Breaking Down Rammstein #1: Mutter (Song Analysis)

The extent of Rammstein’s poetry is oblivious to most music magazines like AllMusic or Rolling Stone who focus mostly on their music or have a very superficial idea of what they are all about. While devoted fans from abroad often know that their songs are dark and what Till Lindemann remotely sings about, they rarely realize the level of depth that can be found in their workd. And this is perfectly fine - you can enjoy your music the way you want, but if you are interested in the actual lyrical quality you need to take a closer look. Especially because Rammstein are a band that, in German speaking countries, are known especially for their lyrics, and that’s usually what reviews focus on foremost.

Let’s start with my favorite Rammstein song: Mutter, which I also named the second greatest song of the 21st century so far in December 2018. The title track and fourth single of the group’s third studio album is one of the band’s most emotive ballads, and is a perfect example for their poetry that does touch on dark fields of psychology, but is not one of their controversial tunes, and, although the topic may be very depressing, especially to people will troubled relationships to their parents, it is not nearly as disturbing as other song by the band. Like all Rammstein songs, the music and lyrics are officially credited to all six members, but Till Lindemann is always seen as the main lyricist for their work. Having also released books of poetry, he writes in the tradition of classic German literature but with topics that are modern and/or were too radical and provocative to have been released back then. Some of the finesse of his wordings WILL get lost in translation, that’s impossible to prevent. Nevertheless, what remains is the literal symbolism, psychology and narration of the lyrics.

I will now summarize the most common interpretation, which I also agree on, but know that this is an overly simplified version of what the song has to offer - the detailed verse by verse analysis follows afterwards. "Mutter” translates to “mother”, which is the quintessence of the entire lyrical content. It tells the story of a clone, or otherwise artificially created human, who has developed a desperate longing for motherly love and care that he never experienced, and he grows more and more hurt by what he never had compared to others. His inner pain ultimately gets so strong he decides to kill his mother - depending on whether he is a clone or the result of an experiment, he may mean either the mother of the person he is a copy of, or the woman who donated her cells. There is also another level of the lyrics: Till Lindemann and Richard Kruspe both experienced unhappy childhoods, which were the main inspiration for the song, which takes this feeling into a fictional context.

The first few lines are the most mystifying:

The tears of elderly children crowds / I pull them on a white hair / throw in the air the wet chain/necklace [“Die Tränen greiser Kinderschar / ich zieh’ sie auf ein weißes Haar / werf in die Luft die nasse Kette”]

They are followed by the protagonist first expressing his longing to have a mother (unusually straightforward: and wish I had a mother [“und wünsch mir, dass ich eine Mutter hätte”]), which then leads to a much clearer interpretation, although still widely interpretable. The lines have puzzled me for a long time, and still there are not many reasonable interpretations of the lines. The white hair may refer to the extremely thin needle that is needed to inject something into a cell, and which can be mistaken for a hair. What would support this theory is that something is pulled up in it, like a liquid in a syringe. The “tears of elderly children crowds” then would be whatever is planted into the cells, maybe DNA. The shape of tears also bears a resemblance to a more likely substance, but in verse 2, we clearly get to know it isn’t. This theory wouldn’t explain why they are from elderly children, or what the wet chain means. Another interpretation, which seems more likely as the lines are told from first person perspective, is that the tears are actual or metaphorical tears originating from the grief of adult men (“elderly children” - men who are biologically not children anymore, but are still under the influence of their time as infants, Michael Jackson was a good example). He literally puts them on a white hair, coming from one of the men (note that emotional stress can lead to a loss of hair color), and makes a wet necklace out of it that he then throws into the sir as a sort of statement. Note that “Kette” means both “necklace”, the jewelry you wear, and “chain”, the symbol of slavery. On here, it may actually refer to both - the tears are the pearls he strings, but the outcome may be just as strongly metaphorical as a broken chain.

No sun that shines to me / no breast has cried milk / in my throat sticks a hose / have no navel on my belly [“Keine Sonne, die mir scheint / keine Brust hat Milch geweint / in meiner Kehle steckt ein Schlauch / hab’ keinen Nabel auf dem Bauch”]

The first line can be seen as metaphorical for his life and childhood. Never having been given the comfort and warmth of a loving mother, everything was bleak and impersonal, and felt like a cloudy day rather than a happy sunny one. It could also refer to the baby having spent his youngest days in a laboratory with no windows instead of outside. Instead of having been breastfed, he got his nutritions through a hose (Note: “Kehle” does mean “throat”, but usually refers to the outer throat, used e.g. “to slit a throat”), and therefore lacked a personal bonding in the poetic sense. This, of course, is more allegoric than anything. While known that babies who weren’t breastfed will later develop orally fixated behavior like thumbsucking, nail biting, chewing on pencils, etc., it doesn’t necessarily make you alienate from your mother. But as a literary symbol, it works. Of course, never having been given birth to, the protagonist doesn’t possess a navel: another literary symbol for the mother-child bonding, literally being what connected them and made them one.

