Ask the typical American rock fan about German music, and most likely you will get a blank stare, or perhaps some talk about Kraftwerk. While it’s true that bands like Kraftwerk and Can helped lay the groundwork for techno and art-rock, Germany has spawned some of the world’s greatest guitar bands as well. Beginning with The Scorpions, who released their first proper album in 1972, German rock has had hard-rock strains that stand up to the best heavy metal from other countries. Don’t believe it? Then check out the following German bands, all of whom deserve a prime spot in the heavy metal pantheon.
Founded more than 40 years ago by long-time Flying V player Rudolf Schenker, The Scorpions (sometimes called, simply, Scorpions) set a standard by which other heavy metal bands have often measured themselves. The group also served an incubator for Schenker’s gifted younger brother, Michael Schenker, who brought his own Flying V expertise to the band at age 17. The Scorpions classic anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” earned the Number 18 spot on VH1’s “100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs” of all-time.
With their furious tempos and rapid-fire riffage, Accept played a crucial role in the rise of thrash metal. A devoted Flying V player for years, guitarist Wolf Hoffman helped lay the groundwork for the genre on albums like 1982’s Restless and Wild and 1983’s Balls to the Wall, both of which are speed-metal masterpieces. Accept never reached the heights in America that they achieved in the rest of the world, but their reputation among their fellow musicians is stellar. With Hoffman on-board, Accept reformed in 2010 and released their 13th studio album, Stalingrad, this past April.
Formed in 1989, Oomph! blazed a smoking trail for nearly every German industrial-goth band (including Rammstein) that came in their wake. Starting out as an electronica band, the group switched in the mid ‘90s to a guitar-driven style while continuing to incorporate their electro roots. In a 2008 interview with Radio Metal, lead singer Dero Goi said Oomph’s goal was “to combine the cold electronica appeal of the 80’s with a rough, dirty metal hard-rock sound.” Guitarists Andreas Crap and Robert Flux comprise the dual-guitar attack that drives Oomph!’s inventive style.
Formed in 1994, Rammstein is the most successful band to emerge from Germany’s “Neue Deutsche Harte” (translation: “new German hardness”) scene. Sporting an industrial sound and a flair for theatrics that’s operatic in scale, the band straddles the line between prog-metal and goth-rock. In addition to playing a Les Paul Studio guitar, Guitarist Paul Landers often delivers his incendiary riffs on a satin-black Paul Landers Signature model, sometimes played in a dropped-C or dropped-D tuning.
Guano Apes’ career took flight in 1996 when they won a “Local Heroes” competition staged by VIVA, Germany’s music TV channel. Fronted by charismatic female singer Sandra Nasic, the band achieved international acclaim for an alternative-rock style that fuses pop, metal and rap. In a sign of the times, the band is currently on break while Nasic participates as a judge on the German edition of The X Factor. Guano Apes’ guitarist, Henning Rumenapp, often favors a Les Paul for delivering his crushing riffs.
One of Germany’s preeminent bands from 1980 to 2004, Bohse Onkelz evolved from three-chord punk devotees into one of heavy metal’s most explosive units. Tragedy and controversy dogged the group in the ‘90s, but in 2003 they got a big dose of cred when the Rolling Stones asked them to open a performance at Germany’s Hanover Fairground. The band’s farewell show, staged in June 2005 in Lusatia, Brandenburg, drew an audience of 120,000, making it the biggest open-air show ever by a German band. Guitarist Matthias “Gonzo” Rohr often favored Gibsons – including a Les Paul, an SG, and a beautiful EDS-1275 Doubleneck – throughout the band’s career.
Formed in 1984 by German multi-instrumentalist Sascha Konietzko, KMFDM is considered by many to be the first band to bring industrial music into the mainstream. Electronica, samples, and heavy-metal guitar are all part of the group’s sonic arsenal, which Konietzko refers to as “the ultra-heavy beat.” A variety of guitarists have played with KMFDM through the years, and indeed Ministry founder Al Jourgensen once described KMFDM as "a battalion of guitars marching through Europe." British guitarist Jules Hodgson, who’s been splitting his time between KMFDM and his side-band, the Spittin’ Cobras, is a devoted SG player.
For further reading:
Top 10 Metal Guitarists of All Time
It Takes Two: Great Metal Guitar Duos