Controversy sells, we all know that. That, and a fair dose of authenticity and trve geekery in whatever art you may excel in. The music industry is fairly famous for some of the more outrageous specimens. Rough, dirty, and often otherworldly provocations reach us not only in the form of dreary soundscapes but surely through moving pictures that often darkly glow with dreadful cinematography and worse live shows.
Now, there are truly masterful instigators out there. Bands that work with questionable iconography, unnerving storylines and symbols, and sport a musical style that will have the political correctness wackos boiling at 150° C.1) And more often than not, those folks get pushed into the corner of all those most hated bands. If these opinionated shenanigans are justified or not is always in the subjective eyes of the beholder. Perception is everything, right?
One of the most skilled bands in the art of the agent-provocateur for sure is Rammstein. Boy, even the band name will already get the hackles of the naysayers up. It literally translates into ram stone, a sexual connotation if there ever was one. And, it also thumbs its nose at Ramstein, the mighty US base in Germany, and its warrior caste. Let’s never forget that most of Rammstein‘s members grew up in Eastern Germany. So, we can safely speculate that they may not have a glowing passion for whatever US neurotics beam over the pond to Europe.
But let’s face it. This is one band that shaped the German rock landscape like no other. In fact, they’re famous throughout Europe with an insanely large following that easily spills over into North and South America. Rammstein pretty much pioneered the Neue Deutsche Härte (NDH)2) movement, together with other big names like Oomph! or – again – Megaherz. And they’re surfing that mighty wave of theirs ever since.
Some derivatives of the style3) like Hanzel und Gretyl or Eli Van Pike indeed made it onto this ‘zine already. Yet, Rammstein or any other of those biggies didn’t so far. But why could that be? One could argue that Lindemann‘s manly men and their fare aren’t worse than any of those vile Black Metal outfits – and those get tons of attention over here. There are some pretty dumb specimens in the Extreme Metal arena after all, whereas Rammstein here run a pretty tight ship in comparison.
And yet. Whilst the BM folks often are on a one-way lane to unholy fame, Rammstein incite all sorts of accusations. For instance, the pointed use of pseudo-nazi symbolism. The rolled ‘R’ in German pronunciation is one of them, for instance. Or the band logo that kinda looks like some militia-style insignia gone haywire. By the same token, one could argue that their band logo kinda looks like the Swiss cross with a twist. So, should this alp-ridden country get rid of theirs? Not quite. Or again, just have a look at their stage art. It’s full of Orwellian symbolism, something like Pink Floyd’s The Wall warriors, down at the 10th circle of hell.
But the master instigators over at Rammstein won’t only limit themselves to absurd and absurdly delicious stage productions. Their clips often gorge with all sorts of juicy details that always move way beyond what the modern thought police will allow. With the inevitable and obligatory backlash included. To illustrate, here’s the clip for Ausländer (foreigners), lifted from the 2019 disk Deutschland.
It’s a typical Rammstein production full of worn-out clichés and worse insinuations. That the cinematography simply is top-notch kinda drowned in the outcry of pained outrage after the clip aired. And there’s of course much fodder for insult and affront, imagined or not. Just to name a few, you got the breast-wielding black half-naked females, boat people, colonialism, and hidden 3rd Reich symbolism, among a few more. But the last scene where they all depart and leave lightly colored kids behind just took the cake. Till Lindemann, a master agent provocateur if there ever was one.
And similar to the Leni Riefenstahl-ridden cover for Depeche Mode’s Stripped,4) the Ausländer video garnered them a medium-sized shitstorm. All sorts of experts heaped all kinds of darkly sinister accusations on the folks over at Rammstein. The least we can say is that whoever provokes to his heart’s content will reap the fruits of his labor rather sooner than later.
And that’s a pity. The over-the-top productions, the sexual and often gory innuendos, the use of negative emotions as a catalyst to drive marketing, and the heavy-stomping rock seemingly from another era, it’s all diverting attention away from a serious kernel of sad truths and social problems that the band is constantly highlighting. Because once you dive into their material, the music and – indeed – the lyrics will tell a different story. From social injustice, and child and sexual abuse of all sorts, to beauty fads plaguing today’s modern society, they touch on everything. And to be fair, I’ve never heard them chant about the return of the 3rd Reich, but I’ve for sure heard them bitch about inequities and gruesome realities of our society’s dirty underbelly. As good ol’ East German country boys must.
Rammstein has been called Industrial Metal, Gothic Metal, Hard Rock, and Heavy Rock. And whilst I’m sure they don’t give a damn, the best description somebody spat out was – Dance Metal. And that struck a cord over at the RMR office tower. The heavy beat, manly vocals, meaty riffing, and refined ambient and acoustics. All of that greedily feeds on some pretty sturdy songwriting and leaves you with that medley of hinted smears and brutal veracity. A sound that will work well once the festival crowd is inebriated enough to dance, ahem, headbang to it. If only they’d resist the urge to engage in sleazy beer hall Hump Rock in Bavarian lederhos’n drag. That’s just a cheap grab for monetized fame that – contrite RMR admits – extracted a few evil chuckles over here nonetheless. There you have it, proof of the proverbial pudding.
So, what’s the allure, and why did Rammstein never appear on the RMR ‘zine yet? Well, it’s a bit like the folks over at Nickelback. Once you reviewed one of their records, you reviewed pretty much all of them. This is a band that goes for maximum profit on a sound that sells. No forays into new territories or experimentation of soundscapes yet to be explored. The band is a mainstream freight train on a mission. One that thrives on outrage and mucky slosh, deep hidden meaning, and fiery giant stroller warfare with exploding dicks on stage. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, gotta make a buck or two to keep the train supplied and well-oiled. Besides, already the old Romans understood this. Panem et Circenses, that is what the rock-crazed mob requires and what Rammstein diligently delivers.
And do we have guilty pleasures at the RMR office? Quite so, for a session of almost diabolic debauchery or two by a bunch of closet fans. But there’s really not too much to write home about all that either. Now, if you excuse me, I need to check on the newest dates for their upcoming new live shows. Promises of beastly fun beckon us. How could we possibly resist that?