As stated in my Winds review, Norway has a thriving metal scene culminating into countless high quality releases and rather unusual collaborations. One of the more colourful bands is Arcturus with members from Ulver, Mayhem, Winds and Ved Buenes Ende. They released four full length albums over the years, including La Masquerade Infernale (1997), The Sham Mirrors (2002) and Sideshow Symphonies (2005). The focus in this article on is La Masquerade Infernale, by far their most intricate, eccentric and avant-garde effort.
One of the most striking characteristics of La Masquerade Infernale is its almost Vaudevillian circus-like atmosphere, beautifully captured by compositions such as Master Of Disguise, The Chaos Path and Of Nails And Sinners. The music is very much keyboard driven which adds a symphonic feel to this album.
La Masquerade Infernale also features lots of string sections and various assorted electric effects, enhancing the overall haunted atmosphere, especially on Ad Astra and the title track. Another dominating feature on this album are the different vocal styles. The lower almost operatic style vocals are delivered by Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver). The higher pitched vocals are done by Simen Hestnæs (ex-Borknagar), who often adds another layer of exotic madness to this musical lunatic asylum.
It’s hard to pick the best songs of La Masquerade Infernale, because each composition is a musical adventure in its own right. Each of them is equally important for the overall cohesion and atmosphere of this album. When you put a gun to my head I’d have to go for Master Of Disguise, The Chaos Path, Alone and Painting My Horror.
Bizarre symphonic madness, an avant-garde lunatic asylum or a Vaudevillian musical freak of nature, fact of the matter is that La Masquerade Infernale by Arcturus is a must-have record for everyone who’s into unique, experimental and progressive music. A classic record indeed!
written by Raymond Westland