Rammstein: Völkerball

Rammstein - VölkerballSynopsis: 2006 concert film from German Metal merchants Rammstein, featuring ‘Reise Reise’, ‘Du Hast’, ‘Ich Will’ and ‘Keine Lust’. Rammstein’s fan base know that although their studio albums are powerful, there’s nothing like a Rammstein live experience to dull the senses and Völkerball brings this mind-numbing experience straight to you. The only thing to fear is Rammstein itself! 

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Rammstein: Völkerball 7.75

eyelights: the massive riffage. the pyrotechnics. the testosterone. the lovely French ladies.
eyesores: the stage show’s limited scope.

Rammstein are a metal/industrial sextet from Germany. Founded in 1994, they quickly gained popularity outside of their country of origin because of their mixture of muscular riffs and electronic atmospheres. By 1997, they were already touring the United States, opening for KMFDM. By 1998, they were sharing the stage with Korn and Limp Bizkit.

Their stage show made them instant legends with alternative crowds: Rammstein have a predilection for using a massive quantity of all sorts of insane pyrotechnics during their concerts, and lead singer Till Lindemann has been known to go so far as being lit on fire for entire songs (unsurprisingly, Lindemann has also become a licensed pyrotechnician).

I first heard of them probably in 1994 or 1995, when my best friend’s brother and his friends were excitedly talking about this then-new band. At the time, I dismissed them as just a gimmick. But then they started popping up on various compilations, notably on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ and then on a Depeche Mode covers album.

I wasn’t a fan at first; their music seemed one-note and relatively uninteresting. Their cover of DM’s ‘Stripped’ wasn’t especially inspired, either. And I was a massive DM fan at the time, so Rammstein left me disappointed. But I was intrigued enough that I picked up a video compilation DVD called ‘Lichtspielhaus’ when the local chain sold it for cheap.

This was the perfect introduction to the band: not only did it serve up all of their videos thus far, but it included concert bits, behind-the-scenes footage and other tidbits. With this DVD, I got a sense of what they were about, and my curiosity was further piqued. And so it was that, when I found their latest album, ‘Mutter’, at a second-hand shop, I pounced.

It made it made to #4 of my Top 13 albums for 2001. I liked it so much that I couldn’t stop playing it, and even ended up getting all of the CD maxi singles for it. My timing couldn’t have been better: Rammstein released their next effort, ‘Reise, Reise’ relatively soon thereafter, and followed-up with yet another studio album, ‘Rosenrot’, in 2005.

I was now enjoying their music (although ‘Mutter’ was without a doubt their best effort), and had even picked up 1997’s ‘Sehnsucht’. So, naturally, when they released the live CD/DVD set ‘Völkerball’ (I actually bought it twice, having found a more collectible format later on), I was on board and proceeded to watch their blistering act.

Shot on July 23, 2005 at Les Arènes de Nîmes in France (the same venue where Metallica shot ‘Français pour une nuit‘), the main programme of ‘Völkerball’ is the full-length concert, shot during the ‘Reise, Reise’ tour and which appears to have been edited to reduce wait times between sets – a standard practice in many concert films.

After a few long shots of the arena and the crowds, the film cuts to the stage. A large black curtain drops, revealing a two-levelled stage, with the drummer at the top. Rammstein are all smeared, dirty-looking (they are presumably covered in fire-proofing). The stage design is given a sci-fi/industrial motif and there’s a massive lighting rig above it.

1. Reise, Reise: The show begins with a synth intro followed by a mid-tempo riff. Till, the singer, comes out of a womb-like opening in middle of the bottom part of the stage, marching slowly. The guitarists start on the second level but are lowered to the main level on individual platforms. They’re an odd-looking bunch: Till is a meaty guy, not to be messed with, one guitarist is in lederhosen with a small hat, and the keyboardist is stringy with a helmet and glasses. The others are wearing metal/goth-style outfits. There are tons of flashing lights. Between his parts Till just stands there with his arms behind his back, like a military leader. This is a nice, anthemic intro (incidentally, it’s the opening number of their fourth album, also titled ‘Reise, Reise’). 7.75

2. Links 234: The third of a whopping FIVE singles from ‘Mutter’, this is a track that speaks of their political beliefs. Long-criticized for being right-wing, even Nazi supporters, due to their military imagery, here they announced that they are in fact left-wing. The crowd was clapping rhythmically right from the onset for this one. Smoke blew everywhere. The band all came out through the aperture. and got into this crazy rhythmic, nearly-military, riff. The crowd went nuts. I was impressed that they already got crowd to cheer in unison, at precise moments. 7.75

