Favourites: Less Than, Not Anymore
Nine Inch Nails have been one of my favourites for a long time now. They are the iconic face behind the “Industrial” genre, and continue to evolve their sound from year to year, from the 80s corrupted, “Pretty Hate Machine”, the heroin fuelled, gothic and noisy “Downward Spiral”, etc. to this recent trilogy of EPs that they have been teasing us with. The first of the trilogy, “Not the Actual Events” was an extremely abrasive, guitar heavy and in your face collection of songs that featured Atticus Ross in the production, Dave Grohl on a drum track, Dave Navarro on a guitar track, and a vocal performance from Trent’s wife Mariqueen Maandig (of Trent’s side project ‘How to Destroy Angels”). “Not the Actual Events” sounded a lot like The Downward Spiral/Broken era to me, more heavy rock, almost punk elements, which is not the case with “Add Violence”. Add Violence is a mesh of the sounds you hear in Nine Inch Nails’ “Hesitation Marks”, “The Slip”, and “With Teeth”, mixed with Atticus Ross’ signature syncopated beeping synths that you hear in soundtracks such as “The Social Network”. A combination that seems to blend perfectly on this EP.
Add Violence starts off with the catchy, traditional NIN sounding “Less Than“, which is most likely a track about the current state of America with the orange man in office, in which Trent questions the voters responsible:
So what are you waiting for?
You got what you asked for
Did it fix what was wrong with you?
Are you less than?
Go and look what you gone done
This song has “The Hand that Feeds” or “Capital G” written all over it, with its driving distorted guitars, 16th note hi hats, and “F-zero” video game music-like lead synths (just like the video for this song emulates). Man, this song makes me want to lead a parade full of anarchistic marching pigs directly to the White House! Or something to that effect, maybe a bit less aggressive… but you get the point.
The next track “The Lovers” is a lot more toned down, and in the sonic context of NIN’s latest full length “Hesitation Marks”. You get Trent’s classic whispery vocals, with the fragile grand piano plucks and decaying synth programming building over a four to the floor bass kick thumping its way through the song. I love the intimate and immersive lyrics on this track, Trent romanticizes a place where he can be in arms of “the lovers”, free from whatever rotten entity was within him in “the center”. Following this decaying and somber track, is “This Isn’t the Place” which follows the same path instrumentally and emotionally. This track is led with a warm and comforting, but wobbly sub bass, and a synth pad that fills the entire track with a mixed feeling of euphoria and despair. The video for this song features the album art of this EP which looks like a typical sound board you’d see in Trent’s studio, but is labelled with words such as “Anxiety”, “Morale”, “Deviation”, “Control”, “Disorder”, “Submission”, etc. Words that seem to all relate to the theme of this EP. I love the piano harps at the end of this song on top of Trent’s distorted, melting-away vocals.
Then we get to my favourite track on the EP “Not Anymore” which starts off pretty tame, in the same vain as the rest of the album and then out of nowhere Trent gets LOOOUUUD in the chorus, big thumping kick drums, a crunchy wall of distorted guitar (similar to March of the Pigs), and a synth lead that hits you like a freight train. The song goes up and down throughout, and Trent just “can’t seem to wake up” from whatever chaotic nightmare he’s painted in this tune. Loved the fake out explosion near the end, reminded me of the unexpected loudness in one of my favourite Nine Inch Nail tracks “The Day the World Went Away” off “The Fragile”. The last track is “The Background World” which is a 11 minute track which totally could’ve been cut down to like 6 minutes at least. The song is about waking yourself up from the “background world”, and not letting the outside world control the way you think and perceive ideas. “Are you sure (This is what you want?) hard as you try not to see it.” The track starts out promising, and looking at the track length you’d think it’d expand into an epic outro for the EP continuing this concept, but no, the track progressively gets distorted into oblivion for about 7 or so minutes until your left with a black hole of distortion and resonance. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to this song if it popped up on my shuffle, but it was a great way to end off the EP and to give it that sense of decay. (Trent loves that word by the way.)
I’m super excited about this trilogy of EPs, I think it’s a great creative direction for Nine Inch Nails. They are managing to go back to their roots in terms of context and emotion while also incorporating their newfound “Hesitation Marks” synth-heavy programming and automation, thanks to help from Atticus Ross.
It’s safe to say that Trent’s creative mind is back and in full force, and who knows what the last EP will sound like, it could go in any direction from the NIN catalogue at this point. I’ll be looking forward to seeing them live when they tour all this material, I’ve already seen them 4 times and they have put on the one of the best visual performances I have ever witnessed. What were your opinions on this EP? Do you like this familiar but fresh direction NIN is going in? Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought!