Thursday 14 March 2013

Review: How To Destroy Angels - 'Welcome Oblivion'

'Welcome Oblivion'

With Trent Reznor announcing that his other band will be returning to life later this year, those who have so far whole-heartedly disavowed How To Destroy Angels will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. But if his past four years away from his main project that made him has been about anything it has been about exorcising his other ambitions. So far this has seen him receive a Golden Globes and an Academy Award for his experimental style of film soundtracks, which would seem like enough for most people. But for Reznor it isn't. As the long-awaited début album from How To Destroy Angels 'Welcome Oblivion' attests.

Last year's 'Omen' EP might not have been the revelation that was hinted at in the self-titled début EP, but it did provide an intriguing glimpse of things to come that the full-length 'Welcome Oblivion' expands on. The opening track 'The Wake-Up' gives us a 'Year Zero' style attention grabber right off the bat while the cuts from the EP 'Keep It Together', 'Ice Age' 'On The Wing' and 'The Loop Closes' sit prominently within the track list with their blend of glitchy electronica, dissonant industrial and haunting and rhythmic acoustic embellishments that stylistically inform the majority of the album. Songs like 'Welcome Oblivion', 'We Fade Away' and 'Hallowed Ground' give the album a dark and delectable underbelly that invites the listener to sink into layers of melodic analogue bliss. 'How Long?', on the other hand, replicates the style of the band's cover of Bryan Ferry's 'Is Your Love Strong Enough?' with it's funky but still rather straight composition that sees Maandig's luscious vocals receive a cleaner presentation.
Though the album takes its cues from a younger selection of artist such as Salem and Burial, the album is somewhat self-referencing as there are ideas that were hinted at on Nine Inch Nails records such as 'The Fragile' and 'Year Zero' played out with a more experimental zeal that has no doubt come from Reznor and Ross' recent soundtrack work.

The main criticism of the album is that there is always a sense that the band are holding something back. At times the vocals can be too understated and the songs sometimes feel like they're waiting for a “kick” that never quite materialises, which is a little frustrating given the band's collective history. Certainly if HTDA were a brand new band without the hindrance of any kind of pedigree, then no doubt 'Welcome Oblivion' would have critics hailing them in the same way as they did when 'Pretty Hate Machine' was released. But with an impressive list of albums to their name for comparison, it leaves 'Welcome Oblivion' feeling like it could deliver more.

With the reactivation of Nine Inch Nails on the horizon, How To Destroy Angels' future has a big question mark hanging over its head. Which is a shame, as the project is a refreshing change of pace from the 47-year-old Reznor that is not only deeply engrossing but also capable of going in a number of very interesting and perhaps challenging directions that are just hinted at here.

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