It’s been 10 years since Rammstein’s last industro-metal jaunt and, if their latest album is any indication, it sounds like they’ve been stockpiling aggression the entire time. The Berlin rockers start things by dropping an atom bomb on Germany’s modern history with “Deutschland,” a deceptively catchy number with lyrics about how the country — the EU’s shining star and a role model for world diplomacy — has become a letdown. Frontman Till Lindeman bemoans the state of a country that became too powerful, too heavy and too greedy. It has massive, Wagernesque riffs but the sentiment is anything but proud of the past; the word “Übermenschen” is meant as a dig at neo-Nazis. “We’ve already been together too long,” Lindemann sings at one point, and at another, “Germany, I cannot give you my love.” It’s a withering indictment, in line with 2004 single “Amerika,” but without funny lines like that song’s “Coca-Cola, sometimes war.”
In some ways, Rammstein have grown up in their decade of hibernation but mostly they have not. The band had ascended in the anything-goes nu-metal Nineties, blending new-wave synths with air-tight heavy-metal guitar riffs and disco drumbeats, all while Lindemann sang the some of the filthiest lyrics you couldn’t understand (“Bück Dich”) and, later on, some you could (“Pussy”). Over time, their sound became more polished and more rigid (and by proxy more Germanic?) but they still held onto their puerile impulses. “Deutschland” is the only song of any lyrical consequence on Rammstein — the rest piddle between the benign and letchy. But because it’s all in German, it’s not entirely clear which is which.
Some of the record’s milder fare sounds seedier and filthier than they would if Lindemann weren’t crooning breathily and hooting and hollering. On the disco-metal ditty “Radio,” he praises the worldly transmissions he heard growing up in oppressive East Germany for opening his ears to new music and ideas. And on the Eurotrash banger “Ausländer,” he plays the international lothario picking up women in French, Italian, English and Russian. It’s the sort of song Depeche Mode might make if they juiced up on steroids and took bath salts.
That mindset also defines Lindemann’s more provocative lyrics, such as “Sex” — a track with a gently swinging rhythm (who knew Germans could convincingly ape a Texas shuffle?) — on which he croons about getting fisted. “You want it, too!” he pleads, later trying to persuade his would-be lover with a YOLO rationale. Meanwhile, “Puppe” (“Puppet”) has a plot Eli Roth would envy about Lindemann’s sister working in a red-light district, locking him up and giving him a puppet to chew on, and “Hallomann” is basically the inner monologue of a child abductor (“Hello, little girl. How are you? Don’t talk, just get in the car.”) But even without a translation, the way Lindemann sings in German with rolled R’s and growls over a big drumbeat is enough to make your skin crawl. Then again, nobody listens to Rammstein for the lyrics. Luckily, the band has settled into a moody, unique sound that matches their baser instincts and rises to the Weltschmerz of a song like “Deutschland.”