3. Keine Lust: This is the fourth single from ‘Reise, Reise’. Naturally, it’s another riff-heavy monster. For the performance, columns of smoke shot from the stage. Although he was rooted to the stage for the first two tracks, Till now began to wander about more. It’s a mid-tempo number, with a neat machine-gun riff bridge backed by synths. It picks up again afterwards. Very nice. 7.75

4. Feuer frei!: ‘Feuer frei!’ (which means “Fire at will!”) is one of the band’s most recognized and popular tracks; it’s made its way on many soundtracks and compilations. It opened with sirens and synth. The stage was appropriately awash in red lights. There was an explosion above the stage, after which the crowd went wild. At one point during the performance, Till pretended to clobber the keyboardist. The bridge consisted of some atmospheric synth, during which the stage went blue. Then Till and the two guitarists came out with fire-breathing apparatus attached to their faces and shot fire well above the stage. Crazy. 8.0

5. Asche zu Asche: This number is taken from the band’s debut album, ‘Herzeleid’. It starts with a synth intro, before kicking in. The crowd was moving like crazy by this point. What’s interesting is that the camera that was set-up behind the drummer didn’t stop shaking since the start. They still cut to him frequently, but not enough to be annoying. Towards the end of the piece, the band’s mic stands were set on fire and the stage was so filled with smoke that you couldn’t see anything in the long shots. It must have sucked for concertgoers. 7.5

6. Morgenstern: This mid-tempo track’s one of the less interesting numbers from ‘Reise, Reise’. I’m not sure why it was played live. It begins with a drum intro, before a requisite burst of riffage. For the bridge, there’s a pre-recorded choir, during which a crapload of fire filled the stage. 6.5

7. Mein Teil: Chart-wise, this first single from ‘Mutter’ is one of Rammstein’s most successful tracks thus far. For this live rendition, it featured a long atmospheric synth intro and the sound of knives being sharpened. The guitarists took center stage and began a massively heavy riff. Till came out with a huge vat, wearing a chef’s hat and apron. He was smeared with blood. The keyboardist popped his head out of the vat, wearing a big grin. He played his keyboard from there, while Till sang in a mic mocked up as a knife. He later took out a flamethrower and fired at the vat. The keyboardist jumped out and mock-ran around with firey sparkles on both of his arms. Silly, weird, but entertaining. 7.75

8. Stein um Stein: This one starts slow; it’s as close to a ballad as Rammstein will ever get. It’s nice to get a break from the monster riffs, truth be told. The stage was set in blue light for this one. At one point, the guitars kicked in with a rhythmic riff, and there were blasts of air coming out in columns from the stage. The track then returned to its downtempo rhythm afterwards. There were lots of flashing lights for this one. 7.75

9. Los: On a completely different note, ‘Los’ uses acoustic guitars and… a harmonica (really?). For this one, the drummer came down on one of the platforms to play on a reduced kit on the main level. Since he had very little to do (aside for a small solo), the keyboardist did these weird, comical dances from time to time. Till had his arms behind his back the whole time. At the end, it went electric (nice!) and the keyboardist smashed his keyboard. This was a nice change of pace from the incessant riffs. 8.0

10. Du riechst so gut: This was Rammstein’s very first single back in 1995. It was inspired by the novel ‘Perfume’ (which I have not read yet, although I’ve seen the movie twice). It begins with waves of atmospheric synth and then electronic pulses. Till came out with a fire-spreading bow. Imagine this: there are heavy riffs. They’re powerful enough that the band head-banged in unison to this one. The crowd was hopping all through the arena. At the end, both guitarists had fire shooting from their right arms, making them look kind of like wings. 7.5

11. Benzin: This would become the first single from Rammstein’s fifth album, ‘Rosenrot’, which was composed of songs from the ‘Reise, Reise’ sessions that weren’t completed in time and/or didn’t make the cut. They were pretty prolific at that point in their career. But the song follows their usual formula: light keys and guitar to start and then… heavy riffs. It nonetheless became their first number one single in their homeland. 7.5

12. Du hast: In many circles, this second release from ‘Sehnsucht’ is the song for which Rammstein is the most famous. It is without a doubt their breakthrough single and it ended up on the soundtrack to ‘The Matrix’. It begins with sweet electronic pulses then it goes into a massive riff. For this performance, Till had his arms crossed, and there were fire columns on either side of him. Unsurprisingly, the crowd sang along to this one. At one point Till fired flares above the crowd from a special crossbow. 8.0

13. Sehnsucht: This wasn’t a single but, being the opening track from ‘Sehnsucht’, it’s meant to make an impression. It begins with processed Mid-eastern chants, and then goes into atmospheric synth, and some guitar and drums. Then there were fireworks. And the riffs kicked in. At one point there was basically an explosion of fire on the main level. Fire? Never would have expected that… 7.75

