The great Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein have been plying their meticulous brand of alternative metal and industrial barrage since 1994 with their live shows heralded as amongst the most exciting, brutal and uncompromising events extant. Theatrical to the nth degree Rammstein don’t just major in pyrotechnics. The six man team of baritone singer Till Lindemann (born Leipzig, Saxony), guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe (born Wittenberg) and Paul H. Landers (born Berlin), bassist Oliver “Ollie” Riedel (born Schwerin), drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider (born East Berlin) and the keyboards player Christian “Flake” Lorenz (born East Berlin) are as settled as their music is unsettling. Since their name translates as “ramming stone” if you’ve never heard the spectacular sound they make you should have a good if rough idea. Plenty have since they’ve sold over ten million albums since the groundbreaking Herzeleid emerged in 1995. Despite their startling imagery Rammstein are apolitical yet they don’t shy away from socio-sexual lyrics. Taboo isn’t really in their lexicography. They are neither fanatics nor missionaries but because of the sensitive arena they work in, and their national roots, their zeal has often been misinterpreted, or mangled into nonsense. They own a host of awards, have seven consecutive number one albums in Germany and are multi-platinum artists across Europe, their most natural territory. To date they have also charted 15 singles in the German Top 20 while their video albums are works of extreme art. If you like your metal in a format that takes the krautrock template and brings it up to modern speed you should love Rammstein. They are ripe for discovery.
The group coalesced in Berlin after the fall of the Wall in 1989. Initially a quartet heavily influenced by New York metal, Kruspe, Schneider, Riedel and Lindemann were joined by Landers and Lorenz and began work on Herzeleid (meaning heartbreak) with Swedish music producer Jacob Hellner (also Apocalyptica and Clawfinger). Trent Reznor, who was musical director on David Lynch’s Lost Highway, chose two of their songs, “Heirate Mich” and the titular “Rammstein” for inclusion on the soundtrack. Other notable moments of Rammy magic are “Asche zu Asche” and the predatory “Du Riechst so Gut”, a perfumed slab of industrial rock that pins the listener against the wall.
The breakthrough disc is Sehnsucht whose yearning title and artwork echo the inspirational Scorpions. This contains the crowd pleaser “Engel”, featuring Christiane “Bobolina” Hebold, from German pop band Bobo in White Wooden Houses. Bobo will later sing on other Rammstein cuts, including “Nebel” and “Stirb Nicht vor Mir”. You will have heard “Du Hast” on The Matrix: Music from the Motion Picture but if you haven’t yet caught the entire album here is a great place to start. English language versions of “Engel” and “Du Hast” are available and always look out for those delayed hidden tracks on a five star epic.
Roaring down the autobahn by now the Live aus Berlin (1999) is a punishing extravaganza that sounds like an explosion in a glass factory crossed with Depeche Mode turned up to nuclear force. Then it’s back to the studio for Mutter, which adds a coruscating addition of classically influenced strings arranged by Olsen Involtini and played by Potsdam’s Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. This magnificent crossover on “Mein Herz Brennt”, the title track, and “Nebel” spins them in different directions: vocalist Lindemann is superbly powerful as he drags the twin guitars and screeching rhythm section through their paces. Not always for the faint of heart maybe, but hey, Rammstein are making the sound of “a thousand elephants breaking out”. This is high-grade rock throttle.
The Reise, Reise disc was recorded in El Cortijo, Malaga and songs are sung in German, English and Russian. Clouding the EU directive perhaps is the sardonic “Amerika” and the unusually reflective symphonic metal of “Ohne Dich” with its glorious cellos (played by Apocalyptica). The musical palette is broadened by the use of chorale, mandolin, oboe and accordion, with the track “Keine Lust” making inroads into territories who were not getting up to speed with Rammstein as they dropped this long-awaited masterpiece.
