So sixteen years later, Rammstein finally releases a greatest hits compilation + 1 (“Mein Land”). Is it an essential document? Why not – the crunchy, dancy Germans have been a fixture of the post-industrial dance scene for a long time now, and their legions of fans and pyrotechnic live shows firmly affix their right to drop a collection of their greatest-appreciated hits. The quick verdict reads as such: if you don’t know Rammstein yet, this certainly isn’t a bad way to get acquainted. If you’re a collector, the bonus disc is packed with an hour of more or less every Rammstein remix (and the odd reimagination) you’ll ever need, and legend has it there’s a super-ultra-special-deluxe edition floating around with three DVDs chronicling nearly every music video they’ve ever made. However, if you’re a Rammstein neophyte, and their four-on-the-floor stomp and techno-leanings don’t really “do it” for you, you can safely avoid this one. Rammstein is absurdly consistent to the extent that many of their songs are indistinguishable to a non-German-speaking listener, and many of the remixes are incremental dance spinoffs of the originals, meaning that if you simply don’t like Rammstein, this isn’t going to change your mind. Made In Germany isn’t necessary, it isn’t comprehensive, and it isn’t particularly eye-opening, nor are the remastered versions on display here enormous improvements on the original mixes. To the extent that all this is true, I say Made In Germany is exactly as advertised: bite-size Rammstein for people that already love Rammstein, and are fans of neat packaging (and who isn’t?).
Disc 1: Like so many listeners, I was introduced to Rammstein in highschool, well after their career and fame had begun to develop (thanks to an entrepreneuring Trent Reznor nod on the Lost Highway soundtrack). This meant that Herzeleid, Sehnsucht, Mutter and Reise Reise were already out; this meant that I already had everything I needed to construct 90% of Made In Germany. And so I did, and I liked it, and in a sense that’s the end of this story. For the uninitiated, Rammstein is emphatically Neue Deutsch Harte, or ‘New German Hardness’: it’s industrial-tinged metal infused with a heavy, heavy dosage of electronic dance production. If that sentence turns you off, you can more or less ignore Made In Germany and go read my Deconstruction review (or YouTube their live performances, enjoyable by all metal fans); this collection isn’t going to change your mind. As a teen, though, I landed square in Rammstein’s sights: the odd combination worked, and Rammstein successfully became the first non-english band whose lyrics I can still recite by memory (the N64’s Mystical Ninja music notwithstanding).
As a collection, Made In Germany functions well enough. The majority of the tracks here (“Links 2-3-4”, “Ich Will”, Mein “Herz Brennt”, “Mutter” and “Sonne”) are drawn from Mutter, which makes sense – it’s their most critically-acclaimed album. “Du Hast” and “Engel” make their obligatory appearances, as do “Pussy” and “Rosenrot”. Speaking of Rosenrot, to my disappointment the eponymous track is the only cut from that album, leaving out a couple of personal favourites of mine – “Mann Gegen Mann” and “Benzin”, dealing with homophobia and oil, respectively. Every Rammstein fan, ex or current, is going to have an opinion on the track-listing here, though the compilation-closer “Mein Land”, with it’s bouncy synthesizers, fits nicely as a capstone to the whole project and a suitable reminder that – unlike so many other artists, Marilyn Manson – that a greatest-hits collection doesn’t necessarily spell death for a group’s career.
So the track listing is respectable enough – how are the tracks themselves? Their Rammstein, duh, and that means something very specific: four-on-the-floor. No Rammstein listener, new or old, can deny they have a signature sound. By ‘signature sound’, I mean ‘absurdly consistent’. If you don’t look up the surprisingly clever lyrics (typically filled with double-entendres, puns and social criticism), the chances of your mistaking one track for another or another (and so on) will increase significantly; a good portion of Rammstein’s success can be credited to their having perfected a distinct style and having clung to it as a drowning man might cling to floating wreckage (for better or worse). Sadly, stripped down to a greatest-hits compilation, the sequencing of these tracks almost necessarily cancels the inclusion of Rammstein’s more experimental (and by extension stylistically exciting) tracks, with the notable exceptions of “Rosenrot”, “Amerika” and “Mutter”. For this listener, that’s the sad reality of the greatest-hits format – I’ve always been of the opinion that these guys were one wild producer and a couple of collaborations away from making a really cool concept-album. Of course, that doesn’t happen here, and as a result you’re getting straight remastered power-Rammstein that at times exposes their weaknesses; though if you’re an uninitiated fan – and so haven’t played some of these tracks to death already – that likely won’t be an issue.
