Biography

Rammstein

Members: Till Lindemann, Rich Kruspe-Bernstein, Paul H. Landers, Oliver Riedel, Christoph Schneider, Christian Lorenz

Active: 1993-present

HISTORY

Rammstein takes its name indirectly from the western German town of Ramstein, site of an airshow disaster in 1988. The band's signature song, the eponymous "Rammstein", is a commemoration of the tragedy that took place at the Ramstein Air Base. The extra "m" in the band's name means that it translates literally as "ramming stone", or "battering ram".

Even though the lyrics are in German, the band has enjoyed success outside of Germany, and with the album Reise, Reise (2004), they became the most successful German-language band of all time. Rammstein has had several top ten singles in Germany.

The band's members all come from the former East Germany, specifically East Berlin and Schwerin.

Riedel, Schneider and Kruspe were the original founders of Rammstein, following an attempt by the latter to compose American-influenced music with a West Berlin band called Orgasm Death Gimmicks. As Kruspe put it, "I realized it's really important to make music and make it fit with your language, which I didn't do in the past. I came back [to Germany] and said, 'It's time to make music that's really authentic.' I was starting a project called Rammstein to really try to make German music." He invited Till Lindemann, a basket weaver and drummer for the band First Arsch, to join the project as a vocalist. The four entered a contest for new bands and won, attracting the interest of Paul H. Landers, who knew them all and decided to join the band. "Flake" Lorenz was the last member to join; he had played with Landers before in the band Feeling B and was initially reluctant to come on board, but was eventually persuaded to join. Their first album was released a year later.

LYRICS AND STYLE

Although it cannot be said that Rammstein sticks to any particular genre of music, they are most often described as industrial metal, and they are also often associated with heavy metal and hard rock. Some have categorised them with the controversial Neue Deutsche H?rte movement ("Deutsche Hard Rock"). Despite their brutalist image, they do show a sense of humour in their lyrics.

Wordplay is used frequently in Rammstein's lyrics. "Du hast" is a play on German marriage vows (Willst du bis der Tod euch scheidet treu ihr sein f?r alle Tage....) In the song, the traditional affirmative response "ja" is replaced by the negative response "nein." The song starts, in fact, with a play on words: "Du, du has(s)t" ... "Du has(s)t mich" meaning "You, You hate me" or "You, you have me" (the words "hasst", from "hassen", "to hate" and "hast", from "haben", "to have" are homophones). The ambiguity is later resolved as the line completed: "Du hast mich gefragt" (you (have) asked me).

Some of their songs show some unexpected influences. "Dalai Lama" is an adaptation of the famous poem Der Erlk?nig by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Nearly all of Rammstein's lyrics are in German, however the band did record English versions of "Engel" and "Du hast," as well as covers of the songs "Stripped" and "Pet Sematary". In addition, the songs "Amerika" and "Moskau" contain not only German verses, but also English and Russian choruses respectively. "Ollie" Riedel commented on Rammstein's use of language, saying that "German language suits heavy metal music. French might be the language of love, but German is the language of anger." (Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), October 24, 2004). On their latest album "Rosenrot" they have even recorded a song with Spanish lyrics: Te Quiero Puta! (or I love you, Whore!)

Rammstein's style has tended to divide critics, some of whom have responded with memorably dismissive comments. Jam Showbiz (April 2001) described Mutter as "music to invade Poland to." New Zealand's Southland Times (Dec. 17, 1999) suggested that Till Lindemann's "booming, sub-sonic voice" would send "the peasants fleeing into their barns and bolting their doors." The New York Times (Jan. 9, 2005) commented that on the stage, "Mr. Lindemann gave off an air of such brute masculinity and barely contained violence that it seemed that he could have reached into the crowd, snatched up a fan, and bitten off his head." "We just push boundaries" said Till Lindemann, in an interview with rock magazine Kerrang!. "We cant help it if people don't like those boundaries being pushed."

SHOWS

Rammstein has achieved particular fame (not to mention notoriety) for its hugely over-the-top stage show, using so many pyrotechnics that fans eventually coined the motto "Other bands play, Rammstein burns!" (a quip at Manowar's song Kings of Metal, which states: "other bands play, Manowar kills").

The heat is so intense that on occasion, people have been carried out of Rammstein concerts suffering from heat exhaustion, and lighting gantries have been seen glowing red-hot from repeated fireball hits. The variety of the pyrotechnics can be seen in a recent concert playlist, which includes such items as "Lycopodium Masks", "Glitterburst Truss", "Pyrostrobes", "Comets", "Flash Trays" and "Mortar Hits".

