What is 12, 6 inches tall, weighs 7. 7 lbs. and contains 14 discs? Fans of Rammstein most likely know the answer: it’s the “XXI – The Vinyl Box Set”. A thick bugger due to be released in early December and a retrospective of the six Berliners’ career. When the band’s website recently posted the poignant “Back on!”, it was a revelation that meant fans could soon have the entire back catalog on their record shelves. “XXI – The Vinyl Box Set” contains all of the studio albums, from “Herzeleid” to “Liebe ist für alle da”, on double vinyl with previously unreleased songs and alternative versions to boot. An appropriate way to review the career of the most internationally successful German band since Kraftwerk, from the beginning when they were as suspicious show-offs with rolling R’s to all the beloved hits of the band that today fills venues and stadiums all over the world.
Thomas Pilgrim, www.rammstein.de
Of course, no one could imagine such a resounding success when Rammstein formed in Berlin in late 1993, consisting of members from, among other bands, The Inchtaboktables and Feeling B. The 1995 debut album, “Herzeleid”, went off like a bomb: the sound, the arrogance and pseudo-fascist totalitarianism caused many to draw parallels with the Slowenian band, Laibach. Others, in turn, suspected that Rammstein was just an accessory to the then enormously successful electronic metal band, Die Krupps. As a first sign of life, their label, Motor Music, released the track “Du Riechst So Gut” as a promotional CD, and the mix between heavy synthesizer grooves, violent Industrial Metal and powerful male voices, was soon on everyone’s lips…and ears. Although “Herzeleid”, at the time of its release, only barely made it into the Top 100 on the album charts, a noticeably larger audience became aware of the Berlin-based band when they opened for Project Pitchfork. They even caught the attention of the cult director, David Lynch, who chose to include the songs “Rammstein” and “Heirate Mich” for the soundtrack of his film, “Lost Highway”. Rammstein soon made a name for themselves, even in the United States, and could no longer be overlooked in the (Industrial) Metal Circus. “Herzeleid”, therefore, created a solid foundation.
The debut album opens with a song that soon came to be one of the live favorites: “Wollt Ihr das Bett in Flammen Sehen“ which implements massive palm muting of the guitars onto a seething electronic foundation. On top of that, the singer, Till Lindemann, repeats the band’s name so often that no one could miss who was playing. The range of the band became evident immediately: the opening track, along with hits like “Du Riechst So Gut” and “Asche zu Asche”, are balanced out nicely by the ballad, “Seeman”, and it all proves that Rammstein can turn down the tempo without losing intensity. “Herzeleid” is above all legendary because of its brutality – there’s hardly anything on the album that acts like Oompf! haven’t already done, but the megalomaniacal self-promotion and the exuberant pathos give Rammstein a profile of their own, right from the start.
“I think the “Herzeleid“cover is so horrible that I can’t even look at it anymore.“ – Richard Kruspe, 1999
Just how big an impression Rammstein, with only one released album, was able make on the fans of Metal, Industrial and Electro became evident when the single, “Engel”, from the upcoming album “Sehnsucht”, stormed the charts. After that, “Herzeleid” terrified unsuspecting listeners with scandalous songs about necrophilia, sexual violence and plane crashes, the video for “Engel” looked more like an almost cinematic homage to the movie, “From Dusk Till Dawn”. But the controversy was waiting in the wings and kicked off when the cover artwork of “Sehnsucht” was revealed. Created by the Austrian extreme artist, Gottfried Helnwein, by fitting metal instruments onto the faces of the band members. The similarity to the album cover of the 1982 Scorpions record, “Blackout”, also by Helnwein, wasn’t accidental.
The second single, “Du Hast“, also broke the German Top Ten chart and “Sehnsucht” put Rammstein at the top of the album chart. Abroad, and above all, in the USA, a similar achievement was unfolding: “Sehnsucht” was awarded a US gold disc and kept on selling, eventually resulting in a platinum disc. A year later, Rammstein was featured alongside big, international bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure and Deftones, on the Depeche Mode tribute album, “For the Masses”, with their cover of “Stripped”. Their use of Leni Reifenstahl’s footage in the video for “Stripped”, which resulted in them being accused of right-wing extremism, could be chalked up to clever provocations. However, Rammstein denied every fascist tendency and went on the “Family Values” tour shortly thereafter, with Korn, Limp Bizkit, Orgy and Ice Cube. If not before, they were stars now.
