The message posted in an Internet chat room read, “Seeking well-built man, 18-30 years old for slaughter.” A few months later, a user responded: “I offer myself to you and will let you dine from my live body. Not butchery, dining!!”
It wasn’t a joke, and what followed was far more gruesome and bizarre than the plot of nearly any horror film. In March 2001, Armin Meiwes, a 42-year-old computer technician in Hesse, Germany, killed, dismembered and ate 43-year-old microchip engineer Bernd Juergen Brandes. While Brandes was still alive, the two dined on parts of his flesh together, then Meiwes stabbed him to death.
The incident captivated the European media, and provided East German industrial metal band Rammstein with some ripe new material with which to return from a three-year self-imposed exile.
“I was really interested to find out about why he would want to kill a man and eat [him],” guitarist Richard Kruspe said in a strong German accent. “What I figured out from some research was that Meiwes’ mother totally destroyed all kinds of relationships he had in his childhood. So, he felt that if he did this, his victim would stay with him forever. It was just a really interesting story, so we decided to make a song about it.”
The track about the cannibal, “Mein Teil,” was released as a single in Europe last year, and will be the second single in North America, following “Amerika.” Since Meiwes videotaped his entire grisly encounter with Brandes, Rammstein initially wanted to use some of the footage for the song’s video. But the tape was in police custody. So instead, the band and director Zoran Bihac shot a stark, contrast-y clip in Berlin that had nothing to do with cannibalism.
“The director had everyone in the band come into the room for two hours and do anything he wanted. And nobody knew what the other guys were doing. It came out even darker than I thought it would. But I’d still like to see the police video.”
The subject matter for “Mein Teil” is perhaps a crude metaphor for Rammstein circa 2001. Following their third album, Mutter, the bandmembers were tearing each other apart and consuming their collective creativity. It was only through intense self-examination and interpersonal reconstruction that the band was able to heal and record its fourth album, Reise, Reise.
“I’m such a control freak, and I definitely had a vision of where I wanted Mutter to go, so I was dictating the whole thing and didn’t listen to anyone else’s opinion,” Kruspe said. “The guys were so mad at me, we were not talking at all. With all the flamethrowers that we use, I’m lucky I didn’t go to sleep one night and then wake up with my bed burning.”
The continued band discord and palpable tension that resulted forced Kruspe to leave Germany and move to New York, where he worked on some solo material and tried to mend his failing marriage. It was only after he agreed to a write in a more democratic fashion with his bandmates that Rammstein got back together in the studio. “I had to let go of saying everything has to be so perfect,” he said. “Sometimes people have to make mistakes to finally feel good about what they’re doing. It was more important to enjoy being together. So, we were much more relaxed and open to trying new things.”
Filled with raw, chugging guitars, precise beats and deep quavering vocals, Reise, Reise is heavy, epic and operatic, and while it includes an abundance of claustrophobic samples, it’s Rammstein’s most unified and natural-sounding effort since their 1998 breakthrough, Sehnsucht.
“Mutter was mostly written by me on computer, so for this one we decided to write it all together,” Kruspe said. “We went back to the rehearsing room, and started playing around to get back this energy we had before. It really brought the band back together stronger than ever.”
Being more cohesive and committed will probably make it easier for Rammstein to weather the storm of controversy that will likely hit when “Mein Teil” is released domestically. But for now, the group is getting some practice with the mini-squall it’s summoned with “Amerika,” an anthemic track about capitalism and greed. The song has already been yanked from at least one station in Texas after a serviceman who spoke German called up and complained about the lyrics.
“It’s really just sarcastic, so it’s not that political, and New York is one of my favorite places,” Kruspe said. “But for me, the most important thing for every human being to be complete is balance. When I watch America right now, it’s not a balance. If you love strawberry cake, one piece is fine, but if you have to eat the whole cake it’s too much.”