be criticised about this album, the musicianship, the songwriting... As controversial as later Arcturus can be (personally speaking, the only album that they’ve released which I find to be less than excellent is the debut) few indeed would dare criticise La Masquerade Infernale, such is the level of perfection involved. Listen from the beginning, and the oddness of the two-minute title track, with its echoing voices and strange sound effects becomes creepy rather than ridiculous, separating The Chaos Path and the blastbeat-fuelled symphonic darkness of Alone with style. The second half of the album is as good as the first; the Jazz trumpets of The Throne Of Tragedy, the off-kilter ballad of Painting My Horror, the Proggy finale Of Nails And Sinners... there isn’t time to go through each song and give it the attention it deserves, but all are fantastic and listening to the album as a whole is a wonderful experience. This may not have been the first experimental release to arise from the icy north, but it’s certainly one of the most important, and is a unique classic that all fans of progressive and experimental Metal should own.

Killing Songs :
All are perfect
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Arcturus that we have reviewed:
Arcturus - Arcturian reviewed by Goat and quoted 87 / 100
Arcturus - Sideshow Symphonies reviewed by Daniel and quoted 90 / 100
Arcturus - The Sham Mirrors reviewed by Alex and quoted 75 / 100
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