Following the release of the EP Not the Actual Events, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor explained that the EP would be the first in a trilogy of projects. The second piece of the trilogy is Add Violence, which was made available last Friday. Going into this project, I was hoping to hear more of the foreboding and dreadful moods that I heard on tracks like “She’s Gone Away” from Not the Actual Events. While I didn’t get the same murkiness from their previous EP, Add Violence still has a lot to offer.
Trace Amounts of Sound
The EP begins with “Less Than”, and right off the bat, the band begins with an extremely retro synth/bass melody. These sounds alone seem to be a callback to the days of Pretty Hate Machine and Head Like a Hole. However, the driving guitars in the chorus remind me of something off of Hesitation Marks, NIN‘s most recent album. While I wasn’t too keen on this song at first, its catchy keyboards and lyrical hooks grew on me.
The following track, “The Lovers”, became my favorite song on Add Violence after the first listen. The subdued drum beat goes hand-in-hand with the fluid synth melody. Trent’s calm vocals fit seamlessly over the melody of keyboards and piano. The production on this track reminds me of some early work by deadmau5. While the song is a bit underwritten, the tense yet beautiful instrumental keeps me coming back.
Even though “The Lovers” is pretty slow, the EP decelerates further with “This Isn’t the Place”. I thought the track was instrumental at first, but Reznor‘s mournful vocals appear about halfway into the song. Sadly, the ideas that the band is playing with on this track seem to be just that: ideas. While I appreciate the stirring vocal performance, the instrumental is somewhat lackluster. The arrangements that the band has delivered are usually more detailed, but the passages on this project are missing some key ingredients. Nine Inch Nails could have played with more textures on this track, but they’ve missed the opportunity. While “The Lovers” takes power in simplicity, it seems to be the main flaw in “This Isn’t the Place”.
Back to the Drawing Board…
With “Not Anymore” the EP begins to find its aggressive side. The song may begin with a lumbering guitar (or possibly bass?) riff, but it quickly picks up speed after a full minute. And when it does, it begins a noisy chorus that reminds me of “March of the Pigs”. Not only does this track switch between soft and loud dynamics, but it also switches between driving and sluggish tempos. Like the preceding track, “Not Anymore” strikes me as somewhat unfinished. If the band had spent a little more time smoothing the edges of songwriting and instrumentation, this could have been a much better track.
The final song, “The Background World”, is the longest song on the EP, clocking in at over eleven minutes. I was overjoyed when I saw the track length. I was hoping that NIN would take the time to deliver something spectacular. Boy, was I wrong… The track starts strong, with an ascending melody and a vocal line about “keep[ing] myself awake”. As the line “Are you sure this is what you want?” continues, the instrumentation begins to swell with momentum. But unfortunately, as soon as the wave hits its peak, the melody begins to play in a loop over and over again. FOR SEVEN WHOLE MINUTES. As the loop continues, the synths and drums become increasingly distorted, but nothing else comes in to make this loop more interesting. It’s a painfully boring way to end the EP, and anyone listening may as well skip the song after four minutes.
Not Meeting Expectations
When a band is as influential as Nine Inch Nails, I hold them to a high standard. Trent Reznor and the gang defied the ideas of what rock music could be back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now, in their latter years, I think they’re still capable of capturing that edge from their heyday. In fact, I know they are because they did so with Not the Actual Events (which I highly recommend over this EP). In the face of some glaring drawbacks, Add Violence is still a decent release. If you’re a fan, give Not the Actual Events and Add Violence a try. And be sure to look out for their third EP, which will be available later this year. I know I will!
Notable Tracks: “Less Than”; “The Lovers”; “Not Anymore”
FFO: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, deadmau5, How To Destroy Angels