From their 1995 debut Herzeleid to 2009's Liebe ist für alle da, the undisputed champions of Neue Deutsche Härte ("New German Hardness") have never wavered in their sound and vision. Like some of kind of kinky, pyromaniacal, Euro industrial-metal version of AC/DC, Rammstein have stuck to their guns over a decades-long career and made consistently rock-solid, if sometimes formulaic, music that sounds like no one else. Churning, mechanized riffage. Militant, Teutonic beats. Alternately epic and hectic synth lines. Quiet verses; bombastic, often single-word choruses. Lyrics, sung in Native tongue and guttural voice, about sex, perverted or otherwise. Lyrics about how fucked up religion is. Lyrics about German cannibals. Lyrics about how much Amerika sucks. The occasional ballad. The occasional, usually regrettable, song with English lyrics. You know a Rammstein tune almost as soon as it kicks in — and certainly as soon as Till Lindemann kicks in. Which is both a good and bad thing, depending on whether you like Rammstein or think they're laugh-out-loud absurd.
It's been 10 years since the band's last album of all new material, Liebe ist für alle da (Rammstein have offered up two live records, a greatest hits compilation, a career-spanning box set and an LP full of classical reworking of their songs in the interim), but if anyone thought the group might noticeably shake things up over the course of that decade, think again. For a band as notoriously volatile when it comes to their internal dynamic — that volatility is a big reason why it's been 10 years between albums — Rammstein are steely and steady when it comes to their output and presentation, a machine as well-oiled as the band members' pecs on the cover of Herzeleid. Lead single "Deutschland" and second single "Radio" open the sextet's new, untitled album, both crisp and razor-sharp, wrangling with the complicated history and legacy of the band's homeland with incisive concision. Both sound more Rammstein than Rammstein, the group's formula refined but largely untweaked over the past 10 years.
The nine tracks that follow deliver mostly more of the same, offering only the sort of slight variation found across other Rammstein albums. "Zeig Dich Final" opens operatically, spare piano tinkling under its verse before the song breaks open into a big, baroque chorus over chugging guitar. "Ausländer" leans in a more electronic direction akin to "Radio," complete with rave-y synth line and bouncy, glowstick-ready beat, the familiar little-kid backing vocals of "Ich Will," et al, popping up for good measure. "Tattoo" is the most old-school song, throwing back to Herzeleid and Sensucht with its churning, R-logo-stamped riffage, Lindemann singing in the verse between stabs of guitar in a prototypically Rammstein-ian structure. "Diamant" is the weepy ballad, "Weit Weg" the weepy power ballad.
Rammstein do have a few new tricks, however. "Sex" contrasts the group's usually rigid, robotronic musical approach with an undulant rock & roll riff that brings to mind Volbeat's twangy Elvis metal, the song erupting midway through for a laser-vision synth solo. But the most experimental pieces are "Puppe," which — fittingly, for track six of 11 — feels like the album's emotional centerpiece, and closer "Hallomann." The former is an ultimately explosive slow-burner, building from a quiet, ominous intro, Lindemann speak-singing over a sparse guitar line. At the two-minute mark, the song — which tells the traumatic story of a young child whose older sister is a prostitute — goes off the rails as the burly singer begins scream-rapping animalistically over blasts of noise, a stomping beat and searing horror-movie synths. For those who find Rammstein shticky and contrived, this feels much more real and genuinely unhinged — the band has always been a freakshow, but here the freaks have taken over and the show is over. "Hallomann" wraps up the album on a similarly nontraditional and slow-burning note, swelling to a discordant, hallucinogenic guitar and synth breakdown before concluding in a more optimistic-sounding denouement, Lindemann's croon fading to an angel-voiced outro.
Yet, despite such riveting digressions, Rammstein's new album is hardly about exploration. In truth, the untitled record might as well be the band's self-titled release, as it effectively serves as a definitive (re)statement of intent. This is not an album that will win over many new fans or open up any previously closed-off minds. Rammstein are still perverted, sophomoric and ridiculously over the top. But for those who get them, that's all part of the point and a big part of the fun. A decade since their last album and 25 years into their careers, the German firestarters don't show many signs of having grown up — to their credit. Instead, they're still gleefully and theatrically doing what they do and doing it maybe even a little better than before. The shock of innovation will always get the most accolades and attention, but steadfast consistency is its own virtue, and the band has proven that in spades. If this does end up being their final offering — a possibility that guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe has alluded to in not-so-distant times — it will see Rammstein go out, fittingly, on fire.