REVIEW: Rammstein pumps out its brand of electro-industrial on ‘Untitled’

Since breaking out of the German techno-metal Neue Deutsche Härte scene in the mid ‘90s, Rammstein remains one of the last real shock rockers. The moral panic this band caused with over-the-top stage antics and spreading music videos on adult entertainment websites seems rather silly this far into the internet age.

Still, to say these guys left their mark on the music industry would be a gross understatement. Even after two decades, Rammstein’s sound remains strikingly distinct. The real question is how well a new album can hold up 10 years after Liebe ist für alle da. It’s easy to imagine how much could go wrong with Untitled, but it’s pretty much everything you could want from Rammstein.

Universal, May 17

The backlash triggered by the video for lead single “Deutschland” proves the “shock” part of Rammstein’s style, but the song stands up by itself as some quality meat-and-potatoes industrial rock. The arpeggiated synths, anthemic chords and thumping four-on-the-floor beat are exactly what you’d expect, but the band built its reputation on an original style. The militant disco beat, electrifying riffing and deliciously cheesy synths of “Radio” are even more infectious. Till Lindemann’s vocals remain as commanding and hooky as they are emotive and creepy, properly rounding off Rammstein’s legendary sound, even after 25 years.

Untitled cuts no corners with regard to dramatics, as exemplified by the bombastic choir intro of “Zeig dich.” And yet, Rammstein maintains its incredible balance of size and accessibility. Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul H. Landers treat their guitars as a part of the rhythm section, allowing keyboardist Christian Lorenz to handle the melodies. It’s what makes cuts like “Ausländer” the rock equivalent of electronic dance music. The line between real and synthetic sound blurs, and the drops are more suited for pogoing than moshing. It’s actually incredible how tastefully “Sex” packs pinch harmonics and head-banging riff mongering into a bouncy shuffle. If nothing else, this album proves Rammstein doesn’t have to use shock to make its point.

After establishing its dance-metal prowess, Rammstein introduces a slow-burning side with “Puppe.” An atmosphere is set with an eerie guitar line and Lindemann’s resonant baritone, as nuanced syncopation creeps alongside an Roland-808 beat. Christoph Schneider’s pounding drums suddenly skyrocket the song’s emotional impact as the frontman’s voice reaches borderline-hysterical levels of emotion. Harrowing keyboard ambiance and weighty guitar strains make it a truly chilling number. “Diamant” takes things a step further with acoustic guitar and cello, with no drums or distorted guitars getting in the way of Lindemann’s expressive voice. It’s here where the band’s care for songwriting shines through the electro-metal exterior.

While Rammstein’s abject sonics can come off a bit dated, the band’s consistency wouldn’t be possible after all these years if not for genuine, believable chemistry. The explosion drifting instrumentation of “Was ich liebe” and the classic metal riffs of “Tattoo” are both served by punchy, simple drumming and vocal dramatics. In fact, the ethereal moodiness of the former and the battering heaviness of the latter are joined by shimmering synth patches, simultaneously elevating and unifying these contrasting aspects of Rammstein’s artistic identity.

It’s easy to imagine an album like this falling flat on its face, considering how poorly so much of the ‘90s culture has aged. [Editor’s note: Those of us who came of age in the ’90s wholeheartedly disagree]. The straightforward, mid-tempo rock feel of both “Weit weg” and closing track “Hallomann” seems perfect for an end-credits banger for 1998’s Blade movie, but the thoughtful production and dynamic arrangement are impossible to ignore. Whether it’s seamlessly integrated keyboard and guitar lines, or Oliver Riedel’s beefy bass lines and dissonant ambiance, these tracks can wear their roots on their sleeve and not only survive, but flourish.

Untitled in no way reinvents the wheel, so those who hated this band back then won’t stop hating them now. In some ways, that’s part of Rammstein’s appeal. Mixing electro-industrial, weird sex and heavy metal shouldn’t work, but it does. These guys have remained intact after more than 20 years and still pump out exhilarating, smart and catchy dance-metal. Rammstein has a sound, and does it well. The tracks are well-tread, but hopping on the train is still a great ride.

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