NEW YORK -- At 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the German dance-metal band Rammstein were scheduled to take the stage at the Roxy in New York. But the queue to get into the show still stretched down the block, so slow was the progress through the metal detectors.
Once inside, a polite German roadie apologized for the delay and announced, "There will be pyrotechnics tonight."
Of course, the first clue was when the fire truck pulled up outside the club.
That morning, Rammstein keyboardist Flake Lorenz explained that the fire marshals in San Francisco, Chicago and Denver -- three of the cities on this quickie U.S. concert tour -- forbade the band from unleashing its signature firestorm during the show. In Chicago, bandmembers were threatened with jail and deportation if they didn't follow orders.
"We had to decide between not playing and playing without fire," Lorenz said. So they played without their flame-thrower.
But the Roxy was different. There was a good six or seven feet of firebreak between the stage and the crowd barrier, and two fire marshals stood backstage with extinguishers.
Rammstein -- whose new album, Sehnsucht (Hunger), is now available in the States -- opened the show with their self-titled tune from the soundtrack of the David Lynch movie "Lost Highway." As vocalist Till Lindemann uttered the German lyrics in his deep baritone voice, flames jumped from his back and sleeves while a red laser shot out from his left eye. For the next hour, he set microphone stands on fire, blew up a phone, whipped himself and shot a flame-thrower.
Outside, the firefighters of Engine Company 500 stood by, waiting all night for the emergency that never came. "We had no trouble," said Captain Tom Armstrong of the N.Y.F.D. as the fire truck drove away.
Rammstein share the Lynch movie soundtrack and something of a musical kinship with fellow industrial-rockers Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, although the Germans have a flair all their own.
Lorenz calls Rammstein's monotone style "dance metal" with a lot of explosions. "It's without solos and improvisation," he said, but it has a fast, repetitive beat, heavy on guitars and light on keyboards.
Rammstein's German lyrics are not so much a barrier for English-speaking fans as they are an attraction. Eric Ulvog, a 17-year-old fan from Moorhead, Minn., said he likes how Rammstein blends "the dark side of metal" with techno. "And the language barrier kind-of makes it spooky and mysterious," he said.
Lorenz said American fans may not know a lot of German, "but they think it's a lot of fun to scream, 'Nein!,' during 'Du Hast' ('You Hate') (RealAudio excerpt) and to punch the air with their fists while yelling the title to 'Buch Dich' ('Bend Over')."
Brooklyn resident Chick Haile, 20, said he saw Rammstein's American debut at The Bank in the East Village last September. "It was really intimate," he said, smaller even than the Roxy's 1,500 capacity. It was so small that Rammstein couldn't use any flames at all, but they still broke bottles and light bulbs off each other's bodies. During "Buch Dich," Haile said, Lindemann simulated anal sex with Lorenz using a spewing plastic phallus.
Haile also speaks no German, except the lyrics from songs that he knows by KMFDM, Wumpscutt and other German bands. He has the American
pressing of the new Rammstein CD, Sehnsucht (Hunger), which has bonus English remakes of "Du Hast" and "Engel" at the end. He hates them, he said. "I compare it to poetry [originally written in another language]," he added. "When you translate into English, you lose some of the meaning, some of the feelings of the original language."
Rammstein formed at the end of 1993 and released their first CD, Herzeleid, in Germany in 1995. Most of the six members are from East Berlin. All of the members of Rammstein were in their late 20s by the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1990, so they grew up with a state-controlled music industry that was more into Bach than punk. Under communism, the East German police tried to suppress the punk, metal and industrial scenes, "but we were against the system," Lorenz said. "That's what brought us together and kept us together."
By the time that Rammstein began performing in 1994, all of that official business was an unpleasant memory.
Besides their two albums, assorted singles and a pair of tunes on the Lost Highway soundtrack, Rammstein have recorded two cover tunes. In December, Rammstein released a version of Kraftwerk's classic "Das Modell" ("The Model") with a non-album B-side of "Kokain" ("Cocaine"). On an upcoming Depeche Mode tribute album, Rammstein do a bone-crushing cover of "Stripped."
The English translations of Rammstein's lyrics, which are on the Internet, are about incest, domination, forced anal sex and S/M. When asked to explain, Lorenz smiled and said the songs are "mostly about love, all kinds of love. Sometimes it's about painful love, and sometimes it's about love between father and daughter ... between brothers and sisters [or even] with your piano teacher."
Fret not if Rammstein missed your town on this tour. Lorenz said they're negotiating to be on the next Ozzfest tour. If it happens, multiple town-councils will have a shot at banning their pyrotechnics this summer.