|Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann + fireworks gun.|
I repeat: "fireworks gun."
I come not to defend Rammstein, but to praise them. This band is fucking awesome, and their awesomeness is as pure as the band is not.
First and foremost — the music. Gott im Himmel, the music. It is virtually wall-to-wall adrenaline and comically pansexual testosterone — relentlessly aggressive, unapologetic, rhythmic, and propulsive, like a monster truck crossed with a metronome. Even the structure of the band defies convention — an atypically large six-member ensemble, Rammstein has somehow managed to avoid a single lineup change in its twenty-year(!) existence. Their emergence onto the European scene in 1994 even precipitated a new musical taxonomy for their style — Neue Deutsche Härte, which literally translates to “New German Hardness.” Given the well-established bona fides of old German hardness, this is particularly impressive. If Type O Negative had a baby with Kraftwerk, and Nine Inch Nails had a baby with Wagner (conceived to the dulcet tones of a mashup of “Happiness in Slavery” and “Ride of the Valkyries” playing in the background, naturally), and then those two babies had a litter of six, the result would be the kids from whom Rammstein stole lunch money in middle school (and possibly still do).
|Rammstein looking "Teutonically coy."|
For me, though, the album always comes back to Heirate mich (“Marry Me”). This is a song which perfectly captures, through Lindemann’s ominously melodic spoken word intro and outro — set to the sound of haunted chanting and church bells that sandwich a faster, electronic middle — the essence of the album title and its internecine relationship to the construct of eternal love. It accomplishes this by utilizing — because, of course it does — a necrophilia allegory that ends with the narrator decapitating a rooster:
Mit meinen Händen grab ich tief
doch deine Haut reißt wie Papier
und Teile fallen von dir ab
zum zweitenmal entkommst du mir
I take you tenderly in my arm
of course your skin rips like paper
and parts are falling off of you
for the second time you escape me
dort zwischen Schnecken ein einsames Tier
tagsüber lauf ich der Nacht hinterher
zum zweitenmal entkommst du mir
There by the bells I spend the night
there between snails, a lonely animal
all day I run after the night
for the second time you escape me
die Nacht ist heiß und wir sind nackt
zum Fluch der Hahn den Morgen grüßt
ich hab den Kopf ihm abgehackt
I hacked off his head
- Engel (“Angel”): Being an angel is lonely and scary and it sucks and I don’t want to be one (this is the tamest song on the album by a good amount, but would offend my Southern Baptist roots if I hadn’t already gone Harvey Updike on them long ago).
- Tier (“Animal”): Probably just avoid looking this one up.
- Bestrafe mich (“Punish Me”): A comparatively light-hearted exploration of the pleasures of BDSM, wonderfully couched in religious roleplaying terminology.
- Du hast: The pun-iest of their efforts, it interposes Du hast mich (“You Have Me”) and Du haßt mich (“You Hate Me”) in a clever takedown of marriage, and remains the only song I am aware of that utilizes a pun on “’til death do us part” and “the death of the vagina” (der Tod euch scheidet / zum Tod der Scheide) to make fun of wedding vows. Bonus points for being the song Method Man played to wake Redman up for crew practice in the Lark Voorhies vehicle and cinéma vérité stalwart How High.
- Bück dich (“Bend Over”): Your run-of-the-mill song about a dom/sub relationship in which the dom refers to the sub only as “the biped (on all fours)” and expresses nothing but disappointment with him. Also, the dom is excessively lachrymose for some reason.
- Spiel mit mir (“Play with Me”): Older brother with insomnia finds that the best way to deal with the problem is to have his little brother give him a handjob so he can fall asleep (expertly worded as schüttel mir das Laub vom Baum (“shake the leaves from my tree for me”)). Arguably more acceptable now that we have Game of Thrones.
- Klavier ("Piano"): A “Boxing Helena” (or reverse “A Rose for Emily”)-type situation — although without amputation, so that’s something! — in which a guy likes the sound of his lover’s piano-playing so much he ties her to it and locks her in a room with it. SPOILER ALERT: everything ends terribly.
- Küss mich (Fellfrosch) (“Kiss Me (Furry Frog)”): Alternative title: “Cunnilingus is Awesome!” (This obviously needs to be in The Lego Movie's sequel.) A song about a woman who very much enjoys oral stimulation. For reasons unexplained, she also gets horrible nosebleeds. Remember that cartoon sound when a character is trying to shake off a dizzying blow to the head? It is prominently featured in this song, and it is just perfect.
To my mind, though, the signature song of this album is and forever will be Eifersucht (“Jealousy”). Beginning with an intro — don’t listen in mono — from keyboardist Christoph Lorenz (the one they usually set on fire during live shows), it opens simply enough, then jumps right in to the pulsing hook, which leads into the most incisive critique of the inherent stupidity and pointlessly destructive nature of jealousy that has been written this side of the “Sharing is Caring” episode of Barney. It essentially taunts the listener with gruesome scenarios that exemplify the absurdity of jealousy, while overtly suggesting that it isn’t merely absurd, it’s abjectly ineffective.
So, apparently by “select tracks,” I meant “all of them but two.” The one-two dismount of Eifersucht leading into Küss mich is just divine. Pro Tip: Do NOT listen to the worthless English versions of Engel and Du hast included as tracks 12 and 13.
