Burzum - _Anthology_
(Candlelight, 2008)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (0 out of 10)
Martin Popoff, one of the finest journalists in metal even if he is from Canada and, as such, prone to reviewing bands like April Wine in a positive light, has an unwritten policy about anthologies and greatest hits albums: they serve no useful function except to fleece the public, so if he's forced to review them for completist purposes he automatically docks a couple points, so it's impossible for anything other than rarities round ups and the like to score higher than maybe an 8. I can't really balk at this. Since the early days of my record collecting I always saw hits albums as blatant cash grabs pandering to cheapskates and/or people who just don't take the music as seriously as it deserves. Folks who hear the same shit on the radio 400 times and, instead of thinking "gee, this artist seems to have some talent, maybe I should take a look at some of their other material" goes the opposite direction, something more akin to "those 400 times I heard this song on the radio were little more than a tease, like an appetizer for a meal that will never arrive. Let me get this hits record and I can gorge myself on all the appetizers I want!" The file sharing era has made the hits compilation superfluous even by the latter, dubious standards.

So catalog repackaging is an essentially insidious practice, and as both a colorful aside and an irrefutable illustration let's peer into the blackened soul of the Grand Archfiend Wizard of the cynical reissue genre: Garth Brooks. You may wonder what the fuck Garth Brooks has to do with a metal review, and we'll get to that, but first a little back story: back in the mid-'90s, this cred-strapped shit heel had America's heartland by the ball sack; every album he shat out went platinum before the fecal fiber had a chance to form a crust. His concerts were legendary despite being more whitewashed and square than pre-Payola rock 'n' roll... in short, not one of America's finest hours, and we've had our share of miscues, OK?

Anyway, even though a contemporary Gallup poll showed that a full 87% of all fans who had even a tangential interest in Garth Brooks already owned all of his albums plus several bootlegs and assorted memorabilia such as key chains, Happy Meal figurines and Garth-endorsed Chevy gun racks, Mr. Brooks (later a Kevin Costner serial killer but here something much, much more sinister) decided that holdout 13% was worth roping in, so he released a Greatest Hits album. This was all pre-Napster mind you, so a valid move at the time. Except he pulled it off the shelves at the height of its popularity and sales, about as callous a capitalistic shell game as they come, and I believe the first time in the history of the record business that an album had been forcibly discontinued while it was still selling and there were no other legal roadblocks hampering its availability.

That in and of itself is arch villainy enough, but after that he had the stones to complain bitterly and often about how used CDs were cutting into his record sales, like if he were normally forecast to sell 6.7 million copies of an album he might only sell something like 6.4, and then his mortgage company would swoop down on blackened wings and eat his children or bugger his Golden Retriever... who knows, he never really elaborated. Point being, in those halcyon pre-Napster days where everyone still had to buy physical product, used CDs essentially enabled you to hoard double the amount of music for your dollar. So as a fitting revenge Garth figures the Great Country & Western Swindle worked once, let's up the ante a bit. This time around he puts out a motherwhoring -box set- of all his available albums, and this some months after he'd pulled all those albums completely off the market in the first place. Naturally this box set was only available for a limited time as well, and years later, once he had a fresh half dozen new albums under his belt, he pulled the same trick with those too, only this time you had to go to Wal-Mart to get it.

Epilogue: Garth Brooks is now retired, sending massive alimony checks to the wife he jilted for some chick he once sang a duet with, and hosting infernal tea parties with Gene Simmons and Lars Ulrich. No, Garth is not metal, but he's certainly evil, and we can all agree to hate the scurvy bastard, and what's more metal than hatred and evil?

Which brings us to this new Burzum _Anthology_ by Candlelight. I'm genetically predisposed to hate the living fuck out of it, but just as an experiment I'll review it under the pretense that it has some reason to exist. We won't delve into what that reason -is- since there isn't a viable one handy, we'll just treat it axiomatically that the Varg Vikernes catalog wouldn't be complete without a compilation, and just as a favor we won't even bring up the legally suspicious namesake that came out in 2002 and has a better cultivated, très superior track listing.

Black metal fans will be arguing until the end of time whether Burzum would still be considered a seminal band if Varg Vikernes hadn't cemented his commitment to hard line beliefs by murdering Oystein Aarseth, a.k.a. Euronymous of Mayhem, and thus robbing the burgeoning genre of its two key bands. Of course, people argue the same thing about Mayhem, just from the opposite angle. Clearly the first two Burzum albums are both conceptually and sonically superior to anything Mayhem had released to that point, but since that consisted of merely the _Deathcrush_ EP and one of the worst sounding demos of all time that's probably not a fair comparison [a brief aside: doesn't _Deathcrush_ sound like something H.I.M. would have put out, stamped with loving care with one of those adorable heartagrams? -- your ever digressive scribe J. Ulrey].

Suffice to say, though, that not only did Vikernes manage to hold his own but, with the likes of the self-titled debut, its follow-up _Aske_ EP and _Det Som Engang Var_, Vikernes established his own style in spite of the stunted self-confidence which drove him to murder his primary competitor [and, perhaps more significantly, the man who owned the label which released Burzum's albums -- proofreader Schwarz {I fully intended to point that out, but at this point was starting to get self-conscious about the word count -- backslider Ulrey}].

_Anthology_ features some of those better moments, but not nearly enough to recommend it. In fact, some of you may remember that last year I gave Century Media's Tiamat compilation a perfect zero score on account of the label being too lazy to cherry pick the best songs in the catalog, instead indiscriminately giving equal coverage to all albums regardless of quality, and even having the gall to label a single edit of an album cut as an "unreleased track". Well, different label, same results. With the exception of _Filosofem_ and _Det Som Engang Var_, there is a single obligatory track from each album, including the execrable _Daudi Baldrs_ and _Hildskjalf_, with their cheap-o RPG soundtrack Casio folk ("Balferd Baldrs") and underdeveloped industrial ambiance ("Ansuzgardaraiwo"). Over half the album consists of the instrumental minimalism of Vikernes' later years rather than raw black metal, this in keeping with the equal coverage theory, but the fact that it's all sequenced chronologically means that the feisty buzz saw trip of "Jesus Tod" is left all alone where it doesn't belong: sandwiched between a good half hour's worth of dark ambient mood pieces.

So once again we have a label contributing heavily to its own extinction by playing into the hands of its mortal enemies, the file sharing groups. Frankly, there is just no point in shelling out $15 for something like this. It used to be that there was a purpose in artist "samplers", but there is a succulent abundance of sampling opportunities across the web these days, from Amazon clips to artist sites to Myspace pages... to illegal downloads. If labels truly want to discourage users from file sharing, then the least they could do would be to put out a legitimately competing product, and at no point does this thrown together cash grab transcend anything greater than just another randomized play list. _Anthology_ is little more than a token representation of an artist's output that shows no particular familiarity with the material -- someone who'd heard these albums once, or even not at all, could have whipped up just as viable an introduction. Don't get me wrong, songs one through seven are both brilliant and bewildering even by today's extremity-saturated standards, but the presentation itself is pretty much one big middle finger both to an artist whose work warrants preservation and to any fans, potential or pre-existing, who are wont to take that artistry seriously. I mean, really, if one wanted to completely sandbag a legacy for purely personal, demonic reasons, this ain't a bad way to go about it.

Contact: http://www.burzum.org

(article published 17/9/2008)

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