The last time Nine Inch Nails released a record, the year was 2013, and the album - Hesitation Marks - introduced us to a kinder, gentler Trent Reznor. Now a married father with an Oscar on his mantle and a serious drug habit many years in his rearview mirror, this new Trent Reznor was borderline unrecognizable. Gone was the furious young man who shoved The Downward Spiral out into the world, gone was the seething rage that defined the Nine Inch Nail sound.
Hesitation Marks was as ominous, intriguing and sinister as any former Nine Inch Nails album, but for longtime fans of the band, the notable lack of Reznor Rage™ was straight-up disorienting. As one of those fans, I felt inclined to embrace the album's bold new direction ... but I'd be lying if I said I've listened to it all the much in the years since (I do, however, frequently pull up Todd Rundgren's outstanding remix of "All Time Low"). The album's good, but it's just not the same.
Reznor himself seems well-aware of the fan reaction to Hesitation Marks. Last week, when he announced the imminent release of the band's latest EP, Not The Actual Events (now available via digital download on the band's website), he made a point to say the new record would be "unfriendly" and "fairly impenetrable".
This was precisely what Nine Inch Nails fans wanted to hear, and I'm happy to report that Not The Actual Events delivers on that promise. The five songs that make up this EP are aggressively weird, with Reznor back in full-on angry mode and delivering what may be the heaviest sound this band's produced since The Downward Spiral. I mean, just listen to this:
That's the closing track on Not The Actual Events, the note Reznor chooses to go out on. The songs that precede are slightly less punishing, but each of them - even the moody, oddly sexy "She's Gone Away" - have that same Trent Reznor bite. I am relieved to inform you that this is not a happy collection of songs.
The opener, "Branches, Bones", is the only song that sounds like an outtake from The Slip: it's all driving, distorted guitars over a Casio beat, with Reznor howling about spiders and betrayal and bones breaking like twigs.
The next four tracks feel more of a piece with The Downward Spiral or The Fragile. "Dear World" finds Reznor muttering over glitched-out electronics before launching into a soaring, eerie chorus that comes very close to sounding a little like "Closer". The next track, "She's Gone Away", is the clear highlight of the EP, a six-minute dirge backed by thundering drums and what sounds like half a dozen layers of white noise. The track feels bleak and apocalyptic, and there's no doubt in my mind it'll be the song I return to the most from this EP.
The penultimate track, "The Idea Of You", is probably my least-favorite of this new batch of songs, but even the least compelling Reznor joints have something interesting going on in them (in this case, it's a piano riff that'll sound very familiar to longtime NIN listeners). The final track, "Burning Bright (Field On Fire)", sounds the way a powerful hangover feels, and is easily the roughest sit on the EP. It called to mind the first time I ever heard a Nine Inch Nails song, all the way back in seventh grade, and how stunned I was by the incredible noise of it (if you're curious, it was "March Of The Pigs").
As with any Nine Inch Nails record, it will take some time to fully contextualize Not The Actual Events. After a few listens, my response is that it's a strong sampling of what's to come (word on the street is, a full album and a tour are headed our way next year), a welcome return to furious form after the moderately-toothless industrial-pop of Hesitation Marks. I, for one, welcome the return of Angry Trent Reznor, and look forward to hearing more from him in the near future.
Get Not The Actual Events here. It's only $12.