The big review: Rammstein – Zeit
Tick, tick… BOOM! Rammstein veer between introspective slow-burn and disco inferno on engrossing eighth album Zeit.
Despite now having seven albums under their belts, Rammstein still remain one of the most mysterious and misunderstood bands to ever exist. Over the past three decades, the German industrialists have taken heavy noise to new unchartered dimensions, both visually and sonically, and are no strangers to controversy – from the real-life sexathon of the Pussy video, to 2019's video for Deutschland, which comes armed with imagery of Nazism and concentration camps.
But for all their boundary-pushing and bludgeoning heaviness, there remains the question of which Rammstein album rules them all? Each one is packing some serious heat, but some records burn brighter than others. Here we count down and rank each Rammstein album in order of worst to best…
In all honesty, there’s simply no such thing as a bad Rammstein record – all seven studio albums contain more than their fair share of face-melting Teutonic glory. That said, their fifth full-length fell slightly short of the creative genius so boldly present on the albums before it. Released only a year after its predecessor – which half of its tracks were originally penned for – it was even named Reise, Reise Volume Two before the group eventually settled on Rosenrot (translating as 'rose-red' in English). But this is no half-arsed collection of B-sides… far from it. Mann Geggen Mann witnesses some of most maniacal roars we’ve heard from Till Lindemann, while more keen-eared fans may have recognised the ‘Hey’ sample used in pulverising opener Benzin from Prodigy chart-topper Firestarter, originally lifted off Art Of Noise track Close (To The Edit). One of the more unlikely collaborations in rock history arrived with Stirb Nicht Vor Mir, which features guest vocals from Sharleen Spiteri of Scottish pop-rockers Texas, alongside German singer Bobo – who has lent her voice to a handful of Rammstein songs over years. Over half of these songs have never been performed on stage, and considering just how much great music they’ve written over the course of 25 years, that’s perfectly understandable.
For some bands, evolution equates to moving through genres and eventually leaving their roots firmly in the past. This is definitely not the case with Rammstein, however. All the flavours you would expect from them today are present on their mid-’90s debut – crushing metallic guitars, robotic synths, pounding machine-like rhythms and, of course, singer Till’s earth-rumbling baritone. That’s not to say the Neue Deutsche Härte pioneers haven’t progressed – rather their growth has been evident more in their songcraft than the actual ingredients to their sound, save for a few horns and acoustics. Standout moments on this first taste include the searing thrash metal of Asche Zu Asche, electro-pop masterpiece Du Riechst So Gut, haunting ballad Seemann, and the unforgettable closer named after the group themselves. Though the production wasn’t quite as expansive as the music, the 11 songs impressed Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor enough for him to include Heirate Mich and the self-titled finale on the 1996 Lost Highway soundtrack.
While that debut fared well on home soil and Austria, climbing into the Top 10 and Top 20 respectively, it was Rammstein’s second release that saw global recognition beckon – mainly thanks to GRAMMY-nominated lead single Du Hast. More than two decades on, it remains the benchmark for industrial metal – an enduring juxtaposition of opposing extremes. Both playful and sinister, simplistic yet intelligent, soulful and mechanical, it encapsulates the conflict between man and machine like few had done before and have done since. Then there are the double meanings the Germans have become famous for – its main lyric translating as either 'you have me' or 'you hate me', depending on Till’s diction. Other tracks like Engel and Bück Dich remain setlist staples to this day, the latter of which involving some of Till’s more, um, ambitious flair for showmanship.
Rammstein broke their decade-long album silence with a pair of opening bowls that were a double-whammy of blunt brilliance. It’s not self-titled; there just is no title. The first peep at it, meanwhile, was the video premiere of the emphatically-named Deutschland. Fittingly, this cinematic clip was the most Rammstein thing that ever Rammsteined: at once outrageous, subtle, on-the-nose, naked, mysterious, hilarious, cutting and challenging. With lyrics that spoke of a love of their homeland, while also expressing a sadness and disappointment for its shortcomings, the video takes in scenes of German history, some exaggerated for The Rammstein Effect, others served brutally cold. There were arch references to the Third Reich all over the place, but it was one shot in particular that would become infamous and landed the band in hot water. Dressed as a concentration camp inmate, Till Lindemann looks straight to camera to finish the line, ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, über allen’, a knowing nod to the infamous Nazi anthem Deutschland Über Alles, a reference so hot that Holocaust groups criticised the band for it, and German commissioner for anti-Semitism Felix Klein questioned the band’s motives, calling it, "a tasteless exploitation of artistic freedom". Possibly, but in a clip in which the main camp guard is a black woman, and the band eventually shoot another Nazi in the face, the point Rammstein were making cannot be misconstrued, even if the irony of the video was in poor taste to some.
