year of the witch
Bad Witch makes me greedy. Greedy for more volume, more depth, more songs, more spins: it makes me want to write essays upon essays about the sound of its sound. The laptop rock was conceptually fitting for Year Zero but got old pretty quickly, and for those who hold production and mixing as one of Nine Inch Nails' most important qualities like I do, you'll find plenty of ear candy here.
Less than ten seconds into the boldly-titled opener 'Shit Mirror', it's obvious that on 'Bad Witch', Trent Reznor has found his most furious vein since Year Zero's 'Survivalism' over a decade ago. For Nine Inch Nails, this six-track album represents the culmination of a suite of releases. An ambitious undertaking, it's made truly playlist-destroying with the mix of rip-roaring electro-rock stormers with foreboding ambient soundscapes of scratching, clawing, beating and squealing.
Most Nine Inch Nails albums play like documents of sharp, turbulent mood swings. Bursts of rage give way to creeping anxiety; momentary ambience begets nihilism and noise. It's a routine so familiar by now that fans should be able to predict Trent Reznor's shifting temperaments like weather patterns. So when he recently announced plans to release his new music in a series of interconnected EPs, there was hope that he might, in this condensed format, locate his best angles, find a few new ones, and leave us wanting more.
With the album barely reaching the thirty-minute mark there's little room for mistakes; although the preceding two EPs were strong, they didn't have the kind of steely-eyed focus of previous material. Bad Witch, however, is the finest NiN release since 2005's With Teeth. This is NIN revitalised with Reznor's thirst for chaos truly quenched. Opening track "Shit Mirror" is swaggering and incandescent with rage, crammed with computerised fury, ugly electronic malfunction and a rising intensity which is both uncomfortable and thrilling.
Trent Reznor has been trying to find his place in the world. 30 years into a music career, you have to wonder how it's possible to remain relevant. In his 90s heyday, he was, after all, a bona-fide rock god, sex symbol, and scourge of the American Christian Right. A battle with addiction and an embrace of sobriety followed, and with it a series of albums that saw Reznor grasping at the air to get to the core of what Nine Inch Nails was.
Lowdown: In late 2016, Nine Inch Nails masterminds Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross staked a sudden pivot to short-form with Not the Actual Events: the unruly, first chapter in a planned EP trilogy — a saga the band furthered last year with the even-terser Add Violence. The triptych's final installment, a six-song, 31-minute mini-album titled Bad Witch, proves far more fleshed out than the preceding releases: a refreshingly grounded conclusion to an ephemeral thrill ride. The Good: Whereas Not the Actual Events and Add Violence functioned as isolated -- albeit complementary -- sonic hellscapes, Bad Witch traces Reznor's 30-year oeuvre in its entirety -- from the twisted synth-pop of Pretty Hate Machine ("Over and Out") to the pummeling industrial metal of The Downward Spiral ("Ahead of Ourselves") to the seething ambient of Ghosts I-IV ("I'm Not from This World").
Over the last two years, Trent Reznor has been searching for answers through a trilogy of Nine Inch Nails releases. The questions? What is our place in the world? What is the core truth behind everything? On Not the Actual Events, the music raged against a world out-of-balance. Add Violence dug a little deeper, wondering if that sense of wrongness came from a force we couldn't comprehend.
On Bad Witch, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross conclude the conceptual narrative arc started on 2016's Not the Actual Events and continued on 2017's Add Violence. Drifting outside the comfort zone of what a Nine Inch Nails album is expected to sound like, Bad Witch is the least accessible of the trilogy, a pessimistic, misanthropic, and frustrating cacophony that challenges even the most devoted NIN fan. And yet, after multiple listens, Bad Witch reveals itself as the most cohesive and enveloping experience of this period.
Mutation as a theme has always rippled through Trent Reznor's songwriting, and his most recent work finds him shifting emphasis from personal to social forms of transformation and decay. The Nine Inch Nails frontman may have once fixated on frenzied individual self-destruction, but with the band's ninth album, Bad Witch—a six-track, 30-minute release that's technically part of a recent trilogy of EPs—he wrestles with his dismay over being part of a depraved culture that's showing signs of impending collapse. While 2016's Not the Actual Events explores dissociative identities and 2017's Add Violence brims with paranoia about our increasingly simulated reality, Bad Witch moves past such insular anxieties and more directly acknowledges that society's chaos is the result of our collective hubris.
Enter Nine Inch Nails, who are celebrating their 30-year anniversary with Bad Witch. In 2018, Trent Reznor has grown up, and his music has matured alongside him. The Reznor of today is now a collaborator, counting Atticus Ross as an official band member. He’s also a happily married father, makes coin-scoring soundtracks for movies, and gets political in his interviews (especially as of late).
Don't call it an EP, says the press release about a Nine Inch Nails record that most of us thought was the third EP in a three-EP series, the concluding suite to 2016's Not The Actual Events and last year's Add Violence. And sure, at 31 minutes and 18 seconds it's technically long enough to be an album, even if at just six tracks (two of them near the three-minute mark) it doesn't really feel like one. 'Want to know why it's being labelled an LP instead of an EP?' wrote Reznor in response to a critical fan.
Though Nine Inch Nails conceived "Bad Witch" as the final entry in a trilogy of EPs, the six-song, half-hour release is now being called the industrial alt-rock group's first proper album since 2013. For Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who, after collaborating with Reznor on acclaimed soundtracks like "The Social Network," became NIN's first official non-Reznor member in 2016), the nomenclature change is their way of imploring listeners not to treat "Bad Witch" as a mere footnote in the band's discography, but as a complete, thematically unified statement. Thankfully, the record is engaging and inspired enough to withstand such scrutiny.
Completing the three EP/album cycle which began with 2016's 'Not The Actual Events', Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross return with their most daring and perhaps polarising contribution to the set. While the aforementioned first release was missing some of the focus fans have come to expect from a NIN long play, last year's 'Add Violence' saw the duo on strong footing, its five tracks a perfect culmination of the veteran outfits varied journeys into ambient angst. Opting to scrap the rigid concept they'd been following, 'Bad Witch' sees Reznor look both backwards and forwards to create a heady mix of anxious riffs, ravey beats and...