Anyone expecting a new Rammstein album to come without some sort of controversy clearly isn’t too familiar with this band. They’ve effectively made their name at this stage through provocation that’s basically made their visual aspect just as important as the music, be that in the live shows or music videos, and that’s a trend that’s carried on untouched here, delivering this album’s lead single Deutschland, a criticism of the historical atrocities of their home nation Germany, with a video that picked up a not-inconsiderable amount of heat for its dramatisation of a concentration camp execution. But like it or not, that sort of stark, often tasteless imagery has often been the norm for Rammstein, and for as heavily as it’s profiting off the controversy it accumulates, they have the musical talent to back it up and prevent them from being a band running on all style and no substance. They’ve essentially become the face of the Neue Deutsche Härte movement for their thunderous, industrial metal assaults, and with the deep sense of presence and theatrical gusto brought by vocalist Till Lindemann, they’ve carved out a place in the metal scene that few have even gotten close to encroaching on. But none of that’s news; Rammstein have earned themselves a place in the pantheon of modern metal bands that will ultimately stand the test of time through a combination of their graphic imagery and immediately distinct sound, and having this seventh album self-titled (or untitled, depending on which source you’re looking at) would imply this to be the purest approximation of those factors to date.
And while it can be argued that’s the case, there are still quite a few instances where it doesn’t feel as though that equilibrium has fully been reached. On the whole, this feels like a greater exercising of Rammstein’s provocation above their actual music, and while that’s a perfectly valid way for this of all bands to approach making an album, it can also feel like a truncated version of what they’re best at. That might seem like an odd issue to single out when there’s so much done right here – and indeed, it’s enough to ensure that it still all averages out into a good album – but when the areas that do feel underdeveloped or underutilised are so explicit, they can be difficult to overlook, particularly when high standards elsewhere lead to some rather jarring and clunky rifts.
It’s an issue that’s almost exclusive centred on the instrumentation as well, something that isn’t made any better when the degradation of quality seems to occur with the routine progression of the album. It’s not as if it’s outright terrible either; really, the only track that doesn’t land to at least some degree is the acoustic knell of Diamant which, even among the slower, more methodical moments here, feels a bit too slight and undercooked to have much of an impact. Beyond that, everything here is at least serviceable, but when Rammstein toss aside their industrial might and muscle for something akin to more generic hard rock, the edge that’s always been so crucial to them is dulled considerably. The chugging hard rock riffs of Tattoo are fine enough, but they only feel like a weaker reproduction of what’s already just an okay template earlier on on Radio, and the warping, whirring synths on Weit Weg are the only thing stopping it from falling into similar territory. Again, there’s not an issue functionally, but the shift to this less-inspired form of metal can really weigh down the back end of an album that, up to that point, doesn’t have an issue with keeping its momentum going.
It’s a shame too, because that’s a sizable black mark on an album that, if it wasn’t for it, swings for the fences and hits more or less every time. When this album is good, it shows the power that Rammstein exude when giving modern metal a thunderous galvanisation that can still remain rather accessible. Deutschland sets the scene perfectly in this regard, as the dizzying keys and steamrolling riffs keep its feet deeply locked in its industrial metal foundation, but the sledgehammer hit of a refrain on the chorus is enough on its own to justify why this band can headline stadiums. Elsewhere, Ausländer is a full-blown Eurodance banger accented by waves of snarling guitars, while the eerie creak of Puppe that smashes apart into mammoth drum crashes genuinely feels like Rammstein channelling King 810, complete with Lindemann’s own snapping from malevolent whispers to pure, grief-stricken anguish. He really is the expressive core of Rammstein that differentiates them from so many other industrial metal acts, bringing a sense of bravado that’s simultaneously unwavering in its power, but also distinctly dramatic in his enunciation and flourishes that feel unmistakably European in their embrace of camp. It’s a juxtaposition that feels so brilliantly fully formed that, in their best moments, Rammstein continue to feel like a fresh prospect among a branch of metal that’s so frequently defined by how formulaic it can be.
It’s a shame they’re unable to keep it up for the duration of the album, but it can almost feel necessary when it comes to their aforementioned provocation, and how it feels as though Rammstein want that to take top billing here. After all, a decade away can cause some serious rust, but rather than volleys of blind controversy that would be an easy out but also the most tiresome one, Rammstein’s commentary feels measured and thoughtful in how to portray its own unease. The condemnation of German history stands as the most potent theme, led by Deutschland’s assertions of how difficult it is to love one’s country, and built upon by Radio’s exploration of growing up in East Germany surrounded by media censorship and Tattoo’s reference to the branding of Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps in one of the band’s most thought-provoking lyrical turns to date. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Rammstein album if sex wasn’t a factor – something that’s wholeheartedly and graphically embraced in the bluntly-titled Sex – but there’s also a darker, more sinister side that comes into effect, like the physically twisting looks at child prostitution on Puppe and sexual voyeurism on Weit Weg. The darkness truly is palpable throughout, and it’s the natural forcefulness of the German language that gives Rammstein so much of edge here, and making their commitment to a mangled portrayal of the human psyche so easy to love.
In truth, a lot of this album is easy to love; at their best, Rammstein craft a brand of metal that few in the modern scene can really match up to, be that in execution or content. Unfortunately, that isn’t all of it, and this album has a few too many clunkers to really consider it a fully great album, instead of one being so precariously on the cusp of that. Rammstein have the ambition to do great things, something they’ve proven time and time again, and while a significant portion of this album entirely embraces that fact, when they don’t, it’s easy to see where the shortcomings lie. It’s not a deal-breaking fault, particularly when everything else is so good, but it can be unnecessary dead weight that’s not ideal on such an important album in the band’s career. But on the whole, this is an album that shows why Rammstein are so revered in modern metal, with a creativity and vibrancy that can be unparalleled and an ear for detail that’s truly impressive. It may have a few shortcomings, but this is how Rammstein needed to come back, and it’s so good that they have.
For fans of: Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, Nine Inch Nails
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Rammstein’ by Rammstein is out now on Capitol Records / Vertigo Records.