Who knew that the same guy who wrote “Happiness Is Slavery” would someday actually be happy, let alone live long enough to know what happiness felt like. Trent Reznor was the resident 90s nihilist, perfecting industrial music into a razor-lined pill that was made easily swallowed by the blood it drew. Nine Inch Nails grew into an alternative behemoth that catered to those who preferred pointing their hate inwards at themselves, as opposed outward towards the outside world. Reznor was a band geek that grew up in the Midwest but had aspirations of being more than a drum major in an Ohio marching band. To say he not only achieved those aspirations, but blew them to little pieces is an understatement.
Nearly 30 years later Trent Reznor has taken Nine Inch Nails full circle, turning his techno industrial one man project from the doldrums and self destruction of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile to healthier musical revolutions and resolutions of With Teeth and Year Zero. He’s realized that happiness isn’t slavery, but more a state of mind. You can be happy and still awake to the times and relevant.
Since 2016 Reznor has been releasing an EP a year with his long time collaborator and newly-minted official NIN member Atticus Ross. He promised it would be a trilogy of EPs, as opposed to releasing a single full-length LP. 2016 saw Not The Actual Events, 2017 it was Add Violence, and now in 2018 the final and best EP has been released. Bad Witch is a loud, brash shot of industrial discontent. It moves along at a hurried pace and is a mix of electro funk, dizzying punk fury, and crystalline art rock. It’s not only the best collection of songs out of the three EPs, but it might just be some of the best music NIN has released in nearly 20 years.
“Got a new face and it feels all right/Power and strength and appetite/I eat your loathing hate and fear/Should probably stay away from here” Reznor sings on the blistering opener “Shit Mirror”. Blown out drums rage along while Reznor sounds like he’s singing from inside a tin can. It’s not something we haven’t heard before, but it’s been a long time. It’s self-judgement put through the NIN machine and it’s a glorious thing. “Ahead of Ourselves” goes full “The Perfect Drug” with old school industrial vigor. Reznor sounds like half man/half robot/half Al Jourgensen in a turn that sounds like Broken-era NIN mixed with a touch of a motherboard burning up right before our ears. The sleek and brooding “God Break Down The Door” feels like an ode to Reznor’s mentor and friend David Bowie. He croons like the Thin White Duke, as well as adding some tasteful saxophone over the proceedings. The track is filled with all kinds of earworms and wonky audio effects that should satiate anyone looking for dense layers of noise to get lost in, while still being one of the best Reznor/Ross tracks in a long time.
There are two instrumental tracks included as well. “Play The Goddamned Part” and “I’m Not From This World”. If you’re not keeping up, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have established themselves as premier film score composers, becoming the musical muse for directors like David Fincher, Peter Berg, and even historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. These two tracks show Reznor and Ross in noisier mode, with the industrial noise and Metal Machine Music-inspired sounds something that would’ve been more comfortable on The Fragile or Ghosts I-IV, rather than on the Patriot’s Day S/T.
Bad Witch closes with the funky and moody “Over and Out”. “Time is running out/I don’t know what I’m waiting for” Trent Reznor croons coolly over a groove-inflected beat and sleek production. NIN once again seems to be paying a subtle tribute to Bowie, as this song would’ve fit nicely into the moods and vibes of Bowie’s swan song Blackstar. This is a moody, atmospheric track that does quite feel like a period at the end of this two year-long trek.
Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have come a long way in nearly 30 years. From industrial/techno roots to concept albums written in famous murder homes to concept albums written in the French Quarter to a mid-2000s rebirth, Reznor has always remained close to the edge while never completely falling off. With Bad Witch it sounds as if he’s come full circle. He’s dangling over the edge once again, but with a firm grip so as not to go over completely.
8.1 out of 10