Friday, 21 July 2017

Review: Nine Inch Nails – 'Add Violence'

'Add Violence'

A big criticism of Nine Inch Nails post 'Year Zero' is the settled and somewhat comfortable sound Trent Reznor has continued to craft. Deviations and experimentation are still present, but with his fascination with analogue synthesizers there has been to a degree a stock palette that has also reoccurred in his side project How To Destroy Angels, and his soundtrack work with long-time NIN producer, and now official member, Atticus Ross.

The first release in the trilogy of EPs being released on his own Null Corporation record label, 'Not The Actual Events' did kind of confound expectations. With it's noise rock meets drone and low-fi feel it was arguably one of the most challenging NIN releases since 1994's 'The Downward Spiral', though lacking the misanthropic anger of his youth. Fast-forward to the summer of 2017 and the second EP in the trilogy, 'Add Violence', is unveiled.

Sonically the new EP is a self-contained entity with an expanded presence than we previously had. We return to the analogue synth wizardry familiar from recent Reznor releases. There is an almost chip-tune element to some of the tracks while darker ambient textures play beneath them and the vocals begin to tie the narrative arc of the EPs together with their disassociated lyrics.

'Less Than' is a fairly typical NIN track to kick off the EP, a little retro synth lead, that classic guitar sound and vocal delivery that categorises recent output, balancing the subtle harsher elements with an upbeat and pleasing rhythm. 'The Lovers' has a more minimal vibe reminiscent of How To Destroy Angels, with a simple and rhythmic melody, a little piano and Reznor's distant spoken vocal it has an air of 'The Fragile' about it's atmosphere.

'This Isn't The Place' carries on that feeling, though with a more sinister atmosphere present throughout, that fades nicely into the low-fi rock of 'Not Anymore' with its “quiet-loud” construction that is the most obvious musical link to the previous EP. Finally, 'The Background World' ties the EP together with a sinister grooving track that nicely blends the melodic synths with the dirty guitars that gradually build into a wall of distortion.

Production-wise the EP walks a fine line between the top-shelf polish of the likes of 'Hesitation Marks' and the low-fi grit of 'Not The Actual Events'. It does tend to go one way or the other and never quite settles on an optimum balance, but that doesn't affect the overall feel of the EP.

'Add Violence' perhaps defaults back to some safer territory for Reznor and Ross after the dissonant noise of 'Not The Actual Events'. It still feels experimental, as though they are continuing to exorcise their sonic demons. But this time around, more so than the last, it feels like these were originally destined for other things, but have been reworked and re-imagined to fit this narrative. It's certainly a good EP, recognisably NIN and utilising some tried and tested set pieces, but still an infectious listen. It just raises more questions about the final instalment of the trilogy and how that will tie everything together.  

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