Rammstein had, even before the release of their sophomore album, “Sehnsucht”, two hits under their belt, namely “Engel” and “Du Hast”. The album itself did not disappoint. It couldn’t be overlooked that the song, “Tier”, was, well, let’s say so heavily inspired by the Die Krupp’s track, “The Dawning of Doom”, that Jürgen Engler was awarded royalties afterwards. Lyrically, the band go all in: incest and subsequent patricide, sado-masochistic sexual practices and post-cunnilingus trembling female sexual organs, instantly became incendiary devices – although “Klavier” was a worthy follow up of “Seemann”. The sales figures of “Sehnsucht” have long exceeded two million.
Rammstein did not rest on the laurels of this tremendous success: ever since the band toured South- and Central America with KISS and Soulfly in 1999, their excellent and powerful shows became the talk of the town there too. Their first creative burst came to a close shortly before the turn of the century with the release of their first live DVD, “Live aus Berlin”, and after a performance at the Fuji Rock Festival in the distant Japan, they went to work on their third long player, “Mutter”. Of course, the band never thought twice about giving up their habit of provocations, not even after the singer, Till Lindemann, and the keyboard player, Flake Lorenz, were arrested in Massachusetts after having simulated anal sex on stage for the song, “Bück Dich”, squirting the audience with fake semen. But instead of any sexual innuendo, “Mutter” stood out rather because of its cover art, depicting an allegedly dead fetus. Nonetheless, Flake was shaking his head when talking about the arrest and the supposedly sinister Rammstein in an interview for “Der Spiegel”: “What are they going to accuse us of next? That we dare to use words like “fuck” and “cunt”? Every rapper these days is using them.” Although “Mutter” featured a repudiation towards any allegations of fascism in the form of the song, “Links 2 3 4”, the media was relentless and kept insisting the opposite. This makes the album even more important.
Was this album the reason why the Rammstein tribute band, Die Bestien, originally called themselves “Mama ist die Bestie“? Brutal ear candy is in any case guaranteed on “Mutter”, as the opener, “Mein Herz Brennt”, with vigorous, orchestral guitar thunder, makes clear. The Swedish director, Lukas Moodysson, featured the track prominently in his tragic film drama, “Lilja 4-ever”. Furthermore, besides the right-wing denial track, “Links 2 3 4”, there’s the synthesizer-infiltrated mass hysteria hymn, “Ich Will”, the insinuated clone-rebuke of the title track and the exhortation for lower-body-activities, “Rein Raus” — enough outrageous scandals for a riot. Not outrageous at all: “Mutter” shot to the top of the charts, just like every Rammstein album since “Sehnsucht”.
In the meantime, Rammstein had thundered down into the midst of the Metal society – as proven by the “Best International Act” award at the 2002 Kerrang! Awards. While the band worked on album number four, the three-hour-long DVD, “Lichtspielhaus”, kept the audience in a good mood. It contained every video up until that point, as well as some Making Of’s and various concert highlights, some shot in important venues such as in Sydney and at Rock am Ring. A long, deep breath before the next album, “Reise Reise”, whose cover looked like an airplane’s black box. If you rewind the CD before the first track, you can hear the last radio communication of a Japanese passenger liner, which killed over 500 people when it crashed.
Further provocations came swiftly, as expected: the single, “Mein Teil”, narrates the criminal case of Arwin Meiwes, ill-famed as the Cannibal from Rothenburg, and for some inexperienced listeners, the lines, “Weiche Teile und auch harte / Stehen auf die Speisekarte” proved to be a bit too much. The keyboard player, Flake, couldn’t understand the commotion this song caused either: “I think that making a song about something that really happened is the absolutely most normal thing you could do! No one is complaining about the horror stories the news anchors read every day on the news!” The attention that the distasteful case of the cannibal attracted was something out of the ordinary for Rammstein, even while the war on Iraq was underway without any media outrage. This was a reason why the ironic homage hymn, “Amerika”, got quite a different twist to it.
„Reise, Reise“ (2004)
This album finally catapulted Rammstein to the top as the most internationally successful German band ever – it landed in the Top Ten in almost 20 countries, in five of which as number one. The German Federal Department for Media Harmful to the Youth couldn’t think of anything better to do than to banish the somewhat prissy video into the night rotation – a half-hearted sanction which Rammstein accepted with a shrug. Astonishingly, the band replied not only with musical crudities, but also with somberly romantic, almost bluesy songs such as “Los” and “Ohne Dich”, and visually showed proof of grim, bizarre humor: in the video for “Keine Lust”, the band members appeared extremely obese and drove the track about listlessness and gluttony to its point. The truth is of course that Rammstein have still not had enough yet.
