Review Summary: Hours of pure instrumental beauty.
Nowadays it is almost impossible to not know Trent Reznor, or at least his band Nine Inch Nails. Even for someone with just a tiny bit of musical knowledge, Nine Inch Nails is a household name. Wither it be Trent’s dark, yet slightly humorous chorus, “I wanna *** you like an animal,” line in The Downward Spiral’s
hit single “Closer”. Or if it be the song “The Hand That Feeds” from his more mainstream appropriate album With Teeth
. Since the formation of Nine Inch Nails in 1989, hits were spawned repeatedly from each album, and Reznor built a massive fan base from both the underground and mainstream scene. It was in 2008 though that Reznor shocked both groups of his fans with the release of a project he had spent ten weeks working on. With little announcement for the release Reznor put out Ghosts I-IV
, the first album to be released on his independent label. Ghosts I-IV
though is not the typical definition of an album, in fact (as the title suggests) it is a four part work of pure instrumentals. Each of the four parts holds nine instrumentals equaling out to thirty-six songs, almost two hours worth of material. To make the piece even more interesting, none of the instrumentals even held names, they were simply numbered in their order of appearance and which of the four parts they are located on, (for example: 4 Ghost I and 25 Ghost III.) To some, they would hear about this artistic endeavor and turn it away due to its length or the fact that it is only instrumental; many may find it too overbearing, but this piece definitely pays back for the time it takes.
begins with the obvious track, “1 Ghosts I,” which begins with slow and discreet piano that slightly picks up the pace with a strange bend in the keys like a whammy bar on a guitar. The light echoing sound in the background also begins to pick up with what sounds like muffled and distant choir singers that quickly fade out again, and the song ends like it began. This short yet eerie first track is nothing short of perfect as an introduction to the rest of the four parts that await the listener. While each track on Ghost I
has the same distant tone, each is distinctly different in its own right. For example, “6 Ghost I” uses primarily an xylophone, with almost nothing backing it up except a tiny little hint of synthesizer produced noise building half way into the four minute xylophone anthem. “4 Ghost I” on the other hand takes use of the strumming noise of an unplugged electric guitar to open it, then in random intervals a ravaging distorted and overdriven guitar plays over the strumming for just seconds until it randomly drops short only to appear again seconds later. This creative endeavor and uniqueness makes “4 Ghost I” one of the most interesting tracks of this section.
Typically, one would consider listening to nine tracks listening to a whole album, but in this case, knowing that three more sections are waiting, nine songs go by much to quick. Then as part one closes, Ghosts II
begins. “10 Ghost II” begins much like the opener for part one did, except instead of piano it adds distorted guitar, giving a completely new feeling a tone, a sign the part two of this four part work of art is going to be much different than what has been heard on the previous. While the first part was mostly piano or percussion, part two takes us of primarily synthesizers for that classic ravaging Nine Inch Nails sound like in “14 Ghost II” which sounds like something from The Fragile
, an album released almost ten years prior. The real excitement comes from “16 Ghosts II” though as it features a style that Reznor had never taken full advantage of until now. The track uses quick synthesizer beats creating a dance/new wave sound not much unlike the band, The Faint. This dramatic sound change makes “16 Ghosts II” easily the most stand out on Ghosts II
, if not of all the parts.
begins back with the classic Nine Inch Nails industrial sound again from the start with “19 Ghosts III” that begins with just a simple rhythmic industrial beat. This beat slowly builds though as more and more sound effects are added on as the song progresses until it is one big mesh of industrial beats that, while entertaining, is not more of a song and is easily forgotten in the mass of the other thirty-five songs on the album. Yet again, Reznor takes use of the xylophone, a seemingly favorite instrument of his, as “21 Ghosts III” features a heavy use of them which could have been interesting if more had been added, but instead the track ends up sounding like a remixed copy of “6 Ghost I”. Unfortunately a large portion of Ghosts III
feels that way, it is the obvious weak leg of the album and honestly not very interesting. Since each track is only about two minutes in length though, part III zooms right by in a blink of an eye and under the weight of everything else the whole set of songs delivers the weakness is masked like an ugly face, probably for the better.
Finally the home stretch of songs is reached as Ghosts IV
begins. This part builds on the uniqueness that “16 Ghosts II” delivered with its danceable new wave sound, still holding that dark element of Nine Inch Nails. “32 Ghosts IV” holds true and has an oddly addictive dance-like beat, but is done in such a dark and creepy manner it is like something that would be playing at a vampire dance club. “35 Ghosts IV” also continues this same sound while “28 Ghosts IV” takes a different route. It is just a little plucking of guitar strings done a distant, but strangely uplifting way. The song, while so simple, it is an incredible standout in a mess of thirty-six songs. “Mess” perhaps is the wrong word to describe Ghosts I-IV
though, it is by no means a mess, but instead a very creative piece of work. It explores deep into areas Trent Reznor had not yet covered in any of this other library of Nine Inch Nails albums. Though it has its flaws, Ghosts I-IV
is one of the most entertaining ways one could spend listening to music for two hours straight. In the words of Reznor himself, this is not an album, it is a soundtrack for day-dreams.