debacle over at NPR, but I'm one of the luddites who still believes in the glory of the physical product over the digital (not that I don't download music, because I do-but I also am firmly in the collector mindset, and my 6000+ title collection of physical musical media attests to it), and collections like this take away from the devotion of a band's true followers. Are Urfaust fucking amazing? Obviously. Do they deserve to be heard by a wider audience? Not necessarily. I don't wish for Urfaust to be unsuccessful-I merely want them to deliver to their cultivated audience without sacrificing the magic that makes them so iconoclastic.
I remember going through a similar dilemma when Xasthur released "Subliminal Genocide" on Hydrahead. It was a huge fucking deal. Accusations of selling out and abandoning the underground were rampant, and I remember feeling torn because I had been one of the faithful following Xasthur since its inception, and here I was, about to lose that exclusivity to the perceived masses. That those "masses" were a small number meant very little-Hydrahead was Geffen compared to Total Holocaust, and the devoted held Xasthur very close to their hearts. The same could easily be said of Urfaust. I own a first pressing of "Geist Ist Teufel," and I've been with the band for many years, enthralled by their otherworldly approach to black metal classicism and regressive primacy. I've devoured every morsel released and followed them closely in order to obtain their output. A collection like "Ritual Music for the True Clochard" undermines all of the work I, and doubtless others, put in to the acquisition of the material, and also renders it worthless to a certain degree. Though "clochard" translates to "lame person," this collection still leaves me feeling bitterly towards the band and their current label-what's the ultimate point, other than a quick fistful of cash? Was this record something that people asked for? Were the merely curious hungry to hear that track from the split with Joyless? I know this is a multifaceted issue, and even as I write this, I'm aware of the knot of conflicting feelings alive and pulsing within me. On the one hand, Urfaust are an entity worthy of support, but on the other, I hold them close to me like some sort of heirloom, known only to me and belonging only to me. I want that dark aura to remain, and when broadening exposure looms, something is lost. The split with Celestial Bloodshed might be all the faithful have left.
But let's discuss the music on the actual compilation. There's little (if anything) here that the Urfaust fan hasn't heard, and Van knows it, which is why they've tacked on remixed and remastered versions of the "metal" tracks from 2005's masterful album "Verraterischer, Nichstwurdiger Geist." Whether these tracks are an improvement over the original forms is a subjective matter-to my ears the material sounds bassier, but at the sacrifice of some of the overall "rawness" found in the original recordings-and your overall curiousity will determine your need to own this (you could download it, perhaps as the ultimate statement against the commodification of something once precious); Van is banking your interest will get the better of you, and you'll spring at the chance to hear a supposed "enhancement." The remainder of the compilation is culled from various splits, specifically those with Circle of Ouroborus, Joyless, The Ruins of Beverast, and Celestial Bloodshed, some of which were released by Van prior, some on other labels. Obviously the music is amazing and worth the expense (the split with CoO is probably one of my very favorite Urfaust recordings), but somewhere Van have to realize they're killing part of what makes Urfaust so magnetic. They're one of the few black metal entities left that actually possess any sort of mystery, free of pretense, and the easy availability of their work is akin to a beheading. What's a few seven inches when weighed against the artistic aesthetic of a truly visionary project? Can't the world survive with this stuff being out of print? Does it all have to be present, all the fucking time?
As much as I love the band, I cannot recommend this record. I would actually implore you to stay away from it and send labels a message. We're living in the midst of a huge change in the way we consume and process music. A few of us are still clinging to the idea that a record is art, and deserves to be presented as such. The funds of an artist and their label determine what can be done at any given time, and how a given record can be presented. I've put myself in serious debt to release physical objects that I feel represent my aesthetic as an artist and musician. I would never change that. While the existence of this Urfaust comp won't do me any sort of real harm, it does cheapen the work that small boutique labels are doing. In a world where everything is available to anyone without effort, the only real weapon the label has is to offer works of art. I believe strongly in that approach, and I believe reissue campaigns (especially those for material that's barely been out of print for half a decade) essentially undermine that approach and devalue the original work. Artists and their allies deserve direct support; compilations like "Ritual Music for the True Clochard" merely line the pocketbooks of larger entities (though I'm sure Urfaust are receiving something from this, I'm sure it pales in comparison to Van's take). We have to make a stand for the artists and disavow these sorts of crass cash grabs; at this point burning a dollar is tantamount to burning a church. Reject this; seek the music at the source.