Germany's biggest rock export, Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein burst onto the international radar in the late '90s with their breakthrough sophomore set, 1997's Sehnsucht, and its accompanying hit single "Du Hast." With their aggressive blend of heavy metal riffs, dramatic orchestration, and synth-forward electronic production, the band quickly evolved from a sonic novelty into a reliably hard-hitting machine that never shied away from controversy. Following the chart-topping success of 2001's Mutter, Rammstein became a fixture at the top of the German charts in a decades-long career that secured a devoted international following, multiple platinum-certified albums, and no less than a dozen number one singles. Despite language barriers, they even maintained a consistent chart presence in the U.K. and U.S., reaching a Top 20 peak in 2009 with sixth effort Liebe Ist Für Alle Da. Though absent from the studio for almost a decade, they kept fans sated with consistent touring between albums, bringing their incendiary live performances across the globe into the late 2010s. In 2019, with ten years separating releases, Rammstein staged a comeback with their seventh set, Untitled, which topped the charts around the world.
Formed in 1993 by an assembly of factory-weary proletarians raised in East Germany, the sextet is comprised of hulking vocalist and one-time Olympic swimming hopeful Till Lindemann, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel, drummer Christoph Schneider, and keyboardist Christian "Flake" Lorenz. They originally took their name from a United States Air Force base in Germany where 80 people were injured or killed as the result of a crash during an air show. However, as their popularity increased, they tried to distance themselves from the tragedy, opting for the literal translation of "stone battering ram." That latter description was apt, as the band's brand of muscular metal hits just as hard. The group's first album, 1995's Herzeleid, combined metal riffs with early Depeche Mode-inspired sheen and a faint Euro-disco heartbeat. Two tracks from the album -- "Heirate Mich" and "Rammstein" -- would help break the band in the United States when Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor included them on the soundtrack to David Lynch's film Lost Highway. Word of Rammstein's on-stage antics -- which included the use of heavy pyrotechnics and over-the-top theatrics -- began to spread, just in time for the release of their sophomore set.
Sehnsucht arrived in 1997 and would prove to be the battering ram that busted down the gates of the international market. Including their most iconic song, "Du Hast," Sehnsucht topped the German charts upon release and landed Rammstein opening slots for KMFDM and the inaugural Family Values tour, which included Korn, Ice Cube, Orgy, and Limp Bizkit. Despite the obvious language barrier, the band soon found themselves on MTV's TRL and received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. The album would eventually go platinum in the United States. They released their first live album, Live Aus Berlin, in 1999 and quickly returned to the studio for its follow-up.
Riding the wave of success spawned from Sehnsucht's surprise international performance, Rammstein returned with Mutter in 2001. Whereas Herzeleid debuted a band focused on fusion and Sehnsucht further developed their hybrid metal sound, Mutter would solidify Rammstein as a formidable force, incorporating lush orchestral layers to their riffs-and-rhythms attack. Darker and more dramatic than its predecessors, the album spawned six singles -- including "Links 2-3-4," "Sonne," "Ich Will," and "Feuer Frei!" -- and their most expensive music videos to date. Mutter topped the charts in Germany and Austria and charted internationally, reaching number 77 in the United States. The band embarked on yet another international tour, amplifying the danger and excitement with even bigger pyrotechnic arrangements.
In 2004, Rammstein released the first of a pair of albums recorded during the same sessions. Reise, Reise contained more of the orchestral atmospherics found on Mutter, while expanding Rammstein's linguistic wheelhouse with the addition of an English chorus on the satirical "Amerika" and a Russian flourish courtesy of Estonian singer Viktoria Fersh on the apocalyptic "Moskau." A year later, the band released the companion album Rosenrot, which included a handful of songs from the Reise sessions. Originally titled Reise, Reise: Vol. Two, Rosenrot featured some of Rammstein's heaviest and hardest-hitting songs, a duet with Texas' Sharleen Spiteri, and a foray into Spanish with Carmen Zapata on the deranged mariachi-metal "Te Quiero Puta!" The album crashed the Top Ten in nearly 15 countries, peaking at number 47 in the United States. Their third release in as many years, Volkerball, was a three-disc CD/DVD collection that chronicled their 2005 world tour. It included recordings from France, England, Japan, and Russia, and went to number one in Germany, Finland, Mexico, and Russia.
Rammstein remained relatively quiet in the years that followed. They wouldn't return until 2009 with Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, their first collection of new material in five years and sixth studio LP overall. Pushing the limits of their delightfully tacky and perverse sense of humor, a limited edition of the album was packed in a metal suitcase that also housed six sex toys, precisely molded after each member of the band. Further stoking controversy, the video for lead single "Pussy" -- starring actual adult film stars -- made its debut online and the album was slapped with a censorship label in Germany for its album artwork. Liebe would be Rammstein's highest-charting album to date, topping nine European charts and finally breaking the band into the Top 15 of the Billboard 200. The accompanying international tour was a massive success, selling out Madison Square Garden in minutes (commemorated on their 2015 concert documentary Rammstein in Amerika) and prompting the addition of another leg of American dates.
After 16 eventful years, Rammstein released their first greatest-hits collection in 2011. Made in Germany 1995-2011 included a disc of their biggest songs (and new track "Mein Land") as well as a remix album and DVDs of all their music videos (and the making-ofs). In the years that followed, they would continue to play one-off dates and headline festivals around the world. Another concert video, Rammstein: Paris, made a run in cinemas in 2016 before seeing widespread release the following year as a DVD and live album.
In 2019, a decade after their previous release, the band unveiled a new era with the single "Deutschland" and its controversial music video that focused on Germany's past and possible future. The song quickly shot to number one in Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland. After the release of second single "Radio," Rammstein issued their seventh studio effort, Untitled, which was co-produced by Olsen Involtini (Emigrate). The set soared to the top spot in over a dozen markets, topping charts across Europe and rising to number nine on the Billboard 200, their highest showing to date. In the wake of the album's success, the band charted an international stadium tour for 2020, which was postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
© Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo