Sunday, 20 August 2017

Nine Inch Nails' 'Add Violence' - EP Review

Following a promise that he made in 2015 Trent Reznor, the man behind the legendary industrial outfit Nine Inch Nails, released his last studio effort under the Nine Inch Nails in December 2016. This long-awaited EP, Not the Actual Events (which I reviewed here), saw Reznor moving away from some of the more ambient sounds which have been dominating his songwriting during the past decade or so, and back to the grittier, rockier approach which served him so well during the early days of Nine Inch Nails' ascent to greatness. Despite Nine Inch Nails being Reznor's main outlet for his musical creativity since 1988, it is fair to say that, in more recent years, it has become one of many irons in Reznor's fire. While he still enjoys to revisit Nine Inch Nails every so often, it seems that his film score work is just as important to him these days; plus his work on getting Apple Music up and running certainly kept him busy. Despite all of these extra distractions, Reznor still makes time for Nine Inch Nails despite the outfit being largely on the back-burning since the end of the 2014 tour. With it's tough and somewhat chaotic sound, Not the Actual Events was a big hit with the Nine Inch Nails fanbase. There were shades of the industrial heaviness of 1994's The Downward Spiral and of the raw stadium rock of 2005's With Teeth, all nicely packaged together in an easily-digestible five track EP. Many of the older fans who had not really enjoyed the more electronica-based sounds Reznor had explored more recently, and in particular on 2013's Hesitation Marks, were brought back on board with Not the Actual Events. It was then revealed that Not the Actual Events was actually the first of a trilogy of new EPs from Reznor the second of which, Add Violence, was released last month somewhat unexpectedly. This series of EPs also sees the debut of Reznor's long-time collaborator Atticus Ross as a full member of Nine Inch Nails. Ross has worked with Reznor in a behind-the-scenes capacity on all Nine Inch Nails releases since With Teeth, is the co-composer on all of Reznor's film soundtracks, and is a part of Reznor's side-project How to Destroy Angels, so his greater involvement in Nine Inch Nails now should not come as a surprise. He obviously works well with Reznor, and it is interesting to see, after all these years, that Nine Inch Nails now has another 'official' member alongside Reznor. His contributions have no doubt helped Reznor to focus his creative muse once again, which can surely be attributed to the success of these two EPs. Add Violence is quite different in style from Not the Actual Events, with the gritty sound once again pushed into the background in favour of a more synth-based sound and murky soundscapes. Add Violence also looks to the band's past for influence too, with shades of 1999's The Fragile and even 2007's Year Zero throughout which helps to contribute to the spacier overall feel.

The EP starts off really well with the synth-heavy Less Than, which sees catchy synth melodies repeating over a punchy drum machine pattern. Reznor's patented half-spoken singing style is introduced almost immediately and this sits perfectly across the dominant synth loops, and some bass guitar playing joins in to add some extra groove. Guitars are absent from the verses, but are used in the chorus for extra power with punky power chords that fit well over the trippy synths. This is a high-energy piece, which is in contrast to much of the rest of the material found on Add Violence, and definitely links this EP to the previous one. Sharlotte Gibson and Allison Iraheta add some backing vocals throughout, which are quite prominent during the choruses, and they are the only guest musicians to be found on this EP. The Lovers is immediately more down-beat with a cold-sounding atmospheric drone which is a good backing for another trippy synth line. During the song's early moments, Reznor's voice is mixed into the background and almost becomes part of the musical landscape of the song, while subtle and haunting piano notes cut through the gloom. When he does begin to sing properly, his mournful croon really helps to add to the strange overall sound of the song. In many ways this is quite a hypnotic piece, with a synth pattern that repeats throughout almost the entirety of the song which helps to draw the listener into the depths of Reznor's mind. This dark feel is built upon further on This isn't the Place, which opens with a slow and menacing bass pattern which is slowly added to with layers of cold synths and atmospheric soundscapes. Reznor's vocals do not kick in until about half way through, and when he does his fragile delivery is quite different to anything he has done recently and definitely harks back, quite appropriately, to The Fragile. By this point, the song has taken on quite a discordant feel, and at times the vocals really clash with the music. I feel this is intentional however, and it works well to create an unsettling atmosphere - something which Reznor has always excelled in. Not Anymore is somewhat of a heavier piece, that opens with a fuzzy bassline and introduces some of the industrial rock elements that featured so heavily on Not the Actual Events. Reznor barks the lyrics throughout with real venom, and the spiky chorus, which is based around a groovy bassline, is one of the EP's most powerful moments. Cold synths are never too far away however, and this song links the previous EP's sound to the sound that dominates Add Violence perfectly, making good use of guitar rhythms and prominent synths. The final song, The Background World, is a lengthy piece at over eleven minutes in length, but the actual 'song' part of this is a more traditional length. It is another downbeat piece, with suffocating synths that create a really desolate feel that is only added to by Reznor's surprisingly melodic vocals. The song's methodical drum programming really draws you into the song, and the beats are easily the thing that stands out the most here. It is this beat that fills the rest of the song's running time, even after the main 'song' is over, as the pattern repeats over and over, getting slightly more distorted and obscured each time, until coming to an end. Overall, Add Violence is another strong effort from Reznor (and Ross) that works as a great companion piece to the previous EP. Their two contrasting styles show off the many sides of Nine Inch Nails perfectly, and I look forward to see where the pair go with the final instalment in the trilogy.

The EP was released on 21st July 2017 via The Null Corporation/Capitol Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Less Than.

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