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JJ's Bizarre Blog #28 - Deutschland's Finest

Joan

Greetings, friends! It’s gonna be May and the weather is warming up, the smell of summer can surely be felt. So, I think it’s time I brought some heat too. You know, I’ve had a really good run making band-focused blogs about all my favourite industrial metal bands. Well, except one. The original one. The one that has been with me almost as long as Static-X. A band that can be argued even influenced my career and life choices by undergoing the arduous process of learning German. I am of course talking about Rammstein! They are one of the biggest bands in the world and a global phenomenon and they hold a very special place in my heart. So, grab your Wörterbücher and tell Hans to get the Flammenwerfer, because it’s time to learn some German and explore the twisted and exhilarating discography of the one and only Rammstein!

 

This colossus was started in the turbulent Berlin in the late 80s, right around the time of the fall of the wall. The band were born when several East and West Berliners came together, rejected overseas influence and decided to craft a new, definitively German sound. The new machine would be crewed by vocalist Till Lindemann, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel, drummer Christoph Schneider and keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz. I can name them all now, for they have had no band member changes despite their long and storied history! Maybe that's why they've kept their sound so well intact. They are named after the nearby Ramstein Air Base, but with the spelling changed to also mean “ramming stone”. Wordplay and double meanings are a recurring theme with them, as you’ll soon find out. Fun fact, Till Lindemann was actually a professional swimmer and would’ve represented Germany in the 1980 Olympics! The other lovely Herren were active in a variety of bands in a multitude of styles before coming together and they pulled from these varying influences to craft their own sound. The band would create an offspring of industrial metal that focuses on very heavy marching rhythms, aggressive personal lyrics (auf Deutsch natürlich) and bountiful techno influences. Music journalists would coin this new sound Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness/Heaviness) and some more bands in the style I recommend you check out include Megaherz, Rinderwahnsinn, Eisbrecher, Schweisser and the early works of Oomph!

 

Rammstein would explode onto the scene with full force in 1995 with their bombastic debut record Herzeleid (Heartache). Here, they would already define the sound that they’d become known for – simple but hard hitting and bone crushing riffs with one of the most instantly recognizable guitar tones in history, a marching explosive rhythm section like an advancing Panzer and all of it punctuated by the awesome keyboards, electronics and samples of the eccentric maestro Flake. The songs would be confidently carried by the booming and rich bass-baritone voice of Till Lindemann and his incredible lyrics. “French might be the language of love, but German is the language of anger” (their words, not mine) and the band takes full advantage of the natural harshness of their native tongue. True to the album’s title, the band members were all bouncing back from failed relationships, so there is a strong overarching theme of broken romance. They would also establish the classic approach to their lyrics – exploration of the darkest recesses of humanity. Every perversion that the human mind can conjure, every sorrow that the heart can brew, that receives an anthem courtesy of Rammstein.

 

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Their debut record already making a strong impression, the pressure was on to follow up, but boy did they! Their next album Sehnsucht (Yearning) would come out in 1998 and is widely regarded as their best. Firstly, it contains their greatest hit song Du Hast, but the entire album is just banger after banger. Songs are crushing and powerful, but also relentlessly catchy. Till’s voice is like a sub-sonic rumble that shakes the listener to their core. The lyrics manage to be both incredibly dark, brooding and philosophical while also being really fun and memorable. This album is everything great about the band distilled to perfection and is probably the best starting point for any new fan (if by some miracle you’ve never heard of them). 

 

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By this point, only two records in, Rammstein had already become a massive sensation, crossing even international boundaries and gaining huge audiences where no other German language music could before. They very much kept the ball rolling with their next album, 2001’s Mutter (Mother), which by the way was considered for a band name at one point. German music is often accused of being very marchy (just look at schlager) and Rammstein’s music is especially so. I’m mentioning this here, because this album has some of the most bombastic and marching songs the band has ever made (look no further than Links 2 3 4). The riffs remained heavy and Till’s voice remained low and powerful. Despite that, this is clearly the first record where they started experimenting and expanding their style, with the balladic title track, the melodic Sonne and the epic symphonic composition of Mein Herz Brennt to name a few. Far from just some upstart German romp making a splash because of colourful lyrics and heavy guitars, Rammstein were clearly a mature band making efforts to evolve now and their efforts were most successful.

