What is Rammstein all about? Glorifying violence, fascism, pornography - or just playing dumb? Maybe the only thing that's certain about the band is that they've found the formula to make it to the top.
Rammstein debuted with their first single in 1995
Grinding guitars, flaming stage props and disturbing lyrics: the six punks of Rammstein - all from the former East Germany - have always known how to get attention.
They didn't set out in 1994 to be a band upholding "East German" stereotypes. They didn't want to be a western German one either, and definitely didn't want to be just another band singing in bad English.
After all, as guitarist Paul Landers put it, "When you follow in other people's footsteps, you don't leave any of your own tracks."
As luck would have it
The shock-rockers made a name for themselves by way of the soundtrack to David Lynch's film "Lost Highway," but they weren't originally on the director's radar at all.
Looking for a director to help them make their first video, the band sent their album to all of the filmmakers they knew from going to the movies. Lynch didn't end up directing Rammstein's video, but the band's song "Heirate mich" ("Marry me") accompanied a violent sex scene in Lynch's film.
Filmgoers couldn't believe their ears back in 1997 - was the band singing "Heil, Heil"? No way of knowing exactly what their artistic concept is, though, since the six members of Rammstein have steadfastly refused to talk about it since they started playing. But one thing's certain, every album they put out drives German moralists up the wall.
Flamethrowers are just as important as guitars when Rammstein hits the stage
Pomp and pyrotechnics
During shows, singer Till Lindemann likes to get his flame thrower a little too close for comfort to the audience and rolls his R's dramatically while singing - with the whole spectacle ultimately looking a bit like a setting from a Leni Riefenstahl film.
The lyrics involve murder, incest, sado-masochism, blood and decay, but there's a different mood in the macabre texts as well, the band's keyboarder, Flake, mused.
"They're just plain old romantic texts," he said, adding that he doesn't understand the alarm about his band glorifying violence.
"Every kid who's at least 16 years old has seen so much garbage on TV that we look like choirboys in comparison," Flake said.
Nevertheless, negative press comes along with every Rammstein album - a fact that seems to do little to deter the band.
Success story abroad
In 2006, the band put the gruesome story of a German man convicted of cannibalism to song, pairing it with a video and live show.
Fans go all out for the concerts, just like the band
"We're a six-part explosive," said Paul Landers. "The individual components are nothing special, but put them together, and you've got a chemical reaction."
The band's huge stage shows are like an overblown "Holiday on Ice" performance for fans with a dark take on life, but it's part of what's made the group Germany's most successful. They're able to fill stadiums across the world, often with fans singing along verbatim in German. They've even been nominated repeatedly for Grammy Awards.
But when it comes to the German press, Rammstein seems to have had its fill. They barely give interviews at home these days, and singer Till Lindemann refuses to speak with German journalists.
And when it comes to actually winning international prizes, it's easy to dismiss the six guys from Berlin for their lack of inventiveness: goose-step rhythms, repetitive guitar sounds and the same keyboard parts ad nauseum.
"When it comes to music, you can't really get anyone riled up," said drummer Christoph Schneider. "What are you going to do with music? It's all already been done."
A dubious achievement
The band's last release landed them on Germany's index of explicit material
"Liebe ist für alle da" ("Love is there for everyone") is Rammstein's latest release from 2009, and the band was out then to cause another stir. It seems the only follow-up to an anthem about cannibalism was outright pornography, if the video they filmed in a Berlin club to go along with the album is any indication.
Is it all just calculated provocation? Paul Landers doesn't see it that way. "I don't have a particularly complicated theory about why we made a porno as a music video," he said. "We did it to be dumb."
Rammstein's 2009 release landed them on the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons' (BPjM's) index. Then Federal Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen personally submitted the claim against the album after being alarmed by the album's content.
It had been over 20 years since a band's entire CD was placed on the index that restricts its sale to buyers under a certain age.
But, like always, the move led to more publicity for Rammstein, and their world tour following the release was completely sold out - with the icing on the cake being the concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, where all 12,000 tickets sold out in half an hour.
Author: Uli Jose Anders / gsw
Editor: Louisa Schaefer