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Nine Inch Nails - Add Violence (Album Review)

Thursday, 27 July 2017 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Spending an extended period of time in Trent Reznor’s mind is terrifying. It’s not that you shouldn’t do it, just that ‘Add Violence’, Nine Inch Nails’ second EP in a proposed triptych of new material, is enough to give you nightmares. And not sexy nightmares, either. The nasty kind.

But, immerse yourself in it and what does it reveal? What nuggets of knowledge does it offer? What searing hot take might it brand upon your skull? Probably nothing new of note, because NIN remain an anomaly.

Everyone has their ‘own’ Nine Inch Nails and, for this reason, ‘Add Violence’ will piss off and please in equal measure. For some, the synth-pop sensibilities of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ remain unchallenged. For others, it’s all about the expansive, nihilistic grit of ‘The Downward Spiral’ and ‘The Fragile’. A few people even liked ‘The Slip’.

Nine Inch Nails aren’t just one thing, and duly their latest output can’t be boiled down and assessed in the space of a morning commute. This band requires dedication and graft. They're the Ulysses of modern music but not shit.

And following a mixed bag with last year’s ‘Not The Actual Events’, Reznor and sidekick Atticus Ross could’ve gone Finnegans Wake and just disappeared up their own arseholes. Instead, they refine that soundscape of punishment alongside something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue from lack of oxygen.

Opening gambit Less Than is an unabashed synth anthem; a marriage of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ electronics and homages to New Order, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Skinny Puppy and the like. More than just harking back, though, it’s an improvement on the subdued, blippy singles Came Back Haunted and Copy Of A from 2013’s ‘Hesitation Marks’. It is The Hand That Feeds levels of anthemic. It is a Banger™.

From here on out, things spiral downwards. Obviously. It’s Nine Inch Nails. This Isn’t The Place’s discordant piano, alongside Reznor’s desperate, yearning vocal, reeks of ‘The Fragile’, albeit flecked with a little more hope and daylight. Likewise, Not Anymore’s industrial clanging is akin to Mr. Self Destruct from ‘The Downward Spiral’, but it’s executed with poise and less dirt under the nails. It’s aggressive without being feral.

‘Add Violence’ is a journey. That’s exceptionally cheesy (and extremely hard to accomplish in the space of 28 minutes) but it’s true. The EP starts with club-ready singalongs, descends into brooding, subdued territory and then breaks into a fist-flinging flurry before the climax: The Background World.

Beginning with Ross and Reznor’s now instantly recognisable, soundtrack-tested rumble, the song bubbles under the surface. It’s a luscious demonstration of craft, with Reznor’s isolated question, “Are you sure?” freezing the blood. That’d be enough. But enough’s never been enough for Reznor. So for seven minutes, the track loops on one segment, slowly disintegrating, crawling into a hole of static. This isn’t brutal like the hyperactive riffing of Wish – it’s something else entirely. It makes Godflesh sound like the Beach Boys. This is Reznor’s new heavy.

He can’t recreate those musical middle fingers he flipped in his youth, and he’s not trying to. ‘Add Violence’ is a rebirth of sorts, a portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man. It’s perfectly paced, lacing the senses with a foreboding feeling of “What the fuck did I just hear?” and waving goodbye before you figure it out. It’s the strongest Nine Inch Nails work since ‘Year Zero’, and it’s proof that, nearly 30 years down the line, Reznor hasn’t mellowed. Changed, yes. But not mellowed. Not one bit.

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