When Rammstein's seventh, self-titled studio album arrived in May 2019, it wasn't without fanfare.
Firstly, there was that video for single Deutschland. Clocking in at a whopping nine minutes (and then some), the Specter Berlin directed mini-movie traversed German history leaving no stone unturned – no matter how grisly the story underneath might be. While plenty of scenes provided shocking or gory themes, its stark Holocaust imagery was among the most affecting in the reel.
The video prompted controversy, but not just for controversy's sake as many first accused – it sparked legitimate debate about art, who has a right to use whose suffering in the pursuit of that art, national identity and if there's such a thing as "off limits" when it comes to creating.
Elsewhere, the album's themes prompted speculation and theories from fans about what the album was really about: nationalism and populism were both on the rise when the album was released, not just in Germany but globally – was the album a sturdy rebuff to those ideals? Others mooted it was a story following the abuse cycle, with one man becoming the monster he originally feared. Some simply felt it was an album designed to prove that beyond the stage shows and the costumes, Rammstein are – and always have been – just a band who write really great songs.
The lyrics did little in the way of offering solid answers. Abstract and open to interpretation – particularly for those who don't speak German so had to rely on translations of varying accuracy – listeners filled in their own gaps. The answers behind this album depended as much on the listener as the band who created it.
Mostly, it was an essential Rammstein album: it asserted itself from the second it arrived and didn't compromise an iota in between. It also helped introduce Rammstein to a new generation of music fans who'd come to heavy music in the decade they'd been dormant.
Here, we go through Rammstein with a fine-tooth comb to bring you lyrical translations, interpretations, some expert opinions and everything else you need to know about the album.
The first single to be released from Rammstein, Deutschland set a jaw-dropping precedent in terms of the size, scale and ambition of the album as a whole. Its video – a typically epic 10-minute short movie – traverses various eras of Germany’s complex history, looking the country’s darker moments squarely in the eye as it goes.
In true Rammstein fashion, the video caused its fair share of controversy upon release, with Jewish groups claiming the video had “crossed a line” with its graphic portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps. Was it art, or were Rammstein “misusing the suffering and murder of millions for entertainment purposes in a frivolous and repulsive way,” as Charlotte Knobloch, ex-president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, suggested?
It wasn't their suffering to use, that much is certainly true. But Germany's part in the atrocities of World War Two – specifically the Holocaust – is something the nation still has to reckon with. The events are ingrained in their national psyche to this day, and dealing with that takes a toll, particularly on any sense of national pride. Exploring this was Rammstein's aim. Could they have done it in a more sensitive way? Almost certainly. Was it frivolous? That's less clear.
The video dropped enough mysterious Easter eggs to send fan forums into overdrive for weeks following its release as they raced to dissect its myriad references. We here at Hammer found the video so intriguing we went to the trouble of recruiting an Oxford University history professor to explain the whole thing for us.
The song itself is full of subtle, poetic nuance – something which defines the album as a whole – as Till Lindemann explores the difficulty of being able to feel any sense of national pride for a country with such a difficult past. Small changes to the lyrics – for example, the use of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über allen’ over ‘über alles’, the phrase used in the former German national anthem and now heavily associated with Nazi Germany – show Rammstein painting national pride as a dark cloud above the country, which “stands above”, or overshadows, any sense of national pride.
It’s our first indication that Rammstein resolutely refuses to pull any punches thematically or musically.
"Like almost everything with Rammstein's material, it's all about dynamics," says Mantar's Hanno Klänhardt. "Kicking off with the industrial style sequence the song starts with, the first guitar hits with an almost power metal feeling to it that turn into an AC/DC on steroids neck-breaking beat, which immediately made me lose my shit.
I knew at that point there’d be no return. Instant love. The vocals in the verses are hypnotising and evolve into one of the best hooks Rammstein's ever had. The lyrics are freaking haunting. My first thought was that this whole song sounds like an almost arrogant round-up of all their best moments of the last 25 years. Smart move to drop that as the first single. The video is a game changer – we all know that. 'Deutschland, meine Liebe kann ich dir nicht geben...' Being German myself, trust me, I feel you."
With a stuttering riff that may or may not have been influenced by Killing Joke's 1985 hit Love Like Blood, the video for Radio starts with a radio announcing 'Achtung, Achtung. Hier ist Berlin Königs Wusterhausen und der Deutsche Kurzwellensender. Wir senden Tanzmusik'. While this crackling, apparently ancient audio doesn't feature on the album version, the translation does offer clues about what the song is about ('Attention Attention. This is Berlin Königs Wusterhausen and the german shortwave transmitter. We're broadcasting dance music').
