How to Destroy Angels is the newest project from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, and on the group’s debut full-length, Welcome oblivion, his extensive pedigree is apparent. Despite the mercurial influence of his collaborator,wife Mariqueen Maandig, Welcome oblivion remains a firmly Reznor-esque album. Welcome oblivion doesn’t say anything new, nor does it say anything in any particularly new way. However, the musical lessons it does recite are put to ground profoundly, and the album itself is justified by Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ slick production and Maandig’s sharp lyrical sense.
Reznor’s work in recent years as a film composer and his partnership with Atticus Ross have, for some, represented the zenith of his career. Those who were impressed by the scores of The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will find a lot to like about Welcome oblivion. This album sees Reznor channeling his most didactic ambitions into digestible nodules of music that focus a little more on pulse than they do on atmosphere. It does sometimes feel as though a visual element may be missing, but not to such an extent that the album is undermined.
Reznor and company do a relatively good job of injecting the album with some catchy flare as well; there is nothing on here as incisive or galvanizing as early Nine Inch Nails albums, but that’s almost a given from a musician in his late 40s. This is an album by someone who is now a composer for fims, working with others who are much keener to set the mood through small sensual ignitions than with a biting sense of urgency. This album does, as a result, feel as though it could use a little more sharpness. “Too late, all gone” is crisp and clean and it lacks any of the raw edge that so impressed Reznor onto a listening public in the first place.
“Ice age” is the stand out track on Welcome oblivion, in part because of how different it sounds from the rest of the album. It’s an acoustic ballad sung solely by Maandig and the whole song plays off of a riff that sounds a lot like the opening theme to Six Feet Under. In some ways, this song is very emblematic of the album’s intended mood; something caught between industrial punk and new age or even easy listening. When the next song, “On the wing,” kicks in the album suddenly seems to want to shunt you back towards the airy new wave that Reznor cut his teeth on in the 80s.
Welcome oblivion is beautifully produced, with oceans of depth to every blip and glitch of percussion. A track like “Strings and attractors” is a great exercise in electronic layering, especially by way of a pounding, repeating synth line on the chorus. What it is not, though, is a particularly interesting song; one thing Trent Reznor has never been is a good songwriter, and that doesn’t change on Welcome oblivion. So if you’re interested in inspired production and rather unique sounds – and maybe don’t care so much about hearing “songs” – Welcome oblivion is worth at least one listen.