Bad Witch: Music Review

With ‘Bad Witch’ Nine Inch Nails has completed a trilogy of EPs, as was promised with the initial release ‘Not the Actual Events,’ and followup, ‘Add Violence.’

The EP begins with the chaotic rock of an old school NIN release. The two opening numbers, ‘Shit Mirror’ and ‘Ahead of Ourselves’ are politically charged excursions that express rage in the aftermath of apathy. Lyrics like, “I think I knew when it crossed the line” and “why try change when you know you can’t?” reflects Reznor’s internal struggles onto the world at large. The songs talk about squandered potential. When left to our own devices, we’re most likely to destroy ourselves in spite of some better vision. The verse/chorus structure of the first two songs offers a comfortable way to start the album by this uncomfortable artist.

Then the record changes course an instrumental track, titled, ‘Play the Goddamn Part.’ Noise levels border on cacophony before the music settles on a path that refuses the straight and narrow. What’s truly unique here is the saxophone, as I haven’t heard an honest horn section since ‘Pilgrimage’ from 1999’s ‘The Fragile.’ Aside from that you’d have to go back to 1988’s ‘Purest Feeling’ to find horns on a NIN track. While it’s been documented that Reznor played the sax during his high school years, up to this point he had left it in the past, as the previous examples were made with synthesizers. The third track moves with the grace and balance of a living entity.

The fourth track is titled, ‘God Break Down the Door,’ and is rife with saxophone, uptempo drums/synthesizers, and a vocal composition that reminds me of David Bowie. The lyrics declare, “You won’t find the answers here… not the ones you’re looking for,” in spite of the effort required to break down the perceived barrier.

‘I’m Not from This World’ is an unsettling instrumental track that creates a sense of space. The tempo slows down, and audio levels are below that of the other songs. It’s a haunting soundscape that deviates from the thoughtful composition of ‘Play the Goddamn Part’ as it wanders into the void of space.

‘Bad Witch’ concludes with my personal favorite track, ‘Over and Out.’ This song returns us to the beat driven downtempo that is a NIN standard. Heavy drums and beeping synths set the foundation of what feels like an instrumental journey. A bass line jumps on, and the wall of sound layers up. It feels like one of Reznor’s signature works, but a surprise is offered up when vocals break the ice, as the styling again reflects that of David Bowie. There’s no verse/chorus structure (same with ‘God Break Down the Door’), so the voice expresses, “Time is running out,” and all the complications associated with the passage of time.

With ‘Bad Witch’ being the final installment in this three-EP series, I’m hoping for a world tour that’ll land near me. It’ll be damn cool to see Atticus Ross in the live lineup. The new collection of songs are definitely worth a spin.

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Not the Actual Events: EP Review

With the year coming to a close I figured the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross camp was going to hold off on new Nine Inch Nails until after the New Year. I’d been satisfied with the ‘Before the Flood’ soundtrack, but new music with little notice is always a perk worth the excitement. Not the Actual Events is a five track EP that explores solid walls of distorted sound. Over the years I’ve come to develop certain expectations of Reznor and his work, but what makes this record special is that where it doesn’t deviate, it exceeds. Old tendencies are coupled with fresh ideas, and the resulting record feels like something that would’ve been produced in the 90’s, without sounding dated. The word ‘thick’ kept coming to mind as I listened through it. Thick beats, dirty bass, and layers upon layers of oppressive noise.

In terms of songwriting and production it’s a complete departure from the 2013 release, Hesitation Marks. It’s full of screeching, distorted, atmospheric guitars, scattered throughout the EP. The use of guitars and bass with this approach to production is more in line with rock, but the result is less polished than previous rock records. It’s not pop, and doesn’t have anything that would appeal to mainstream rock radio, which is why it’s sure to please the diehards. There’s a lot of moving action and sequencing, the sort of thing that merits multiple listens.

As a drummer I’m always fascinated by the variation of drums, and Not the Actual Events delivers in that category. Electronic drums are sequenced through songs like Dear World, while the booming roomy sound of She_s Gone Away are a quick disconnect from the previous track. These changing elements keep the movements fresh, which is common with NIN, but worth the observation here.

Certain parts of the record reminded me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Specifically the vocal inflection during the chorus of Branches_Bones, and the rhythmic procession of The Idea of You, stood out as things I’d expect from Dillinger. Not a criticism, just something I noticed.

While the wall of sound is what got to me through my first couple of spins, I came to find my attention drawn towards the vocal production. Throughout the record the vocals are mixed in such a way to obscure what’s being said, which may frustrate the casual fan, but I find it to be part of the charm. In other places the voice is loud and clear. The theme of balancing nihilism with passion reveals an individual who is uncertain, and often-in denial.

Overall Not the Actual Events is an experience that can’t be disproven. It’s short, bitter, and made of all the pieces/parts of a great Nine Inch Nails record.

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UPDATE: 03/06/17

When I initially purchased the mp3s it included a “physical component” to be mailed at a later date. It was something to hold in your hands, and seemed like a nod to our collective nostalgia. After a few weeks I sort of forgot about it, until it arrived at my door, and made me excited to listen to the EP again.

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A caulk like-charcoal dusting had blackened my fingertips right out of the plastic. It contained a transparent piece of film with an image of Trent/Atticus. Then a paper slide for each track with lyrics. The backs had more of the charcoal residue textured to an aesthetic visual, and came up/smeared with a touch. Most interesting (to me) was that the page with the lyrics for “she’s_gone_away” had the lyrics to their 1994 track “reptile” squeezed in between the lines, which suggests some kind of narrative connection.