We didn’t review the newest Rammstein album here at Angry Metal Guy, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t listen to it, or talk about it between bench press sets. The overall impression was favorable, believe it or not, and this loyal reviewer would have happily given it a 3.0. There was enough variety and catchiness that it was a fun spin. However, some folks out there in the wide world feel that Rammstein and the whole NDH genre are outdated. Who would say such a thing? Well, the boys in Schattenmann, that’s who. While these fellows readily admit Rammstein and Oomph! invented the genre, they feel it’s ready for resurrection, and with their first two albums (2018’s Licht an and this follow-up, Epidemie) these cocky krauts claim to be updating the genre. NDH 2.0, anyone?
Epidemie opens in promising fashion with “Schattenland,” a high-energy rocker featuring everything one wants from the genre: an earworm riff, laser-precise rhythms, and staccato synths, all topped with emotionless, tough-guy vocals. “Schattenland” is a competent NDH contender. Sadly, the goodwill generated by this opening track evaporates the second “F.U.C.K.Y.O.U.” starts. As a preteen I would have loved a song with that title; now I just groan, grit my teeth, and do my reviewer’s duty by not fast-forwarding. Title aside, the song itself falls far short of its predecessor, and is thankfully forgettable. But bouncing right back is the third song, “Schlag fuer Schlag,” with its synth-heavy menacing intro and verses and catchy breakdown. But I’m getting dizzy with the peaks and valleys in quality here: the title track comes next, with synths that would make Night Flight Orchestra blush, and a bouncy chorus that makes me want to skip right out of the room. I wish Schattenmann could make up their minds…
The whole album wobbles to and fro, from blistering tracks that give Rammstein a run for their money (“Kopf durch die Wand,” which opens with awful Atari-style synths but quickly turns into an anthemic rush) to moribund numbers that completely fail to engage (“Wharheit oder Pflicht,” with an almost radio-friendly hard rock feel, or “Ruf der Engel,” which aims for an electronic ballad, but misses). This unevenness makes for a tough listen, and most of the songs are of the latter variety, but cherry-picking the top four-ish songs does make for an energy-packed few minutes of accessible metal. Culling a twelve song album down to four does not bode well, though.
In theory, Epidemie is littered with “brachial riffs and easy-going hooklines.” There’s not really enough of either, and the arrangements are only sporadically effective. NDH is a sterile-sounding genre on purpose, but bands still have to have their trademark audio qualities. Schattenmann have nothing unique to draw us in. The heavily-processed (as they should be) sounds are purely by the numbers, and often the synth patches chosen are so easy-going as to be rendered ineffective. It’s clear that the band is trying to be both heavy and poppy at the same time – must be their idea of breathing life into the supposedly stale genre – but it’s just too contrived to click.
Having the audacity to claim you are bringing a stale genre back to life means you’ve got your work cut out for you, and unfortunately Schattenmann aren’t quite up to the task.1 Epidemie is a competent album at times, and comes with a handful of catchy numbers, but by no means is it taking the NDH of Rammstein to the next level. If Schattenmann feel like they’re presenting us with NDH 2.0, that means Rammstein are NDH 1.0, and in reality the music here is more like an NDH 0.7. In other words, Epidemie does not serve to topple the kings of the genre off their perch.