Königs Wusterhausen is a town located a few miles south east of Berlin, and in 1920 it was the location of the first radio transmitter to be built in Germany. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, the transmitters were used for propaganda broadcasting, and after reunification the site was transformed into a museum.
The opening lyrics, translated as 'We weren’t allowed to belong / Couldn’t see, talk, or hear anything / But every night for one or two hours / I escaped from this world / Every night a little bit happy / My ear so close to the receiver' relate to the experience of youth growing up in East Germany, where state sponsored radio was heavily censored and young people would desperately try and catch western music beamed in from elsewhere.
There was even a system restricting how much Western music could be played at parties, while the rise of Beatlemania in the 1960s elicited a typically caustic response from Walter Ulbricht, then leader of the German Democratic Republic. "Do we really have to copy all the rubbish that comes from the West? With all the monotony of their 'Yeah, yeah, yeah."
"Radio is a great example of what a band like Rammstein can do so well on a business level," says Devin Townsend. "Often, artists choose the unconventional route when it comes to singles or lead tracks based on what they deem to be 'artistically fulfilling', when stepping back however, often the best way to achieve the goals that a band like this requires for big live shows and costly productions benefit most directly from more straightforward tracks.
"Rammstein is one of the only bands operating lately that can straddle the line of commercial success and full, uncompromised artistic vision being actualised. Choosing a song like this to get people onboard and facilitate their monumental live shows is yet another example of their clever business acumen. I'm very thankful a band this fearless is currently operating in heavy music."
3. Zeig Dich
A dramatic prelude of Latin choral voices introduce us to the theme of Zeig Dich (“Show Yourself”) – the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. The powerful thumping guitar riffs reflecting the anger and bitterness that is expressed within the lyrics ('Curse desire/ Condemn, Temptation/ Promise damnation/ They commit crime/ Proclaim promise/ Forgiveness of all sins/ Spread and lose/ In the name of the Lord').
The song is essentially a call to arms against the two-faced attitude of those who lead the religion and a request for them to stop hiding behind their so-called Lord – a powerful and political lyric that’s true to form for the industrial heavyweights.
Observe that the sound and general format of the song is somewhat reminiscent of the track Zwitter from Rammstein’s 2001 album, Mutter, but the addition of what sounds like Spanish-styled finger picking near the end of the tune underneath more choral chanting gives it a refreshing, unique flair.
"Zeig Dich has all the ingredients of what I personally love about Rammstein," says 3Teeth's Lex. "From its driving energy, chainsaw riffs, infectious melodies and of course its scathing social poetry that simultaneously feels overt and yet cryptic enough to pull many different meanings from.
"I love how they open up with the cinematic choir chants as it gives this track an immediate sense of liturgical gravitas that it deserves. To me, it feels like Till is demanding an absent God to show up knowing full well that he won't. The track is dripping with religious hypocrisy in the most beautifully scornful way that only Rammstein can achieve."
A delirium-inducing club banger that wouldn't feel out of place as a slightly left-field entry at the Eurovision Song Contest, Ausländer has plenty of crossover and remix potential.
The video – this will be a single, surely? – will be nuts, and it's going to be an absolute monster live. With all those overtly cheesy keyboard stabs, you can hear echoes of fellow Neue Deutsche Härte travellers Oomph! in the music.
While the title ("Foreigners") might lead listeners to expect a studied discourse on current divides in Europe and Angela Merkel's stance on immigration, Ausländer is Party Central.
"Rammstein have freaked us out for over two decades now," says Avatar's Johannes Eckerström. "In a language foreign to most not native to Germany, Austria or Switzerland, they’ve taken the world by storm with music that has managed to be incredibly dark and threatening while sexy at the same time.
"There was always a strong undercurrent of humour [in Rammstein's work] but due to the aesthetic it tended to go over our heads in a most delightful manner. I feel that the funny stuff and good times have been given more space on every release and Ausländer is a clear symptom.
"Till Lindemann spends a couple of hours in each bed and knows how to flirt and seduce us in every tongue. I like that they’ve taken it all the way. You can dance to this. I think I will."
One of the more frivolous songs on the album, lyrically speaking, Sex begins with an eerie synth evocative of a bad '80s horror movie. It's somewhat fitting, given the genre's obsession with sex and death, and provides a brilliant intro to the Rob Zombie-esque grooves that follow.
