Nine Inch Nails : Bad Witch

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



Michael Myers and Trent Reznor

It’s Friday The 13th, so I should be talking about Jason Vorhees. But you know what, I don’t care. Michael Myers has always held a special, darkly-lit place in my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Halloween growing up. It was on TV at least once a year(edited, of course) and I’d always watch it. Even prior to seeing the unedited version on videocassette, it was a very scary, visceral experience for me. The initial murder of Vorhees’ sister, the escape from the institution, stalking of Laurie Strode, and the murders at the end of the film all filled me with such dread that even the most goriest of films can’t come close to that angst I felt lying under a blanket on my parent’s couch in the living room as a sticky little kid.

Even years later that iconic theme music would stick with me, showing up in various forms(Halloween toys, plunking out the theme drunkenly on my best friend’s piano, and various viewings over the years), that I never thought someone covering this theme would affect me as much as the version I just heard today did. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a version of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme and released it today, on Friday the 13th, 2017.

It’s actually pretty amazing.

They take their time with it. They savor the nuances and tease the theme generously before going full Carpenter, with some generous Reznor/Ross vibes. They toy with the main theme with lots of distortion and chaos lurking in the background for a good 5 minutes before close to the end when a Reznor-approved beat comes crashing in to make Carpenter’s iconic theme become some sort of dark and sultry remix. It’s really rather stunning.

They haven’t rebuilt the Halloween theme more than they’ve reimagined it into something modern and dystopian. I think it’s genius. You may think it’s shite. That’s okay. Give it a shot and see what happens. I’m fanboying right now. I think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are two of the most exciting film composers working today. The NIN stuff is still good to my ears as well(we can’t keep recreating the past now, can we dear?), but their film work is absolutely stunning. If John Carpenter decides to not score the new Halloween, I know two guys perfect for the job.

Happy Friday The 13th, lovelies.

Nine Inch Nails : Add Violence EP

Say what you will about Trent Reznor, but the guy over the last four years has been in constant creative motion. Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 return with Hesitation Marks was met with equal parts cheers and jeers. Cheers for a guy coming out of a 4 year NIN shutdown to a solid return to form. Jeers for folks that felt he was softening and repeating old motifs. Me? I liked the album. He never came across to me as some poet laureate, so I could forgive the average in the lyrics department. But his compositional, arranging, and studio skills were as tight as ever. From there he scores three films with Atticus Ross(Gone Girl(2014), Before The Flood(2016), Patriot’s Day(2016)), becomes some mogul/music wizard dujour at Beats and helped curate Apple Music, and at the end of 2016 he and Ross put out the NIN EP Not The Actual Events. The latter was released with the promise of two more EPs to follow later in 2017, making it a trilogy of sorts. That EP was promising, with some biting NIN aggression and experimental twists and turns that while wasn’t mind blowing was a welcome addition to the NIN discography(while wetting the appetites of NIN fans everywhere.)

We’re in the middle of 2017 and that second EP has arrived. Add Violence dials down the angst and turns up the oscillation a bit. It feels better conceived and fluid than its predecessor, while still retaining the wily spirit of classic NIN.

Opening track “Less Than” gets all early 80s bouncy synth with the help of some catchy keyboard lines and synsonic-sounding drums. It’s like Reznor dropped the needle on Black Celebration and Power, Corruption & Lies and got heavy-handed with the Kahlua he was pouring into his protein shakes. This is the loosest and most fun NIN has sounded since Year Zero. “The Lovers” is the best track on here. It’s dark, brooding, and yes, sexy. Jittery rhythms, Pong-like synth notes, and menacing piano zig zag through the mix as Reznor turns up the longing in his vocal spots. This track feels like the very best of Reznor and Ross’ creative power. It builds; ascending then descending like a menacing tower on the horizon. I imagine playing Tetris on a grainy black and white TV with this as the soundtrack. Odd, but fitting. “This Isn’t The Place” has an electronic swing to it. It’s decent, but seems to meander a bit too long. “Not Anymore” sounds like a cross between Suicide and the Art of Noise, but with Reznor ad-libbing lyrics over a distorted bass line. The song goes into a frenzied explosion of fuzz in the chorus. “The Background World” moves along for nearly 12 minutes. First opening with a smooth, familiar groove that you easily fall into. Soon enough you notice something becomes slightly off. A skip in the song. As the track moves along it slowly falls into a deep distortion as that skip becomes more prominent. The track falls into an abyss of white noise before falling into some other dimension.