Not so long to wait for Rosenrot, a natural successor to Reise, Reise - some tracks that were left over from the former project bolstered by brand new sessions in Berlin. “Benzin”, the title track and the X-rated “Mann Gegen Mann” are Rammstein in top form, refusing to temper their principles, or dilute their extraordinary sound. Sharleen Spiteri features on the English language version of “Stirn Nicht vor Mir” (“Don’t Die Before I Do”) while the veteran American actress Carmen Zapata is heard on “Te Quiero Puta!” So not your average ranch stash!
Völkerball is another love affair culled from 2004 to 2005 (shows in Nîmes, Moscow, Brixton, London and Tokyo on the Special edition 3 disc set). Standard and Tourbook versions are available on a project that topped charts in Russia, Finland, and Mexico and, of course, Germany. Produced by John Smith this majestic sweep of songs is a jewel in the Universal catalogue.
Hellner and the band are also on top form on Liebe Ist für Alle Da, returning to the six-piece authenticity that made them in the first place. The album will go Top 20 in the UK and US again thanks to classic Rammstein cuts “Pussy”, “Ich tu dir Weh” and “Haifisch” where they reference Berthold Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” from the play The Threepenny Opera. One of their best sellers, this album is a Euro metal marvel and is totally recommended for immediate discovery if you’ve missed the Rammstein experience. In some ways this is their most accessible disc with excursions into groove and cinematic soundscapes on "Führe Mich", as featured in Lars von Trier’s film Nymphomaniac.
Well worthy of their greatest hits, Made in Germany 1995-2011 is remastered in part and includes the new track “Mein Land” whose single cover artwork pastiches The Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl album cover. As a double CD with a Best of Remixes you will thrill to Rammstein being made over by Faith No More, Pet Shop Boys, Junkie XL, Laibach, Black Stone and others. The Super Deluxe Edition is a must for those with deeper pockets as you get the double plus a 3xDVD set for your hard earned, and we don’t think you’ll regret the outlay.
Given their meticulous approach to writing and producing it’s not surprising that Rammstein have seemed to lie low since 2011. Good news is that Island/Ume will release their long mooted Rammstein In Amerika any day now in 2DVD and 2Blu-ray packages. Featuring their legendary Madison Square Garden one-off concert (which sold out in 30 minutes) the concert film shows the band in full creative stride as they command the stage for their roof-raising return to New York in 2010. Thereafter the Rammeisters hint that a new studio album is in the pipeline. Their fans include Marilyn Manson, Iggy Pop, Chad Smith, Moby, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Hole’s Melissa Auf der Maur, Slipknot, System of a Down, Anthrax and – da! da! – Kiss. Care to join that elite gang? You won’t regret this discovery.
Words: Max Bell
With the first Rammstein album you hear, it's hard not to be slightly amazed by the sheer chutzpah of it all. The German lyrics, the prog rock tendencies, the classic metal guitars, and the ridiculous basso profundo vocals -- you either fall for it, spurn it, or are utterly bemused by the extremeness of it all. Unless you're a fanatic, it wears a little thin the second time around. And for most listeners, Mutter, the group's third album and sequel to their inexplicable commercial breakthrough Sehnsucht, will be the second time around since it's their first release since becoming a high profile act. Thing is, if you've heard that record, you've pretty much heard Mutter, since all the trademarks are in place, without much noticeable variation. Yes, there are slight differences, chief of which is the cleaner production, which streamlines everything so the guitars don't seem as heavy, the songs not as epic, and the whole enterprise not as ridiculous. That's not the same thing as stripping the group to the basics, however; it's more like wrapping up the music in nice, shiny paper and putting a ribbon on it. That's not really good for a group like Rammstein, but it doesn't dilute their impact, either, because they are what they are and no amount of polish will make them mainstream (nor will it make it possible to take them seriously). So, that does mean that Mutter isn't as good as Sehnsucht, but it isn't a stumble either -- and if you liked the first, you'll like this (not the same thing as being amused by the first -- in that case, this will try your patience). That still doesn't answer the question whether anybody outside of diehards needs more than one Rammstein album, but that's just a question of personal taste.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rammstein's second album, Sehnsucht, finds the German prog metal band making a great leap forward. While the group still sounds a little unfocused in places, their blend of industrial noise, grinding metal guitars, and operatic vocals is staggeringly powerful. No other European metal band sounds like Rammstein, nor does any American metal group -- this is powerful, gothic metal that is unlike anything else in late-'90s metal. Sehnsucht may be an acquired taste, but it's one worth acquiring.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
