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.

When Tension Reaches the Surface

Earlier this year when Trent Reznor announced the return of Nine Inch Nails I thought about the embodiment of a lineup that consisted of six people instead of the typical five piece act. The addition of an extra person could drastically change the dynamics of the show and I was excited by that potential. Shortly after the announcement bass player Eric Avery departed citing the overwhelming circumstances of having been on the road extensively leading up to the project. I was surprised to read that his replacement would be Robin Finck, the lead guitarist who has consistently been part of the lineup since 1994, minus the With Teeth Tour. With two lead guitar players in the group I saw the departure of Adrian Belew coming before it was revealed. To my dismay Josh Eustis was reassigned to the position of the rhythm guy switching between bass, guitar, and keyboard duties as Nine Inch Nails kicked off their summer festival run as a five piece act.

A full arena tour was scheduled to follow the festival shows with a stop in Cleveland on October 5th. Going back to school I’ve had to cut my hours at work, and couldn’t afford to go. The week of the show my girlfriend decided to snag a couple of tickets as an early birthday present for me. Thank you, Lydia! You’re the best.

With the Cleveland show being one of the early stops on the Tension 2013 North American Tour it came as a shock to me that the lineup would again be revamped. The addition of bass player Pino Palladino who played on a good number of tracks on the new album Hesitation Marks freed up Josh Eustis to focus on other aspects of the show, and solidified the act as a six piece. The stars aligned as I got exactly what I wanted. The icing on the cake came in the form of Sharlotte Gibson and Lisa Fischer whose soulful backup singing was something new for NIN and a welcome addition.

From the moment the band took the stage it was a roller coaster ride in the exercise of emotional expression. The full sound of having a live bass player on every song eliminated the majority of backing bass tracks for the set minus the opening song, Copy of A. Palladino’s mastery of the instrument enabled a style and groove from NIN that I hadn’t heard before. From there the band fleshed out a good portion of the new album collected with the back catalog that hit every album except for the instrumental Ghosts Vol. I-IV. Even though Ilan Rubin was the drummer during the 2009 Wave Goodbye Tour, it was my first time seeing him with the band. His drumming brought forth a chaotic interpretation of the beats accompanied with wild fills that were nailed with such precision that I can finally admit he is a suitable replacement for Josh Freese. Rubin also played the piano parts on March of the Pigs and Find My Way. The other new addition, Josh Eustis switched between guitar, synthesizers, hand percussion, and even broke out the sax on While I’m Still Here. With this being my seventh time seeing Nine Inch Nails in a live setting, the most consistent member besides Reznor has been Alessandro Cortini, the synthesizer extraordinaire who used to serve up backing guitars switch out the guitars for auxiliary percussion on a number of songs. Finck’s showmanship was revealed through his ability to move while playing solos on The Wretched and Burn. Reznor still has the ability to lead a crowd through the emotions of songs that can go from the soothing texture of A Warm Place straight into the destructive rage of Somewhat Damaged. In surprising news no instruments were harmed in the making of last night’s show, and Closer was omitted from the set list (which I didn’t mind as I’ve seen them perform that song on six other occasions). The full sound of the band when accompanied by Gibson and Fischer brought a level of soul and depth that some may have found to be lacking in the mechanical hum of a typical NIN show of previous times. What a refreshing revamp of the band and sound!

While the selections of the back catalog always make for an interesting experience the new material stood out most to me, as I’ve familiarized myself with the album over the past month and some change. The wall of sound at the ends of Disappointed, Find My Way, and Black Noise consisted of a trace like quality that reminds one of peace. The Nine Inch Nails live experience is unlike any other concert event going on right now, and I saw Gwar earlier this week.

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Set List

  • Copy of A
  • 1,000,000
  • Terrible Lie
  • March of the Pigs
  • Piggy
  • All Time Low
  • Disappointed
  • Came Back Haunted
  • Find My Way
  • The Frail
  • The Wretched
  • Into the Void
  • Survivalism
  • Running
  • A Warm Place
  • Somewhat Damaged
  • Wish
  • Burn
  • The Hand that Feeds
  • Head Like a Hole

Encore

  • Even Deeper
  • In This Twilight
  • While I’m Still Here/Black Noise
  • Hurt