Review Summary: Year One.
Three years ago, How To Destroy Angels felt a bit too tied to the Year Zero
and Ghosts I-IV
records released by Reznor and collaborators as Nine Inch Nails. However, the then newly born band gradually tore itself from NIN, delving more on the detached side of industrial music, controlled mostly by electronic instruments. There is less aggression, the band defining themselves through the nihilist, post apocalyptic sound their body of work evokes. After three years, How To Destroy Angels finally delivered their first full-length, Welcome Oblivion
, containing most of the tracks found on the An Omen_
EP, released in October and a number of brand new ones.
Their almost robotic approach to music, creating a detached atmosphere with a lot of melancholy surrounding it, gives enough style and aplomb to distance themselves from Nine Inch Nails, even if it features the same production team as members. The majority of the songs develop over a similar laid-back, digital beat that features less to no guitars, focusing instead on various synthesizers, keyboard bass and drum machines. The key member, however, is Reznor's spouse Mariqueen Maandig, who showcases her vocal versatility, ranging from the soft whispers of "Keep It Together", beautiful melodic singing on "Strings And Attractors" or "Ice Age", to powerful outbursts, such as found on the title track. Trent does make some appearances too, usually for sing-alongs, but he focuses mainly on the songwriting.
Highlights include the already released "Ice Age", which sounds folksy, due to the more basic, less electronic approach, differentiating itself from the rest of the record. The plucked banjo and Mariqueen's playful vocals offer a lighter atmosphere, but once the electronic bass takes over towards the end, it substantially darkens the track becoming sinister, re-setting the tone for the upcoming ones. Other strong tunes, such as "Strings And Attractors" or "On The Wing" make use of this dark, industrial main rhythm with occasional eerie, melodic choruses or passages for a greater effect on the listener. There is also the first single, "How Long?", one of the most accessible numbers here, having an almost trademark syncopal main rhythm and a nice mournful, gospel-like chorus. The nostalgic piano lines give "How Long?" an overall dramatic feel, much like "Zero Sum" ended Nine Inch Nails' 2007, Year Zero
. Another two great numbers are the intense "Welcome Oblivion", where Maandig delivers the vocals in an almost tribal shout and the dubstep influenced "And The Sky Began To Scream", being an example of the band´s ability to incorporate various styles into their own universe, while maintaining an overall cohesive output.
Unfortunately, not all is that bright, because some of the tunes on Welcome Oblivion
suffer from a relative monotony in structure. The atmosphere is brooding and tensed, but some songs fail to expand beyond the boiling point, if they ever reach it. Examples are the overly long "Recursive Self-Improvement", "Hallowed Ground" or the Alessandro Cortini assisted, "We Fade Away". Even if they are enriched with layers of sound and other tweaks, they keep a linear, almost droning aspect, but don't bloom. Simply put, at times, How To Destroy Angels relied too much on the desolate atmosphere and on the record as a whole, rather than the individual compositions. If trimmed a bit, the band would've kept the record even more gripping. Still, this doesn't make Welcome Oblivion
an average effort by any means. The strong material and its experimental nature gives How To Destroy Angels a personality of their own, creating one accomplished album.
Overall, Welcome Oblivion
is a truly great record that offers a lot of thrills and the band share their concept with enough pathos to sink both fans and newcomers into their post-apocalyptic universe right from the beginning.