That’s just not the case, though. Since their humble beginnings from a recently reunified Germany in 1994, singing about everything from cannibals to paedophiles, frequently (and falsely) accused of far-right sympathies, they’ve constantly defied expectations and become the hottest ticket in heavy music.
At its core, this is industrial metal. But inside the machine, there’s a beating heart. Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers take on the riffs, doing an awful lot with scant chords; Oliver Riedel and Christoph Schneider comprise the rhythm section, delivering finger-picked basslines and crunching 4/4 drumbeats respectively; and Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz holds the fort on keyboards, more often than not while evading some sort of elaborate booby trap designed to humiliate him on-stage.
That’s all tied down by the enigmatic Till Lindemann: a lyrical magpie who takes influence from everything between leftist political anthems and Michael Gambon movies, his silken baritone instantly recognisable and often misunderstood, thanks to a penchant for the double entendre. A man so idiosyncratic, his signature stage move of bashing his thighs in time with the music has been dubbed ‘The Till Hammer’ by fans.
There’s more than meets the eye with Rammstein – their stage show is musical satire on a stadium level, lovelorn lyrics surfing atop a sea of flamethrowers, penis cannons, exploding babies, treadmills, Segways, fire-spewing exoskeletons, milk-squirting dildos and whatever else they feel like using to rile up good-natured folk.
But all that means nothing without the songs. Thankfully, they’ve seven albums’ worth of classics to back that up. The lovely readers of Louder seem to think so too, as thousands upon thousands of you voted in our poll to determine the best Rammstein song of all time.
So strap yourself in, or on, and dive into the Rammstein’s top 50. Best wear protection.
50. Das Modell (Das Modell single, 1997)
Of course they do a Kraftwerk cover. Paying homage to the electropop pioneers with a Rammsteined-up version of The Model, you’re treated with that taut, staccato guitar crunch alongside Christoph’s four-to-the-floor thumpery and Flake’s cutesy, hyper-rave rendition of the iconic keyboard pattern – oh, and there’s some slide guitar thrown in for good measure. As a cover, it’s a wee bit predictable, but imperiously executed nonetheless.
49. Rein Raus (Mutter, 2001)
Musically, this is one of the simpler songs from Rammstein’s third record, Mutter. But that’s in no way a bad thing. If anything, its punishing, Ministry-esque riff is a potent reminder of Rammstein’s stupidly high quality threshold, even when doing a ‘safe’ track. In the words of the late, great and usually irate music journalist Steven Wells: “It’s all like shouting […] URK! ARK! UMLAUT RAUS! […] and killer riffs and fucking blowing shit the fuck up.” Who can argue with that?
48. Kokain (Das Modell single, 1997)
Playing B-side to Das Modell’s single, Kokain hides sing-along chants betwixt metronomic guitar chuggery and louche, understated club beats. Till’s never had the most versatile range, yet his vocal tic prior to the three minute mark serves as one of the greatest little nuances he’s ever smashed into a recording device.
47. Was Ich Liebe (Rammstein, 2019)
The mid-point of Rammstein’s untitled, seventh album seemed a jarring choice to open their first-ever stadium tour. It’s a lumbering, brooding piece that swells to Till’s monumental proclamation of ‘Was ich liebe!’ (‘What I love’), with heart-on-sleeve lyrics pilfered from his poetry collection, In Stillen Nächten. On paper, that just doesn’t work. It’s too subdued. Too slight. In practice, Was Ich Liebe was absolutely the right way to introduce the members on stage one-by-one, all smoke, shiny gold faces and, in Till’s case, some seriously sharp snakeskin threads.
46. Wo Bist Du (Rosenrot, 2005)
Rammstein’s fifth album, Rosenrot, was originally floated as Reise, Reise Vol. 2, due to the fact half its material comes from the sessions for Reise, Reise: their record from the year prior. Wo Bist Du is one such song, and while its mournful, E-flat minor keys do a cracking job at accentuating those subtle choral parts, you can see why it was left off Reise, Reise – it lives a much fuller life amidst Rosenrot’s solemn lot.
45. Halleluja (Links 2-3-4 single, 2001)
Cut from the same cloth as Mutter’s A-sides, Halleluja begins as a freakish sibling to Rein Raus before slapping you with that chorus, during which a harrowing, child-like warble etches the name of the song. It’s like those highs in Sonne, but infinitely creepier. An overblown organ rears its head and, coupled with thematic tones of corruption within the Catholic Church, it’s no wonder this song ended up on the Resident Evil soundtrack.
44. Zwitter (Mutter, 2001)
Departing from Till’s usual bassy choruses, Zwitter’s main sing-along glistens against your ear-holes in a high-pitched, dare-we-say nice fashion. If taken literally, the song’s about a hermaphrodite. If you delve further into the wordplay, though, Zwitter appears to be a retelling of the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus: the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, who fell in love with the naiad Salmacis. They wanted to be together so much, the gods united their physical forms in one androgynous lump. Quite sweet, coming from a band famous for violent, simulated on-stage sodomy.
43. Stirb Nicht Vor Mir (Don’t Die Before I Do) (Rosenrot, 2005)
Another Rosenrot ballad, and one that’s often got an unfair shake of the stick due to Texas singer Sharleen Spiteri’s impassioned guest vocals, sung in English against Till’s sombre German. Flake even went on record saying “The English version is not good… it’s just embarrassing” – while that’s a bit harsh, Stirb Nicht Vor Mir is certainly an oddity in the Rammstein can(n)on. And that’s what makes it great.
42. Dalai Lama (Reise, Reise, 2004)
The third track from Rammstein’s fourth album is not about the Dalai Lama – it’s about aeroplanes. It’s also one of Reise, Reise’s more sonically unsettling moments, Till’s whisper jumping to a roar through its five-minute run-time. While Flake’s delicate keys certainly add to the murkiness, Dalia Lama is a superb showing from Paul and Richard, their painfully simple riffs heavier than most death metal bands you’d care to mention.
41. Stripped (For The Masses, 1998)
Depeche Mode and pinched harmonics. Shouldn’t really work, should it? Nobody told Rammstein, and we’re rather chuffed they didn’t. Originally released on the For The Masses Depeche Mode tribute album, Stripped marked Till’s first full foray into English, shortening the refrain due to ‘Let me see you stripped down to the bone’ being a mouthful. While it’s a cover the original artist actually gave a thumbs-up to, not everyone was best pleased. Probably because Rammstein used clips from Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 propaganda film, Olympia, in the accompanying music video.