Trent Reznor will undoubtedly be remembered as an auteur. The man’s work is genre-defining and remarkably consistent: from the industrial assault of Nine Inch Nails through his creepy solo work and film scores and finally with How to Destroy Angels, Reznor’s vision is undeniable. Like it or not, you have to give the guy props for realizing his dreams, even if those dreams seem to be formed mostly out of pain, paranoia, and anxiety. Credit where credit is due.
How to Destroy Angels’ new record, Welcome Oblivion, is quite clearly a Reznor project. Drawing on many of the sounds we’re familiar with (old synthesizers, tweaked drums, strange and out-of-tune pianos, and ethereal female vocals), Reznor continues a project he began with Ghosts I-IV and continued through The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtracks: the project of making quiet music about pain instead of loud music about pain. Welcome Oblivion is the electronic embodiment of subtlety, and you can tell that the band spent hours painstakingly tweaking every setting on each instrument to summon forth just the right texture. The music is pleasantly opaque; it’s evocative without being either simple or harshly complex. You just have to listen to it, and listen closely.
Album single “Keep It Together” is perhaps one of the strongest tracks on the record: a snaky, serpentine bass line lays under glitched out drums and the thin voice of Mariqueen Maandig. The song is stripped completely bare, laying out Maandig’s beautiful voice with a minimum of embellishment. Welcome Oblivion‘s 7-minute epic “Ice Age” the exact opposite: bluegrass guitars and banjos are combined with Maandig’s ooh-aah vocals and what sounds like a psychotic Atari, summoning a sort of nightmarish Deliverance world of affable sin and violence.
All of that said, the record as a whole seems to lack some larger narrative thrust. There is little to no forward motion, and without the addition of vocals, one suspects that many (if not all) of these songs could fit in on any of Reznor’s recent releases. (For instance, when David Fincher was editing The Social Network, he used songs from Ghosts as placeholders until Reznor could send him a draft of the OST. Couldn’t the same have been done with many of these songs?) The larger question however is whether Reznor will move on or continue to mine this one (very specific and nearly depleted) vein. Welcome Oblivion is great but let’s hope there’s more left in Trent.
How to Destroy Angels – And the Sky Began to Scream
How to Destroy Angels – How Long
How to Destroy Angels – The Wake-up