Stahlmann are the new decade’s flag-bearers for Neu Deutsche Härte (NDH)1; a genre hailing from Germany in the 90s, featuring groove, industrial, and electronic influences, and popularized by the likes of Rammstein and Oomph!. While they’re both still active, Stahlmann deemed these big names needed support and so their first record was released in 2010. Bastard is now their fourth and I’m forced to consider its title. Is it a puerile scream against a shitty world or the unwanted child which they’ll ditch upon its release?
Bastard basically conforms to the NDH style with its chunky grooves, modern production tone, and prevalent electronic elements. These electronic elements manifest through some of the beats and liberal use of synths and keyboards, sometimes as generic backing layers and sometimes as faux violins and pianos. The sum is a difficult-to-dislike, melodic, inoffensive concoction of modern musical practices which isn’t changing anyone’s life but is fun enough for a period. Fat grooves are strongly reminiscent of Pantera on “Waechter” and “Dein Gott,” while the vocals are the clear focal point otherwise. Highlights include “Nichts Spricht Wahre Liebe Frei” with its faux orchestral introduction and big, somber cleans in its chorus and “Schwarz und Weiss” which again features Mart Soer’s sonorous cleans in a bombastic climax. “Supernova” also caps the record with a stronger finish.
My first issue is that Bastard is incredibly formulaic. Each track is snappy with none exceeding 4:30 but they all follow a rigid verse-chorus structure. This isn’t an inherent problem but I noticed on the second track that it was pretty identical to the first. The melody in the electronic opening transitions on to the lead guitar, with muted singing in the verse and more expansive cleans in the chorus. This chorus should repeat the title word(s) 7-10 times and will itself be repeated on either three or four occasions depending on if the song endures past the four-minute mark. The guitar solo on “Von Glut zu Asche” highlights their absence otherwise, while the aforementioned highlights partly stand out simply due to their orchestral openings which deviate from the norm. There’s a distinct dearth of variety; as a result, by my fourth listen it was beginning to bore me.
The mildly enjoyable first and second runs didn’t prevail as none of Bastard feels remotely challenging. It lacks the clinical harshness of true industrial and the aggressive danger of metal. It’s intangibly insubstantial, a sugary treat rather than a satisfactory meal. It’s much too safe. The electronic parts, while prevalent, sound more like embellishments to songs which were already written and as such are superficial. The NDH tag is met instrumentally and compositionally but there’s nothing “neu” about Bastard. It’s unsurprising that I’m forced to add that it’s an unnecessarily loud record.
Despite its evocative title, Bastard is an initially enjoyable but ultimately toothless affair. It has a face that only its mother — Stahlmann themselves — can love in the long term. So perhaps Bastard is indeed an appropriate title. If we can construe the listener as the father then while I was keen to see it pop out, I was running for the hills soon after. It isn’t the worst album of the year but would ultimately remind me of my useless transience in the grander scheme of the universe if I were to stay with it for much longer. My early-life crisis demands gratification which Stahlmann do not provide.