The first taste of their eighth studio album, the Zeit video was packed with visual metaphors and allegories riffing on the theme of time. As part of our in-depth coverage of Rammstein's new album (coming in this month's new issue of Metal Hammer, on sale tomorrow), we grabbed director Robert Gwisdek to unpick the themes behind the video and find out what it was like working with one of metal's most iconoclastic acts.
How did you first become aware of Rammstein?
“I’m from East Germany, so you can’t grow up where I do without knowing Rammstein. I’ve always loved the ambiguity with the band too; you can’t pin them down lyrically or musically because they don’t do one thing. They keep so much back that you can’t help but feel fascinated by this Rammstein machine.”
How did you end up signing on to direct Zeit?
“Strangely enough, [Rammstein keyboardist] Flake is a fan of my band [Käptn Peng und die Tentakel von Delphi]. He came to see us live and invited me to go and play in his garage when he was putting an event on. We got to talking and became friends.
I was telling Flake about a movie I had just finished called The Boy Who Owns The World and he was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a new album on the way...’ They had a few completed songs and were getting directors to send ideas for what concepts they could bring. It was only like three months ago, so there was a huge rush to get it created, which was crazy, but I did it with my wife in-house, as we’re a young production company and work from home.”
So had you got the entire video planned from the outset?
“Because the song is about time, I knew I wanted the story to have an element of the dead coming back to life, then going through the journey of life. Originally the concept was that I’d de-age the band so they’d get younger and younger. They were really on board, but I’ve never really liked CGI or looked into it, so when it actually came to producing it I found out it was insanely expensive to do something like that. Not to mention time consuming!
I ended up with an idea that was more abstract, about living through different lives whilst finding visual beats that could bring everything together. We wanted it so you’d see them going through all these stages of life, seeing these whole other worlds before going back to the feminine principle.”
Did you watch any of their other videos in preparation for making Zeit?
“That was probably the hardest thing for me – I wasn’t aware of the sheer scale of what they’d done with Deutschland and Ausländer. When I said, ‘Yes, I’ll write something for you’ and then watched the videos and it was like, ‘Holy shit, this is huge’.”
What is the ‘story’ of Zeit?
“It’s not an A to B narrative, it’s a contemplation on the idea of time and its many aspects. Death, birth… It gives you something to ponder and works incredibly well with the lyrics themselves.”
Did Rammstein offer any guidance in terms of what images/symbols would be used in the video?
“There’s a lot of editing involved from the initial script, to re-writes and final edits, but they’re not the kind of band to just sit back without offering input. They really care about their art, but have a good balance so that they’re not stifling other people’s creativity.”
What was the scope of reference for all the symbolism throughout the video?
“I’ve always been more about symbols than references, so I don’t try to directly recreate anything when I’m creating a video – I might look at a painting and use that as a reference for how the sky is going to look, for example, but I won’t just recreate the painting.
For example, when they enter the sand world, it was important to find a way of expressing the idea of time without just turning it into the Grim Reaper or something. The mood we were emanating is this idea that the being is neutral, perhaps even comforting, taking you along like a guide. It lives beyond the realm of physicality, but is able to guide you through that. I wanted it to be dark, but not in a dangerous way.”
What was it like on set?
“They have a really good work ethic – they aren’t messing around, acting like rock stars and turning up late. They’re gentlemen to each and every person they deal with, so friendly and such a delight to work with, on all levels.”
What was the most difficult shot of the shoot?
“There were a few that were really hard to do. When the rope comes from underneath [Christoph] Schneider’s feet and goes up, they had to dive at least two feet down into the water and then hold completely still whilst also holding their breath so there would be no bubbles. You have a diver follow the rope down and it has to be timed perfect, but at the same time you’re working on multiple shots at a time because you can’t just rent out this huge in-door water tank forever."
It can't have been easy working with those sand-blasts either...
"The sand! For it to fall in the right way it needed to be dry and we were filming in the winter, so a lot of it got wet. We had to dry it for days to make sure it had the right consistency. One shot that didn’t work out how we’d planned was the huge sand tunnel that the girl goes into at the end. We had to build something so that it would be round, but not completely fall apart when the sand started hitting it.
It was a case of releasing it at the right point so it would fall in the right way and the original plan was for the girl to look up into the falling sand. Only, the machine we’d built to achieve that wasn’t able to get the right angle for the sand falling, so on the day of shooting it just kept going into her eyes and we had to abandon the idea. Instead we had the idea of her vanishing into the sand, which I’m really happy about now but at the time wasn’t sure it would work as well."
There's also stuff like the massive sand sculpture, which looks very intricate...
"That was built over a period of like 12 days by this guy Baldrick Buckle, a master sand carver. We were originally going to blow it up with explosives, but realised because it was located in this hall, if we blew it up we’d probably take the roof with it!
Instead we had to use air pressure and achieving that was much harder than we imagined, because there was clay inside the sand. We’d loaded it with all these pressure cannisters and it just wouldn’t fucking explode! Instead we had to carve holes from the back with pipes and air pressure canons then we’d be left with 35 tonnes of sand we couldn’t use in the final video."
But at least the band side of things was easier?
"Mostly, anyway! Some of the shots required some cool stunts, like the shot underwater where you can see all of them just before they get sucked back to the surface. To achieve that, they had to jump – in full costume – into the water from a rigged truss [a kind of scaffolding] which is about three metres high.
They’re supposed to all jump in at the same time, sink down and then play dead. There were wind machines and wave machines going crazy above, which meant it was extremely loud and as they were dropping one of the guys went sideways, landing on the legs of another. Two people in the band got pretty injured and they still finished the shoot even with a couple of days left to go. That’s how determined they are.”
What was your favourite shot of the shoot?
“The portraits of the band as they’re looking up at the sand flowing in reverse, right before it starts hitting them sideways. It’s really beautiful, but it was pretty painful for them to shoot because that’s real sand! They’re getting pelted with tiny stones in the face and there’s so much you can’t control, but they got the shot so perfect I could just watch it forever.”
How have people responded to the reverse birth sequence?
“I knew if I was playing with birth in a Rammstein video, it had to be graphic! We couldn’t make it soft it any way because that would go against what Rammstein do. It forces us to confront these things – especially as men – that we’d otherwise avoid. We’re so sexualised graphically, in so many ways, that you don’t see how humans come into the world."
What do Rammstein mean as a cultural force in Germany in 2022?
“Rammstein are still evolving. They’re not like other huge, old bands that are like, ‘Hey, we’re still here’ and doing the same things they did 20, 30 years ago. They have an edge and are still expanding. People think they know Rammstein because of videos like Pussy or Deutschland, but then they’ll do something like surfing in a tiny boat while waving an LGBTQ+ flag. They aren’t being left behind by the times, they’ve turned towards progress.”
What do you think Rammstein mean to the world in 2022?
“There was a huge article in a German newspaper that basically talked about how during a time where there are wars starting, we have these images of children holding guns at each other, reminding us that we’re all somebody’s children. Who’d have thought this band who’ve played with violence so much would be comforting us in a time where we’re all so unsure of the world?”
What do you think of the album, from what you’ve heard of it?
“My two favourite tracks are Lügen and Angst. There’s even autotune in Lügen which is so perfect, because Till is singing about lying – it’s a funny and touching twist. Angst is just a fucking banger!”
Zeit is out April 29. Read more about the making of the album in our 8-page coverage in the new issue of Metal Hammer, on-sale April 28.