With the exception of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, Trent Reznor has been industrial music’s leading man, bringing the genre to the forefront by helping define, innovate and expand its foundation. After a three-year hiatus of sorts, Christmas Eve 2016 saw the return of Nine Inch Nails as they released upon the world an EP of such strength it was hailed by fans and critics as a return-to-form for the band.
Not the Actual Events molded the metal-on-metal soundscape with some of the most refined, angry, and melodic vocals Reznor had ever produced. The sudden release of the EP also reinvented the way music is distributed. Reznor subscribes to the Jimmy Iovine vision where the future of music belongs to streaming services and digital releases, and after a prolonged absence, a random Nine Inch Nails release was just what the world needed. Two more EP’s would be released, unannounced, over the next few years.
While Nine Inch Nails did not tour for Not The Actual Events, Reznor and company toured their second EP, Add Violence. Gone were the steel factory industrial roots that grew to prominence throughout the 90s and saw a revival in Not the Actual Events. Instead, Nine Inch Nails returned to a Year Zero approach to writing music; an almost calm after the storm, which reached new levels of chaos in the album closer “The Background World.” Once again, we were left wondering what was next and what the final chapter of this trilogy would bring.
Bad Witch brings the 90s roots of Nine Inch Nails into modern day. With a more conceptual soundscape, Reznor and company take us to a world that only The Black Queen has gone in recent years: a wasteland of 80s synth and vocals reminiscent of the crooners from a long-dead America. Possibly inspired by a joint Ministry/Nine Inch Nails slot at 2017s Riot Fest, Reznor felt compelled to bring back the foundational elements of industrial music. Bad Witch is brash, loud, and bombastic, with an underlying jazz sensibility – there’s a lot going on this time around.
“Shit Mirror” starts the album off in a way no one was expecting. Taking funk elements from George Clinton, pop elements from Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen, and put under the filter of David Yow’s Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard, this first track hits you. The track has clear jazz influences, which become more apparent as the album goes on, and we as an audience are left dumbfounded by how much Nine Inch Nails seem to be giving us in terms of styles and decade-spanning genres.
“Ahead of Ourselves” leaves nothing for a terrestrial radio listener. This track leads to nothing, but in a good way. The chorus is oblique and eye-gouging. Working in elements that have graced such bands as Death Grips, BadBadNotGood, Dalek, The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Velvet Underground, this track takes us back to Pretty Hate Machine’s “Sanctified.”
“Play the Goddamned Part” and “God Break Down the Door” resurrect Reznor’s passion for not only the Saxophone, but for David Bowie. You can hear the lessons Reznor learned from Bowie embedded in these two tracks. Reminiscent of Bowie’s Blackstar album, Reznor seems confident this is where he wants to be: Buddy Rich-like percussion and Bowie-meets-Sinatra vocals, capped off by a killer horn section and buried under some fuzz. Of all the tracks on these three EP’s, these two songs are going to be the audiophiles wet dream.
“I’m Not From this World” is everything you hope it’s going to be. The entire EP has been building to the moment; ticks and leeches crawl all over this track. Using samples and synths as their orchestra, the band gives an almost John Williams-like approach to this giant bug inspired piece. You can almost hear the UFO’s landing in the distance.
Reznor ends this trilogy much like he started: unexpectedly. “Over and Out” is very similar to Add Violence’s “The Background World.” It takes us into a head-spinning, infuriating and damn-well brilliant closing track. Finding influence in Bowie once again, this track feels like a lost Deafheaven track, if it had been remixed by Captain Beefheart and Etta James.
Bad Witch is the most complex album of the year, alongside Jack White’s Boarding House Reach. I can’t think of a more appropriate album to close this trilogy, or a more appropriate album to put the Nine Inch Nails mystique behind. This is an absolute must for audiophiles and Nine Inch Nails fans. Bad Witch drops June 22, 2018.