 

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Having become a touring powerhouse, Rammstein would set the entire globe ablaze. Perhaps it was this that inspired them, as after a few years of heavy touring, they would drop their next bombshell in 2004, titled Reise, Reise (Travel, Travel), featuring an album cover like an airplane black box. Fittingly, traveling is a recurring theme throughout the songs such as on Dalai Lama that adapts Goethe’s poem "Erlkönig" into a tale about a harrowing airplane crash (still no clue why the song is called that…). Here is also where the band first expanded into multilingual territory with the English chorus of Amerika or the Russian vocals on Moskau. The music itself became a little more upbeat and fun, even more catchy in melody and lyrics, a more noticeable pinch of humour being added and Till even sung in a more melodic and flowing manner. The big exception here is Mein Teil, which is arguably the darkest, heaviest and most brutal song the band have ever produced. You can never predict where this band is gonna take you. Overall, this record is a natural evolution of a band that were now comfortable enough with who they are to have fun with their own sound and experiment with new things, while keeping the core vibe intact. 

 

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The lads were on a roll as they would drop another album just a year later, 2005’s Rosenrot (Rose Red). In fact, Reise, Reise was supposedly going to be a double album, but the plan was scrapped and some of the unfinished songs were reborn here. Being that Rosenrot released so shortly after its predecessor, the ideas here are mostly a continuation of the previous. More fun and tongue-in-cheek songs, catchy riffs and choruses and more multilingual lyrics (including the one entirely in Spanish, which I feel definitely should’ve been on Reise, Reise). The song Benzin is the most popular of the bunch and is practically tailor-made to accompany the mindblowing pyrotechnics that the band loves using so much. This record is a dark and edgy party that is a ton of fun from cover to cover.

 

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After the one-two punch from these two record, the band would once again refocus on touring, the new hits they gathered from the last albums only bolstering their already insane popularity. With their creative juices refilled, the mighty Germans came together once again in 2009 to release their next opus, one of their most stand out albums, the mighty Liebe ist für alle da (Love is there for everyone). A clear reinvention and renewed innovation, this album retains the classic Rammstein sound but evolves it into a mature and refined experience. The production is higher quality, the compositions are ambitious and the musicianship is more precise and deliberate. Some more English and this time even French lyrics expand their globetrotting conquest even further. There is an air of sophistication almost (well, except for a couple of songs). Clearly what we were seeing was a band in their prime and firing on all cylinders. It’s no surprise that this album made a strong impression and spawned several tracks that have become among the most popular in the band’s repertoire. And good thing it was such a banger, because we’d be stuck with it for a while.

 

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For you see, after so many epic albums, one after another, every single one with massive hits and varied ideas in it, the band entered a bit of a content drought. For many many years, there were no new albums and speculations about band conflict were running rampant around this time. However, the band never stopped touring and they delivered some of their most spectacular shows around this time (just check out the In Amerika and Paris DVDs!). However, no new album would materialize for a long time. Was it writer’s block, was it the burden of expectation, was it interpersonal conflict? Who knows. But, let’s keep the Zug going. This is a good a time as any to mention their Raritäten (Rarities) compilation record that was released during this gap. It’s a collection of some rarer tracks and non-album singles and it’s definitely worth a listen! I mean, for a band as phenomenal as Rammstein, even their bonus material is top quality. Here you can find bangers such as the comedic single Mein Land (feat. Rammstein), the heavenly Hallelujah that is a personal favourite of mine and some awesome covers of songs by Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk! It’s a thoroughly engaging experience, so don’t pass up on this collection of rare gems!

