Friday, 30 December 2016

Nine Inch Nails' 'Not the Actual Events' - EP Review

Trent Reznor is a true musical maverick, and is one of the few left who does exactly what he wants when he wants. While the industrial/alternative rock project Nine Inch Nails has always been his primary vehicle for presenting his diverse and visceral music to the world, recent years have seen his interest turn to film soundtracks, something which has earned him both an Oscar and a Grammy. This is hard to believe from a man who brought an album as raw and graphic as 1994's The Downward Spiral into the world, but that just goes to show Reznor's diversity and creativity. Nine Inch Nails were officially put on hold in 2009, but he did return to the name in 2013 for Hesitation Marks (which I reviewed here), an album that sounded fresh and vibrant, and quite different from anything else Nine Inch Nails had put out. While not exactly a classic, Hesitation Marks remains an enjoyable and rewarding listen and reminded the rock world that Reznor was still a force to be reckoned with. The tours that followed (Tension 2013 and NIN 2014) were regarded as some of the best Nine Inch Nails concerts ever, although the promised live DVD that was partially released on YouTube (which can be watched here, and I recommend that you do) is sadly still unreleased. Following the conclusion of touring activities in 2014, Nine Inch Nails has seemingly been on hold again. Reznor has found other thing to keep him interested in the meantime, including more film soundtracks and working on Apple Music. An interview he did in December 2015 said that there would be new Nine Inch Nails music released before the end of 2016 however, but many seemed have forgotten this comment. He was true to his word however, and earlier this month he announced that a new Nine Inch Nails EP, Not the Actual Events, would be released on 23rd December. To keep thing interesting, as Reznor tends to do, the EP was released on vinyl and on all digital platforms, but orders of the digital version of the EP through the Nine Inch Nails website would also come with a 'physical component' which will ship in January 2017, so it is unknown what that means currently. Not the Actual Events is as different from Hesitation Marks as Hesitation Marks was from 2008's The Slip, and shows Reznor again continue to change the Nine Inch Nails goalposts. When listening to Not the Actual Events I actually feel quite nostalgic. This is a collection of songs that contains little bits of Nine Inch Nails' past, and revisits lots of the sounds the band has been built on over the years. Each of the five songs here has it's own identity, but many parallels can be drawn between them and moments from the band's history. It has also been made in collaboration with Atticus Ross who, despite being involved in all Nine Inch Nails releases since 2005's With Teeth in behind-the-scenes capacities, now seems to have been made a full member of the band along with Reznor.

The short, punky intro Branches/Bones gets the EP up and running, with growling synths and driving bass that allows Reznor to deploy his patented talk-singing over the top which really brings back memories of the Nine Inch Nails of old. The dry sound of 2008's The Slip is referenced quite a bit, but the song is under two minutes long and soon transitions into Dear World, (the comma is part of the title). Dear World, is based around a slightly funky programmed drum beat with electronics that swirl around with surprisingly strong melodies. The song is fairly low-key however, without exploding into the rage that characterised much of the band's early works. Reznor's vocals are pretty melancholic here, which suits the synth-heavy sound perfectly. The centrepiece of the EP is the lengthy She's Gone Away, which is a classic Nine Inch Nails drone driven by a fuzzy bassline which is punctuated with bursts of heavily-overdriven guitar which is a great contrast to the controlled pulse of the rest of the song. Reznor's wife, Mariqueen Maandig (West Indian Girl; How to Destroy Angels), provides some subtle vocal harmonies throughout the song, mostly during the chorus, which adds a haunting feel to the song, while the wind-like atmospheric bring in that horror even more. The main, hypnotic bassline never really lets up throughout the song's six minute length, but the song gradually builds around it and gets louder as it moves towards a strange ending section with some wordless vocals from Reznor and crashes of dry synths. In contrast, The Idea of You is much more traditionally 'rock' with real drums courtesy of Dave Grohl (Nirvana; Foo Fighters; Them Crooked Vultures). He performed drums on many of the songs on With Teeth, so unsurprisingly this song has quite a bit in common with that album with more obvious guitar riffs and ringing piano melodies. Again, the punky feel returns, which is driven by Grohl's fast drumming, and Reznor's angry-sounding fast-paced vocals are extremely catchy. The EP's last song, Burning Bright (Field on Fire) is another droning number, but this time with more guitar courtesy of Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction; Red Hot Chili Peppers). It is a strange song, with Reznor's rambling vocals often consigned to the background of the piece, but it has that chaotic and claustrophobic feel that characterised the band's early work. It does get more melodic as it goes through, with airy synths cutting through the mix as Reznor's ranty vocals take it up a notch. It ends in a mess of feedback, which is typically Nine Inch Nails, and this latest short taste of Reznor's work is extremely satisfying. While Not the Actual Events feels traditionally Nine Inch Nails and relies heavily on some of the band's more classic sounds without really pushing things further, it certainly feels like the start of a new era for Nine Inch Nails with more activity promised for next year.

The EP was released on 23rd December 2016 via The Null Corporation. Below is the band's promotional soundclip for Burning Bright (Field on Fire).

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