Till Lindemann and his band Rammstein have hit the big time, and in doing so they used a familiar formula: when bands from Germany achieve success abroad, it usually involves a good dose of the hard stuff.
Scooter have swept the Japanese music scene with techno-beats from the now-distant 1990s, while the band Tokio Hotel are enjoying worldwide success with a heavier brand of pop. And the Scorpions – now bringing their career to a close – are one of the most influential hard rock bands in the USA.
Rammstein are harder by far than the Scorpions – and they are the only band to have achieved anything like the Scorpions’ success. Rather than the virtuosity of the Scorpions, Rammstein aim maximum simplicity. Their music is often based on a single chord, with Lindemann’s lyrics comprising just a few words. Rammstein’s stage performances, on the other hand, are all the more bombastic, including the most exuberant use of pyrotechnics in rock music’s long history.
Rammstein – always provocative
The main stylistic element in Rammstein’s music, however, is provocation. In one of their videos, the band recently used footage from the work of the Third Reich’s best-known director, Leni Riefenstahl. Since then, they have faced frequent accusations of right-wing extremism. Rammstein, whose roots lie, in fact, in left-wing East Berlin punk, have been quick to distance themselves from Nazi ideology.
Yet Till Lindemann and his colleagues remain provocative and their music tackles many taboos and unconventional topics: Engel (‘Angel’) takes on promises of religious healing, and Mein Teil (‘My part’) deals with a recent case of cannibalism in Germany; Ich tu dir weh (‘I hurt you’) looks at aberrant sexual practices such as sadomasochism and one of the band’s earliest songs, Heirate mich (‘Marry me’), is about necrophilia.
Lost Highway: the road to success
Heirate mich was also Rammstein’s international breakthrough. Their success in the USA came thanks to director David Lynch. The soundtrack of his film Lost Highway used two songs, Rammstein and Heirate mich, and the band’s music was soon being compared with Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. The impact seems to have had a lasting effect on music fans, because since then, any new Rammstein album has shot into the charts and stayed there for weeks. In 1999, just five years after the band formed, they embarked on a major tour of central and Latin America with Kiss, and have subsequently toured North America with Soulfly. Rammstein recordings now sell widely abroad, particularly in Argentina, the USA and Mexico.
The same is true of their current album, Liebe ist für alle da (‘Love is for everyone’), which tackles variants of sex and love, including the most aberrant. They promoted the album using a video that rapidly became highly controversial because of its sexually permissive content. Not everyone liked it, but the controversy in the media gave Rammstein the best possible publicity. And that’s just made them even more successful.