Add Violence resonates more than its predecessor. It feels more cohesive, like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross sat down and mapped out some songs with a sonic thru-line. They kept it more of a blippy, electronic affair with a healthy dose of their rich atmosphere. The result is a sweet shot of electronic urgency.

7.9 out of 10



Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile : Deviations 1

So right off the bat it must be said that this very unique version of Trent Reznor’s 1999 masterpiece ode to mental breakdown and substance abuse is for a very limited number of Nine Inch Nails fans. Of those fans there’s two kinds of fans that will want this: the hardcore completists and the soundtrack fans. The casual window shoppers, the mild interest guys and gals, and that one guy that never “got it” after Pretty Hate Machine need not apply. This one isn’t for you. Thanks for stopping by, though. Sure, take a beer with you. See you later…

Okay, now that we’re alone let’s talk about The Fragile : Deviations 1.

So back in December, along with the release of Not The Actual Events, it was announced that a definitive version of Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile was being released. It was meticulously remastered by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As a huge fan of The Fragile I was pretty excited about this prospect. As well as the original album, there was also an oddity announced in The Fragile : Deviations 1. It’s an instrumental version of the 1999 record. The album was completely remixed and remastered as instrumental fare. According to

A very special limited edition of The Fragile is now available for preorder in the NIN store. This unique version of NIN’s classic record was created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and features 37 instrumental, alternate and unreleased tracks, many of which have never been heard before anywhere.”

Reznor explains, ‘The Fragile occupies a very interesting and intimate place in my heart. I was going through a turbulent time in my life when making it and revisiting it has become a form of therapy for me. As an experiment, I removed all the vocals from the record and found it became a truly changed experience that worked on a different yet compelling level. The Fragile: Deviations 1 represents Atticus and I embellishing the original record with a number of tracks from those sessions we didn’t use before. The result paints a complimentary but different picture we wanted to share.

Not being what I’d call a hardcore NIN fan, but also not a mild occasional listener, I was intrigued by the prospect of an instrumental version of the first NIN record I sort of really got into. Two years prior to The Fragile I’d totally fallen for NINs “The Perfect Drug” off David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack, so in 1999 I was ready to fall for a NIN record. After a day or two of mulling it over in December I decided to throw caution to the wind and I preordered this behemoth of a set(it’s 4 LPs at $80.)

According to their website it was supposed to ship in April of 2017. April came and went. As did May and June. I found myself going back to old emails to make sure I hadn’t dreamt preordering this damn record. I did indeed order this thing. Finally in July I’d gotten a confirmation email that this record was shipping and a week later a heavy, flat, square box showed up on the front porch.

It arrived.

I’ve been spinning this record on and off for the last couple weeks. I stand by my first statement that this is something of a completist-only kind of album. Most folks aren’t going to fall head over heals for this album. No vocals, it’s an album that pushes the wall of sonics to the forefront. It’s gone from an epic ode to self hate and utter emotional devastation to something that transcends that pain and turns it into something far different from its origins. It doesn’t feel angry and pained anymore.

The Fragile : Deviations 1 feels like something of a rebirth of the original album.

This is a completist kind of album, but it’s also for those fans of the Reznor/Ross film scores. First, the music is still there. It’s brighter, louder, and more in focus. The guitars hum with a vibrancy. Without the vocals your attention is pushed towards the amazing job Reznor and Ross did on engineering this thing. It really does sound like a score to some lost dystopian film. Something like Wim Wenders doing a post-apocalyptic arthouse epic. Paris, Texas-meets-The Road Warrior. Listening to these songs with new ears you really do notice just how cinematic Reznor’s arranging truly was, even back in 1999. He was definitely working towards becoming that film composer he’s become. With Trent Reznor making Atticus Ross a permanent member of NIN only goes to show just how important that musical partnership has become. Sure, he was in How To Destroy Angels with Reznor and Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig, but for him to be a permanent member of NIN is something else. It was always just Reznor writing and recording in the studio, with a band assembled for gigs. Having Ross as a permanent member truly shows the importance of that partnership.

