Rammstein is ready to heat up
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The German heavy metal group’s songs are in its native tongue. But its thundering riffs and heavy pyrotechnics have the act translating quite well to U.S. audiences.
In the pantheon of heavy metal, the members of German sextet Rammstein are the gods of fire.
The group — singer Till Lindemann, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers, keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz, bassist Oliver Riedel and drummer Christoph Schneider — is famous for concerts with enough pyrotechnics to shame KISS in its heyday. Towering columns of flame erupt from the stage, and smoldering arrows are shot out into the audience. Lindemann might perform an entire song clad in a burning overcoat.
For Rammstein’s sold-out show at the Forum on Friday, flamethrowers are standing by.
“The singer, Till, doesn’t know what to do when he’s not singing,” Schneider said recently speaking by phone from Chicago, when asked how the band developed its extravagant theatrical flourishes. “He doesn’t like to interact with the audience in the usual ways, like saying hello.”
Formed by the East German-born musicians after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rammstein enjoyed its first success in the United States with the driving dark anthem “Du Hast.” That song, which featured the group’s signature mix of thundering riffs and Lindemann’s Teutonic baritone, earned a Grammy nomination in 1999 for best metal performance. The band played on the 1998 Family Values Tour with Korn and Limp Bizkit and had a cameo appearance in the 2002 Vin Diesel action movie “XXX,” making the group one of the few acts singing in a language other than English or Spanish to appeal to American audiences.
“I think one of the reasons is that this type of language goes very well with heavy metal music,” said Schneider, who said he grew up listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. “We always get this reaction where people say even if they don’t understand everything that we’re singing about they’re attracted by the music, just the way it sounds. For me, it the same when I was a kid and all the music I liked was all English language. I didn’t get it what they were singing about. I had my own fantasy of what they might be singing about.”
Although the band continued to write and record albums — its sixth studio effort “Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da” was released in 2009 — its current sojourn marks the first time the group has toured the United States in 10 years. The musicians felt limited by the size of the venues they were playing in the country, Schneider said, compared with the stadiums they would routinely fill in the rest of the world. “The United States is so big, and there are so many cities to play,” he said. “You play everywhere, you’re gone for two months and longer. For me it wasn’t a problem to go on tour here, but some of the other guys they have family, they felt more like they wanted to stay in Europe.”
In December, the group opted to return to America and played to a capacity crowd in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Schneider said he and his fellow musicians were surprised to find that their fan base had grown, bolstered perhaps by their reputation as a live act or their controversial music videos.
One clip, for a single with a title unsuitable for a family newspaper, debuted on pornographic websitesand depicted at least some of the band members engaged in coitus with adult film stars.
“We had different reactions from our family backgrounds,” Schneider said, acknowledging the extreme nature of the explicit imagery. “From an artistic point of view, it was the right thing to do for that song. We definitely provoke sometimes when we do videos. We never know how far we go. It’s a typical band dynamic. There are guys in the band who would always go the craziest way they could go.
Sometimes it’s maybe a bit much. We mostly find a very good balance.”
With each tour, Schneider said Rammstein feels pressure to top the visuals it presented on previous outings, which makes for increasingly elaborate costumes — Lindemann’s current costume paints him as a mad cannibal butcher with wild eyes and a red-leather smock — and, of course, more explosive effects. No doubt some of that firepower will be deployed during the group’s appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” set to air early Friday morning.
It makes one wonder, does Schneider ever fear for his safety?
“Not really. You have to take care and know what to do,” said the percussionist nonchalantly. “You have to know where to stay otherwise maybe you come too close to any fire effects. For me as a drummer,it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to move at all.”
-- Gina McIntyre
Images: Till Lindemann; Rammstein in concert outside of Chicago. Credits: Andrew A. Nelles / For the Chicago Tribune