This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Industrial Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Shit Mirror,” “Ahead of Ourselves,” “God Break Down the Door,” “Over and Out”
It must be hard for Trent Reznor to make music these days, seeing as he’s got less and less to be angry about. As a husband and a father, he’s no longer writhing in a panopticon of treasonous love, and having recently been made the freaking Chief Creative Officer at Apple, there’s not a lot of razing of commercialism for him to do: Reznor isn’t exactly in the position to be pop’s renegade antichrist anymore. But, thankfully, humans are still flawed idiots and we’re making just enough mistakes, a whole lot of them actually, to provide him with the fuel for BAD WITCH, his conclusion to his EP trilogy, and the most satisfying and well-rounded installment. It’s been a while since we heard Reznor this vicious, potent, and daring.
He may have settled down in most other aspects of his life, but BAD WITCH proves Reznor still has a taste for chaos and blood. Opener “Shit Mirror” reassures this as it crunches its way into our eardrums with those signature synth hydraulic presses and grinding distorted guitars. “Got a new face and it feels alright / Power and strength and appetite,” Reznor manages to get out through teeth so gritted they might break on themselves. Forget his cynicism in the ‘90s, for him, the world is collapsing now and collapsing fast as evil rebuilds and hunkers down: “New world / New times / Mutation / Feels alright.” It feels like a throwback, but for NIN fans, seeing how and if he can recapture an iota of his heyday vitality is a treat-and-a-half.
The rest of BAD WITCH features some of his most successful exercises in experimentation yet. “Ahead of Ourselves” opens with erratic drum’n’bass that works oh so well with their sound. A wayward saxophone wanders its way into “Play the Goddamned Part,” an industrial jazz (?) piece that crescendos to “Day in the Life”-level heights, and follows into “God Break Down the Door,” which is somehow simultaneously the most uncharacteristic and characteristic NIN song to ever exist. Reznor pleas for some divine intervention with an eerie calmness as the track warps and sparks beneath him, like he’s embracing a slow death as he’s lowered into a hellish inferno.
This subdued vocal approach shows up again on closer, “Over and Out,” where the group’s restraint and patience has never worked so well. The song begins with winds of digital scrapes and tapping blips before being washed over by gorgeous, mesmerizing chimes. Reznor let’s us know though that it’s all too beautiful to be trusted as he sings, “Time is running out / I don’t know what I’m waiting for.” The song works as this era’s “Piggy,” where Reznor is at a new low; he’s too defeated, too exhausted to tell you to act.
Near the end of the track, he whispers under oppressive synths, “Feel like I’ve been here before . . . I’ve always been 10 years ahead of you.” Hearing that and reading the song title in the context of military lingo, I couldn’t help get the vibe he was referencing his 2007 concept polemic, YEAR ZERO, which envisioned America as a militarized dystopia, a result of the government’s misadministration. So much for warning us, Trent! Fuck. If Reznor thought back then the end was nigh, it seems that “dismal” would be an understatement for his feelings right now. 🙁