Rammstein didn’t get to the top of the heavy metal doggy-pile by being nice boys singing nice songs. The Berlin six-piece have pushed, humped (ouch) and often set fire to the envelope since forming in 1994, and naturally pissed off a fair few folk along the way. Ausländer, released 25 years after their formation, proved that a bunch of middle-aged men playing industrial metal still had the wit and want to wind people up – including high-ranking members of the Russian government.
Ausländer arrived in the middle of Rammstein fever. After their previous record, 2009’s Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, nearly broke the band up; after guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe had teased that whatever they released next might be the last thing they ever put to tape; after a decade of excruciating will-they, won’t-they to-and-fro, Rammstein were back with a seventh, untitled album.
The first single, Deutschland, caused its fair share of controversy when it dropped in March 2019: having your band members dress up as holocaust victims in a music video will do that, even if the pathos driving the song was bang on the money. Radio came next, examining the censorship of Western music, art and culture by the German Democratic Republic – something the members of Rammstein lived through behind the Berlin Wall.
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All heavy, horrid stuff – and that’s just the first two songs on the record. When the album was finally released on May 17, 2019, that couplet was followed up by Zeig Dich, which effectively calls out paedophiles within the Catholic Church. Elsewhere, you’ve got vocalist Till Lindemann singing about murder, rape, stalkers and heartache in that idiosyncratically melancholy way only he can – it’s one of the main factors that set this band apart from other German industrialists like KMFDM and Eisbrecher. The empathy, the sadness, the feels.
That apparent lack of baggage is what made Ausländer such a red herring. Initially, for us Neanderthal, English-speaking monolinguists, it seemed like a bit of a laugh in the context of the album – on the surface, it was light-hearted. Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz goes full-on Eurotrash with his hyperactive keyboards and clippetty hand-clap effects, as if Pitbull is mere seconds away from leaping into the chorus and shouting ‘Mr. Worldwide!’; the rhythm section lays down a simplistic, juddering bedrock for Till to fire off brash ‘sleep with me, yeah?’ proclamations in various languages such as Russian, French, Spanish, Italian and – yes, for us at the back! – English.
At first glance, the song’s about one-night stands. Till’s character travels the world, waxing the local tongue to lure women into bed, despite fudging his German at the end. “Ich bin ausländer” = ‘I am a foreigner’. Till is the ausländer, getting by and getting off with only Duolingo and the libido of a rabbit who’s all out of carrots. So far, so silly. But of course, this is Rammstein. And in typical Rammstein fashion, the ensuing music video opened a whole other can of würste.
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Directed by Jörn Heitmann, the clip landed a week or so after the album, just as the band embarked on their first ever stadium tour. The short sees our lucky lads arrive on shores unknown in a rubber dinghy, all suited, booted and ready to colonise. And they do just that, in a series of ludicrous exploits, which include guitarist Richard trying to shoot a butterfly with an automatic rifle, and Till teaching Spanish to the indigenous natives. Inevitably, they end up shagging, leaving a litter of blonde-haired babies in their wake. It’s a piss-take, a dressing-down of the colonialist West by a famously left-wing band, all the while building layers upon layers – the dinghy being an obvious reference to the European refugee crisis.
The actual sentiment is up for debate. Some wager it’s a jab at sex tourism, similar to their 2009 nonsense of a song, Pussy; others reckon the wham, bam, thankyou ma’am nature of the lyrics is more an allegory for the colonialism you see in the video – sexual encounters equating to conquering uncharted territory, as it were.
The debate, the accusations, the shallow debasement of Rammstein as ‘just a shock rock band’ came thick and fast, as usual. Rather than post a flaccid apology or explain the nuance of the song and video, what the band did next cemented Ausländer as their definitive socio-political statement, in a career littered with them.
Across the aforesaid, sold-out stadium tour, which was seen by 1.3 million people across 31 dates during 2019, the track played a poignant role. Having just finished a stripped-back version of Engel on the small ‘B’-stage in the middle of the audience, they would sail back to the main stage on rubber dinghies.
In Chorzow, Poland, drummer Christoph ‘Doom’ Schneider and guitarist Paul Landers proudly flew rainbow flags in solidarity with the country’s LGBTQ community – this coming just weeks after the Bialystok Pride Parade, during which far-right protesters threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at those marching. At their Milton Keynes show in the UK, Christoph could be seen waving a dinky EU flag in his dinghy, during a time when the future of the Brexit project balanced on a leadership election.
Till welcomed his bandmates to the stage with his knackered ‘Willkommen’ sign from the video, helping them from their boats. They played the song. It was great. Obviously. Then, on several dates, as Paul and Richard strummed the elongated outro, just as the final note rang, they shared a short kiss on the lips.
Which, if you know anything about Rammstein, is quite tame. They’re the most performatively homoerotic, straight-guys-baiting-homophobes act since Turbonegro. But staging that kiss in Russia, a country with a staunchly anti-LGBTQ government? Not the warmest of responses from certain corners. Vitaly Milonov, a senior Russian politician, branded the band “idiots” following their Moscow performance towards the end of the tour, saying: "If they think it possible to behave in such a way, they should also consider it possible to keep this garbage away from us.”
Much like Amerika and Links 2-3-4 before it, Ausländer is a classic example of a Rammstein song being so much more than just a catchy bop – its impact has only increased since release, morphing from a club-ready banger into the soundtrack for protest.
And honestly, which other bands of their era can you say that about? Marilyn Manson wasn’t doing anything transgressive in 2019. Neither were Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Nine Inch Nails. Twenty-five years deep, Rammstein were still churning out urgent art that made people think. Ausländer is the gold standard.