Rammstein - Rammstein (Review)

Martin_Canine
RAMMSTEIN
Rammstein
★★★★☆

Horrifying psychotic visions in the broken debris of Germany’s history

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The return of Rammstein after ten years without any full length studio album released was the biggest and most anticipated musical event of 2019 in all of Germany. Capital Bra surpassed the Beatles in terms of number one hits? Get outta here! Andrea Berg had her tenth chart topping album? Ts! In any other moment, the title for the most hyped German artist of the year would have been a tough match between the young rap sensation and the established schlager empress, but in 2019, everyone’s eyes were on Rammstein’s comeback. The last record we got of the foremost German rock band ever was 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da, a massively successful and - like all of their work - controversial selection of ambitious music whose lyrics dug into territories so dark nobody wants to explore them, while Rammstein point their fingers at the all too real horror and force us to take a traumatizing look.

Since then, people have been waiting desperately for new material - and in their longing for at least something they could get their hands on, they even brought a live album and a best of compilation to the top of the charts. People started to slowly but steadily give up their hope that the six men would go back to the studio ever again. When in 2018, a new Rammstein album was announced, it appeared too good to be true - and it was, as the release was delayed until the next year. But once the final date was set, you could feel the tension building up among music lovers. The first thing that heated up the hype was the supporting tour, which was almost instantly sold out and lead to a number of articles on illegal ticket sales. Then came the interviews with the band members whose vague statements lead to rumors that the band broke up and this would be their goodbye.

When ultimately their first new single Deutschland dropped, no one could stop the craze. The nine minute epic of a music video, a harsh and uncomfortable look at the bloody path of Germany from crusades to a modern nation, lead to a wide number of internet users detailedly analyzing every frame to catch all of the historical, mythical and cultural references it contained - it was a spectacle like there hasn’t been one in years. And naturally, it earned the band their second number one hit song in Germany (the first one was P---y). After the appetizer Radio, which was successful but not the blockbuster its predecessor was, the self-titled comeback album finally launched on May 17th, 2019. After ten years of anticipation, a monumental lead single, and as much coverage as possible, there was no getting around Rammstein being THE album of the year, if not the decade. And yet, a lot of people were disappointed.

The reviews were all good and positive, but was this really the magnum opus, the career-defining album fans and critics predicted it to be? Debatable. And the fact that it is debatable in and if itself means “no”. The expectations for this release were so unrealistically high that a single record could never fulfill them. Instead, what people got was seemingly a collection of great Rammstein songs - but they wanted more.

Internationally, Rammstein are famous for their distinctive sound of music, which is categorized as Neue Deutsche Härte. A genre invented by Oomph!, further developed by Megaherz and made popular by Rammstein themselves in the late 90s that has since sparked commercially very successful acts with Unheilig and Eisbrecher, it has become their trademark style, which speaks to people all around the globe. And if this is all that you are in for, then you should be more than satisfied, as Rammstein brings more of their initial vibe than the three previous albums together. Again, acid trance and rave synthesizers are thickly layered into the wall of heavy guitars - in fact, they are the first thing you hear - and again, the beats are more stomping and savage. Musically, Radio could be a straight outtake from Sehnsucht. What they added are more varied vocal techniques. Next to Lindemann’s deep, manic rhythmical talking, there are numerous occasions of him actually singing melodies, which add a slight touch of emotion here and there.

However, that was never the problem with Rammstein. What non-German speakers usually don’t know is the greatness of Till Lindemann’s lyricism. It’s not enough to understand the often scandalous topics of Rammstein songs - among them killing sprees, cannibalism, sexual abuse, religion, homophobia, suicide,... - it needs to be experienced through his wordings. The songs are poetry at the highest level of the German language, capable of associatively interweaving philosophical theses, psychological models and intertextual references to classic literature. That results in them having multiple layers that need to be carefully studied before fully getting to their core. Some of the songs are entirely made of allegories and metaphors, and need to be decoded, much like a riddle. There are clues to their true meanings all over them, though, mostly because the terms used get an inexplicably emotional reaction out of us. The most cryptic of their songs, like Mein Herz brennt (strongly borrowing motifs of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novel Der Sandmann, a German literature classic) and Ohne dich (which superficially tells a story of a man who misses his ex but uses imagery that remind us of the description of post-war battlefields full of debris and death), still have people not agreeing on a definitive solution. And this is what made Rammstein such a frustrating experience for many fans: the songs are mostly all straightforward, and relatively clear once you took a look at them.