14. Amerika: This is the second single from ‘Reise, Reise’, and it’s probably their biggest hit, chart-wise. It’s hardly surprising, as it’s got an anthemic chorus – which Rammstein started the track with. It’s meant to root itself in the mind. It also features electronic pulses and a mid-tempo riff. The keyboardist came out on a Segway with his keyboard affixed over the controls; he spent part of the performance driving around the stage for some reason. During the bridge, paper shreds blew out of stage above the crowd, filling the sky for a long period of time. The drummer came down at the end, so that the band could bow and say farewell. Of course, this was at the 70-minute mark, and the DVD was 100 minutes long, so it was clearly not the end. 7.75

15. Rammstein: This is the first song that the band ever wrote, but it was never released as a single. Still, given it’s named after them (or the other way around), it’s hardly surprising that it was a staple of their sets. It’s also well-known in North America as one of the two tracks on ‘Lost Highway’. Here it began with the sound of choppers and various industrial sounds. For some reason, the keyboardist was jerking about like a robot. Then came a deliciously ominous, slow intro before the synths, drums and guitar were brought in. And then the requisite riff. Till marched in stiffly, like a robot, wearing attachments to both arms. They looked like mechanical claws with blasters on them. Naturally, they shot fire, which he blasted high above his head. Incessantly. 7.75

16. Sonne: The lead single for ‘Mutter’, “Sonne” is a rhythmic number with a more melodious bend to it and an epic-flavoured chorus. For this performance, there were columns of fire blazing all over the stage. 8.0

17. Ich will: This third single from ‘Mutter’ came out the day before 9/11. Naturally, it didn’t get played as much. It’s a darned shame. I think it’s one of their best. It starts in a more discrete way than some of the others, with Till just saying the song’s name to a synth backing. But when the riffs come in, it’s like a payload: it blows you away. The song has a terrific rhythm, a great guitar lead and crowd participation. All their instruments come together beautifully here; it would make for an excellent closer to their show. 8.25

18. Ohne dich: This is a synth-based slow number that was the penultimate track on ‘Reise, Reise’. It’s pretty hooky and it let the crowd down beautifully. At one point, a rain of sparkles came down on Till. At the end, he walked off the stage. Was this meant to be the closer…? 8.0

19. Stripped: I suspect that this was a second encore. It’s a cover of a Depeche Mode single. It’s pretty terrible, partly because Till is off-key but also because it’s an unambitious take on the track. But the live version has a long synth and drum bit when the bassist took a dingy and rode on the crowd. When he got back, the band returned to the song, and there was a final explosion. While the dingy bit is pointless, I liked the extended musical part. The show ended with the keyboardist playing by his lonesome. The band returned for a final bow and then the keyboardist was lifted upstage, chucked his keyboard and left. 7.5

You know, I never had any illusions that Rammstein’s music was particularly intricate or clever. I knew it was simple stuff, but while watching the show, I started to notice the formula: brief intro, riffage, bridge, close. I mean, many bands have their formulas, but 1h40m of this stuff can be hard to handle; you really do need variety to sustain a full show.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t understand a word of German. Although it’s beneficial in the sense that their subject matter seems simple-minded at times (sometimes ignorance really is bliss), and it makes the music stand out even more, when you’re watching a full-length show it’s sort of alienating to not understand a damned thing that is being said throughout.

On the flip side, it was interesting to see some of the personalities come to life on stage. Till, who is very stoic and powerful-looking, gives the band a brawny, military vibe. Meanwhile, the keyboardist is the clown, adding humour. It might be tempting to dismiss him, but he’s essential to the Rammstein sound: without him, it would only be a bunch of repetitive riffs.

And lots of fire.

Frankly, there were way too many pyrotechnics on display for my taste. After the first few times, I was already jaded. Could they not come up with something other than just fire, and another way to shoot fire? Really, anyone can do that! Here: Set my crotch on fire. Now make fire shoot out of my ears. Now make fire shoot out of my arse. See? It’s easy.

But at least they give true fans their money’s worth. There is that.

