A Consideration On: Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events
2016’s devilment was oppressively unrelenting. That’s unquestionable. However, relatively speaking, 2016 was also quite generous artistically, in my opinion. In the film world and especially in the music world, there was plenty to chew on. Without going into specific detail, perusing my top 15 of 2016 list gives an indication to depth and variety that the dark electronic world gifted us. Curiously enough, one release that was notably absent from that list was Nine Inch Nails’s new EP, Not The Actual Events. Lets set the record straight here, there’s no insidious reason as to why that was the case – the release was simply too late in the year; too late for the release to gel with the listener and also logistically, too late as my article was already drafted after weeks of careful deliberation.
Subsequent to Trent Reznor’s follow through on his 18th December 2015 promise of new NIN in 2016, I was all set to download the new release on Friday 23rd December at 8:01 am GMT. However, the EP’s arrival 24 hours prior to that was another awesome surprise. With the download complete, headphones were put on, play was hit and to my surprise (again), a version of “Everything” from Hesitation Marks emerged from my cans. I digress, of course “Branches/Bones” is not a version of “Everything” – it does however, bear a strong resemblance to that Hesitation Marks misstep (shots fired!), especially in the drum pattern and a touch in the vocal melody too. The crucial element here is that “Branches/Bones” avoids the sugary tone of “Everything” and takes a heavier and more focused strike to the jugular. Its conciseness adding to its effectiveness. The song’s aggressive attack incorporates precise drum programming, heavily digitized guitars and synths working in unison during the chorus, all in conjunction with Trent’s processed vocal. Almost an industrialsed new-wave tune, “Branches/Bones” is a vitriolic opener that instantly grabs the listener’s attention and will surely be epic live.
Nine Inch Nails is now Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Some of the bright synths permeating through the verses on “Dear World,” do remind me of Hesitation Marks too, but there’s an insistence in the drum work, an energy and darkness more honed here than a lot of the tracks on that album. The spoken, buried vocal during the verses eventually giving way to a more airy chorus. The song’s architecture is deceptively complex – while the song arrangement might follow a standard verse/chorus structure, its the attention to detail in drum and synth programming that really conveys the skills of Reznor and Ross so well. Not convinced? Grab a pair of high end headphones. “She’s Gone Away” is slightly Fragile-esque, with a touch of How To Destroy Angels too – overall this song really struck me as NIN getting closer to a HTDA vibe. There’s definitely a few sounds in the mix that reminded me of the excellent Welcome Oblivion. A downtempo tune with a darkly restrained vocal performance from Trent Reznor throughout the verses, before the high notes in the chorus, “She’s Gone Away” is desolately beautiful. “The Idea of You”, with guest drums courtesy of Dave Grohl, heralds a return to the aggressive side of Nine Inch Nails. Thematically, its hard to decipher what exactly this song is about – is it a diatribe on society/the world at present? Musically, it’s an industrial punk onslaught built on a repetitive drum pattern syncopated with a similarly repetitive and simplistic guitar riff, treated and textured as only Reznor can do. There’s a focused chaos found within the tune, not heard since NIN’s more classic, aggressive cuts such as “Gave Up”, ”March Of The Pigs” or even the climax of “Somewhat Damaged”, with also some hints of “I Do Not Want This” and Year Zero’s “Zero Sum” vocally. It’s a tone NIN fans will lap up and be delighted to hear live too. A future classic NIN song?
Trent and Atticus throw a significant curveball next with “Burning Bright (Field On Fire)”, featuring Dave Navarro on guitar. Godflesh jumped to mind when I first heard this tune, with its blisteringly heavy, doom-industrial tone. I can only imagine the hours and hours spent on getting this guitar tone right; its immense, the texture is hellishly beautiful. Perfection. This song is the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic/dystopian future, which feels entirely relevant given 2016’s misgivings. And this is where I feel the EP really stands on its own feet – it feels like a follow-up to Year Zero in my head – and this notion is largely driven by the sound, texture and atmosphere of the EP. It’s the sound of a world gone to shit, it’s a comment on the dismal state of the current socio-economic climate. It’s the sound of ENOUGH! STOP THIS SHIT.
Overall, there’s a vast unpleasantness surrounding the EP, Trent even said its unfriendly and fairly impenetrable. Criticism has largely been aimed at the production values of the EP. These people simply don’t get the angle this release is coming from. It’s not supposed to sound pretty, this isn’t clean industrial-dance music. The production is raw yet meticulous, contrary to say The Slip, which has raw, but not quite the meticulous, production value. Halo 29 glimpses directly into the past of NIN, even the artwork is lifted from the And All That Could Have Been live release, but more importantly takes significant strides forwards with a renewed vigour. A massive deviation from previous release, Hesitation Marks, this EP really shows that there is no limit to Trent and Atticus’s sonic repertoire, and with the announcement of two major Nine Inch Nails events in 2017, the future is ominously bright for fans.