Sunday, March 31, 2019

Rammstein's Deutschland Video - Shocked or Awed?

So, hey; let's talk about that new Rammstein video.

A decade after their last album, Liebe ist für alle da, the German industrial goth rockers finally have a new, if titleless, album scheduled for release on May 17. Last week they released a thirty-second clip of the video for their first single, Deutschland, that depicted members of the band standing beneath a gallows, their heads in nooses, in the uniforms of WWII concentration camp prisoners.

On Thursday the full video premiered, garnering 350,000 views almost before it finished streaming - three days later it has almost reached 18 million. It depicts the more violent moments of German history in a graphic enough fashion that it is treated as age-restricted material. It opens with Roman legionnaires fighting Gauls, highlights armoured knights of the middle ages and into the modern era with both world wars, the era of the Communist East and the Bader-Meinhof gang before delving into the future onboard a spaceship.

Deutschland is one of the most impressive music videos ever produced, and I'm not saying that as a fan of the band; I'm saying it as a fan of the medium I've adored for three-and-a-half-decades. Yes, it is graphic, and yes, it is provocative, but it is also insightful, thought-provoking and genuine. Brilliantly shot by director Specter Berlin (and I don't care if that is a fake name, it is boss), this video boasts costumes, sets and cinematography the equal of just about anything Hollywood produced last year.

But everyone is talking about the indignation instead.

Everyone from the BBC to Canada's own Global News is posting headlines like"German rock band causes outrage with Nazi imagery." I mean, how often does the Israeli Foreign Ministry feel the need to release a statement about a rock music video?
“This Rammstein clip, using the Holocaust for advertisement purposes, is shameful and uncalled for,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted. “We join the many voices calling for its immediate removal.”

Now, this is actually beginning to wind me up a bit, despite my best efforts to remain bemused, but I just want to bring up a few salient points here in case someone in your proximity starts clutching their pearls about it or tries talking smack about a video they probably haven't even watched.

1) The band are loving this
Rammstein are clearly believers in Oscar Wilde's maxim that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. They do not shy away from controversy, they wade into it, presumably while wearing terrifying or ridiculous headgear and no pants. The lead video for their previous album was a full-on porno, released on an adults-only website and featuring Oscar-worthy editing of the band and their body doubles.

If there weren't high-fives going around the Universal Music offices in Berlin on Friday, I'd be shocked and disappointed. As far as the band's concerns over this alleged outrage, I think this magazine cover probably says it best: "25 years. Zero f*cks."

2) You did not-zee this coming
For 25 years now people have asked if the loud scary German band are Nazis, and for 25 years they've refuted it, most notably in the song Links 2 3 4, which stresses in every chorus that "my heart beats left." Since the band appear as both prisoners and their Nazi captors in this video, we've been spared this tired argument, at least for the time being.

3) No glorification here
Deutschland's video is an intriguing examination of Germany's history and its often violent past, and the mixed feelings the band (and many others, I'm certain) have about their homeland. I don't know how you could possibly do that and not include a reference to the Holocaust. I think the approach they take is sensible and balanced: the band plays the roles of both the prisoners and their SS captors, who are joined by their country's female personification Germania (actress Ruby Commey).

I think it is also worth noting that the four prisoners all have different insignia on their prison garb, of which I only recognize three: the yellow Star of David worn by Jews, the pink triangle identifying gay men, and the yellow and red triangles signifying a Jewish political prisoner. I'm not sure what Flake is wearing, but it appears distinct from the others. Since none of the band are either Jewish or gay, I can only presume they are making an intentional statement about how comprehensive the Nazi persecution was.

And hey, how satisfying is it when the tables get turned on the captors in the end, right? Hardly a glorious end for that lot.

4) Art vs. commerce, round 7,213,859
Regardless of whether Rammstein are endorsing National Socialism or not (and let's be clear: they aren't) or boosting fascism (again: no), there are those who resent the fact that the band are using shock tactics to (gasp) sell records!

Well, of course they are (see 1) above if you've forgotten), but I don't think they are doing so crassly or irresponsibly. I think it would be nice if Rammstein's critics considered at least the possibility that these record-sellers are also actually artists. In fact, they have as much right to the title of "recording artists" as any of the other sell-outs out there.

Can an artist explore dark topics and disturbing themes with honesty and candor but also turn a buck or two in the process? One likes to hope so; like Don Barzini says in The Godfather, "after all, we are not communists."

5) Wait, so you're all right with the other stuff they've sung about then?
Frankly, anyone waiting until now to be offended by Rammstein really has not been paying attention. Their past songs and videos have incorporated themes of murder, rape, incest, arson, terrorism, pyromania, necrophilia, substance abuse and cannibalism. In all honesty, their lyrics tend to run a fairly narrow band between horrifying and banal, which is why I only rarely look up the translations to their songs anymore. Deutschland is a bit of a stand-out though:
[Strophe 2]
I (You have, you have, you have, you have)
I never want to leave you (You cry, you cry, you cry, you cry)
One can love you (You love, you love, you love, you love)
And want to hate you (You hate, you hate, you hate, you hate)
Presumptuous, superior
Take over, hand over/puke
Surprise, assault
Germany, Germany over all

Germany – my heart in flames
Want to love and condemn you
Germany – your breath cold
So young, and yet so old
Germany – your love
Is boon and bane
Germany – my love
I can't give youGermany!
6) Is the offence taken in itself offensive?
Here's the part I can't laugh about: the idea that artists can't depict a tragic moment in history for the purpose of exploring it in whatever medium while at the same time real-life Nazism is on the upswing is completely stultifying to me.

White nationalism and white supremacy are on the rise across Europe and North America alike, national socialist and racist iconography are popping up more and more often, and hate crimes are increasing at a rate not seen in years. But no, let's get our collective panties in a bunch because in the course of depicting nine different eras of violent European history, four members of a band willingly dressed up as oppressed minorities and pretended to be hung by two other bandmates, while the personification of Germany overseeing the whole thing was portrayed by a woman of colour. Really?

I am willing to concede the point that effectively putting the extermination of six million humans on par with the comparatively minor impacts of the Red Army Faction is a questionable decision, but good grief -give your heads a shake and get your priorities in order, folks.

Now, I fully understand that Rammstein is not a band for everyone, but if you don't mind your music with a little hardness and your rock videos with enough edge to potentially cut yourself on, by all means, check out the video for Deutschland - it has depth for days. So much so, in fact, that there have already been some intriguing articles attempting to unpack all the imagery and meaning, such as this one from All Things Loud that is packed with historical insights, this one by an Oxford professor, or Deutsches Welt's inquiry: "Rammstein video furore: Far-right clickbait or anti-fascist art?"

In the meantime, please let me know when the making-of video for Deutschland is released. I'm going to go get my pre-order in for the new album and then start praying for tour dates within driving distance.


  1. Video is spectacular. Song is powerful. I got the anti-fascist message so why can't other people? Head slap and sigh.

  2. I wonder if the Israeli Foreign Ministry would have the same criticism for Schindler's List, or any of the other movies about concentration camps. They all made money too.