Rammstein untitled album review: German band's seventh LP is a fiery spectacle that sparks, sizzles and explodes
Friday saw the launch of Rammstein's seventh studio album that comes a whole decade since the band's Liebe ist für alle da (LIFAD) record and nearly a quarter of a century since the debut album Herzeleid
Minimal (or no) title
Maximum impact? That's the million Euro (or one million, one hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and thirty-five dollar) question
Friday saw the launch of Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) band Rammstein's seventh studio album — whether or not the album will go on to be referred to as The Untitled Album or simply Rammstein is as-yet-unknown — that comes a whole decade since the band's Liebe ist für alle da (LIFAD) record and nearly a quarter of a century since the debut album Herzeleid.
Minimal (or no) title.
Maximum impact? That's the million Euro (or one million, one hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and thirty-five dollar) question.
After all, with no new material — barring tracks Mein Land and Ramm4 — since 2009's fantastic LIFAD, the level of expectation was always going to be sky high for the new album by the German sextet that comprises frontman Till Lindemann, guitarists Richard Z Kruspe and Paul Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel, keyboardist Christian 'Flake' Lorenz and sticksman Christoph 'Doom' Schneider. For a while, there was speculation that there may not even be a seventh album, with rumours of a split surrounding the band in the mid-2010s. The greatest hits compilation Made in Germany 1995-2011, it was feared in some quarters, would be the last offering by the band.
Meanwhile, as Landers told Independent, the rumours were fuelled by Lindemann and Kruspe putting out solo records, with nothing resembling so much as in the whiff of a new EP in sight from the band. "But we weren't really in any danger of breaking up; we just had a couple of years off. For me, the future of Rammstein was never in question, not even a little bit," he added.
With that out of the way, on with the show. And said show truly began on 28 March, with the premier of the mini-movie set to a lengthier version of what would be the first song on the new album: Deutschland.
Three things happened after the video — that at the time of writing has racked up over 50 million views on Rammstein's YouTube channel — hit the airwaves:
First, all manner of outrage and opprobrium poured out thick and fast over the band's use of Nazi imagery and the concentration camp depicted in the mini-movie. That the lyrical content of the track put the visuals in context appeared lost on a large percentage of those expressing their opposition to Deutschland. Notably, and as has been the band's style over the years, Rammstein stuck to its guns — an unfortunate pun, I know — and no one connected with the Teutonic titans put out a clarification, apology or anything of the sort. "We are not responsible for your interpretations" has always been the party line.
Second, came the realisation that after 25 years of maintaining a firmly apolitical position (musically, at least), stopping only to ever so gingerly dip a toe into political waters with 2004's Amerika — which it could be argued was more about American consumerism than politics per se — off the album Reise, Reise, the band appeared to be recalibrating its stand. If Amerika represented the dipping of a tiny appendage into political waters, Deutschland was a cannonball that splashed everyone around, as the reactions to the mini-movie demonstrated.
Third, it created a sea of anticipation that the album would be a great deal more political in nature, perhaps overtly and not via innuendo and wordplay alone, than any past offering by the band. And as visuals of that single matchstick in the promo — that would subsequently find its way onto the album cover — began to emerge, it was hard to quell the feeling that this would be Rammstein's most inciteful output yet.
Let's shatter that third point right at the offset, because none of the 10 other tracks on the album are anywhere near as political, even though they tackle some admittedly prickly themes. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Deutschland, the first track on the album's track list, turns the mirror on Germany and launches a blistering attack at the binary notion of nationalism — an idea of 'either being with the nation' and everything it does or 'against the nation', something with which India is only too well-acquainted. Sample these lyrics:
Du... Hast viel geweint... Im Geist getrennt... Im Herz vereint (You... Cried a lot... Separated in mind... United at heart);
Ich will dich nie verlassen... Man kann dich lieben... Und will dich hassen (I never want to leave you... One can love you... And want to hate you)
The notion that it is possible, and perhaps even desirable, to be cognisant of one's country's past, present and future, and all its shades of grey rather than living in black and white is something the mini-movie and lyrics to the track do masterfully. Another thing they do is to drive home George Orwell's assertion that while "nationalism can unite people it must be noted that it unites people against other people". The track appears to be both a proclamation and a warning: Proclaiming that the six members of Rammstein are proud Germans and warning that there's a difference between nationalism and the more desirable concept of patriotism, of which criticism of one's nation from time to time forms an integral part. It also helps that the intro and chorus (kicking in as it does after a somewhat sedate verse section) boast powerful riffs, engaging keyboards, lively drums and all the might of Rammlied, LIFAD's thumping album opener.
Why it's not necessarily a bad thing that the other tracks don't follow the same thematic cue in its overt form is that it allows the anthemic Deutschland to be that rare gem, that never-done-before and never-to-be-again (maybe). Much like the band itself.
