The Venetian Carnival originated in the 1100s as a way to celebrate the overthrowing of the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico de Treven in 1162. Wearing colorful outfits and dancing in San Marco Square, the celebrants retained an air of anonymity by donning elaborate masks, which shortened the gap between the rich and affluent, and the poor and downtrodden. Milan’s Mascharat plays up this influential period in Renaissance history, using it as a backbone for their debut full-length, right down to the fact that almost nothing is known about the band except their location. How well does this work in the band’s favor?
After some howling winds and an ominous piano intro, “Bauta” launches forth with a mid-paced tremolo riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Satyricon‘s earlier material. The programmed drums don’t reach anywhere near the level of Frost’s inhuman blasts or fills, but they’re admirable nonetheless. Moments of quiet ambiance allow the song to breathe a bit, building a sense of melodrama and foreboding. The vocals possess some of Satyr’s rasp and clarity, even if I don’t speak or understand Italian. As the song reaches its finish, pianos are reintroduced, further lending to the ominous atmosphere. Early on, Mascharat already display atmospheric chops.
Those chops come to a head in the album’s middle section, swelling with three consecutive songs. “Mora” borrows a bit of funeral doom, opening with a morosely plucked riff before returning to icy waters, and ending with a tensely arpeggiated melody and a morosely played harpsichord. That harpsichord melody permeates the follow-up (and personal favorite) “Vestibolo,” building with floor toms and a string section that doesn’t so much recall joyous courtesians as it does an impending plague. Closing out the trilogy, “Simulacri” barrels through the festivities with cold riffing, solid drumming, and a cool build-up that compliments the dreary atmosphere conjured from the two preceding tracks. Moments like these bring much-needed life to modern black metal, and it’s exciting to see new bands utilize their history to create compelling music.
Sadly, that all comes with a price. Despite the gripping atmosphere and historical significance in the music, Mascharat also contains a helping heaping of fat. “Médecin de Peste” clocks in at a whopping 11 minutes, diminishing the impact significantly when a lot more can be said with a lot less. Elsewhere, “Iniziazione” feels a lot longer than the eight-minute runtime suggests, due to the lack of variety on display. Early on, though, Mascharat are already displaying the skills to propel them (Him? Her? It?) to the next level of anonymous black metal royalty, currently held by Vindsval (Blut Aus Nord). The fact that the album sounds immaculate (especially when it comes to the harpsichord and piano sounds) definitely helps.
Just when I thought I had become jaded with black metal, in comes Mascharat, injecting a bit of life into the old corpse. Sure, the body may spasm and sputter a bit, but it’s alive, dammit, and it’s bringing in some fresh ideas that are sorely needed. In due time, Mascharat could drop an album to rival the best of the weirder black metal bands out there. For now, I’m impressed. Keep an eye out for them/him/her/it.