I made the mistake of first listening to this album with the volume turned down a little. It wasn't quiet, merely not as loud as usual, and it taught me that Rammstein's power is more closely tied to volume than most bands. I know, of course, that they're an in your face kind of band, but the degree to which their power dissipated with just a little volume loss shocked me. Anyway, I fixed that for a second time through and immediately this seventh Rammstein album sounds like it should, even a decade after its predecessor, 2009's Liebe ist für alle da.
What it isn't is a reset, as might be suggested by the fact that this is a self-titled album, something Rammstein have never done before. Well, really it's an album without a title and, according to the fans, the match on the minimalist cover represents simplicity (and fire). The songs are no simpler than previous Rammstein songs, just as they're no more representative of a Rammstein sound than anything earlier. This doesn't replace Mutter as the best starting place to learn about the band.
As tends to be the case with Rammstein, the best tracks are the ones that are most in your face. Deutschland kicks the album off as it means to go on, with an incessant beat, strong vocals and interesting layers to bolster the focal points. This one has a slow electronic chords, a frantic guitar and an effectively varied approach to backing vocals. It's no Rammstein classic but it's a good song and a better way to start an album.
Other tracks stand out well too, especially early on. Radio features a great riff and some fun electronic noodling. Zeig Dich adds a Therion-esque choral section which works really well in this style. Ausländer features a callback in its chorus from a cute voice that sounds like it could have come from an anime. It's a lighter, more commercial Rammstein song but it's not that far away from the norm so it really doesn't matter.
The tracks that do diverge from what we might expect are a little less easy to take. Diamant is a ballad and I'm really not sold on it fitting into the Rammstein sound. Maybe it would work better if I spoke German, but I doubt it. Puppe starts oddly quiet too but it gets really raucous and I can't say that I'm fond of the overdone rough vocals once it gets going, which sound like vocalist Till Lindemann is either trying to go hardcore or just aiming to infuse his narrative style of singing with far more emotion. Either way, I don't think it works.
While the first half of the album is generally much better than the second, there's good stuff to be found towards the end. Weit Weg may just be the one classic on the album. It's in your face stuff but a well constructed backing endows it with a great deal of depth. While I found myself wanting to skip many of the later songs on a second time through, I kept replaying this one. Tattoo is another good belter in the traditional Rammstein style too.
But we leave with Hallomann, another departure that is, at least, successful in ways that Diamant and Puppe aren't. It's an odd way to end, though, and I wonder if the album would feel more coherent as a whole if it had wrapped up with Tattoo, Hallomann perhaps shifted to a separate release. It's certainly not a bad track, but it's not what we expect. That's fine, except when it's what stays in our mind when the silence hits at the end of the album.
I feel that Rammstein are experimenting a little here. They're successful in varying the backdrops for their core sound, because each of these layers is utterly different from the rest and, together, they make this album seem to be fresh and worthy. They're less successful on songs where they ditch the core sound entirely and try something new. That's where the album loses its coherence. What that means is that this is a mixed bag and I'm interested to see how it stands in a couple of years time.