Reise, Reise

Rammstein

Republic Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/22/2004

Back in 1998, German industrial metallers Rammstein made a surprising mainstream breakthrough in North America, despite singing exclusively in German, on the strength of their massively popular single "Du Hast," from their Sehnsucht album (which had been massively popular in Europe upon its release a year earlier). Their fiery (literally) stage show and controversial, pseudo-fascist imagery cemented their status as one of the must-see metal acts of that year.

In 2001 they returned with their third studio album, the critically acclaimed Mutter, which didn't yield any smash hits of the scale of "Du Hast" but certainly didn't hurt their popularity either. A high profile scene in the 2002 summer action blockbuster XXX continued their momentum.

So, the traditional three-year gap between albums has elapsed and right on schedule the world has been given a new Rammstein album, their fourth, called Reise, Reise ("Journey, Journey" - no, there's no Steve Perry guest appearance!). The same six musicians who formed the band a little over a decade ago are all still in place, and once again deliver the goods in their unique manner.

Rammstein is a band in which artistic growth comes in very subtle forms, and honestly, I think that's the best method for them to employ. They've carved out a very distinctly Germanic-sounding style of industrial metal that is both brutal and punishing yet simultaneously filled with vulnerability, sentimentality, and a good dose of dark, cynical humour. They've become so good at employing this sound that it would be a shame for them to radically alter it or experiment in ill advised ways, and being the pros that they are, they are fully aware of this.

While that could be interpreted as meaning that Reise, Reise is just more of the same, that really wouldn't be doing this wonderful CD any justice. The album basically takes everything that was great about their sound in the first place and refines it to the point of perfection. I've been a fan of theirs since I first heard their music in the mid '90s, but this is the first album to fully omit any filler tracks. They seemingly went to great lengths to make sure that every song has a memorable hook, all without abandoning the headbang quotient.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The proceedings open in typically grand style with the epic title track, with its absolutely huge sound, from the massive guitar chords, to the orchestral blasts, to lead singer Till Lindemann's deep, ultra-masculine baritone, to the moody melodies inspired by the German romantic classical era, ended on a surprisingly tender accordion passage. A fantastic song that contains all the elements that make Rammstein a great band.

From there the listener is immediately launched into the heaviest song of Rammstein's career so far, the relentlessly pounding "Mein Teil" ("My Part" -- an unsubtle reference to male genitalia). The song's lyrics were inspired by the sensational case of consensual cannibalism between two rather disturbed men in Germany that made international headlines in 2003. Lindemann really gets into character here by adopting a creepier way of singing than we've heard before, and it works fantastically. Add to this the shout-along chorus and the hilariously sick lyrics and you've got yourself another winner.

The rest of the tracks on the album contain a ton of the expected jackhammer riffs that will have you head banging along in agreement to their excellence, as well as Flake Lorenz's patented electronic fills to add melodic depth, but there are a few noteworthy additions to Rammstein's sonic palette, such as the haunting vocal harmonies in "Dalai Lama" (no translation needed, methinks), the mainly acoustic propelled "Los" ("Gone"), complete with surf guitar riffs and a harmonica solo that make the song the perfect companion for a night drive in the Arizona desert, and the highly catchy layering of Russian and German choruses in the up-tempo "Moskau," with plenty of cutesy female Russian vocals supplied by none other than TATU, the teenage duo that caused a stir in the international music scene a few years back with their lesbian schoolgirl image.

The only misstep that I can really find on Reise, Reise is the first single (in North America, that is - in Europe the first single is the far better "Mein Teil"), "Amerika." In keeping with the popular pastime of America bashing among many bands these days, the song and its accompanying video provide a sarcastic dose of social criticism deploring the ever increasing expansion of American culture around the world. That's all fine and dandy in my opinion, but my problem with the song is that its presentation is quite cheesy by Rammstein's standards. First of all, the choruses are sung in English, giving me the impression of a misguided attempt to score another hit on this side of the pond. And while it's true for the most part that they kept their promise of several years ago that they would "never sing a song in English again" (since the verses are in German), compromise just really doesn't suit these guys well, and Rammstein singing anything in English just renders them kinda hokey sounding. Image-wise, a very poor choice for the first single in my opinion, even if the song is too catchy for me to dismiss as awful.

In what has seemingly become a Rammstein tradition, the band has once again included an obligatory soaring ballad, this time found in the beautifully sad "Ohne Dich" ("Without You"). If you have any doubts as to their songwriting range and talent, just listen to this one track to be convinced otherwise.

And so we come to end of a fantastic musical journey. Even as a fan of many years, I honestly didn't believe that Rammstein could still deliver an album of such high quality as Reise, Reise. If you liked their previous releases, then you will no doubt like this one just as much, if not more, and if you are a potential newcomer to the band then I would heartily recommend this disc as the starting point. It's one of the best hard rock/metal releases of 2004.

Rating: A-

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