Review Summary: A band treading water has never sounded so good.
In my review for the How to Destroy Angels "An Omen" EP last November, I made the claim that if the band's forthcoming full length were a success, it would not be a surprise. Now, here we are, in the waning days of February 2013, and I have found that I was correct- HTDA's debut LP is a quality record, and it is certainly not a surprise. The album is, in fact, everything that could be reasonably expected. It is no more, and it is no less.
Whether that statement reads as positive or negative depends on your perspective. On one hand, "Welcome Oblivion" does many things right. Most importantly, it makes Reznor's side project feel like a worthwhile endeavor. As we saw happening on "An Omen," HTDA have used their new material to further evolve into their own musical entity, which is vital, since their debut EP felt so much like watered-down Nine Inch Nails. The music here, while still indebted to NIN in some respects, manages to easily stand on its own, and I would have to say that it actually sounds less like Trent Reznor than anything else he has previously been involved with. The other three band members have definitely made their presence felt, and its easy to picture Reznor taking a more relaxed approach to the creative process in the studio, managing to go against his nature by not playing the role of mastermind and allowing the group to work as a cohesive unit.
The results of this are mostly strong, as the album contains few missteps in its 13 song, 65 minute run time. The music we are treated to is incredibly ambient, absorbing listeners into some sort of glitched out, post apocalyptic, cyber punk world. Fittingly enough, the record is often more startlingly creepy than it is beautiful. Some of the material from "An Omen" is recycled here, and while that was originally disappointing on paper, those tracks have found a good, fitting home on "Welcome Oblivion". The songs, with the exception of the out of place, ill advised "How Long", all bleed together, carried by humming, often distorted synths, and contain vocals from both Mariqueen and Trent that act more as atmospheric flourishes than melodic centerpieces. Highlights include the dark, intoxicating basslines of "Keep It Together", the disjointed, plucking strings of "Ice Age", the muted screams of "We Fade Away," and the terrifying, aural chaos of the aptly titled "The Sky Began To Scream." As typical for a Reznor project, the production is second to none, and repeated listenings with headphones pay off as layered sounds will begin to unearth themselves to the attentive listener.
All of that being said, the album still leaves the listener somewhat unfulfilled, as it carries a pervasive feeling of untapped potential. With the best NIN albums, we were often given the impression that Trent Reznor was pushing boundaries. The music felt bold, powerful, and progressive. Listening to those albums for the first time was a journey, as they seemed unpredictable from start to finish. Every song attempted to be something different from its predecessors, and that was where the excitement that NIN generates originated. With "Welcome Oblivion," it becomes apparent at a certain point during the listening that the band is treading water. Yes, they've reached an interesting and worthwhile sound, but it lacks the unpredictability and the sense of danger that it needs make the transition from just being a simply enjoyable record to a truly excellent one. "Welcome Oblivion" will certainly get its fair share of rotations from me, and it may have the potential to be a grower, but for now, I'm still waiting for the record that allows HTDA to truly step out from behind NIN's massive shadow.
Keep It Together
The Sky Began To Scream
We Fade Away