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'Tis the season for sonic hellfire

What better way to ring in the Yuletide spirit this year than to go see Krammpstein, "the world's No. 1 Krampus industrial metal act," a bizarre, visually explosive twin tribute to German rockers Rammstein and Austrian folklore legend Krampus. Back by popular demand, this is the second holiday season that Krammpstein has stormed the Complex in Glendale in what is fast appearing to be a new holiday tradition. It's just one of many signs that Europe's peculiar Christmastime Krampus legend is finally taking hold in America.

Also known as "the Christmas Devil," Krampus has been celebrated for centuries in Austria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Northern Italy and other parts of the Continent, but the gruesome demon is just starting to gain traction here in the States with a series of events that combine a post-Halloween fervor for dressing up to the hilt with our own American love of damnation. Forget about naughty or nice. Krampus, often portrayed with cloven hooves, fangs and horns, is solely concerned with who has been naughty. Instead of coming down the chimney with a bag of toys, Krampus roams the streets with a washtub strapped to his back, which he uses to cart off bad kids — to drown them, eat them or take them straight to Hell, all before Santa can accidentally reward them.

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One of the main ways Europeans celebrate Krampus is through a Krampuslauf, a schnapps-guzzling fest where everyone dresses as their favorite sadistic beast. Enter Krammpstein, a local seven-piece metal act who has taken it upon itself to bring this celebration to a new generation, complete with music that's as aggressive as you'd expect from a band paying homage to a punishing fiend. "Krammpstein is a force of both nature and industry," explains frontman and former Green Jellÿ alum Bis Esverletzmann (not his real name, in case you were wondering). "We invoke the raw energy of untamed Bavarian pagan spirits, as well as the driving beat and mechanized precision of industrialized society."

Serious stuff, but the shows are mostly hellacious fun. Visually, Krammpstein makes bands like KISS and Gwar seem like mortgage brokers on casual Friday. The unsettling masks and tails are perhaps the logical end-point of what was once called Devil's Music. In fact, the Krampus legend himself was one of the first progenitors of the long, lolling, pointed tongue, by now a rock 'n' roll staple, so the archetype has come full circle. The Krammpstein audience has been known to get decked out for the celebration, too — in horns, pelts, leather, and more. As much performance art and communal gathering as concert, the Burning Man-like jamboree captures not only the dark dread of Krampus but the silly side, too. After all, Krampus intends to spook bad European kids as the 25th approaches, but the kids are usually thrilled to be spooked. Stateside, the Krampus phenomenon is more cartoon than occult, but as Bis explains, this alternate take on Christmas is quickly catching fire. "It's become more of the cultural zeitgeist now," he says. "You're seeing Krampus cards and Krampus horror movies. It's springing onto the national scene."

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For those familiar with Rammstein's trademark sound, also known as the Neue Deutsche Härte, it's hard to imagine Christmas sentiments of any kind being sung over their churning metallic onslaught. Still, Krammpstein songs like "Kinder," "Schnauzenrot" and "Der Norden Pole", all sung to Rammstein melodies, are surprisingly catchy underneath the industrial speed-crunch. And though the sound is ultramodern in its abrasive way, Krammpstein are, at heart, traditionalists. Their lyrics — delicately written in German with Google Translate since Bis is not a native speaker — make the case for reinjecting the original old-fashioned Euro energy of Christmas into our over-the-top consumerism.

"Our song Der Norden Pole is about the Americanization of the holiday season around the world," explains Bis. "German traditions such as St. Nicholas, and the Christkind — a blonde woman with angel wings who represents the baby Jesus and brings presents — are being lost in favor of the glitzier American-style Christmas, complete with Santa." In one verse, sung in German but translated here, Krammpstein cut to the heart of America's crass commercialism by painting a dark portrait of Santa's modern workshop: "The workstations all are ringing / With the sounds of elven hammers swinging / We don't call it forced labor / We tolerate their drunkenness / We're planning a lovely Christmas / Help us out, if you can / Cooperation is a must / Decorations go up in August!"

Another song, "Wollt Ihr Den Tannen in Flammen Sehen" seems to address the flammability of Christmas trees. Not exactly "Jingle Bell Rock."

Still, messages notwithstanding, the show is the main thing, and Saturday's Krammpstein performance promises to be a scorcher, complete with what they describe as "hellfire, brutal thrashings, snow, confetti and Christmas cookies." It's a fast education for anybody who wants to know the evil ways of Krampus. As Bis puts it, "We do our best to make sure that anyone who comes to our show not only enjoys themselves, but walks away shaking their head trying to figure out what they've just seen."

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Opening for Krammpstein are Marilyn Krampson, along with Alpine audio and Bavarian beats from Daniel Graves of Aesthetic Perfection, a group from Los Angeles by way of Salzburg, Austria.

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DANIEL WEIZMANN

is a Los Angeles writer and previous contributor to Marquee.

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Infobox
What: Krampstein
Where: Complex, 806 E Colorado St, Glendale.
When: Saturday, Dec. 20, 9 p.m.
More info: (323) 642-7519, complexla.com

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