I feel I’m rambling here. This record is a masterpiece to my ears. It’s one I happily add to the collection of Reznor/Ross collaborations. I feel that their scores for The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Before The Flood, and Patriot’s Day are modern classics. They are all unique in their own way, but carry with each of them that Reznor/Ross DNA strand that gives them all this cohesive, arthouse charm. I would put The Fragile : Deviations 1 in the same category as their film scores. With unreleased tracks, alternate takes, and extended versions of songs this album feels like it’s own musical beast. It’s almost like the score to the making of a concept album about a guy’s fall into madness. It’s very meta if you think about it.

This one is definitely worth your time if you’re willing to commit to the ride. If you’re looking for “Head Like A Hole”, you should look elsewhere.

9. 2 out of 10

Gut Reaction – The Fragile : Deviations 1

I don’t often start vomiting out words of praise on a first run of an album, but since the album is from Nine Inch Nails and that album is a bizarro world take on the classic The Fragile called The Fragile : Deviations 1 I felt it was okay to do so. So here’s a few thoughts upon dropping the needle.

I knew what I was getting into when I handed over my money card digits back in December and preordered what was being touted as an instrumental version of Trent Reznor’s ode to nervous breakdowns and substance abuse, 1999s The Fragile. Even when The Fragile was released way back before we could ever imagine a world where Donald Trump could be voted in as the leader of the free world, I wasn’t all that into NIN. I got my copy of The Fragile for free by calling in and answering a question on the local alternative radio station during a lunch time program. I drove an hour to the tiny radio station in September of 1999 and got my winnings in the form of a double CD and listened to it on the way home. This was the first time I ever really liked something from NIN. But still, it didn’t really sink in for me till 2005s With Teeth(my best friend and I did get stoned and watch scenes from Star Wars with “The Wretched” soundtracking it, so that was cool.) But with With Teeth, that’s when the teen angst that was supposed to fuel my NIN love was replaced with adult angst and I found myself screaming “Don’t You Fucking Know What You Are!!!” on my way to work in the mornings. Year Zero was another favorite as well, with Reznor making an intimate and angry electronic record for all to enjoy. But it wasn’t until Ghosts I-IV came out in 2008 that I found myself head over heals for this guy that was so angry in my youth. Instrumental pieces that felt like mini-suites of anger and desolation, I thought to myself I’d love to hear Reznor start scoring films. Two years later him and Atticus Ross began a fruitful scoring career with David Fincher, and so began my love of everything Trent Reznor.

This brings me to The Fragile : Deviations 1. For the person that absolutely LOVES Reznor’s film work this record is for you(meaning me, but it could be you, too.) There was always something very cinematic about The Fragile. At times I felt that beautiful and ugly melodrama was wasted on words and screaming, so with the vocals removed the record takes on a whole new meaning and feel. Instead of hearing a man’s descent into lovelorn, chemically induced madness it sounds as if we’re hearing the score to a faintly familiar film that we can’t quite place. I’m currently finishing side 4(there are 8 sides here, guys) and it’s probably one of the cleanest, crisp mixes I’ve heard in a long time. Reznor and Ross have gone back and tweaked the original songs to accentuate certain parts that may have gotten lost in the mix the first time. The buzzsaw guitars are even more biting(as on “Somewhat Damaged” and “We’re In This Together”.) There are also unreleased pieces strewn throughout as well that add a whole other dimension to this record.

