When Team Hammer piled into Milton Keynes' Stadium MK for the latest date in Rammstein's stadium tour, we expected it to be epic. But we didn't expect it to be quite this epic.
Packed to the brim with fans (every date in Rammstein's 2019 stadium tour quickly sold out; their 2020 stadium dates aren't far behind), we were treated to a performance that could only have come from the most innovative and fearless minds in modern metal.
This review almost didn't happen. Thanks to an unfortunate misunderstanding surrounding our Rammstein cover story, Hammer weren't actually officially invited tonight. But we went along anyway, and we've written about the show not as reviewers, but as fans – which is how shows like this are meant to be enjoyed anyway.
Here are the things we learned.
It was easily the best metal show a stadium has ever seen
From the towering, industrial nightmare of a set to the endless jets of flame, plumes of black smoke, stunning light show and, yes, confetti, this was a show for the ages – Rammstein planting their flag loudly and once again confirming themselves as the biggest and best show in rock music. Twenty five years in and the Teutonic titans are inexplicably still raising their own bar.
Was a quiet night in with Rammstein last night. pic.twitter.com/8H00YaAYBLJuly 7, 2019
The staging is from another planet
Rammstein's staging is something else. Have you ever seen a stage set that was actually bigger than the stadium it was in? You have now.
As you approach Stadium MK, two huge metallic fins are visible rising from the bowels of the arena, and once inside it feels like you're inside some sort of vast alien amphitheatre. It's the kind of construction special effects wizards spend thousands of hours constructing from CGI, but it's real, and you're in the middle. It's part Mad Max, part oil rig, part Mutoid Waste Company summer BBQ.
Did somebody mention pyrotechnics?
During Sonne, it feels like you're standing in the middle of burning oil fields. Flames belch into the sky with a degree of ferocity that make you question not only your own safety but the sanity of whoever put this thing together. Add that to the acrid black smoke that curls into the sky, the cauldron, the canon and the colossal pram, and you're left with a show that batters the senses and blows the mind. It's literally staggering.
Hello old friend 😍#rammstein were unreal. 8th time seeing them and they never fail to suprise or deliver. pic.twitter.com/Axo8S8CY2RJuly 7, 2019
But not all pyro is good pyro
As we stand amid the plumes of acrid smoke on this particularly warm evening, we can't help but wonder about the junk being pumped into the air above Milton Keynes. Rammstein have made their name from their eyebrow-singeing stage shows, and it is admittedly spectacular, but pyro spews metal particles, dangerous toxins, harmful chemicals and smoke into the environment, and being only 40-or-so miles away from London – a city which has recently amped up its congestion charge because its air pollution is criminally bad – we're vaguely surprised Extinction Rebellion haven't set up camp outside.
Rammstein are smart
Two examples: before the show kicks off, a sombre voice tells the crowd that the band would really prefer it if no one filmed the show, thank you very much. It's not an announcement that's greeted with universal approval, but you can see why they do it. It's not that they're necessarily concerned about low quality footage finding its way online, or that an arena filled with cameras will spoil anyone's experience: it's about spoilers. With a performance that's essentially a series of spectacularly-staged set pieces, they don't want to ruin the surprise for people going to tomorrow's show, or the night after's.
Second example: Rammstein have done the crowd-surfing-in-an-inflatable-rubber-dingy thing before. But here it takes on added meaning, as the band "row" from the second stage to the first, arriving in a manner that replicates the beginning of the Auslander video, with a hand-written sign reading "Willkommen" there to greet them. This is the kind of evolved, joined-up thinking you won't find at a Kiss show.
34 years and one day after my first stadium gig (Springsteen, Wembley Stadium, July 5 1985), I've just seen the best. Rammstein. Christing fuck. pic.twitter.com/Gv3X2eu2PhJuly 6, 2019
The old stunts still work a treat
Flake getting cooked! Dinghy-surfing across the crowd! The crossbow that shoots flames! There have been slight tweaks to the props, but these refined stunts still pack the same joy, and it doesn’t feel like being short-changed. That firework trick during Du Hast – where they race back and forth across the crowd – still takes the breath away.
...But did we mention the pyro?
Speaking of that Du Hast trick:
Rammstein blowing stuff up. pic.twitter.com/ee5qlR6tiKJuly 6, 2019
Their choice of set opener split opinion
Team Hammer were pretty much split down the middle on Rammstein's choice to open with the emotionally-charged Was Ich Liebe. Half felt that it was a strange choice – and that when Rammstein released the stomping Deutschland, it seemed like a song ready-made to open big rock shows. Given how retina-burningly epic the rest of the show was, they argued it made for a rather understated start to proceedings, and that the significant swelling of crowd noise when the sextet then kicked into Links 2 3 4 showed that perhaps it wasn't the best choice.