Whether or not they took their cues from the Z-man remains to be seen, but the southern rock riffage is certainly sexy, lending itself to the explicit title. A short interval of Queens Of The Stone Age-shaped fuzz is unexpected but tasty and leads into some classic Rammy electronics. Lyrically, the blend of horror, death and sex is played upon, expressing horniness as a form of sickness and referencing "buxom flesh".
Their idea of sex as "disgusting" yet life-giving plays into the body horror of those aforementioned classic b-movies. Indisputably one of the more dance (or, if you're that way inclined, fuck)-worthy tunes on the album.
But like a couple of songs on the album, it's split opinion with fans. "This will not make any favourite Rammstein song lists of mine," says Enslaved's Ivar Bjørnson. "It reminds me of Muse in their worst era (still ongoing), and even the as-per-usual-amazingly heavy Rammstein guitar sound cannot rescue this.
"I read somewhere that they wanted to get noticed for the music this time, not so much the special effects. I guess we are out of sync then in our relationship, guys – I personally never felt you 'needed' all that stuff because the songs were so good. Until now. This song is going to need a lot of dynamite and fire, sorry."
All eerie synths, jangling guitars and pummelling vocals, this sinister track seems to tell the story of a child and their doll (or puppet – Puppe). But in true Rammstein style, scratch the surface and a much murkier world lies beneath.
Puppe’s lyrics make reference to our child protagonist being locked in a room while their “little sister” – the use of “little” in this case being used to emphasise that the sister is still a child herself – travels to “work”, not by train but simply into the room next door. The reference is fairly oblique at first, with unusual language like ‘Schaffensplatz’ hinting towards the German word for ‘prostituting yourself’. But by the time we get to the final verse, references to the ‘red light’ in the sister’s bedroom make clear the song deals with the violent world of child prostitution and trafficking.
The child’s voice is kept deliberately innocent and naive throughout the first few verses – they “take their medication like they’re supposed to” as they helplessly wonder why they’ve been locked up and what’s going on in the room next door. But as the sister screams from the next room (‘Schwester schreit’), this voice gradually becomes more urgent and direct, as in the chorus, when the child frenziedly tears their doll’s head off and goes on to “bite its neck off”.
The helpless confusion is overtaken by violent desperation which climaxes in the final verse, when the child sneaks from its room and witnesses the sister being beaten to death by a punter. In a final act of furious revenge, the lyrics suggest the child kills the sister’s murderer (the Puppe in this final verse a metaphor for the sister’s killer), and the child – who has complained of feeling unwell earlier in the song – feels much better now the perpetrator is dead.
"What did I just listen to?" asks Tesseract vocalist Dan Tompkins. "Puppe... intimidating, aggressive, pensive, big beats, dirty harsh tones, breathtaking desperate vocals... I loved it. It gripped me the whole way through."
It’s not just dark – it’s as jet black as they come.
7. Was Ich Liebe
Those wondering where the inspiration for Was Ich Liebe ("What I Love") might have sprung from would do well to listen to Nine Inch Nails’ Closer. Less likely – at around the three-and-a-half minute mark – there's a descending acoustic guitar sequence that sounds something like Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven.
After muted beginnings, Was Ich Liebe slowly winds its way towards a climactic finale, with the lyrics ('What I love / That will spoil / What I love That will die') an apparent musing on the ultimate futility of love ('Happiness and joy / Are followed by torment'). By the end of the song, Lindemann sounds convincingly anguished.
"I’ve not been into Rammstein for the last couple of albums so I was hoping for a return to form and this does not disappoint," says Mastiff's Jim Hodge. "This track is one of the more 'power ballad'-like ones on the album (if they do ballads at all); It has a great musical hook and gives the feeling of going down some depraved rabbit hole, finding out what Till Lindemann really loves."
The closest Rammstein have ever come to a full-blown ballad, this understated acoustic number has already become Rammstein’s Marmite track, splitting fan opinion right down the middle.
Mournful and soft, Diamant feels like a pretty straight-forward unrequited love song on the surface. But a deeper look at the lyrics (‘You are so pretty, so beautiful… I can’t move my eyes from you, and your sparkling eyes want to suck the soul out of me’) suggest a far more sinister tale unravelling under the surface.
Lindemann talks of “Wanting to hold you in my heart”, but that is quickly replaced by the following line, “But what you can’t love you must hate”. He describes the song’s subject as “Beautiful like a diamond, but just like a stone.” The track's maudlin, longing guitars and strings belie the ice-cold lyrics. And it’s typical Rammstein mischievousness to wrap the song’s most vulnerable, personally insightful lyric up in a track many have already resigned to the ‘skip’ pile.