To date, Rammstein haven't been able to equal the excitement and power of their breakthrough 1998 album, Sehnsucht, and while Rosenrot suffers that fate, there's an EP's worth of brilliance and one track that towers above them all. Just as exciting as their massive hit "Du Hast," "Te Quiero Puta!" is a glorious blend of the group's usual Teutonic crunch and mariachi music that earns the exclamation point in its title. It's loco to hear Rammstein with bright horns and Latin vocalists and just about as odd to hear them with Sharleen Spiteri -- lead singer for the classy pop act Texas -- whose sweet and somber vocals make "Stirb Nicht Vor Mir (Don't Die Before I Do)" sound very dreamy, very Nightwish. The out of control "Zerstören" and "Benzin," with its biting social commentary on the world's addiction to oil, are the final two tracks for the hypothetical four-star EP, since the rest of Rosenrot sounds a bit too formulaic. Most everything is tense during the verses, then blows up during the choruses, but if there's one area the band has made giant steps, it's with the lyrics. Greed, irresponsible hedonism, and modern-day interpretations of Goethe are touched upon through wordplay and metaphor, all of it lost on the non-Deutsch speaking set. It still doesn't make up for the stale turns the music takes on a good portion of the album, but there are signs that Sehnsucht's worthy follow-up is more possible than ever.
Words: David Jeffries
Taking three years to release their follow-up to Mutter is a good idea since Reise, Reise is more of the same -- the same grit, the same growl, and the same dramatic, orchestra choruses. There's a bit more ingenuity in the production and a little more focus in the songs but not enough for the nonfaithful to pick up on. Unfortunately the lead single, "Mein Teil," is no "Du Hast," but the damning "Amerika" almost equals their breakthrough track. Whether or not Rammstein's label has the guts to release the band's acerbic "Coca-Cola/Sometimes War" view of the States as a single is another question, but it's the key track to the album, an album that has a couple more, minor surprises. The loose, bluesy guitar on "Los" adds some quirk to the band's stern, Teutonic palette, while the sinister "Stein Um Stein" creeps more than stomps in parts. That's it for twists and turns, but few bands can industrially grind as convincingly as Rammstein. Same as it ever was, Reise, Reise won't do much to increase the band's fan base, but being a tight, free-of-filler album, it'll satisfy the faithful.
Words: David Jeffries
Anyone familiar with the industrial metal band's dark sense of irony should take one look at the title of Rammstein's 2009 album Liebe Ist für Alle Da (Love Is There for Everyone) and conclude that this one is a mean monster. Combining the tightness and punch of their 1998 album, Sehnsucht, with the musicianship and elaborate textures of their later work, Liebe Ist is a grand achievement, skillfully dividing its time between razor sharp metal rockers like "B********," or the opening theme song "Rammlied" and nostalgic cabaret pieces that conjure the spirits of Weil and Brecht at a goth club. The best of the latter is the naked and haunting closer "Roter Sand," but little touches of a sinister yesteryear are everywhere, like the fake vaudeville music in "Haifisch," or the soundtrack strings of "Wiener Blut," which are eventually overcome by a guitar-crunching juggernaut. This strange mix of styles is more effective here than it has been for about a decade, and there's no threat of the album becoming ponderous, either, as an economical track list and purposeful songs wipe away the sins of their previous album, 2005's Rosenrot. The group's loyal fans have remained loyal throughout the past decade and have braved all the difficult but ultimately rewarding efforts that came with it. To them, Liebe Ist für Alle Da is the big payoff and an instant classic. For the rest of the world, this is that once-a-decade, perfectly balanced Rammstein album that's immediately accessible but wide and deep enough to explore for years to come.
Words: David Jeffries