Not surprisingly, Rammstein sold out four concerts in a row at the Wühlheide Open Air venue in Berlin. And this time, it didn’t take long before Rammstein reloaded: out of the “Reise, Reise” sessions there were so many songs left that the sextet returned to the studio to make “Reise, Reise Vol 2”. The notion that this was merely a collection of musical leftovers is repugnant, the album was finally called “Rosenrot” and didn’t just continue the sound of the predecessors but also broke new ground: by comparison, in the soft, experimental ballad, “Stirb Nicht Vor Mir (Don’t Die Before I Do)”, the singer of Texas, Sharleen Spiteri, is Till Lindemann’s duet partner, and “Feuer und Wasser” refers lyrically to the Friedrich Schiller poem, “Der Taucher”. Drummer Christoph Schneider concluded: “It was obvious that we had recorded too many slow songs for “Reise, Reise”. In this respect, we knew that we had to create a bit heavier material for “Rosenrot” to round things out.” But rounding it out with a tour wasn’t meant for “Rosenrot”, and also performances in the US, Mexico and Asia had to be canceled due to the keyboard player, Flake, suffering a long illness.
“We really didn’t feel like composing this theoretical music on the computer anymore. Contrary to “Mutter”, this album is very much handcrafted.” – Flake Lorenz on “Reise, Reise”
“An entirely new situation for us, writings songs out of nothing in a very short time span. There was a lot of doubt about the quality, that we could actually make good songs in such a short time.” Oliver Riedel on “Rosenrot”.
The immediate follow up to “Reise, Reise“ surely isn’t the most surprising record in the Rammstein discography, but the first fire-starter of a single, “Benzin”, moved within familiar borders and set the bar from the get go. “Mann gegen Mann” is another up-tempo rocker and again, the video for the song is shoved back into the late hours of the night. Created by the “Spun” director, Jonas Åkerlund, the video showed the band naked on stage and likewise naked men shoving each other around. But Rammstein proved they could also break new ground on “Rosenrot”. They arranged the song, “Te Quiero Puta”, with Spanish lyrics and a Mariachi brass band, and closed the album with the modestly named, “Ein Lied” – dedicated to the Rammstein fans. Quite a few must have felt accosted.
The pauses between the albums grew longer. Except for the live DVD, “Völkerball”, in 2006, Rammstein disappeared from view. As usual, the band returned with a bang in 2009. But thanks to the hawk eyes of the German Federal Department for Media Harmful to the Youth, the sixth LP, “Liebe Ist Füe Alle Da” was immediately blacklisted. What happened? Well, the song, “Ich Tu Dir Weh”, was about sado-masochistic fantasies, which is not surprising in the context of Rammstein, but that was enough for censorship. The band was appalled, most of the press took the band’s side and against the authorities, Der Spiegel even invented a fictive, absurd Roundtable conversation on the subject between the Secretary of Families, the band members and the folk music star, Florian Silbereisen. They could have saved their ammunition, because what really provoked controversy was the single, “Pussy”, about the German sex tourism abroad. Once again, Jonas Åkerlund created the video, where the band members were depicted as hard core porn actors – that they actually had body doubles did not mute the scandal one bit. According to guitarist, Richard Kruspe, the idea for the filthy little film came from the director, who sent the band an e-mail with the words: “Let’s make a revolution! Let’s shoot a porno!” Indeed. The morality police in their easy chairs were having a field day.
„Liebe ist für alle da“ (2009)
„Das Warten hat ein Ende / Lieht euer Ohr einer Legende“ – the opening words of the sixth Rammstein album, one that does not lack anything when it comes to pure metal power, lyrical controversies or musical diversity. Besides the almost brazenly catchy “Pussy”, and the hyperactive mosher “Ich Tu Dir Weh”, the band paid their respects to Edith Piaff’s “No, Je Regrette Rien” with “Frühling in Paris” and borrowed heavily from “Mack the Knife” from Bertolt Brechts’ “Threepenny Opera”. The album was for a short while only to be sold to adults, because of the blacklisting, and a censored version was issued. But needless to say, “Liebe ist für alle da” already topped the charts at the time and Rammstein remained the biggest German band – at home and abroad.
A lot has happened since the release of “Liebe ist für alle da“. In 2013, Rammstein played the Wacken Open Air for the first time, and, infamously, performed the song, “Sonne” together with Heino, who had covered it on his album, “Mit Freundliche Grüßen”. Richard Kruspe lives in Berlin again and in 2014, he announced to big fanfare his second Emigrate album, “Silent So Long”, created together with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Jonathan Davis from Korn. Till Lindemann recorded the album, “Skills in Pills”, together with the Swedish metal legend, Peter Tägtgren, under the band-name Lindemann. And the aforementioned announcement, “Es geht weiter!” kindles a hope that there will be an album number eight before too long. Until then, we can listen through the extensive Rammstein discography once again – of course, on the “XXI – The Vinyl Box Set”. A luxurious power pack that Santa will break his back hauling around.
Source: Sonic Seducer
Date: December 2015