Review Summary: HDA establishes its own distinct sound, but sticks a little too close to it.
Nine Inch Nails is a project that virtually anyone who is familiar with modern music has heard of, and for good reason: mastermind Trent Reznor is a mad songwriting genius, shifting his band's focus from dark synthpop to crunchy metal to ambient soundscapes, and stopping nearly everywhere in between. Yet, he leaves a cohesive mark of his own on every style he touches, weaving his distinct, buzzing electronics into whatever framework he chooses to work with. This does a great job of removing the schizophrenia from the equation, but also adds a homogeneous tone to his music, since he is the band's sole composer. How to Destroy Angels, his side project formed with his wife Mariqueen Reznor, his friend Atticus Ross, and long time art director Rob Sheridan, initially seemed to suffer from "too-much-Trent" syndrome; it was great, solid music, but aside from Mariqueen taking up lead vocals there wasn't much differentiating it from the sound Nine Inch Nails had taken on in the 2000s. However, on "An Omen", HDA seemed headed in its own direction, placing much more emphasis on ambiance and atmosphere than the melodic nature of their debut EP. This trend is continued here on "Welcome Oblivion", and thankfully not only does it establish HDA as more than a NIN clone, but delivers an emotional and engaging listen.
Seemingly inspired by the main composers' stint with film scores, the instrumentals here are subtle and layered, and are aimed more at creating mood and a harrowing atmosphere than being melodic, often focusing on a main beat that is twisted and distorted to create variance. But Reznor/Atticus' film scores didn't just float by without being noticed, they caught your ear; and so do the beats here, being catchy in an impressively atonal way. Mariqueen's role is relegated more to the background this time, but she's as important as ever to the sound; in "Too Late, All Gone", her voiced is glitched with Trent's to create a percussive effect that compliments the rhythm of the instrumental, and in "On The Wing", she wisely stays quiet to let the beat become her equal partner.
Ironically, the album's biggest flaw is it's homogeneity; it easily distinguishes itself from Reznor's past work, but most of the songs here are birthed from the same glitchy, downtempo mold, and 65 minutes of it can be tiring. Granted, all of the songs are completely enjoyable, and the few bursts of true variance are well appreciated ("Ice Age" mainly features plucked string instruments, "How Long?" is a return to the band's more melodic side, and both feature an increased focus on Mariqueen's vocals), but in the end it's somewhat odd that someone so notoriously diverse would put out something like this.
If you're a fan of Nine Inch Nails or any of Reznor's past work, you will probably enjoy this; if you aren't, you should still give it a listen, because it's different enough to warrant it. HDA has created a beautiful album that's relaxing in an apocalyptic way, reminiscent of that mood where the thought of everyone in the world except you dying in spectacular fashion is ridiculously calming. And we all get those sometimes. Now we have a soundtrack for it.