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Ohne dich, kann ich nicht sein, Ohne dich
Mit dir bin ich auch allein, Ohne dich
Like most people outside of Germany I first encountered Rammstein when they released ‘Du Hast’ in 1997. The single, which was later featured on the soundtrack to The Matrix, was massively successful. It was also used in various video games, and its video went on heavy rotation on the music tv channels in the late 90s. Using a riff similar to that in ‘Just One Fix’ by the legendary Ministry, it placed Rammstein firmly in the Industrial Metal category. In Germany however, they were tagged as part of a new genre called Neue Deutsche Härte (New Hard German). In fact this term was coined to describe their debut album.
The initial success of Rammstein can be put down to their heavy riffs, their use of synthesisers, and Till Lindemann’s vocals which are an amazing combo of whispered growls and a deep soaring baritone. In the post-grunge era of Nu-Metal and manufactured rock, there simply wasn’t any other band like them. And they sang exclusively in German. Their use of dark imagery, ominous tone, and well… the fact that they sang in German led to some ludicrous accusations that they are Nazis. They later released the song ‘Links 2 3 4’, where they proclaim that any politics of theirs is strictly coming from the Left. Besides all of that, they seem like a great bunch of lads.
If you are in anyway familiar with hard-rock or metal you probably know all of this about Rammstein. What you probably don’t know is their mastery of the nuance of the German language, and that they have written the best collection of Industrial Metal Ballads ever.
What Anglophones miss entirely in the song ‘Du Hast’ is the play on words. In German, the phrase ‘you have’ sounds identical to the phrase ‘you hate’. Du hast and du hasst, respectively.
Rammstein are one of the most successful Metal bands of all time. Each album release has been supported by cinematic videos and gigantic global tours. Their live shows have become legendary, complete with unique stage designs and enough pyrotechnics to deafen the audience. The topics of their songs has featured diverse subject matter such as capitalism, cannibalism, and sexual voyeurism.
They can also write a banging love song. In this post I’m going to take a look at two of their (for want of a better phrase) industrial power ballads.
The above clip is a great example of Rammstein exercising their ballady prowess. The song itself is a fine example of a traditional ballad. It could have been written a hundred years ago. It’s about a boy who wants to pick a red rose from the top of a mountain to give to the girl he adores. He ignores the pain and hardship of the ordeal in order to get the girl what she wants. Ultimately he falls to his death, his love still unrequited. As with most Rammstein songs, it has a twist. Being in love isn’t always a good thing, but it happens to us anyway. There are a few acoustic cover versions of the song online, and it works really well without the Metal.
The video is prime Rammstein. The band play the part of Christian missionaries visiting a traditional village in Romania. Till Lindemann’s priest character takes a shine to a witchy Romanian girl and on her orders (and in between bouts of self-flagellation), he murders lots of people. He also ignores his friends and comes to a sticky end.
The theme of friendship and camaraderie is always just under the surface with Rammstein. Formed in 1994, their lineup has remained unchanged since. That’s a 28 year run so far, which is almost unheard of in a Rock band. The only other Hard Metal band I can think of who are in the same league, are Mastodon with a 22 year stretch. With some bands, line-up changes are the norm. Megadeth, GWAR, Evanescence, and Opeth have all had multiple lineup changes. When drummer Jon Bonham died in 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded for good. On the flip side, Black Sabbath fired Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 and have seen multiple vocalists and musicians come and go.
Rammstein are more of a Led Zeppelin than a Black Sabbath in that sense, and they have all agreed to take breaks, pursue solo careers, etc at different times which probably contributes to their longevity.
With that in mind let’s take a look at another of Rammstein’s ballads.
2) Ohne Dich
The lyrical content in ‘Ohne Dich’ is similar in someways to ‘Rosenrot’. The Chorus when translated reads as:
Without you, I cannot be, without you
With you, I am alone too (Without you)
Without you, I count the hours without you
With you, the seconds stand still, they aren't worth it
It’s a very simple ballad about the obsession of love, and the pain of loneliness. In the video, we see the band featuring as mountaineers. It’s implied that Till Lindemann is the separate one, perhaps resented by the others because he is slowing them down. He gets injured, but instead of bringing him back down the mountain for some extremely vital first aid, they literally carry him to the top of the mountain. He presumably then dies (because that’s Metal). It’s a beautiful, poignant song. Ostensibly about being in love with a woman, it can also be about family or friends.
Rammstein disappeared for a while but returned with a bang in 2019 with the amazing and politically charged ‘Deutschland’. That self titled album was quickly followed by a lockdown album, ‘Zeit’. Masters of the polemic they released a song about the ravages of time with ‘Zeit’, a satire on plastic surgery with ‘Zick Zack’, and broadside against xenophobia with ‘Angst’.
Their latest single? Well… that’s about big tits.
I’m not finished writing about Rammstein. We’ll come back to them another time. Subscribe below so you don’t miss out.
Next week: Are you KVLT enough for this blog? I don’t think you are. You’ve probably never even listened to Mayhem’s ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ demos played on a mono speaker under a blood moon. AKA: Gatekeeping in Rock & Metal, why it’s annoying and why it happens.