(The Null Corporation/Capitol Records, out Fri 22 Jun 2018)
Nine Inch Nails are one of the most influential industrial rock bands from the 90s, with albums like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile solidifying them as music icons. Known for their chaotic industrial rock sound and intense performances, there’s always an interest with what they will do next.
The Bad Witch is the concluding part of a trilogy of EPs from NIN and features Atticus Ross who collaborated with frontman Trent Reznor on film scores for The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.
The album throws you right into the chaos with Shit Mirror, a fast, loud and angry track. Reznor’s vocals are screaming over distorted guitars and clapping beats; its lyrics are a reflection on Reznor’s frustration with current times. It’s a well thought out NIN song, its established musical aesthetics luring the listener in with something similar to what we’ve heard in their previous work.
The pace is quickened with Ahead of Ourselves, a drum and bass influenced track, with sharp interjecting guitars and vocals in the chorus. You can hear Reznor’s clever mixing on the track too, with the repetition of “we got ahead of ourselves” while a soft whispered vocal of “not so sure anymore” can be heard in the background. This plays well into the theme of the modern world through Reznor’s eyes and his uncertain stance on where we are as a species.
The pace is slowed down in Play the Goddamn Part, the first of three instrumental tracks. Distorted beats trudge through the song, accompanied by out of tune pianos and well-used saxophones. It’s a tightly woven track that allows the sounds to breathe and works as a nice opener for God Break Down The Door.
Drum and bass and saxophones collide here with a well-crafted industrial tune. Bowie’s 2016 album Blackstar has had a strong influence on the sound and Reznor’s vocal delivery. This doesn’t take away from the song though, as its high octane vibe is perfectly contrasted with Reznor’s Bowie-esque vocals. This brings in a new side of Reznor and it’s fascinating to see him in play a less aggressive role.
The two closing tracks – I’m Not From This World and Over and Out – are fantastically creepy and atmospheric, created with distorted synth beats and the repetition of inhuman breathing on I’m Not From This World. Quietly intense, they smartly contrast the faster and louder tracks on the album. The songs build slowly, sucking you into their void of industrial ambience. Neither overstay their welcome either.
Bad Witch is a well-made and to-the-point album; it’s experimental enough without becoming self-indulgent. The established NIN sound is still there but that doesn’t stop Reznor experimenting, preventing the album feeling tired and overdone.