The German hard rock band Rammstein caused a stir last week when they released the cinematic music video to their new single ‘Deutschland’, an epic song about the band’s troubled relationship with their German nationality:
The band are no stranger to controversy, with a trademark disciplined, industrial sound which provokes inescapable connotations coming out of Berlin. While they have made it clear that if they have any sinister totalitarian nostalgia it is to the GDR rather than the Third Reich, it is a controversy they have actively courted in the past.
They are nothing if not provocative, and their latest efforts do not let up on that front. The video for ‘Deutschland’ wore the armband even more brazenly on its sleeve than past work, and was immediately slammed after a short promotional video showed scenes depicting the Holocaust. The band was accused of ‘using the holocaust for advertising purposes’ by an Israeli official. Such concerns were echoed by the German state commissioner for anti-semitism, who agreed that if the scenes were indeed for commercial notoriety, then they were “a tasteless exploitation of artistic freedom”
But while the full video, which premiered on YouTube on March 28th, is undeniably provocative, the advertising campaign does it a grave disservice. While it is perhaps their most explicit use of fascist imagery yet, it is also their most explicitly anti-fascist, anti-racist song. It brings the audience on a twisted, operatic journey through Germany’s demons – through the bloodshed of the Thirty Years War, proportionally more deadly than WWII or the ravages of the Black Death, past the excesses of corrupt clericalism, through the brutalities of Prussian discipline and the heady violence of Weimar street fighting. The band, dressed as sneering wealthy industrialists, stride away from the wreckage of the Hindenburg; V2 rockets rise out of a Nazi concentration camp; the terrorist Baader-Meinhof Gang are shown, as is the rank hypocrisy of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik’s austere police state. Rioters recall the protests against the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, as well as the rise of Pegida, Germany’s right-wing anti-immigration protest movement.
As the video continues, all of this crashes together – Nazi officers embrace greedy clerics as they burn books and witches together before joining the riots, while modern German police ride out with knights beneath an East-German statue of Marx. There is no glory here, not unquestioning allegiance to the Volk. Germany, intones the band’s lead singer Till Lindemann, so young and yet so old. And at the centre of it all is Germania herself, the spirit of the Nation, played by Ruby Commey – a black woman. In angelic form, she gives birth to Leonberger puppies, a breed of dog that was nearly wiped out during the Second World War: a second chance, perhaps, for a new generation of Germans to overcome their nation’s depraved past.
As Germany backslides, reneging on its openness to refugees and electing the far-right AfD to the Bundestag, it’s an incredibly strong statement – and vital for a band that plays so dangerously with the tropes of Germany’s militarist racial fascism. Their song Links 2 3 4, a song explicitly about their left-wing politics, has been adopted by racist groups in the past. Since they sing in German, it is easy for them to be misrepresented. While the lyrics of the song are obviously anti-fascist – they mention being sick of ubermensch, and wanting to hate their country as much as love it – to a non-German speaker who hasn’t bothered to look up the translation, it’s a just muscular, teutonic baritone roaring ‘Deutschland!’ into the mic. By representing Germany’s soul so directly as non-Aryan, Rammstein are nailing their colours to the wall. It shouldn’t be controversial, but unfortunately it is, and they have very much succeeded in angering racists invested in German ethnic pride – who have taken to every possible comment section (Rammstein’s own channel sensibly disabled comments on the video) to vent their frustration.
In recent years, provoking and offending have been crass tools of the right, helping elect Donald Trump and making the careers of professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos. It has become a cheap money-maker for washed-up comedians like Ricky Gervais. It is refreshing to see it used as it has historically been used to great effect – to target power, to question, to confront. Rammstein’s Deutschland comes in a grand tradition of music that offends the powerful – alongside Public Enemy, the Sex Pistols and Pussy Riot, to name a few.
The online far-right prides itself on its ability to offend. Rammstein has proven how easily they are offended.