Rammstein: Lichtspielhaus Review
Despite industrial metal first finding success through US-based acts like Ministry, Pigface, The Revolting Cocks and, after a gap of a couple of years, Nine Inch Nails, German band Rammstein proved that the mix of guitars, synths, portentous rhythm and the clanking of steel mills is uniquely suited to its adoption of a German accent. So, whilst Einesturzende Neubaten wield chainsaws during their live concerts - at which point the audience tended to retreat to the back of the arena - Rammstein have spun a violently romantic sound from their central European roots.
On 28 August 1988, seventy people were killed and hundreds injured when three Italian Air Force jets collided in mid-air, forcing another to the ground where it crashed into the crowd. Five years after this disaster, six Germans named their band after the airforce base in which it occurred and so Rammstein brought a distinct German sound to what had been a mainly US-led genre and, on the whole, it's a success. Whether Rammstein's worth is as a result of the music or that, unlike the English-speaking acts, most of their lyrics are heard without understanding, Rammstein punch hard and expose little of the soft belly that afflicts acts like Nine In Nails, who forever appear to be doing industrial as industrial does. In watching the videos and live footage included on this DVD, such an accusation could not seriously be made against Rammstein.
In terms of the sound of the band, anyone familiar with the soundtrack to The Matrix will already be familiar with Du Hast. Otherwise, think back to Psalm 69-era Ministry - Links 2-3-4 is very similar to Just One Fix - and you won't be far off. Even their live shows are fairly spectacular, much as Ministry's were in the early-nineties although Al Jourgensen could never claim to have performed songs whilst on fire, as Till Lindemann has done and shown here in some of the live footage:
- 100 Jahre Rammstein, Arena Berlin 1996 - Herzleid, Seemann
- Philips-Halle, Düsseldorf 1997 - Spiel Mit Mir
- Rock Am Ring, Festival 1998 - Heirate Mich, Du Hast
- Live Aus Berlin, Wuhlheide 1998 - Sehnsucht
- Big Day Out", Festival Sydney 2001 - Weisses Fleisch, Asche Zu Asche
- Velodrom, Berlin 2001 - Ich Will, Link 2-3-4
The live footage is fine but in keeping with the thousands of live videos and DVD's before it, there is really very little to get excited about. What Jonathan Demme and Adrian Maben realised with Stop Making Sense and Pink Floyd - Live In Pompeii, respectively, is that it's often impossible to capture the excitement of seeing a concert whilst it replays in your living room and so they took a very different approach. The footage included here, whilst film well and sounding as though it was recorded off the mixing desk, simply isn't that exciting.
Then again, by navigating through the superb menu system, which is entirely in keeping with the band's music, the first section of the DVD contains the following videos:
- Du Riechst So Gut '95 (4m01s)
- Seemann (4m15s)
- Rammstein (4m29s)
- Engel (4m24s)
- Du Hast (3m54s)
- Du Riechst So Gut '98 (4m23s)
- Stripped (3m12s)
- Sonne (3m58s)
- Links 2-3-4 (3m35s)
- Ich Will (4m07s)
- Mutter (3m46s)
- Feuer Frei (3m09s)
...most of which are superb. Be it the werewolf fantasy of Du Riechst So Gut '98, the battle between normal-sized and freakily large ants of Links 2-3-4, the retelling of Snow White in Sonne or the strip club thrills of Engel, these videos look great and by including a PCM Stereo audio track, sound fantastic. Of course, by now, we're far from grainy concert footage intercut with backstage tomfoolery and most music videos do look wonderful but those mentioned are really quite special. There is, however, the issue with Stripped...
One of the problems facing how German music is perceived is that regardless of the liberal intentions of much of the music press, they often risk being accused of Nazism. Should their sound connect either to central European classicism, such as Wagner, or make use of sounds and images from the years between 1933, in which Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Hindenburg, and 1945, when Germany was defeated by the allies, the accusation of being associated with the extreme right is ever-present. Given the nature of the music, it should be possible to link almost every industrial or extreme metal band to Nazism, given that many of the lyrics take on a deliberately Nietzschean tone but, you suspect that with Rammstein, it was simply made so much easier for those prepared to accuse by their singing in their native language of German. Quite honestly, it sounds like the racism that groups such as the Anti-Nazi League and the Anti-Defamation League were formed to prevent.
Yet, when Rammstein used clips from Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl's famous film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, for Stripped, they were required to defend themselves to both the UK-based Anti-Nazi League and the US-based Anti-Defamation League from charges of being linked with neo-Nazis. Whilst some might say that it was foolhardy for a German band to use footage from a Leni Riefenstahl film, who Hitler named as his favourite filmmaker, Rammstein were forced to issue a statement, which read, "We are not Nazis, Neo-Nazis, or any other kind of Nazi. We are against racism, bigotry or any other type of discrimination." Rammstein continued this statement by saying that, "...the Leni Riefenstahl footage they used for Stripped is an expression of good art rather than an endorsement of Nazism." Obviously, being an industrial rock band in Germany is far from being linked to neo-Nazis like Skrewdriver but in what continue to be sensitive times, using footage from Olympia was a risk but, as the video for Stripped is quite stunning, did it pay off? Much of that will depend on your own view as regards Leni Riefenstahl, given that the arguments over the merits of Triumph Of The Will have raged for decades. Similarly, there are those who refuse to listen to the music of Wagner, not through their opinion on his music but for his politics.
And so, it comes down to Rammstein and how you will view them. Personally, I don't see them as being terribly different to a band like Ministry as they mix shocking theatrics and a grim demeanour with industrial rock and, were you a fan of that band, I'd certainly recommend Lichtspielhaus. It's a fantastic DVD release from a band that, as Ministry disappeared into a room full of brown smoke, determinedly picked up industrial music and, throughout the nineties and so far this decade, are one of the few acts still producing music as good as those early and seminal industrial rock albums.
Lichtspielhaus has been transferred in 1.33:1 and looks terrific throughout. Not only is the transfer superb throughout but the visual packaging of each video, every piece of live footage and of the DVD itself is fantastic.
The one problem with the DVD is that despite much of the content being in an aspect ratio other than 1.33:1, including 1.78:1 and 2.35:1, everything is presented non-anamorphically in a full screen frame. Anamorphic buffs may wish to avoid based on this but the picture quality is otherwise excellent.
The main features of Lichtspielhaus have been made available with a PCM Stereo soundtrack instead of Dolby Digital surround and sounds excellent. As befits the music, Lichtspielhaus is exceptionally clear with good reproduction of the original sound and a huge bass sound. As you might expect, your neighbours will leave if you play this loud.
Lichtspielhaus contains five making-of's, which deal, unsurprisingly, with the more adventurous videos
- Du Hast (15m58s)
- Du Riechst So Gut '98 (6m56s)
- Sonne (22m56s)
- Links 2-3-4 (10m11s)
- Ich Will (19m55s)
Unless you do actually love making-of's, these are very slight and feature many more interviews with various behind-the-scenes bods than they do of the band.
Commericals: The DVD includes four commercials for the following Rammstein releases:
- Achtung Blitzkrieg (9m14s)
- Du Hast (20s)
- Links 2-3-4 (30s)
- Mutter (30s)
All of the bonus features have been transferred with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo German audio track and are subtitled in German, English, French, Spanish and Japanese.
Lichtspielhaus is an excellent release and despite the minor problem regarding non-anamorphic videos, you really wish that all music DVD's could be presented in this way. Not only is the music great but the videos and packaging are both superb. For once, a DVD has been produced by someone who seems to understand the band they're ultimately working for. One day, it would be great to say that about every release...