As far as “Neue Deutsche Härte” bands from Berlin go, Rammstein is the Euro-everyman’s favorite go-to gear-grinding sextet, together with the same membership for 25 years — although their new album, the group’s first in a decade, marks the first time they’ve gotten round to an eponymous album. Taking after a name defined (in German dictionary terms) as a stone-crafted battering ram, the group is famous for its pounding sound of industrial morass, which, when combined with its dance-tronic, industrial New Wave sheen, has made Rammstein an oddly sensual experience in its decades of international renown.
Driven by co-founder Till Lindemann’s deeply Germanic guttural vocals and occasionally perverse sex talk (that is, when he isn’t chattering on about his loathing of governments and organized religion), Rammstein is chilly without being cold, eerily epicene and epic, and, of course, kinkily apocalyptic. If Bill Maher got a gig fronting “Downward Spiral”-era NIN, you’d have an English-speaking Rammstein on your hands.
On the new “Rammstein,” the band’s bold brand of Teutonic dance metal is what it sounds like when doves cry, earth scorches, the vice squad appears, and mankind melts to a puddle on cleaving metallic tracks such as “Tattoo,” and operatic cuts such as “Zeig Dich.” Translated as “Show Yourself,” here, a brawny set of crunching, clean guitars, thundering drums, tinkling pianos and a Wagnerian vocal choir roam behind Lindemann as he inelegantly cough-croons lines such as “Curse desires / Damn temptation / Promise damnation / Commit crimes.” Only in German… man, is it stern sounding.
Other lyrics on this long-awaited, self-titled album look toward the seedier side of things. While a discordant “Hallomann” could be Peter Lorre’s child-killing “M” put to maudlin metal machine music, the crisply swinging “Sex” finds the singer emoting passionately and compassionately about carnal acts beyond the pale. When Lindemann howls “A fist in my stomach / Come here, you want it too,” you feel his urge and his pain, at once. His sexual desires are closely knitted to his spiritual needs, and both must be satisfied.
It’s a different sort of painful dilemma that infiltrates “Puppe” (“Puppet”) and its red-light district of the mind, a psychic Amsterdam where marionettes become chew toys, and family members working as prostitutes take on all comers. “And sometimes there are two,” sings Lindemann with a mix of sadness and salaciousness.
For all the pernicious provocation found in Lindemann’s lyrical intent on these tracks — to say nothing of his huffing and puffing sing-speak — the crush of industrial metal and curt Germanic synth-tronica make it all seem safe, just another aspect of Rammstein’s cascading and contagious melody.
That’s the surprisingly winning thing about Rammstein. The steely sextet could execute wild sex acts and whore their sisters out and eat puppet heads, and still, that snap-crackle-thrumm-smash-and crash makes for its own crepuscular brand of pop. Take songs such as “Ausländer” and “Radio” as the best examples of Rammstein’s attraction to catchy song craft. While the former could easily become a hummable dance floor sensation alongside VASSY & Disco Fries’ “Concrete Heart,” the latter is a dark and prickly ode to the joys of loving (and hating) music, done up in subtly sparkling melodic twitches. If Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga” was looking for its evil twin, they’d find it in Rammstein.
Though slow, dense ballads such as “Was Ich Liebe” and “Diamant” hold epic weight for Lindemann and company — and therefore room to rouse and ruminate — it is “Deutschland” that is this untitled album’s chant-and-response centerpiece, a slyly contagious song with socio-conscious lyricizing that touches on everything from loathing neo-Nazis to being disgusted with the motherland In a manner that turns a country into a spurned paramour. “We’ve already been together too long … Germany, I cannot give you my love,” sings Lindemann, humanizing his homeland, while turning away from its advances.
While by no means a perfect album, Rammstein’s first since 2009’s “Liebe ist für alle da” is a scintillating and sensual (if not awkwardly sexual) reminder of the meat-and-steel-pounded power of industrial music at its catchiest, fleshiest and most inventive.