Speaking of which, the DVD includes a few extra performances as bonus features:

London
This 19-minute piece was recorded at the Brixton Academy in London, England, in February 2005. The stage is set in a similar fashion as the Nîmes concert, except that it seems smaller. Was the Nîmes concert upgraded for the venue, or is it just a question of perspectives? Not sure…

1. Sonne: This version of the song isn’t much different from the one above, but the presentation is very different. For one, the video is edited in a jumble of various takes, different techniques and movements. It’s not great. On stage, Till seemed to be struggling with his vocals a bit, but he made up for it by head-banging aggressively. And a lot. He was speckled with what looked like dried blood, but was probably just the fire-proofing stuff they have to wear. Which be hardly surprising, because there are eight fire bursts that blasted up from the stage. I was astonished that they were allowed to do this indoors in such a venue. 7.25

2. Rein raus: Taken from ‘Mutter’, this number starts with guitar feedback, before the drums, and then synth, join in. Meanwhile, the guitarists got the crowd to participate in a back and forth. Then the song proper began, with Till coming down from the second level on a platform. Again, this performance is a mess of techniques and cuts. Quite frankly, it takes away from the power of the song. Distracted by these editing choices, all I could think while watching this, was… who directed this? 7.5

3. Ohne dich: This begins with an atmospheric, nostalgic, even, synth intro. It’s a beautiful song, all things considered. Adding to the mix was the blue lighting that covered the stage. The shower of sparkles that fell on Till towards the end seemed to last longer here than at Nîmes. But it might just be the editing. 7.75

4. Feuer frei!: This time the colour scheme was red, appropriately enough. For some reason, the synth bridge sounded weird, buried in the mix. As with the Nîmes show, Till and the two guitarists had those fire-breathing apparatus on and “breathe” fire at each other and above the crowd. The song ended with the drummer blowing up two flares – one in each hand. But, again, the performance is marred by too many flash cuts. In fact, we missed a lot of the show because of this; we were always cutting away to something else – either on stage or in the audience (there were lots of crowd shots throughout). 7.25

At the end of the short film, the credit sequence indicated that this was shot over three days: from February 3, 2005 to February 5, 2005. Holy crap! Three dates! And there were two directors for this? No wonder it’s a mess! Plus the credits say that some additional footage was shot. Damn… it’s only four songs. How could they screw it up this badly?

Tokyo
The next special feature is an 11-minute short film that takes us to Club Citta, in Tokyo, on June 3, 2005. It’s a smaller set-up than in London, so the crowd is really close to the band. It may be a smaller crowd, but the place is packed and frenzied anyway.

1. Mein Teil: The film jumps right in with a riff, and no precursor to it. It’s slightly abrupt. As with the Nîmes show, Till brought out the vat and the keyboardist was in it. There was a longer electronic bridge on this one which found the drums slowly making their way to the foreground, making space for the riffs to return. In this performance, Till interacted with the crowd, throwing the vat’s lid into the crowd, flicking his tongue at them, and reaching out. Later on, the song stopped abruptly and the lights went off, giving Till a chance to get the flamethrower. As can be expected, he toasted the vat, and the keyboardist jumped out and ran around a bit. 7.5

2. Du hast: This begins with electronic pulses and then the riffs explode. Till used the fire bow right from the start, spinning in circles. The crowd responded with much enthusiasm. After shouting “Du hast” a few times, the lights go out, adding drama. Then the lights came back on and the song continued. I like that they used the lighting as part of their show here. It’s not as evident in larger venues (and in Nîmes it was plainly impossible). Towards the end, the crowd sang the chorus in unison in Till’s stead, then the band put the boot in for the final stretch. 7.75

3. Los: This is basically a short montage of unrelated concert footage, shots of fans, …etc., played to excerpts from “Los”. It’s nice but unsubstantial. 6.5

Moscow
The first time I watched this, I was disappointed, because it’s just a six-minute behind-the-scenes short mixed with concert footage shot at the Sport Complex Olympiski in Moscow on November 28, 2004. I was hoping for more concert footage…

1. Moskau: Basically, the montage consists of watching the band backstage, receiving a gold album award, doing autograph signings, …etc., and then shots of fans. The concert bit is the track “Moskau” backed by three skinny, scantily-clad back-up singers. Amazingly, the stage was even larger here than in the previous shows. The sea of people is also quite impressive. Was this a festival appearance? Anyway, it’s cool to watch and it was nice to have a different song. But it’s nothing super special. And it ends abruptly. 7.75

By the end, I had had enough. Over two hours of Rammstein is a lot, especially when some of the songs are repeats. But I did enjoy myself quite a bit along the way. The fist-pumping riffs, the flashy pyrotechnics, the lovely dark-haired French ladies all dressed in black (Yum. It compensated for all the testosterone in the air…). It was a good time all around.

But I suspect that it might be a bit much for the uninitiated. To newbies, I’d definitely recommend ‘Lichtspielhaus’ first, as it shows Rammstein from many different perspectives. Still, fans of the band can’t feel cheated with this set., especially since it also comes with the live CD. It’s not quite like being there, but it’s a terrific keepsake if you have been.

Dates of viewings: November 23+27, 2014

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