I think having a few years of film work under their belts, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have learned how to build mood and create aural scenes in the studio. I truly feel that they’re in their element scoring for film. I loved Hesitation Marks and dug Not The Actual Events, but I’m finding myself drawn to records that talk through the music and not lyrics these days. Reznor’s songs resonated with so many not only because of the music but because he was speaking to the disenfranchised with his lyrics. These days Reznor isn’t really the disaffected, pained guy that he once was. Hearing him sing “Head Like A Hole” these days seems a bit much. But hearing him re-imagine that youthful angst and pain into something new and refreshing is quite the thing. What he’s doing here is nothing short of brilliant.

And I’m not even half way through.

These are just gut reactions, folks. There will be a proper review. But for now I’m giving a resounding JHubner73 thumbs up. This record is absolutely stunning. If any of this kind of interests you, grab a copy while you still can. It will only be available on vinyl, with no digital release at all. Maybe he’ll drop some flash drives in various dirty men’s toilets throughout North America and Europe for shits and giggles with the album on it, but that’s it.

Time for another rum and coke and see what else awaits.

Nine Inch Nails : Not The Actual Events

Do younger generations look at Trent Reznor and NIN as some sort of fossilized, angry rich uncle? I hear folks a few years younger ninthan me saying things of that nature. And maybe they have a point to some degree. What’s Reznor got to be mad about these days? Maybe the point isn’t that he’s angry. Maybe he’s more of an impressionistic painter using sound as his colors? Aggression as his brush? I mean, people still go nuts for Quentin Tarantino’s obscene, violence-filled talkie fests and he’s a rich middle-aged dude. What’s the difference? Really, what’s the difference? Even middle-aged dads need to vent sometimes. NIN helps out with that. It’s escapism for the responsible 9 to 5 guys and gals. It’s a shot of adrenaline anger that only kids of the Reagan 80s and Clinton 90s seem to really appreciate.

The career of Nine Inch Nails can be broken up into two parts: when I couldn’t stand them, and then when I got them. The first part was from when I was in high school up to 2005. I didn’t get the anger and screaming. I didn’t get the self hate, self pity, and nihilistic view of the world. Maybe I was too happy of a guy; too well-adjusted and content to look at the brighter side of things. Of course, none of that crap was true because by the time 2005 rolled around I was a husband and father of three kids. I was taking night classes for a degree I didn’t care about that was supposed to save me from a job I didn’t care about. I bought With Teeth on a trip to some big chain box store because we needed diapers and a new garbage can. Why not buy a cd by a band I don’t really care about while I’m at it?

Turns out, With Teeth was that album that graciously opened the door to the world of Trent Reznor for me. Not Pretty Hate Machine when I was 17 or The Downward Spiral when I was 20. It was an album that came out when I was 31 years old. I was nearly middle-aged with a wife, kids, a mortgage, and debt up to my head like a hole. Maybe that says a lot about the album and why so many fans didn’t like it, I don’t know. But in retrospect that record was a turning point for Trent Reznor, whether he regrets With Teeth or not. It feels and sounds like a palate cleanser of a record. Cleaner, clear-eyed, and the first time Trent Reznor directed his anger outward instead of inward. From that record on it sounded like Reznor was advancing the NIN canon into fresher territory, and each successive album was a step to where he’s at now. Zero Year was the personal laptop record where NIN took that outward view to songwriting to the next level. Ghosts was Reznor’s first foray into scoring. A whole concept scored like a film. The Slip may seem like backsliding to some, but I feel like it’s this beautifully built record that feels like a bit of a goodbye to the pop concept of an album. The next year Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross began their film scoring career with David Fincher’s The Social Network.

After two more scores with Fincher and the 2013 NIN album Hesitation Marks the Reznor/Ross team has returned as NIN and given us Not The Actual Events. It’s a 5-song EP of mix-and-match aggression that runs the gamut between techno punk, New Order-on-steroids electronic, slow burn material, and white noise distortion blowouts. It’s a nice tease that hopefully will be preceding something bigger and better.