 

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The year is 2019. It had been 10 years since the last album. Out of nowhere, a miracle happens. The new single Deutschland is released with one of the most high production quality music videos ever made. Entire essays are made about it. And by the end of the year, the untitled new Rammstein album is finally released. Why is the cover a matchstick on a plain white background? Don’t know, the band have been very tight-lipped about it in interviews. Regardless, what was inside this album was a firestarter for sure. The classic Rammstein sound was back in full force and despite the long gap, die Meister hadn’t lost a step. Besides their classic style, they also managed to keep evolving, with the inclusion of influences from krautrock, EDM and classic industrial rock. This album shook the entire planet and it was well worth the wait. Rammstein was back!

 

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Now, the pandemic was something awful on many levels. But, from the few positives to come is that Rammstein couldn’t tour and this gave them time to brainstorm new ideas together. The result is that we didn’t have to wait a decade this time and their latest album Zeit (Time) would drop in 2022! Once again full of effortlessly catchy bangers, the spontaneous nature of their creation giving them a very natural energy. It also showcased that the band have been keeping up with modern music by including elements of synthwave on some tracks. I also love how after all these years, they still find depraved wrinkles of the human psyche that they haven’t sung about yet. They will get them all eventually, I’m sure of it!

 

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This is all the band have done for now, but some members have partaken in side activities too. Till Lindemann had his solo project Lindemann alongside Swedish metal legend Peter Tägtgren, featuring lyrics entirely in English for the first time, as well as several albums under his own name. All of these are very close to the sound of Rammstein and are up the alley of usual fans. They helped a lot during the big album gap. Additionally, guitarist Richard Kruspe has another industrial metal band called Emigrate, which he formed in the United States, hence the name. Also carrying a familiar sound, this act is an awesome outlet of unique ideas that wouldn’t fit the Rammstein moniker.

 

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Before we wrap this up, I want to draw attention to something. Now, what Rammstein are most known for are their bombastic live shows, featuring violent pyrotechnics, elaborate stage sets, mechanical contraptions and bountiful theatrics. These very much befit the hard hitting nature of most of their music and greatly help the average person enjoy them even if they don’t know what these angry Germans are screaming about. However, Rammstein are a much more nuanced band than most people realize and I hope I’ve been able to convey that thus far. In this last section, I want to draw special attention to their ballads. Yes, they have plenty of those and they are incredibly good. They are deeply emotional, profoundly introspective and full of genuine emotion. Till Lindemann is more than just a grumbly voice and a masculine presence. He’s an amazing singer with a lot of versatility and uses it well. And what I believe is the true gem of Rammstein – the lyrics. Herr Lindemann is a published poet and he uses these chops of his to write some of the best lyrics in all of music, full of wordplay, double meaning and subtext. There’s a good reason why there are so many deep analyses written on Rammstein lyrics. Of all the benefits I’ve had from becoming fluent in German, being able to fully understand these texts and appreciate their quality is near the top.

 

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In Zusammenfassung, I hope you enjoyed this fiery Reise we’ve taken. In these band focused blogs, I mostly try to shine a light on less known artists, so why make one on a band so mainstream? Well, because a lot of people have heard of Rammstein, but not too many actually KNOW them. The difference between “kennen” and “kennenlernen”, if you will. Rammstein are much more than flamethrowers, fireworks and angry songs about taboo topics. They explore the human soul in depths that few artists dare tread. And another reason I made this blog is, well, because I love them! You could say I learned German because of them and they’ve been a staple of my music collection for over 20 years. Their songs really help in learning the language too – Du Hast shows you how to construct sentences, Sonne teaches you to count, Deutschland tells you about pronouns, Ich will showcases useful verbs and so on. So, I hope you learned something, and if your knowledge of this band was only based on the hit singles, I hope that from now on you’ll explore them further and get to appreciate them on a deeper level. Vielen Dank for the attention and see you again soon! Tschüß!


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