That is not to say that the album is easily digestible: Deutschland revolves around the correlation of national pride and national self-hatred, Radio deals with the complicated, censorship filled role of the radio in East Germany, where the band members grew up, Zeig dich is harsh criticism aimed at the crimes done by the Catholic Church, Puppe is about the impact the murder of his sister, a prostitute, has on a young troubled boy, Hallomann is about a pedophile baiting a child. Many heavy topics, but also nothing there to write several pages of analysis about. In between are songs whose content even seems almost too trivial for Rammstein: Diamant and Was ich liebe are basically angsty love songs that contrast beauty and ugliness, happiness and tragedy, Weit weg is about the end of a relationship and Tattoo actually IS about a tattoo. The only song that got people really puzzled is Ausländer. The title literally translates to “foreigner”, a word which is one of the most politically charged of the German language, and needs to be used with care, as it has been repeatedly abused by the far right. The Rammstein song however has the bizarre topic of a man able of speaking many languages who has sex with women of different cultures. One of the most likely interpretations as a stand alone track is that it resembles the fears some German women have of foreigners after the events of New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne, which are here blown to ridiculous extremes to demonstrate how idiotic racism is. For any other band that may sound far fetched, but it’s exactly how Rammstein work. Having to dig this deep into the matter is a huge part of the greatness of the group, as it always gets rewarded. Rammstein doesn’t have this feeling much, but nonetheless its tracks are superb both musically and in the choice of its topic. Zeig dich and Puppe are sinister, disturbing standout tracks in the band’s discography.

But then, YouTuber Der dunkle Parabelritter, who previously caught attention with his Deutschland analysis video, brought up an interesting idea: what if Rammstein is to be seen a concept album that tells the story of a troubled man, rather than a collection of individual tunes? And this theory was probably the central piece needed to get an idea of what the puzzle will ultimately look like. Starting with Zeig dich, when he was molested by a priest, and then having been traumatized by the murder of his sister in Puppe. This puts Was ich liebe, Diamant and Weit weg, who follow right after each other, into a new context, as their common story of a broken love could be a direct result of the experiences that emotionally scarred him so that he was left unable to form a bond. All that’s ultimately left of this relationship is… a Tattoo. There’s also a song called Sex about someone wanting to have sex with another person, although he feels disgusted by them, which is set right before of Puppe. They thematically match, as it is established the sister is a prostitute - and many men who consult a prostitute feel dirty by the thought (NOTE: in Germany, prostitution is perfectly legal). And maybe, just maybe, Rammstein hinted at the concept with the title. "Puppe" means “doll” - “Sex” and “doll” can be combined to “sex doll”. The tragic ending of the story would be Hallomann - when the abused turns into an abuser himself, and so, the circle is complete.

The more one thinks about it, the more likely this interpretation of the album seems - at least regarding track 3, and track 5 to 11. We still got a trilogy of Deutschland, Radio and Ausländer (Zeig dich interrupts them) at the very beginning that does not quite fit into the story. But then… think again. All three songs have a common theme: nationality. Going with the idea of a concept album, this appears highly improbable to be a coincidence, although it is hard to connect the dots with each other or the rest of the album. Deutschland is told from a modern day perspective looking back at the past and tying it to the present, Radio is undeniably set in East Germany, and Ausländer still remains the most cryptic moment of the entire record, which is most likely set in the modern world. Assuming Deutschland is used to give the story a setting, what part do the other two tracks play? Maybe the trinity of songs is supposed to show that the album is metaphorical for Germany - how the past has ruined the country much like his past ruined the protagonist? Or perhaps the idea was that broken identities like that of the protagonist can only occur in an already broken country? But why is Zeig dich crammed into the middle of them?

So far, no one has a definitive answer. Also I don’t. There certainly lies even more beneath the words of the album, but we’re on a very good way of solving the mystery. Music fans will spend hours and hours listening to Rammstein over and over again. They will discover new aspects. And we will ultimately grow to love the album. Unwrapping Rammstein’s visions is not an easy task, and it’s almost impossible for one individual to discover all there is on their own. And I believe, further investigation into the matter will ultimately pay off. As for now, it’s an awesome comeback of a legendary band that already got people actively thinking about the music rather than merely listening to it. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

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