Either way, Rammstein had lost none of their smart artistry or clever means of delivering it. Untitled is often a slower burn than other albums, but the shots still landed with surgical precision. Radio is a thunderous, straightforward chugger, while Auslander tackles the subject of getting your end away all over the world to a gloriously Eurovision beat, but alongside these obvious knockouts, there were more subtle elements, too. Diamant is as soft as a love song can be when sung in German by a man with Till’s voice, and Was ich liebe at first is a fairly basic bit of slow, military-efficient minimalism, but when they used it to open the subsequent run of stadium shows – gigs which began in summer evening light – it suddenly became a towering threat of what’s to follow. Particularly when, as the song lifts, black smoke poured out of the stage to literally block out the sun.
Untitled said a lot about Rammstein, in all their apparent contradictions and extremes. Even the single match on the cover expressed much for such a simple idea. You know what you’re getting from Rammstein, it said, but even at this late stage, you’ve never looked at them like this, or been less close to having them figured out.
Rammstein’s sixth effort Liebe Ist Für Alle Da (meaning 'love is for everyone') documented the Berlin sextet at their most provocatively twisted. The video for lead single Pussy premiered on German porn site Visit-X, depicting the band members engaging in various sexual activities – though which of the close-up scenes were performed by stunt doubles remains unclear. Wiener Blut (translating as 'Viennese Blood') was inspired by one of the most harrowing kidnap cases in European history, where Austrian engineer Josef Fritzl imprisoned his own daughter inside a basement for 24 years, fathering seven children with her. Ich Tu Dir Weh (meaning I Want To Hurt You) also contributed to the album being initially banned from public display in their native country, thanks to its wishlist of sadomasochistic practices that included the employment of needles, pliers, saws and – most perturbing of all – the insertion of rodents into the human body. Ew. Germany’s Federal Department For Media Harmful To Young People lifted the ban the following year, ruling it was more “a surrealistic hint at violence” than anything containing detailed or real descriptions of violence. In their official making-of video, guitarist Paul Lander explains how [keyboardist] “Flake gets mishandled by Till in this tub, gets liquid metal poured over him to visually underline the song text [lyrics]… because Flake is the weakest member of the group.” This scene has become a firm fixture within their curiously bombastic and gale-force theatrics on stage.
Boasting nearly as many fan favourites as the masterpiece that preceded it (more on which to come), album number four was the sound of Rammstein rising to the challenge which they had set themselves. Mein Teil, which won the group their second GRAMMY nomination, delved into the German cannibalism case of Armin Meiwes, who was nicknamed Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher) by national media for using the Internet to find a voluntary victim he could cook, eat and kill. On second single Amerika, Till ditches his native tongue to launch a scathing attack on the Americanisation of the modern world, bemoaning ‘This is not a love song, I don’t sing my mother’s tongue’ in his pop-infected denunciation. “It’s fine that everyone can watch American movies and listen to American music,” admitted drummer Christoph ‘Doom’ Schneider in official making-of documentary behind its moon landing-themed video, “but when one culture starts to export their values and tries to manipulate others for their own gain, like in Iraq, then it becomes too much.” Keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’s take on it was more tongue-in-cheek, admitting in the same documentary that “we hope the Americans like the song, find it amusing and think, ‘At last the Europeans realise how good we are!’”
Rock music was in a state of rude health as 2001 came to a close. Landmark releases from Slipknot, Tool, System Of A Down and Opeth cemented the year as an exceptional time for heavy, life-affirming noise. It would also see Rammstein reach their creative peak – renting the famous Weimar house on the German Baltic coast the year prior for pre-production before recording at Studio Miraval in France – where Pink Floyd tracked The Wall. It might not be a double-album, but for many fans Mutter is to industrial metal what the 1979 Pink Floyd masterpiece is to progressive rock – exemplary in its artistic ambition and unmitigated in both finesse and flair. Its biggest single, Sonne, was actually written as entrance for Ukrainian boxing brothers Vitaly and Wladimir Klitschko, though the pair ended up going with the somewhat less metallic sounds of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. Five more singles came after that – Links 2-3-4, Ich Will, Mutter, Feuer Frei! and Mein Herz Brennt, the latter of which arriving 11 years after the album’s release. Mutter’s 45 minutes showcased Rammstein at their unbridled world-beating best and will forever exemplify sonic warfare of the highest calibre.
Tick, tick… BOOM! Rammstein veer between introspective slow-burn and disco inferno on engrossing eighth album Zeit.
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