Things start out nicely with “Branches/Bones”, it’s a nice kick in the teeth that’s in and out in under 2 minutes. Feels nice, like putting on a great old jacket that still fits just right. “Dear World” clicks and beeps along like a more aggressive Kraftwerk. To me, this sounds like Reznor honing in on all the great elements he’s come across over the years. A perfect collection of sounds. “She’s Gone Away” is a little too much like How To Destroy Angels for my taste. It’s interesting, but ultimately a bit too plodding for an EP. “The Idea Of You” has Dave Grohl where he does his best work, behind a drum set. It’s a heavy track that relies on dread and a machine gun blast of a chorus that’s equal parts “Wish” and some sort of new age proto punk. “Burning Bright(Field On Fire)” feels like the next phase. It’s slow, methodical, and a wall of white noise. It’s a Goliath of dense distortion and bombast that still in its roots feels planted in the nerdy love of guys like Gary Numan, Joy Division, and Suicide.

Not The Actual Events is a bunch of welcoming sounds to ring in the new year. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

7.2 out 10

Atticus Ross/Leopold Ross/Bobby Krlic : Almost Holy S/T

Almost Holy is a documentary directed by Steve Hoover, and it’s about Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a rogue man of the cloth that works and lives out of Mariupol, Ukraine. In his city there was a massive influx of homeless, drug-addicted children and “Pastor Crocodile”, as Mokhnenko likes to call himself, felt it was his duty to help rehabilitate this kids any way he could. That means sometimes forcibly removing these kids from the streets in order to help them, and inevitably save their life. It’s a fine line, and an ambiguous one, but despite what  you may feel about his motives Mokhnenko is doing what he feels is right. The soundtrack was written and created by brothers Atticus and Leopold Ross, as well as Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak. It’s as harrowing an experience as the film itself, but just as engaging and stands on its own as a great electronic record.

If you’re familiar with Ross’ work with Trent Reznor on David Fincher’s last few films then you will feel right at home on album opener “One Block Further” as it would feel very much at home on any of the Reznor/Ross film soundtracks. It has a more percussive feel in terms of drum programming, but the Ross brothers do a fine job of creating mood, drama, and with an 80s electronic flair. “Punching Bag” feels more sparse and gritty, with metallic whooshes and reverb-drenched guitar float above the proceedings as a jaunty rhythm appears out of the ether. Bobby Krlic’s contributions on this S/T are darker, hazier, and really more enthralling. If you’re familiar with his work as The Haxan Cloak then you know what to expect here. If you’re not then you need to get a copy of Excavation, listen to it in a dark room with headphones and get back to me. Krlic’s work is harrowing, heavy, and nightmare fuel in the best way possible. “Intervention” feels like a gothic sound ritual, and only goes to add a deeper sense of dread that is already invoked by the sad reality of these kids in Almost Holy. “Pharmacies” has a distant dread in it. It’s as if darkness is filling the peripheral as daylight screams its final charge. I don’t know how Krlic has gotten away with not working in film up to this point, but he needs to keep moving in this direction as it’s his cup of tea, to say the least.

I think at times the soundtrack may add a bit more melodrama than there needs to be in this film. With the subject matter at hand, not much is needed musically to drive home the intensity and urgency of this real life story. A simple piano score with an occasional string accompaniment or synth blurbs here and there would’ve worked well. As it is, though, Ross, Ross, and Krlic don’t disappoint even if the dramatic bar is raised as each song moves along.

“Mokhnenko” by the brothers Ross has a John Carpenter feel to it, while “Distance” howls and hisses mechanically like a shattered spirit in duress. “Graves” contains a sample of Pastor Crocodile himself, talking about the death of a kid and not being able to give him a proper burial as his body is missing. Krlic’s “Coursing” moves along like an electronic fog, it’s mist made up of circuits and warm tubes, while “The End” is as foreboding as anything on this album. It shows just how good Bobby Krlic can be at what he does, and why he needs to do more in the cinematic world.

A documentary like Almost Holy pretty much speaks for itself. As intense as the film is, an equally intense film score could be overkill. At times the “less is more” adage might’ve been the way to go with this film, but since instead the filmmakers went with the brothers Ross and Bobby Krlic then we might as well just enjoy it. As a film score this record works fine, but as a standalone electronic LP it works even better. The Ross’ do good here, but Bobby Krlic absolutely shines.

8.1 out of 10