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German Music

Press: Teutonic Values

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By Winston Cummings

Taken from Hit Parader
December 1998

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Oh those wacky Germans! From the land that's brought us everything from the last two world wars to the space noodlings of Kraftwerk now comes the latest Teutonic "invasion"....a band called Rammstein- a loud, unpredictable, decidedly metallic unit that has used their nation's eclectic cultural tastes to help inspire their one-of-a-kind sound. As proven throughout their latest album Sehnsucht, as well as through their co-starring role in this fall's Family Values tour (which is headlined by Korn), vocalist Till Lindemann, keyboardist Flake, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel and drummer Christoph Schneider seem intent on making a fast and permanent mark upon the hard rock landscape. To put it in the most basic terms- and paraphrasing the immortal words of a now-deceased music scribe- Rammstein makes music to invade Poland by!

Make no mistake about it, while Rammstein may still be new to a lot of Stateside rock fans, back home on the Rhine they're about as big as a band can get. Forget about such past Teutonic terrors as the Scorpions, in the late '90s Rammstein are setting sales records across the European continent that no other band can match! These guys continually rank higher than even the mighty Metallica in magazine and radio polls, and each of their two previous discs have sold more than 500,000 units- making them among the most successful European hard rock discs of the decade! And now that they're finally beginning to make a dent on American sales charts (despite the fact that they refuse to sing in anything but their native tongue) it would appear as if the sky is truly the limit for Rammstein. Indeed with the growing success of Sehnsucht, and their growing notoriety thanks to both MTV and Family Values tour, it seems as if the German metal unit may be on the precipice of true international stardom.

"We have been quite lucky in our efforts to succeed all over the world" said Landers through an interpreter. "In America, things began slowly, but once we started to have our songs played on the radio, and then we began to tour, people began to notice us a great deal more."

The very concept that a band that doesn't sing in English...or even speak the language, is making such significant inroads into the American market-place is nothing short of amazing. Traditionally, non-English-singing hard rock bands have struggled to gain even a marginal foothold on U.S. shores yet such a fact seems to have little impact on the Rammstein brigade. With their name translating into "ramming stone", and a sound that fits that vivid word image, this sextet sees no reason to change anything about their unconventional approach. To their way of thinking, their sound- which in addition to featuring the expected guitar crunch, also presents an exotic array of whistles, children's choirs and techno-babble- is already too strange to meet conventional tastes. Certainly a little Germanic warbling added to the mix ain't gonna hurt nuthin' too bad.

"There is no reason to try and change what we do simply to appeal to English speaking audiences" Flake said. "We are what we are, and we are not about to change any of that. We have enjoyed good success doing everything exactly as we do. The German language is very suited to our musical style. It works almost as another instrument. We would never think of changing that."

Unfortunately, considering the band's staunch approach, and their reliance on both German language and heritage to inspire their music, the haunting images of their nation's war-like past have followed Rammstein around virtually from day one. Even the German media has set out to uncover the true meanings behind some of Rammstein's more controversial and mysterious songs- with no evidence what-so-ever of oft-rumored Nazi-leanings ever even showing up. The band's members themselves are as confounded as anyone as to where these obviously false allegations first started. Some believe it may have to do with the cover art of their 1995 debut disc, Herzeleid, where the six shirtless, well-toned band members come across as poster boys for some new "master race." Other group members insist it's just the German media doing their best to cause trouble.

"It has been so silly," Flake explained. "That was just a photo of us- not some political statement! The German media sometimes gets carried away with such things. There was even one critic who said that the way Till rolls his 'r's' when he sings is supposed to mimic the way that Hitler used to speak! How silly can they get. We've never written a political song in our life, and we probably never will. It's just reverse discrimination because we are German. Kraftwerk had the same thing happen to them twenty years ago. If we were Spanish or Dutch, there would be no problem."

Still, with their harsh sound, their unusual lyrical approach, their penchant for utilizing fire during their live shows and their bizarre album art (the cover of Sehnsucht shows the head of each band members trapped in hideous wire masks) one can understand the derisive looks often hurled Rammstein's way. It's been that way for this until ever since they seemingly emerged from nowhere in 1993 to inflame the souls of Germany's headbanging brigade. With their tightly synchronized guitar thunder, highly unusual keyboard passages and deep-throated vocal attacks, there was no mistaking Rammstein's approach with that of any other band!

When the band started to play live in 1994, word of their outrageous blend of horror movie imagery and heavy metal music instantly made them sensations throughout the notoriously fickle German underground. But rather than falling prey to the ever-common "on top today, gone tomorrow," nature of the German music scene, Rammstein played their audience like a well-tuned drum, continually coming up with new and exciting ideas for both stage and sound. By the time they got around to releasing Herzeleid (which translated to "Heartache"), the music masses were primed and ready to make it an instant hit. Fueled by such songs as Heirate Mich (which eventually ended up on the soundtrack of the 1996 movie, Lost Highway- a flick produced by Rammstein fan David Lynch) that disc stayed in the Top 10 of the German album charts for an astounding two years... right up until the release of Sehnsucht. The new disc entered the German charts in the coveted Number One position and has already gone double platinum. Now these distinctly different Euro rockers hope that a little bit of their Teutonic sensibility will carry them to similar heights on this side of the Atlantic. But, in all honesty, Rammstein aren't exactly holding their breath waiting for it to happen.

"The reaction our music has already generated in America has been incredible," Landers explained. "On the Family Values tour we have met some wonderful fans who seem to understand exactly what we are trying to do with our music. That has brought big smiles to all of our faces."

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