After a cursory play through the 45-or-so-minute-long album, one thing becomes clear: If LIFAD was the album that saw Schneider's overall versatility behind the drums play a starring role, then the untitled album is where Lindemann's terrific vocal range and Flake's equally fascinating experiments with keyboards are the heroes. Upon letting the album live, breathe and play a while longer in one's headphones, car stereo or home audio system (as you deem most appropriate), tracks that may have been dismissed in the first listen grow into their own personalities and genuine show-stealers emerge.
Here's a rundown:
Radio, the second single from the album, deals presumably with the concept of censorship that existed before the fall of the Berlin Wall, where the eponymous radio was the only escape from State-enforced rules on what music was allowed and what was verboten. Sonically, the urgent downstroke-heavy riffing is reminiscent of early Static-X, while the keyboards pop up mischievously to set the scene for Lindemann to tell his tale: "Wir durften nicht dazugehören; Nichts sehen, reden oder hören (We weren't allowed to belong; Couldn't see, talk, or hear anything)". The guitars, keyboards and poppy aesthetics — made all the more acute by the infectiously singalong chorus — that follow make for just the sort of track that is likely to find itself sitting comfortably on many a Rammstein live setlist to come.
Zeig Dich (Show yourself), a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church laced with the sounds of a choir in full flight and packed with punk guitars and driving drums, is one of those sleeper hits that grows on you after each listen. The damning words "Vergnügen verpönt; Verlogen und verwöhnt; Als Versehen sich; An Kindern vergehen (Pleasure frowned upon; Hypocritical and spoiled; when accidentally; abusing children)" stay with you long after the final strike of a cymbal. A catchy chorus is merely icing on the cake.
Tattoo is a throwback of sorts to the Herzeleid brand (particularly the sort on the tracks Rammstein and Wollt Ihr das Betten Flammen Sehen) of blunt hammer-blow riffing. Capturing the dichotomy of tattoos — beauty and suffering intertwined inextricably together, the song appears to be an old-school Rammstein stomper. But stick around till the final quarter of the track and Tattoo takes on a life of its own, reflective of the sort of eclectic influences that have gone into each track of the untitled album.
And when the gentle opening strings of Puppe (Doll) come to life, it's hard to know what to expect. It doesn't matter what you are expecting when Lindemann intones "Wenn Schwesterlein zur Arbeit muss; Schließt mich im Zimmer ein; Hat eine Puppe mir geschenkt; Dann bin ich nicht allein (When Sister has to work, she locks me in the room; She's given me a doll, then I'm not alone)". The reality is far more frightening, discomforting and harrowing than you can imagine. Spoiler alert: The sister's workplace is only next door; when the sun sets, she screams and later in the story, she dies. We know not how. Oh, and the narrator bites the head off the doll. Bringing the horror of this track to life is Lindemann's guttural, primal and almost feral delivery. If you need to pour yourself a stiff drink and check that your home is securely locked after this track fades out to the eerie sound of fingers tinkling away at the ivories, it's most understandable.
Elsewhere, Weit Weg (Far away) is '80s rock come back to life, complete with the era's synth-heavy sound, and is entertaining enough. Was Ich Liebe (What I Love) is an ultimately forgettable lament about the futility of love, while Sex is big, dumb and raunchy fun — the sort only Rammstein appears shameless enough to do these days. Ausländer (Foreigner) answers the age-old question: "What if Rammstein played Eurotrance" and Diamant is the requisite melodic ballad.
Where does that leave us?
It is a fact that the second half of the album doesn't quite pack the same intensity or punch as the first half. It is equally a fact that this album — 10 years in the making — contains almost no filler. Each track is a living breathing creature — some creatures take time to open up to you, others are more immediate and hard-hitting... and then there is the veritable monster that is Puppe, gnashing and frothing as it works its way into your mind, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Naturally, as a non-native and in no manner of speaking, a competent speaker of German, plenty of nuance, metaphor and idiomatic content was lost on me. But that's always been the power of Rammstein: To be relevant and thought-provoking whether or not you understand the language.
The untitled album isn't 'one for the fans', it isn't one that will please studio executives or the record label and it will not — on its own strengths — convert millions into Rammstein fans overnight. What it is is the sound of a band that for 25 years has rejected trends, demands and censure to put out the music it wants to put out. Whether or not it's the final album is incidental. After all, it feels like a perfect tribute to the band's career and ethos. Although it's not the masterpiece that was 2001's Mutter, that it's the band's most experimental, daring and innovative (yet quintessentially Rammstein-esque through and through) album yet is what matters. Lindemann and Flake's exhibition of their sonic prowess alone serves as a timely reminder of the versatility, vibrancy and importance of this 12-legged juggernaut. And that's the million Euro question answered in full.
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