This links somewhat to a chat I had recently with one of the organisers of the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, who said nice things about JSBlog but thought the taste in music "unusual". It's a fair cop - but I'll slightly justify it by explaining that I like music with cross-genre style and layers of meaning. The music of the German industrial metal band Rammstein is a case in point. Whatever the classification, their music is highly eclectic and often powerfully operatic, particularly with the unusual vocals of the lead singer Till Lindemann. I first encountered Rammstein via their Sonne, whose lyrics are, taken literally, in praise of the sun
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allenHowever, the song underwent a number of turns in meaning. It was originally written as an entrance song for the Ukrainian boxer Vitali Klitschko (the portion of the lyrics "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, aus" being a clear allusion to a boxer being counted out). But ideas for the video went through various possibilities that led in the direction of a sun that was more terrifying than the darkness; after a draft that took it to be commentary on the first atomic explosion, it finally settled on fairy tales: the final Sonne video depicts a group of miners in thrall to a malign gold-addicted Snow White.
Und wird nie vom Himmel fallen
She is the brightest star of all
And will never fall from heaven
Rammstein's Rosenrot (Rose Red) has similar deeps, with strong allusions to "Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot", a folktale collected by the Grimm Brothers, and Goethe's Heidenröslein (both the latter and the Rammstein lyrics are about a boy picking a rose). The video for Rosenrot expands the story into a human drama, itself very folklore-like, about a wandering monk who is seduced into murdering a village girl's parents, upon which she immediately betrays him.
My current Rammstein favourites are Mein Herz Brennt (My Heart Burns) and Ohne Dich (Without You), which are very different. Mein Herz Brennt is characteristically scary, an exposition of childhood terrors.
Sie kommen zu euch in der NachtThe narrator appears to be an evil Sandman figure. According to the FAQ at the Rammstein fan site Herzeleid.com, the lyrics derive from a German children's show introduced by Das Sandmännchen (The Little Sand-Man). This benign character, based on Hans Christian Andersen's Ole Lukøje, would begin with the words
Dämonen Geister schwarze Feen
sie kriechen aus dem Kellerschacht
und werden unter euer Bettzeug sehen
They come to you in the night
demons, ghosts, black fairies
they creep out of the cellar shaft
and will look under your bedding
Nun, liebe Kinder, gebt fein Acht.before telling a bedtime story. Rammstein's song subverted this (in the original version the bad Sandman explicitly said he had killed the good one) to bring a figure telling a far darker story:
Ich habe euch etwas mitgebracht
Now, dear children, pay attention.
I have brought you something
Nun liebe Kinder gebt fein acht.Then again, such an inversion recalls folklore yet again, as in the widespread motif that Saint Nicholas has a dark counterpart (variously called Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, Père Fouettard, and so on) who will punish bad children. Ohne Dich, on the other hand, is a simple and expressive song about loss of a loved one, whose lyrics could have been written by any of the 19th century German romantic poets:
Ich bin die Stimme aus dem Kissen.
Ich hab euch etwas mitgebracht.
Hab es aus meiner Brust gerissen.
Mit diesem Herz hab ich die Macht
die Augenlider zu erpressen
Ich singe bis der Tag erwacht
ein heller Schein am Firmament
Mein Herz brennt.
Now, dear children, pay attention.
I am the voice from your pillow.
I have brought you something.
I have ripped it from my chest.
With this heart I have the power
to blackmail your eyelids
I sing until the day awakes
a bright shine in the firmament.
My heart burns.
Ich werde in die Tannen gehenThe "Doch der Abend wirft ein Tuch aufs Land" is such a beautiful metaphor. See the video of Ohne Dich, which uses the setting of an alpine ascent. (Note that "Weh mir" and "Oh weh" are not as archaic in German as their literal translations in English).
Dahin wo ich sie zuletzt gesehen
Doch der Abend wirft ein Tuch aufs Land
und auf die Wege hinterm Waldesrand
Und der Wald er steht so schwarz und leer
Weh mir, oh weh
Und die Vögel singen nicht mehr
I'm going to go into the fir trees
There where I last saw her
But the evening is throwing a cloth upon the land
and upon the ways behind the edge of the forest
And the forest it is so black and empty
Woe is me, oh woe
And the birds sing no more
- unofficial translation by Jeremy Williams
PS: check out, via the comment thread, the Laibach cover of Ohne Dich. It's exquisite.
Till Lindemann has a poetry anthology, Messer (Knives), in print. The composer Torsten Rasch was commissioned by the Dresdner Sinfoniker to write a song-cycle, Mein Herz brennt, based around the poems; according to this interview on the London Philharmonic Orchestra site, Lindemann's chief influences are "the German romantic poet Rückert and French writers like Rimbaud". There's more about the collaboration at Music & Vision: see The Basic Essence.