All in all, the critical failing of Made In Germany’s main listening experience (disc 1), is that I more or less compiled it at thirteen, and those four tracks that didn’t yet exist were easily swapped out other favourites (or, say, Eminem – I was 13, guys). Made In Germany isn’t bad, but it isn’t interesting or particularly vital either: it’s a document in the history of an extremely charismatic group, and I’m glad they’ve fired it off, but in Rammstein’s case a greatest-hits compilation only serves to amplify their weaknesses. There’s nothing here exciting or well-sequenced enough to stop me from throwing on Rosenrot or Mutter to get my Neue-Deutsch-Harte-on.
Disc 1 (the album proper) is getting a 6.5: just fine, but just fine.
Disc 2: Hey, it’s a handy little remix album, featuring what we can only assume is the definitive collection of Rammstein remixes! Do you know about Rammstein remixes? If you do, then you know they tend to get played during the ‘generic goth-club’ scene of many an action film (XXX, Black Leather Fight-Time 7). This is not a compliment. This means that a band that already features a heavy techno/disco undertow is being swept entirely into the current, almost to the point of eye-rolling self-satire (for example, let’s all try and sit through Scooter’s “Pussy” remix). Yes, a lot of these toe the line all the way into completely absurd repetition territory, the sort of thing you can only stand “at da (apparently goth) club”, and even then only if your friends are already dancing and drinks are involved.
Rare and wonderful exceptions come from those artists willing to break the mold and either subvert the songs or embellish upon them: Faith No More turns “Du Riechst So Gut” into something resembling a late-night radio broadcast, complete with crackles and murky, shifting keyboards. Pet Shop Boys take “Mein Teil” (thoroughly disturbing video warning!) straight to the poppy, disco-happy territory that someone might claim they’ve always threatened to enter. Devin Townsend pulls the same trick (to much better effect) on his hilarious and banjo-inflected “Rammlied” remix. Meshuggah earns a special mention for isolating the vocals on “Benzin” and playing all the instruments themselves, meaning that it is now a Meshuggah song, and the result is appropriately entertaining. The absolute highlight arrives when Laibach, long known for their impressive (bizarre, absurd, subversive) covers breaches “Ohne Diche”. “I cannot exist without you” becomes “You cannot exist without me”, a guest female vocalist shows up to deliver the trademark chorus, the instrumentals are entirely reproduced by Laibach themselves; what could have been another tepid, industrial-tinged remix blossoms into a full-blown cover-duet that handily stands alongside (and may for many entirely outclass) the original.
Ultimately, the second remix disc, like so many supplementary remix discs, is completely optional. There are some neat tracks on here, though you aren’t likely to get the sort of traction out of them that demands nearly doubling Made in Germany’s asking price. There are some really cool moments here (all of which can be re-lived through YouTube), however five (of seventeen) thoroughly creative tracks aren’t enough to carry a largely unoriginal hour-and-a-third into necessity territory. An extensive curiosity, and potentially a must-have for collectors, but this supplementary disc fails to add anything essential to Made In Germany beyond the reminder that Rammstein has always led a double-life as both industrial-metal(-dance) act and a full-on club entity. Interesting, and an inevitable part of their history, but not a bonus I’d recommend trading additional currency for.
Disc 2 is getting a thorough 5.5: neat moments, overall complete mediocrity.
The sum total: 6.5
Originally published right here, December 2011.