"I’m a big fan of tunes that grab you and suspend you in the moment," says Loathe guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe. "With Diamant, Rammstein have created a solemn, dark environment which honestly transports me to the top of a Medieval castle guarded by a massive dragon.
"The vibe is super reminiscent of older folk in that sense, like the stuff you would hear in Shrek. The guitar however reminds me of earlier Radiohead acoustic efforts also drawing comparisons to the works of Russian Circles with the arpeggiated chords throughout. Lovely stuff."
But don’t be fooled by Diamant's unassuming musicality: lyrically we’re on a breakneck voyage through the multifaceted stages of romantic despair.
9. Weit Weg
With a title that translates to "Far Away", Weit Wag has a brief intro before the song lurches into gear that will remind listeners of Tangerine Dream – or even modern mock Krautrock outfit Kosmicher Laufer – the sound of a modern German band tipping their hat to German music of the past.
The lyrics of this track spin a sinister tale of a man secretly watching a woman undress through a window ("Far Away"). So far, so creepy, but read between the lines and the picture gets darker still.
While many have speculated that the lyrics are a metaphor for modern day cam girls ('Against his windowpane/He presses his face/Hoping for her to keep the light on/He never saw her undressed/The mistress of his fantasy'), with the "windowpane" symbolising the screen, as you pick through the lyrics a bigger picture forms.
As the man waits outside the window, Lindemann sings of him "taking his imagination to the bow" and "painting his colours into her painting" as the woman readies herself for bed. This idea of the man placing himself into the woman's reality without ever having (presumably) met or interacted with her is perhaps an allegory for the way cam girls (or, sex workers more broadly) are put at risk from the blurred realities of some of their clients who believe their interactions to be more than they are.
"Weit Weg is a bit of a classic rock ballad with a modern twist really," says Valis Ablaze guitarist Ash Cook. "Memorable synths, slow but driving bass and certainly one of the least experimental songs on the album.
"But it’s full of power and dynamics. I believe the song is about loss and missing someone, yet it doesn’t retract from their heavy sound due to Till’s signature mother tongue and the hefty production. When the solo kicks in, it feels like this song was destined to be part of their stadium filling set with the whole crowd singing back at them."
Opening with a distinctive use of double kick – rare for the Teutonic titans – it makes for an almost Metallica-like sound, evoking the thrash and heavy metal of the ’80s and early-’90s.
This gives way to that classic stomping industrial we’ve all come to know and love from Rammstein. It’s the general consensus that the lyrics are in reference to the branding of Jews in concentration camps during Auschwitz; but the band aren’t just alluding this brutal practice, in true Rammstein fashion, they are questioning the general trend of tattooing too ('Those who have to be beautiful also want to suffer').
"Wow – that’s a riff to end all riffs," says Fit For An Autopsy guitarist Will Putney. "I’d just hit the snare for a minute too if I wrote that. This is terrifyingly enormous.
"The production on this is awesome. Everything is simple yet super powerful sounding. Rammstein has this way of taking a very basic melody and delivering it to you so it feels fresh. Love the groove at the end. Quote me on this: 'I’m a Rammstein man.'"
Rammstein's finale drips with thick foreboding – and considering this track's about a child abuser enticing a small girl into his car with the promise of chips and a trip to the seaside, it's all the more fitting.
Musically it's a triumph: thrumming bass, eerie synths, kick-your-back-door in riffs and a goosebump-inducing vocal turn all underpinned by unsettling calm and balanced by the deftest of hands.
Lyrically, it stays true to the album's less palatable themes: Lindemann takes the role of monster as he sings about abducting a young girl and ultimately drowning her in the sea. As with Puppe and Weit Weg the exploitation and vulnerability of young girls and women in the modern world is explored with eye-watering candidness.
Again, the real nuance is in the lyrics: the abductor approaches the child with the promise of mussels and fries, or "Muscheln" in German – a word which mimics "Muschi", the German term for 'pussy' – indicating the sexual threat the abductor poses from the very first line.
"Kicking in with a noisy, pneumatic bass line that immediately sets your hips thrusting in anticipation, there's a real pummelling pulse building here," says Barbarian Hermit's Mike Regan. "Exquisite shame overwhelms the second Till Lindemann starts tonguing my earlobes amongst ever expanding instrumentation, feeling the girth becoming uncontainable, yet never unwieldy. A confessional but typically anthemic chorus follows. Till demands with a mournful bellow that I sing and dance for him. He doesn't need to ask me twice."
A worthy closer to an album that will stay with you long after you've finished listening.