I feel like the kid in American Beauty who talks about the trash bag, in the moment right after he sees Thora Birch topless and just before his dad beats the piss out of him. Fucking A you guys, I love this band so goddamned much.
After that emphatic dismissal of the “sophomore slump” mythos, Rammstein followed up in 2001 with perhaps the tightest of their studio albums, mildly less lyrically adventurous but with a mind toward sonic expression. Entitled Mutter (“Mother”), it contains a 4-song streak unmatched in the band’s discography — Links 2-3-4 (“Left 2-3-4”), Sonne (“Sun”), Ich will (“I Want”), and Feuer frei! (“Fire at Will!”) — the latter of which is perhaps their second most famous song after Du hast due to its exquisitely crafted inclusion into the opening scene of the Vin Diesel epic xXx.
Notably, the videos for these four songs are also just goddamned great — Links is a fever dream mash-up of Fritz Lang, ants, 1984, that Macintosh ad based on 1984 that aired during the 1984 Super Bowl, and a dash of Tim Burton; Ich will takes its lyrical commentary on the performer-audience dynamic and frames it as criticism of the media’s thirst for narrative, sinisterly embodied by attention-seeking criminals; Feuer frei! is basically found footage of what it would have been like to watch the whole performance at the xXx party, which is demonstrably awesome. Sonne, though, stands out in particular. Were you wondering if the Snow White story could be interpreted as an allegory in which the dwarves, toiling endlessly with heavy machinery and covered in coal dust, endeavor futilely to please Snow White with the riches they unearth, only to be treated with complete disdain? Where Snow White spanks the dwarves and does lines of gold dust, and eventually the dwarves find a half-full syringe of it, administer an overdose while she’s in the bath, and then carry her in a glass coffin to a mountaintop, only to have an apple shatter the apparatus? It can! Somewhere in a poorly lit Parisian office, a younger Thomas Piketty watched this video and now we have Capital in the 21st Century.
Do you remember the Armin Meiwes story? About the guy who posted an ad stating that he was “looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”? And then he got exactly what he asked for, even though you can’t seem to find a decent Ikea coffee table despite spending a week on Craigslist? And they started with severing the victim’s penis and attempting to eat it together? There’s a song for that — Mein Teil (“My Part”) — on the fourth album, 2004's Reise, Reise. The unsurprisingly clever refrain is Du bist was du isst, und ihr wisst, was es ist (“You are what you eat, and you all know what that is”). Then, another perfect back-to-back track arrangement in the heart of the album juxtaposes Amerika and Moskau as a balletic couplet. Amerika is a brazenly unapologetic critique of American cultural hegemony — and the video is just so magnifique — and drives the point home when Lindemann switches over to English, in the chorus and bridge respectively, to exclaim, “We’re all living in Amerika” and “This is not a love song.” Moskau, on the other hand, lovingly paints the Russian Third Rome as a well-worn prostitute who still titillates despite numerous failures to cover up her age, and is loved both despite and because of that fact (Sie ist alt und trotzdem schön, “She is old and nevertheless beautiful”; Sie schläft mit mir doch nur für Geld / Ist doch die schönste Stadt der Welt, “She sleeps with me but only for money / she’s still the most beautiful city in the world”).
There are plenty more songs in the hopper, but my word count suggests I not delve further. So, I’ll close with this: prior to 2010, Rammstein had not played stateside in over ten years. They announced that they were going to play a one-time only show at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2010, which remains by far the best thing I ever learned of on Facebook because of something I put in my profile in 2007. I took the train to New York, had a lovely time visiting a friend of mine there, went to the show, was transported to my happy place, and returned home to DC content that I managed to finally see one of my favorite bands live. It was a fun weekend trip, a great show, and I was happy.
|Rammstein, Thomas & Mack Center (Las Vegas), May 21, 2011.|
The show was at the Thomas & Mack Center, the House that Jerry Tarkanian built, and I was so taken by the retired jerseys of those early 90s UNLV teams hanging from the rafters that I tried to text my friend a picture of them, temporarily forgetting that he was in Ireland at the time. I was sitting behind a woman with the R+ logo in flames on her left shoulder blade. Everything about this situation pleased me to no end. There was an electricity running through this crowd, more highly charged than New York, and it erupted as soon as the band took the stage. I immediately and unabashedly lost myself in the culmination of a perfect mini-vacation without fear or loathing, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I gazed long into the abyss, the abyss gazed back, and we gave each other fist bumps and threw metal hands into the air.
Sometimes, you know when you’ve just done one of the most fun things in your life. Sometimes, that realization happens when you see a man hop on a giant phallus attached to a dolly track that shoots white foam into the crowd. Sometimes, that realization is confirmed when shortly thereafter, a man wearing flame-throwing angel wings is blasting waves of fire into the air. Thusly enlightened, you walk blissfully back to your hotel in a fortuitous desert breeze. You arrive back at your room, awash in all manner of delicious neurotransmitters, and note that you have hit on 6 of your 8 sports bets for the evening. You smile quietly to yourself, chase a pull of Wild Turkey with a swig from a 2-liter bottle of Country Time lemonade, and watch the people jumping from a tower out your window. One more, and you shower and head to the bar on the 108th floor; not to jump, but to remember the city as it was that night — energized, expansive, and entirely at your feet.
— Duane Gibson
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