Breaking Down Walls

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall a decade ago, East Germany was a place designed to suppress artistic expression– not nurture it. Residents of that former Iron Curtain strong-hold were often told what to read, what to listen to and even what to eat by their staunch political overseers, and many lost their lives trying in vain to escape that repressive regime and reach freedom. Life was bleak, to put it mildly, for the millions who lived under the thumb of Communist rule during the 45 years that separated that end of World War II and the moment when The Wall came a-tumblin’ down in 1989. For those who grew up under East Germany’s pervasive influence, their past has invariably left a permanent scar on their hearts, their minds and their souls. It was in this bastion of control, this antithesis of creativity, that six young men who would eventually form the band known as Rammstein, first discovered rock and roll.

By the time guitarist Richard Kruspe, guitarist Paul Landers, vocalist Till Lindemann, bassist Oliver Riedel, drummer Christoph Schneider and keyboardist Flake joined forces back in 1993, their German homeland had already begun its long, often painful transformation into a thriving, bustling industrial center. But it was the years prior to their group’s formation, the times when these young men were still striving to break out of their native land’s often all-consuming grasp, that has remained the greatest influence on their musical style, their musical sound and their musical attitude. It is that approach that millions of fans around the globe now recognize as the hallmark of Rammstein– one of the fastest-growing heavy metal units currently inhabiting Planet Earth.

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How stark the contrast is between the background– and the music– of this highly distinctive unit and seemingly every other band currently operating within the rock and roll sphere. Certainly the likes of Korn or Manson or Sevendust would have trouble relating to the cultural environment from which this Ramming Stone first emerged. But somehow, despite their myriad difference, Rammstein has not only managed to neatly shoe-horn themselves into the heart of the contemporary music scene, in a number of ways they’ve been able to dominate it! Their most recent disc, Sehnsucht, sold more than a million copies, their video for their break-out single, Du Hast, enjoyed the frenzied attention of the folks at MTV, and their tours (including a co-starring stint at Family Values ’98) have proven to be sellout successes. Now with the appearence of their new in-concert disc, Live Aus Berlin (along with its accompanying video), this one-of-a-kind metal outfit seems well prepared to make their next mark upon the rock and roll world.

“It’s very nice to know that by doing what we most believe in, we’ve been able to reach people on our own terms,” Flake explained. “Our style of music came out of knowing exactly what we didn’t want to be. We didn’t want to make American funk music or punk music. That’s something we couldn’t do at all. We realized very early in our career that we could only make the music that we make. We’ve learned our strengths and our limitations and we’ve tried to live with both of them.”

Certainly all of the band’s strengths are apparent on their two Live Aus Berlin collections, both recorded in August, 1998, in front of 40,000 crazed fans in Berlin’s Wuhlheide Stadium. While the 15-song disc allows the listener to focus their attention on the incredible theatrics (including the band’s overt use of fire) and clever staging. Together, one begins to understand why this sextet seems well prepared in look, deed and action to take over the rock and roll world within the next few years. For American fans both new and old, a major benefit of both presentations is that in addition to featuring an array of familiar tunes drawn from Sehnsucht, they also present a healthy dose of more unfamiliar songs– many drawn from Rammstein’s earlier album, Herzeleid.

“We can’t help the way we are,” Lindemann said. “We don’t really try to do things that some may view as strange or outrageous. It is just us doing what we do. It is a product of our backgrounds, our interests and our music. They all come together when ever we make music and create Rammstein.”

Of course, there are some critics who have already openly questioned the bands decision to release a live album so early in their career. with the success of Sehnsucht still relatively fresh in the minds of many American fans, and Du Hast having already made a previous live appearance on the Family Values ’98 album, some have speculated that Rammstein’s long-term career– particularly on this side of the Atlantic– would possibly have benefited more from the release of a new studio album in 1999. But true to their nature, the members of Rammstein couldn’t care less what American audiences– or any other fanbase for that matter– think of them. After all, this is a band that still sings all of their lyrics in German, and proudly use interpreters for their English language interviews. Clearly a little success– and a lot of time touring across the North American continent– isn’t enough to make these guys change their perspectives one bit!

“We are always asked if we will write songs in English in the future,” Flake said. “We never really know what’s going to happen in the future, but I must say that it seems unlikely to me. Why would we do that? We feel very comfortable singing in German– we are a German band. We are proud of where we come from. The music fans around the world seem to be able to relate to what we are doing, so there seems to be little reason for us to change. No one shoud try and understand us– sometimes we don’t fully understand ourselves. Just try and accept us for what we are and who we are… we are Rammstein.”

 

Source: Hit Parader Magazine
Date: February 2000
Photo: Olaf Heine / Matthias Matthies

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