In the wake of World War II, Germany was forced to come to terms with the ghosts of their past. By the 1960s, the Bavarian director Werner Herzog was front and center of a group of filmmakers he referred to as “fatherless.” Unable to find inspiration in the previous generation of filmmakers—who had either sold their souls to work for the Nazi-run industry or escaped to make film in exile—they were creative orphans looking to redefine a national cinema for their country.
By the time that Herzog was to shoot his first feature film, Signs of Life, another creative revolution was also shaking up Germany. Fusing various stylistic tendencies as well as elements of rock and electronica genres, a movement of artists began to create a style of music that would go on to be termed Krautrock in 1970 by the English magazine Melody Maker. Krautrock and the New German Cinema, of which Herzog was apart of, had one thing in common: innovation. So, when Herzog joined forces with Krautrock icons Popol Vuh—a collaboration that would last over five films in 15 years—there could hardly be a better match.
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Of all Popol Vuh’s work—each impressive in its own right—one of the most powerful is their collaboration on Herzog’s reimagining of 1922’s Nosferatu. Whether it is Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violins on Psycho or John Carpenter’s iconic heavy synth leads, horror scoring has generally been conceived as a visceral and dark art form. It’s music exploited to serve the filmmakers’ goal: to manipulate the viewers into a position of vulnerability and, then, to scare the hell out them.
Leave it to Werner Herzog, then, to approach the genre from a different perspective.
Nosferatu the Vampyre’s single most unique attribute is that Herzog almost never uses the music to influence the audience. At least not in the ways you’d come to expect. Almost all scenes of violence are depicted in near silence, the aural backdrop nothing more than the echoes of distant, howling wolves and roaring winds. Neither Herzog nor Popol Vuh would be satisfied with adhering to convention, as Waxwork founder Kevin Bergeron explains, “the typical horror score seems to actively try to create an eerie feeling for the listener and audience watching the movie. It's all set up for you. What Popol Vuh did was create an emotional atmosphere for the characters in the actual film.”
Since their launch, Waxwork have been busting their necks to produce some of the more impressive work to come out of the recent Vinyl Soundtrack boom. This record is only further proof of that effort. With the official release today, Waxwork have spent over a year and a half working with the late Popol Vuh’s founder Florian Fricke’s family in order to see it come to light.
But with every move forward, Bergeron was met with more problems. After convincing Fricke’s family that their intentions were pure, it was an artistic decision that threatened the project. “At first, the family wasn't keen on the idea of us commissioning new artwork, as we do for all of our other releases,” Bergeron recounts, “Nosferatu The Vampyre truly is a classic film. The vibe of the film, and everything about it is just executed perfectly. We proposed having Jessica Seamans from Landland create the new artwork, sent the family samples of her work, and they loved them. There was a little bit of art directing from them, but nothing major.”
Today, Bergeron and his team’s hard work is rewarded and this record marks the most significant release of Popol Vuh’s work since the film itself. It can’t be said that it’s an overlooked record or even forgotten record, it’s really the opposite. The soundtrack for Nosferatu the Vampyre is beloved and treasured to this day. Newly remastered and repackaged, Waxwork have paid Herzog, Popol Vuh, and their many fans a great service.