Playing tight - getting a feel for good timing
Probably the largest musical export from Germany goes by the name of Rammstein. They’re a six-man team from Berlin whose staccato-like rhythms that could hardly sound more mechanical, murmuring texts charged with provocation and the spectacular live performances that established the band as one of the Figureheads of the New German Hardness.
The group has existed in its original form since January 1, 1994, consisting of Till Lindemann on vocals, Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers on guitars, Oliver Riedel on bass, Christian "Flake" Lorenz on keyboards and Christoph "Doom" Schneider on drums. With the sheer power of their militant-martial minimalism in the sound, the sometimes shocking as well as creative music videos, and the mostly cleverly composed lyric poetry with reference to traditional, literary works of the German language, they grew into a phenomenon that transcends all national borders and language barriers swept and paved the way for a total triumph on a global level.
After almost thirty years and eight studio albums, April 29, 2022 saw the six men eke out their existence as an exorbitant art collective. Supposed farewell gestures are revealed on the eighth album “Zeit,” especially in the appropriately titled outro track “Adieu,” and the basic mood swings more in the direction of melancholy. The accompanying songs are downright sluggish.
The shock factor has increasingly lost its visual value over time, which is merely the logical consequence of an ever more networked, digitized world in which everyday access to the darkest recesses of the human psyche can be found. Space for the sheer shock was made by an introspection that continued to form on the last discs of the Berlin band, which is consistently continued with the current album. Some claim that the eighth studio album is the right album at the right time and heralds the end of a cultural era, but is that really the case?
Before examining the question of the quality of the new output, let's turn back time to the beginnings and eventual attainment of international cult status, for is this in itself justified at all? A year after the band was founded, Rammstein's first full album, Herzeleid, was released. The cover alone was enough to paint the ill-informed a picture that this was a Teutonic testosterone formation that indulged only in the cultivation of “toxic masculinity.”
Hard guitars paired with harshly accented language and hardened bodies frightened people at the time, because this could be interpreted as a direct lure to fascistic ideas, with such a perfidious focus on the male body, since, among other things, the body cult was an integral part of the Nazi-Ideology. In addition, there are the martial rhythms and the deliberately provocative and harsh pronunciation of the German lyrics, which are reminiscent of a certain politician who paved the way for National Socialism on a political level.
Vulnerable sides are already shown on the first album, especially with regard to the lyrics. A major standout track from “Herzeleid” is by no means one of the dull but bombastic anthems like “Wollst ihr das Bett in Flammen haben?”, but the melancholic, heartbreaking “Seemann,” which is about a doomed love and the tragic death of the eponymous sailor on the high seas.
Furthermore, such a song educates critics who claim that a certain degree of introspection was only worked in later in their career. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek deeply examined the potential danger that Rammstein emanates and came to an equally astonishing and clearly recognizable conclusion: According to Žižek's analysis, Rammstein cleverly use the style of rhetoric and the body language of the Nazi Time, however, they allude to the opposite effect, gradually diminishing the impact and power of the fascination, ritually replicating it over and over again until it loses its destructive influence altogether.
The motif of the pairing of sexuality and German language accompanied by repetitive rhythms has been consistently pursued by the band since the 90s, which transformed into a kind of dissection of the soul of being German by the beginning of the 2010s, which caught the fears and suppressed desires of an entire collective memory. "Sehnsucht" from 1997 gave Rammstein an increased boost in popularity, with hits like “Engel” and “Du hast,” which are an integral part of the German-speaking rock landscape.
Naturally, with the spotlight comes negative headlines, where it has been repeatedly claimed that Rammstein encourages spiritual arson by addressing taboos. This did not stop the Berliners at all, and at the beginning of the millennium they published their hitherto unrivaled magnum opus called “Mutter.” Evil tongues, who still claimed that Rammstein was an outfit for fascistic ideas, quickly learned from Till Lindemann and Co. just how wrong they were with one of the first singles on the album. In particular “Links 2 3 4” deals with the negative media attention and their attempts at restriction and articulates a clear statement against right-wing extremism:
“Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck, doch They want my heart in the right place, yeah Seh´ ich dann nach unten weg So I’ll look down Da schlägt es links!” That’s where it hits the leftRammstein - Links 2 3 4
After the huge impact of “Mutter” the next blockbuster came out in 2004 with the title “Reise Reise,” which continued Rammstein's success trend with shocking images in their increasingly opulently produced music videos, as well as some clear cross-references to German literature. One example is “Dalai Lama”—an obvious lyrical allusion to Goethe's Erlkönig.
On the 2009 album Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, the hit "Haifisch" is also a tribute to the work of an old poet—in this case Bertolt Brecht. Critics who claimed that Rammstein were just stupidly out for sex and shock had the wind taken out of their sails in light of these examples. In 2005 the B-sides were released. These are songs that were recorded at the same time but didn't make it onto the finished album “Reise Reise,” and were instead released on “Rosenrot.” Ten years were to pass before the next album was to be released, this time simply leaving it untitled. A gigantic tour resulted from its release, then came the pandemic and exactly three years later the current album called "Zeit" was released.
Whether the album was released at the right time remains, like so much else, open to debate. The 11 songs again (like on the untitled predecessor) seem powerless and uninspired, since they come up with no musical innovations at all, with the small but fine exception that Flake is given more leeway for his keyboards and is thus allowed to shine more often.
The rest acts mechanically solid as usual, the drums only do the bare minimum to drive the martial act forward, which is completely legitimate for this kind of music. However, it is noticeable that the once playful cyphers poetry by the singer and poet Till Lindemann has lost a lot. Gone are the clever puns and literary references, as well as the basic shock factor of the content, and instead every cliché for which Rammstein has been criticized for years is affirmed.
Song titles like “Dicke Titten” (“Big Tits”) and "OK", which stands for "Ohne Kondom” (“Without Condoms), represent the clumsy fixation on sexuality and being German, two pillars of the negative press, although it would seem like a stroke of genius if this was deliberately used as a meta-comment on Rammstein's complete works from the band itself was conceived.
In contrast to these facets of the album, there are also serious numbers, such as the title track, which, with its various layers and chanson borrowings, is reminiscent of glorious hymns such as “Seemann” or “Ohne Dich.”
Nevertheless, the aftertaste of this album is rather bland. For a long time there is no increased desire for repeated play-throughs as with the previous Rammstein classics. Now nearly 30 years into the band's original formation, and with a certain toll taken after years of excessive touring, 'Zeit' may truly mark the farewell of a legendary German band that will remain an important cultural export for all time to come.
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Originally published on July 14, 2022, updated on July 14, 2022