The other half disagreed completely, and felt that while Was Is Liebe might not be the most obvious choice for an entrance song, boy, did it deliver. They pointed out that the sinister music, the thick, black jets of smoke billowing from the stage and the repeater towers – creeping into the crowd until the whole stadium was filled with a noxious gas – was genuinely unsettling, like being trapped in a dystopian dictatorship where the planet is dying a toxic death. Like a piece of immersive theatre.
Oh, not to mention the massive explosion that made the whole team swear in fear.
The light-up hoodies are... interesting
When the band emerged just before Deutschland, wearing light-up hoodies that looked like they'd been bought at a Cyberdog sale, no one knew what the hell was going on. What then followed was a charming – if slightly bemusing – interpretive dance routine, the musicians throwing shapes that made it look like a bunch of neon stickmen had invaded the stage. It was bizarre. It was daft. It could only have been Rammstein.
They’re not afraid to be political
When they launch into Links 2 3 4, the song they wrote to defy Nazi accusations, six massive Rammstein banners unfurl, as well as the digital banner on their huge, central tower. Between that and recent single Deutschland, it’s clear they’re still not afraid to look their history in the eye and subvert its iconography.
Like Slipknot and their masks, you can always rely on Rammstein to look weird. Flake still has a shiny suit, but this time it’s golden and mirrored. Oliver has some kind of orange morph suit on, and lights in his in-ear monitors. Till’s dressed like a general who’s gone to a far-flung country, slaughtered a bunch of snakes, and made a suit out of them. When Richard ascends the central tower to play his remix of Deutschland, he’s wearing a white, feathered pimp coat (and his red armband, obvs). Paul looks sort of like an 80s punk. Christoph looks like... Christoph. But there’s not a huge amount you can do when you’re behind a kit.
#Rammstein with their flame thrower last night #StadiumMK pic.twitter.com/YSMRka82ZpJuly 7, 2019
It's not very rock'n'roll
At this level of staging, with all the pyrotechnics, and the precision choreography, and all the confetti, your average Rammstein show has more in common with the Blue Man Group or the Cirque du Soleil than it does with a night out watching a band throw shapes in front of a wall of Marshalls.
But then again...
It's extremely rock'n'roll. If you're being reductive about it, it's easy to criticise Rammstein. Take Laibach's vocals and aesthetic, add some White Zombie riffs, light blue touch paper, stand well back. Blah blah blah. But the sum is so much greater than the parts, and live, those lurching riffs become absolute monsters. Like AC/DC, Rammstein are smart enough to imbue something that's essentially dumb with enough razor-sharp verve and wit to make it utterly irresistible.
A few more from Rammstein last night at Stadium MK. Top gig! pic.twitter.com/4ATFyio0BmJuly 7, 2019
They don't rely on video
In an age when stadium shows are all about video, and you leave a performance having essentially watched wide-screen television for a couple of hours, Rammstein use very little. Only during Puppe is video an integral part of the action, as Till Lindemann wears a head-cam that allows the crowd to witness the world's most terrifying baby as it screams from within a giant metallic perambulator. The rest of the time, you focus on the band. Which is really as it should be. And the fire.
Can we take a second to talk about that baby?
There's the giant perambulator. We’re shown an image of a truly freakish baby. Then the pram combusts, and ash (black confetti) fills the whole venue. That shit was the stuff of insane nightmares.
Team Hammer particularly enjoyed the confetti
As evidenced by this short clip of Hammer editor Merlin Alderslade.
“Did you enjoy Rammstein then, Merl?” pic.twitter.com/6GrArYPkMjJuly 7, 2019
The setlist delivered
As you might expect for a band promoting a new album, the lion's share of the setlist came from the recently-released Rammstein album. Plenty of old favourites were thrown into the set, too – but the new material was met with just as much fervour as the time-tested hits.
Was ich liebe
Mein Herz brennt
Du riechst so gut
The video doesn’t do this justice, but the was epic! 🔥🔥🔥 #Rammstein pic.twitter.com/ThQzhETzvmJuly 7, 2019
Spare a thought for the MK Dons greenkeeper
Who now has a paltry four weeks – as opposed to the standard eight – to get the MK Dons' home stadium pitch in working order before their first game of the season. The pitch's grass was lifted off in its entirety to accommodate Rammstein's epic set, and has to be completely replaced before the football team can play again.
Just had a sneaky peak at the Rammstein stage being built for their concert @Stadium_MK on Saturday....it is blinking huge!!! 🎸🤘 pic.twitter.com/BgCgz6IPp1July 4, 2019