Rammstein's shows have become increasingly elaborate since the first ones 10 years ago, when their effects were confined to pouring kerosene around the stage and setting it alight. After some unfortunate early accidents the band took to employing professionals to handle the pyrotechnics; Lindemann himself is now a licensed pyrotechnician.

The band's costumes are equally outlandish. During the current "Reise, Reise" tour they have worn Lederhosen, corsets and vague military uniforms with steel helmets, while during the "Mutter" tour the group kept to the themes of the album artwork and descended onto the stage from a giant uterus while wearing nappies.

According to Kruspe, the on-stage wackiness is entirely deliberate (Rammstein's motto according to Schneider is: "Do your own thing. And overdo it!"). The aim is to get people's attention and have fun at the same time: "You have to understand that 99 percent of the people don't understand the lyrics, so you have to come up with something to keep the drama in the show. We have to do something. We like to have a show; we like to play with fire. We do have a sense of humor. We do laugh about it; we have fun ... but we're not Spinal Tap. We take the music and the lyrics seriously. It's a combination of humor, theater and our East German culture, you know?" (The Grand Rapids Press, Jul 22, 1999).

Ironically, at the Metaltown Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden on July 30, 2005, Till suffered a knee injury when Flake accidentally ran into him with the Segway. This caused concerts scheduled in Asia to be canceled.

CONTROVERSIES

Rammstein have not been shy of courting controversy and have periodically attracted condemnation from morality campaigners. Their stage act earned them a night in jail in June 1999 after the infamous giant dildo was used in a concert in Worcester, Massachusetts. Back home in Germany, the band has faced repeated accusations of fascist sympathies due to the dark and sometimes militaristic imagery of their videos and concerts, including the use of extracts from the propaganda film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl in the video for "Stripped". Also, the debut album Herzeleid, released in Germany in 1995, originally had a cover art featuring the bandmembers' upper bodies without clothing; the media and critics accused the band of trying to sell themselves as "poster boys for the Master Race". Rammstein have denied this vigorously and the members of the band have said that they want nothing to do with politics as well as supremacy of any kind. The song "Links 2, 3, 4" was written as a riposte to these claims. According to Kruspe, it means, "'my heart beats on the left, two, three, four.' It's simple. If you want to put us in a political category, we're on the left side, and that's the reason we made the song." (The Grand Rapids Press, Jul. 22, 2001). Of course this is a two-sided thing, since "Links 2, 3, 4" is the usual command in marching practice in the German army, "Links" referring to the left foot in that case.

In Germany, the band is often criticised as using obsolete Nazi German stereotypes of violence and badness for commercial reasons.

In April 1999, it emerged that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - the two boys who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre - were fans of Rammstein and had declared it to be one of their favourite bands. Rammstein came under heavy criticism from conservative and Christian groups in the United States, who claimed (among other things) that Till Lindemann's rolling Teutonic r's were an imitation of Adolf Hitler's diction. In response, the band issued a statement:

The members of Rammstein express their condolences and sympathy to all affected by the recent tragic events in Denver. They wish to make it clear that they have no lyrical content or political beliefs that could have possibly influenced such behavior. Additionally, members of Rammstein have children of their own, in whom they continually strive to instill healthy and non-violent values.
Jeff Weise of the Red Lake High School massacre was also said to have been a fan.

Following the tragic conclusion of the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia in September 2004, the Russian authorities claimed that the hostage-takers had "listened to German hard rock group Rammstein on personal stereos during the siege to keep themselves edgy and fired up." The claim has not been independently confirmed, and the Russian authorities are known to have been concerned that Rammstein was too appealing to "undesirable" elements in Russian society. A Rammstein concert in Moscow scheduled for July 19, 2002 was cancelled due to fears that it would attract skinheads.

In October 2004, the video for "Mein Teil" caused considerable controversy in Germany when it was released. It takes a darkly comic view of the Armin Meiwes cannibalism case, showing musicians of the band being held on a leash by a transvestite and rolling around in mud. The controversy did nothing to stop (and may even have helped) the single rising to No. 2 in the German charts.

The band's own views of its image are sanguine: "We like being on the fringes of bad taste," according to Paul H. Landers, while Flake Lorenz comments: "The controversy is fun, like stealing forbidden fruit. But it serves a purpose. We like audiences to grapple with our music, and people have become more receptive." (The Times, Jan 29, 2005)

ALBUMS:

1995 - Herzeleid
1997 - Sehnsucht
2001 - Mutter
2004 - Reise, Reise
2005 - Rosenrot

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