I wasn’t allowed to lick any teats / and no wrinkle for hiding / nobody gave me a name / fathered in a hurry and without semen [“Ich durfte keine Nippel lecken / und keine Falte zum Verstecken / niemand gab mir einen Namen / gezeugt in Hast und ohne Samen”]

Now the wordings get dramatically more emotional. The very first line is full of jealousy for everyone else who had the opportunity to experience closeness to their mothers. “I wasn’t allowed to” he sings, implying that he really wanted to form a bond, but couldn’t, while every other person could. The hiding in the wrinkle stands for the protection a mother can provide - a loving mother will always let her cub hide behind her from the danger or things they are afraid of, they will make their kid feel safe. You see how the lyrics have influences of Sigmund Freud?
The last two lines of this block show how he feels like he has been objectified. He never got a true name - probably a number, being an experiment gone right - and was neither the result of love nor passion, just a substance being injected into a cell as fast and accurate as possible. You could interpret he sees himself as not being of worth to anybody, and he no one ever had feelings for him. Also, Lindemann’s vocals are far less soft by now compared to the beginning, fitting the increasing negative emotions.

To the mother who has never born me / I have sworn tonight / I will give her a disease / and then sink her into the river [“Der Mutter, die mich nie geboren / hab ich heute Nacht geschworen / ich werd’ ihr eine Krankheit schenken / und sie danach im Fluss versenken”]

Now, he decides to finally act, and kill his mother off. Just end it all. No turning back. This can be very widely interpreted as the entire song established that the protagonist never had a mother. You could see that, if he is a clone, he found the mother of the man he was cloned from and killed her out of jealousy that his counterpart had felt the love he never did. If he was artificially created in another kind of experiment, he might kill the woman the cells originate from, for having not been there for him. In the end, it’s foremost a symbolic act, to confront his sorrows and end them once and for all. Note the tone of the wording. The protagonist does not use the obvious rhyme: “ertränken” means “drowning”, which would fit the rhyme scheme as well as the context. He instead sings “versenken”, meaning sinking or dumping. He lays the already dead body into the water; which gives us a much more peaceful image of the murder, and that the entire act of murder occurs with no aggression at all. No knife, no gun, no choking. It's also interesting that he uses the "schenken" for "give" refering to the disease. "Schenken" is ALWAYS something positive, you use it e.g. for making a Christmas or Birthday present, or when you give someone freedom, e.g. a prisoner. What disease he means is left to your imagination. It could also be depression, as the “mother” probably never spent a thought on what the result of the experiment might feel.

In her lungs lives an eel / on my forehead a mole / Remove it with the kiss of a knife / even though I have to die by it [“In ihren Lungen wohnt ein Aal / auf meiner Stirn ein Muttermal / entferne es mit Messers Kuss / auch wenn daran sterben muss”]

Some time must have passed between the second verse and this bridge, as the body of the mother is already inhabited by an eel. So it took the protagonist a bit to do the next move. The German word “Muttermal” means “mole”, as in freckle on your body, but its literal translation - as German makes heavy use of compound words - is “mother’s mark”. The removal of this bodily characteristic is a symbolic gesture to cut his ties with his mother: his very last, terminal action. The protagonist cuts it off to finally let go of what tormented his life the most, despite knowing that it would inevitably cause him to bleed to death. His entire life was dominated by the lack of motherly love, his longing and yearning to feel it, his jealousy knowing everybody else could, and finally, his feeling of not being of value to anyone. His one true desire was to have a normal happy childhood, but it never came to be. He needed to get rid of the last remaining thing that connected him to all of this to truly leave it behind, even if this means the end of his existence. Again, note the wording: he doesn’t literally say he cuts it off, he says he’ll “remove it rith the kiss of a knife”, which has a far softer sound to it, even a bit romantic as the image we get of a kiss is usually one of love and affection. When this segment is repeated towards the end, the last line is replaced with “even though I have to bleed to death”, which I personally don’t think has another meaning as the lyric that was used before, other than adding even more tragedy to the scene (“bleeding to death” sounds much more graphic than simply “dying” - also, again, bleeding until you pass out forever is no aggressive, sudden death, it is slow and in art has been depicted as one of the more peaceful ways of suicide).

The murder was emotionally heavy to commit. He did not really WANT to do it, but he feels he HAD to. This is especially apparent in the break, where the rock sound is cut off by a score-like string-keyboard arrangement and Lindemann says “Mutter” four times. The first time is calm, rather neutral. Then he starts to sound like he wants a reply from her: “Mutter?”. Then he more aggressively demands her to respond: “Mutter!?”, and finally bursts out in a gut wrenching, heartbreaking cry at the top of his lungs: “MUTTEEEEEEER!!!!????”
At this moment, he already killed the mother figure. Probably he realized what he just did, and never has the chance to undo it. Maybe it’s the realization that now he will definitely never have a mother in his life while before there was at least a spark of hope. Or it could be a narrative flashback to his childhood. Him asking his mother to talk to him, but never having gotten a reply, as she wasn’t there.

The song’s final line comes off like a prayer and is repeated like a mantra: oh, give me strength! [“Oh, give me strength!”]. It takes him a lot to commit the final step, the last thing he will ever do in his life, but h3 knows it has to be done, and there’s no getting around it. Interesting is that the “Mutter!” chants that are the sole chorus apart from the powerful instruments still get repeated in the background, sometimes even making it sound as if he would actually beg his dead mother to give him strength to pull it through.


And that’s about it with Mutter. I may turn this into a series if people are interested and/or when I feel like it, and Rammstein really have a lot to say in their songs, although some can get very twisted yet with a high level of lyricism. Leave your thoughts in the comments, I am interested in what you got to say.