Review Summary: “Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”
It’s quite eerie how close to the mark I was with Rammstein’s blazing return in 2019. My review is there to be read, should anyone wish to read my thoughts on what their new chapter meant, but in a nutshell the takeaway was that Rammstein’s seventh album saw the band acutely aware of their age, with a theme fixated on time
. Fast-forward three years and it seems that that existential connotation has been magnified to quite a degree on their brand-new album; the most obvious evidence being the album name, Zeit
, which literally means “time.” However, what really got my noodle baking was Zeit
’s second single, “Zick Zack,” which presents even more thematical substance. At a glance, the music video to “Zick Zack” overtly documents the West’s obsession with cosmetic surgery, but there’s a much deeper meaning to the song, and it involves the band itself. With the members’ ages ranging from between fifty-one and fifty-eight, it’s an easy assumption the German sextet are more than aware of their age, and it poses a predicament I often ponder over with a lot of these venerable artists: do you go through the motions and play the Rockstar until you look like a scrotum and hobble around on stage struggling to play songs you wrote thirty or forty years ago, or do you end your career on your own terms with a strong image for people to remember you by? I’m not here to judge, and in all honestly, there’s nothing wrong with either decision, but it’s evident “Zick Zack” is commenting on the former scenario, as the aging rockstars perform live until their faces literally fall apart.
So, once again time is the central theme here, which documents birth, death, and everything in between: “Zeit” presents the beauty of life unfolding, “Zick Zack,” – which translates into zig-zag and seems to bolster this desire for avoiding ageing, and ultimately death, by using surgery as a means to do so – touches on this fight with existentialism, and “Adieu” waves us goodbye (which has several meanings, which I’ll touch on later). The artwork embodies this imagine of the band descending down a staircase into the bosom of Mother Nature; the phallic-shaped edifice has a door that one could interpret as being the door of life, watching as the band walk away from it to meet their maker.
Themes aside, as an album, Zeit
stands as another worthy addition to the Rammstein legacy. The album is incredibly cohesive in terms of sound, and dare I say, it’s the most consistent tone in their entire catalogue. However, as we’ll get into, this comes with its own pros and cons. The oppressive atmosphere is an absolute joy to immerse yourself in; the production is beautiful and the symphonic elements feel like second nature on all the tracks here – to the point where they elevated the band’s sound to pastures previously unexplored. As with Rammstein
, Flake completely steals the show with his electronics on Zeit
. “Armee der Tristen” is one of the best songs on here and has this amazing foreboding that lingers over the track, this is caused by Flake’s ominous electronics that soak into the crisp guitar chugs. Yet, there’s just something about the symphonic elements and Flake’s contributions that make “Zeit,” “Meine Tranen,” and “Adieu” feel so incredibly powerful when they’re put together. Zeit
’s other strengths lie in its chugging noughties-era Rammstein numbers, ala “Giftig” and “Zick Zack”’s homage to the Reise, Reise/Rosenrot
albums, while “Meine Tranen” feels more akin to a Mutter
Unfortunately, there are some mistakes on here as well. “OK” is up there as one of the worst Rammstein songs ever made, not so much for its throttling speed, but more from Till’s irksome chorus that obliterates any potential which could have been enjoyed elsewhere. “Dicke Titten” does something similar where Till turns this sinister Sehnsucht
sounding verse into a weirdly upbeat chorus that counters and deflates its initial efforts. In earnest, the second half of Zeit
is very much hit and miss. Every track up to “Zick Zack” sets Zeit
up to be one of the best albums of their career, but from thereon it can’t sustain the quality. Sure, most of the tracks in the second half have a lot of redeeming qualities, but there are things in them that end up hurting the songs. “Lugen” for example is an incredible ballad overall, but the decision to add autotune ruins the beautiful instrumentals, and for seemingly no reason.
The other glaring detriment to Zeit
is that while it is very cohesive and has a clear vision, it lacks the fun tracks 2019’s album had. “Puppe” and “Auslander” were so out there and fun to listen to, it made the album a very memorable one. Given the decision to double down on the theme of time, Zeit
feels a lot more solemn in execution and as such, you’re left with a much more myopic sound palette that rides straight-edge Rammstein metal tunes with beautiful ballads, with little in between that spectrum. It’s a real shame in all honesty, because the album opener “Armee der Tristen”, and closer “Adieu” is a top-tier bookend for the album, and it's unfortunate they couldn't run at this level of songwriting. “Adieu” in particular really gets to me emotionally, and it’s outside of its themes of life and death. Indeed, there’s another side of meaning here that hears Till and co. literally telling you it’s over. This is it. After nearly thirty years of seminal music – not a single bad album under their belt – it’s finally time to say goodbye to all of the fans.
“Only death lasts forever” […] “But don't worry, we are with you
One last time, so we sing”
It’s these lyrics in “Adieu” that make it such a poignant ballad, and it’s tough for me to admit I well up hearing it, knowing that this could well be the end of the band. But you know, that’s life, it’s precious and a lot of us take it for granted. If there’s one thing Rammstein knocked out of the park with Zeit
it’s that thematically, they nailed the beauty and misery of life, and the only definitive thing in this world: death. Zeit
is imperfect, but there’s so much to be savoured here, and aspects you won’t get from any other Rammstein album. It puts perspective on the frailty of life and how quickly time zips past us. Is this the last album? I guess we will have to see, but one thing is for sure: “Adieu” certainly implies as much.