Release Date: 22nd June 2018
Label: The Null Corporation
Genre: Industrial Rock
Since the mid-90s (late-80s if you knew your shit), Nine Inch Nails, the flagship creative fuckpod of Trent Reznor, has been pushing the limits of what metal can be; fusing it with electronica, ambient and post-punk in a melted mush of bastardised Kraftwerk records and fetish gear.
Their first three full-length records, ’89’s Pretty Hate Machine, ’94’s The Downward Spiral and ’99’s The Fragile, are all masterpieces in their own right. Off the back of singles like “Closer” and “Hurt”, industrial metal was born, a genre further boosted by the success and noteriety of acts like Marilyn Manson and Rammstein. It’s no denying that Nine Inch Nails, for better or for worse, created an entire sub-genre — no easy feat.
However, while there hasn’t necessarily been a quality drop in the years since, with “Only” and “The Hand That Feeds” being two huge fan favourites from their mid-00s output, the group’s middling, experimental period, seeing them dabble in long, cinematic, dark ambient music has turned off some people — particularly with their 2013 release Hesistation Marks, the first time Nine Inch Nails were treading water. In 2016, however, the band resurfaced with the first of three releases, Not The Actual Events EP. They followed this up last year with the Add Violence EP and, finally, 2018’s Bad Witch. Clocking in at just over half an hour, it’s no wonder that this was intended as another extended play, but, with the eerily grooving “God Break Down The Door” as its lead single, I was very interested to give it a listen.
The album opens on suitably strong footing with the eye-catchingly-titled “Shit Mirror”. Any idea of Nine Inch Nails being worn out is immediately shredded by the razor-sharp bass that accompanies Trent’s opening (“Got a new face and it feels alright/Power and strength and appetite“), showering it in distortion. As the song progresses into a lighter sound, that bass continues to pervade through, it’s dark nature subverted by childlike handclaps. The lyrics on this thing also signify a new beginning for the group, the hook “New world/New times/Mutation/Feels alright” signify a band rolling with the times and a band far from done. An unbelievably strong opener.
It’s true, Nine Inch Nails, going onto 30 years of existence, are far from the band that gave us the haunting grooves of “Something I Can Never Have” and, yet, on Bad Witch, they feel brand new. Their attitude is nasty and ambitious here, a far-fetch from the comparatively subdued nature of their late-00s/early-10s output. Trent and the gang have a solid sense of purpose on this album, to reinvent the sound of Nine Inch Nails and, in doing so, trailblaze for a whole new generation of industrial musicians. After all, there’s no place like home.
One of the ways they’ve gone about this rejigging is to add this really sinister flavour of drum-and-bass to the proceedings, especially in the accent of beats Reznor’s picking. This is felt very strongly on the following track “Ahead Of Ourselves”. While the lyrics do err on the side of “ugh” as Trent doubts God once again, the furious beat and characteristically filthy electro samples do add a sardonic edge to the track.
This genre twist is also seen on lead single “God Break Down The Door”. I said previously that I was immediately intrigued by this track, and it’s not hard to see why. Opening on a slow saxophone lead, boosted by these Aphex Twin-esque beats (although about half the speed (that’s still pretty quick though)), this song represents the band’s evolution like no other on the record. The melting pot of sounds here are brought together in a way that only NIN could, with the main melody coming from what sounds like a marimba, as well as warbling synths that sound like the bastard child of Herbie Hancock and El-P, and a nasty lil’ bassline.
The saxophone layers that snake through the song aren’t to be discounted either, as they really help to modernise the song, in a way. With artists like Kamasi Washington bringing this eerie style of jazz to the forefront, the band shows just how many reference points they can fit on one song, keeping their influences subtly tucked underneath their sleeve.
It’s a song of multiple moods. One minute it’s rattling on the masochistic disco, then all is calm, then we’re reined into the breach once more with a chorus of mechanical screams. Much like Bad Witch as a project then. While there is a great share of these pumping bangers, Trent also dabbles in his experiments, and it’s not, for a second, a bad thing. Particularly, on album closer “Over and Out”, a primarily instrumental track where Reznor flexes his electro-era Bowie on full form, Bad Witch shifts a final gear, merging groove and total one-ness. There’s a meditatory element to the song, with the aerial-esque drones punctutated by a galloping, lo-fi beat, as the singer croons his final warning for us — “Time is running out“.
Overall, Nine Inch Nails’ *ninth* studio release Bad Witch goes up as one of my favourite heavy releases of the year. A blend of electro, drum-and-bass, jazz and ambient all seep through a winning industrial formula, allowing the band to grab relevance by throat and prove that they are still the juggernauts of the genre they pioneered.
Gooduns’: God Break Down The Door, Shit Mirror, Over and Out
For fans of: The Jesus And Mary Chain, David Bowie, Swans