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

 

 

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

 

 

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.