I’d like to introduce one of my favorite European bands: In Extremo. They originate from Germany but they’ve toured in Mexico and probably some other places. As far as I know, they have never made it to the United States. Their exclusion from our market reveals much about consumer preferences in this country while enlightening us on what risks the music industry will take. Let’s have a closer look.
1- In Extremo has recorded songs in German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Icelandic, and a host of dead languages… but not in English. And unlike some other performers, they don’t offer translated versions of their hit songs. Unless they decide to cover the Macarena or Du Hast, they have no chance here until they jump on the English bandwagon.
2- They released a CD called “Unbridled Sinners” (Suender ohne Zuegel) and that’s totally unacceptable to Americans’ religious sensibilities. That must be why those devoutly Catholic Mexicans welcomed the band into their country. Oh, wait, that album title came from the lyrics to a song and those lyrics were “I was searching for people like myself but all I found were unbridled sinners.” So they’re implicitly criticizing less savory types who love metal (yes, this is a metal band) while still marketing the product to this demographic.
3- On the subject of darker types, metal in Germany is sometimes associated with certain extremist tendencies… which isn’t fair in most cases. And then In Extremo has the medieval and occult-ish aesthetics that the Nazis also liked, plus the overly masculinized musicians. That’s why In Extremo has to be kept out of the U.S. That’s also why Rammstein could create a music video using clips from an old Nazi movie and still be imported into the U.S. market.
4- Americans don’t mind overly masculinized musicians, but the musicians have to play the part. In Extremo’s lead singer goes by “The Last Unicorn” and that name isn’t particularly manly. The original German name isn’t much better because “Einhorn” already exists in the American cultural vocabulary. (In case you’re too young to remember, the first Jim Carrey “Ace Ventura” movie featured a crossdressing villain named Einhorn.) Oh, and a few band members sometimes wear kilts… and that obviously makes them look like a bunch of neo-Nazis. And then one guy plays the harp in a few songs.
5- The band’s traditional symbol is too violent for American tastes. They use a gallows, kind of like the one you drew as a kid while playing Hangman. I suppose crucifixes are also kind of violent, though.
6- In Extremo signed with one of the major American music labels and rebranded themselves by dropping all of their old costumes and symbols; the resulting CD also lacked flavor and didn’t earn great reviews. A bonus CD included some of their older music performed in their new style and it disappointed. And they adopted aviator jackets… which somehow reminded me of the giant bandages the lead singer needed after being injured by the pyrotechnics during their previous tour. The nostalgic looking biplane on the CD cover didn’t help their image either. Very medieval. I suppose making it big can ruin a band.
7- I’ve told you that this metal band sometimes uses a harp. So as you can probably guess, In Extremo’s choice of instruments lands them well outside of the U.S. mainstream. Americans expect guitar riffs and more guitar riffs. And three chords maximum. I can’t list all of the instruments these guys play, but they do have one signature instrument that constantly appears in their music. It will convince you that these guys are a bunch of neo-Nazis.
So, without further ado, I present a video clip from an In Extremo concert. They will be performing a song from “Unbridled Sinners” called “Omnia Sol Temperat.” It’s a cover of the Carl Orff composition that’s based on the thirteenth century poem from the Carmina Burana.
Classical music was meant to be played with an electric guitar and in the original Latin.