The band formed in 1994 when six former East Germans got together in Berlin and decided to make music . Those same six make up the band today, a remarkable feat. The band was influenced by a variety of artists from many genres but by their own account the most important influences were Nine Inch Nails (more of that later) and English electronic chart-toppers Depeche Mode. Fans of either of those two groups will recognise the NIN influence in the lyrics and heavy guitars, while Depeche Mode fans will appreciate the melodies and keyboards.
The band's first album, 1995's Herzeleid (Heartache) and it's two singles 'Du Richest So Gut'(You Smell So Good) and 'Seemen' (Sailor) garnered limited airplay in the English speaking world but caused a stir within their homeland. Their next release was Sehnsucht (Craving) came out in 1997 and because Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails liked the album he recommended the band to his film director friend. The end result was that 3 songs from the album ended up on the 1997 David Lynch film Lost Highway.
It is against this background that Mutter was released in April 2001. Unlike the bands first two efforts, there was an excited build up among fans to Mutter's release thanks to increased exposure in the States and the UK through extensive touring and the use of their songs on Lost Highway. The album was a smash hit and became one of the very few rock or metal albums not in the English language to break into the alternative charts. But, what makes the album so good?
The first thing to say about Mutter is that it's much more mature musically than the first two albums. The techno/synth sounds of that permeated these albums is replaced with drop-d tuned guitar chords. It is undoubtedly their first true industrial-metal effort. Yes, the keyboards and the more industrial sound-scapes remain, but they take a back seat in favour of more prominent drums and guitars. Mutter showcases the bands ability to write heavy, yet incredibly catchy songs. Lyrically, the band's content also improved, moving away from basic concepts like sex, drugs and death, into more personal areas like childhood nightmares, lost love and fame. They finally got the balance between heavy and soft songs right, which makes the album unpredictable in a good way.
The album runs 45-minutes long and contains 11 songs. Here are my personal favourite four (they also happen to be tracks 1-4 on the album which is, admittedly, rather 'top heavy').
Up first is the album opener and the best track on the album lyrically, the nightmarish 'Mein Herz Brennt' (My Heart Burns). In this violin and piano filled number, front man Till Lindemann sings of witches under the beds of children and the power of nightmares. A key aspect of Rammstein's music has always been Lindemann's willingness to dip into German fairy-tales and folklore for lyrical inspiration. His softly spoken verses and explosive chorus cry make this one creepy number. As with all four songs in this review, the fantastic music video propels the song to another level.
Next up is 'Links 2-3-4' (Left 2-3-4). From the beginning, Rammstein faced accusations of having fascist sympathies. There was never any evidence or even indication from any band member to support this, yet the fact the band are German and have a uber masculine aesthetic meant the rumours continued to hammer the group. 'Links 2-3-4' is the bands response to this. Lindemann sings that "They want my heart on the right-spot, but then I look below, it beats left". It's as simple as that.
Track three on the album is perhaps Rammstein's best known song among casual fans. Anyone who flicks the TV over to Kerrang! will likely see the music video to within the hour. I am talking of course about the brilliant 'Sonne' (Sun). While the lyrics are open to interpretation what really makes this song memorable (other than the count-up to ten at the start) is it's incredible music video which sees the group reclaim the legend of Snow White for Germany. In it they play the dwarf miners, under the thumb of a drug-addicted Snow White. It is in my opinion one of the best music videos in all of heavy metal. Don't believe me, judge for yourself.
Lastly we have the crowd-pleasing anthem 'Ich Will' (I Want). Prominently featuring the keyboard styling of Flake and the duel guitar work of Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers, 'Ich Will' showcases more than any other track on the album the bands ability to create heavy songs but with highly memorable refrains. The video see the band members rob a bank in Berlin, and while it is a fan favourite and a regular of rock music video channels, I must admit I find it a bit dull. Sue me.
Mutter is by far Rammstein's best album and an absolute must have not just for industrial metal fans, but fans of heavy metal in general. Seek it out immediately and then indulge yourself in their wonderful music videos. If only more bands put that much effort into their videos. Oh well.