One of the world's most consistently impressive — and consistently controversial — heavy bands, Rammstein have yet to waver over the course of their 25-year career. With their first album in a decade right around the corner, we decided to take a look back on the outrageous German hit-makers' output and see how each release stacks up amid their sexually charged, hard-grinding oeuvre. From their breakthrough success with 1995 debut Herzeleid — which spawned a new generation of German music referred to as Neue Deutsche Härte ("New German Hardness") — to the crowd-pleasing antics of 2009's Liebe ist für alle da, the six-piece has proved six times over how deserving they are of the worldwide success they've enjoyed.
Rosenrot is an album mainly comprised of outtakes from Reise Reise. As such, it never quite hits its stride the way other entries in the group's catalog do. The 2005 record still contains moments that showcase the true melody-making abilities of the band, however. The title track is the standout, its melancholic tone applied to the story of a man who climbed a mountain to pluck a rose for his beloved, only to stumble and fall to his death. Another high point is "Benzin," an eerie and groove-laden single that relies on the menacing undertones of singer Till Lindemann's unusually reserved vocal delivery and a rock-steady drum part for create a sense of muted fury in place of the band's customary flamboyance.
For many, their introduction to Germany's leading metal group came via lauded Surrealist director David Lynch's 1997 movie, Lost Highway, the soundtrack to which featured edited versions of two songs, "Rammstein" and "Heirate mich," off the band's debut, Herzeleid. It's a fitting association, as both the filmmaker and the band explore similar dark, psychosexual territory. Indeed, the duality of violence and fragile sensuality is a key theme played with throughout the group's catalog, and while the sextet went on to perfect it with subsequent albums, this dichotomy is presented at its most primal on Herzeleid. The only thing holding the album back in the greater scheme of the Rammstein discography is the somewhat dated production and the sometimes amateurish songwriting.
Reise Reise came several years after the explosion of Rammstein's international popularity, and it cemented their status as world-renowned icons. Standout single "Mein Teil" (slang for literally "my dick") utilizes a pseudo fascist aural and exuberant choral samples that juxtapose beautifully with the lyrical tale of fetishistic cannibalism, a theme obtusely addressed in the song's vividly grotesque video. The grit and gallows humor here set the tone for what is one of Rammstein's darkest albums. Perhaps Reise Reise's most biting cut, the vicious, anthemic banger "Amerika" is the true gem on the LP. A critical look at the global influence of America's unchecked capitalism and rampant export culture, the track is unforgettably powerful with its blunt but incisive lyrics. Take for example, the soundbite "Coca-cola, sometimes war ..." Belying a world of complex analysis within three little words, the song and its minimalist genius tie together Reise Reise and prove it as sturdy as anything in Rammstein's catalog.
Sure, Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da's most notorious cut, "Pussy," is entertaining for its novelty factor and little else, but "Ich Tu Dir Weh" is potentially the heaviest song the industrialists have ever released. A cock-swinging, raucous adventure through slow-building intensity and soaring choral harmonies, with Lindemann declaring that he will make you scream in agony and enjoy every minute, the song is stunningly beautiful while maintaining pure metal sadism at its purest. The album doesn't falter on its other heavy hitters, like "Rammlied," on which the band heads back to their own beginning and shout out themselves in aggressively choral style. Theatrical from the minute they began and increasingly limit-pushing as they age, Rammstein proved with Liebe that they would not go quietly into the night as they approached middle age with an intensity unmatched in their peerless realm.
Truth be told, there is not a single bad or even subpar moment on Rammstein's 2001 third album, from the symphonically triumphant opener "Mein Herz Brennt" with its punctuated acoustic accents, to the subdued but poignant beauty of the pained title track. It's almost unbelievable how well-crafted and effectively composed this record stands even now, 18 years later. What its predecessor, Sehnsucht, provides in vulgar sexual proclivity, Mutter achieves with nuanced emotional maturity and the hardened reservation of an evolving band. Less bombastic and aggressive but more expansively risk-taking for a group firmly established but still in the prime of their artistic exploration, Mutter is simply extraordinary.
In a more just world, Sehnsucht and Mutter would tie for the top spot, but this is the internet and lists aren't fair. So what's the determining factor for why Rammstein's certified star-making sophomore effort edged out the later, more polished Mutter here? Simply put, you can't fuck with the bangers on this record. Inarguably their most recognizable hit (at least to Americans), "Du Hast" is nearing classic-rock status in its iconic stature, and tracks like "Engel" and "Buck Dich" have both earned their rightful spots in the industrial-metal hall of fame as incorruptible essentials. The latter notably led to Lindemann and Flake's arrest following a particularly raunchy performance.
Outside of the obvious beloved hits on Sehnsucht, its flow and dynamism are the concrete proof that naysayers who write Rammstein off as merely shock-value seekers are abjectly wrong. From the vigorous entry point of the album's namesake track through their darkly cheeky rendition of Depeche Mode's slinky "Stripped" found on expanded versions of the release, the 1997 record remains the defining moment when Rammstein became more than an interesting band who started a new wave of techno-metal-industrial fusion music; they were a worldwide sensation who would go on to garner a devoted fan base and righteous legacy 20-plus years on.