Review Summary: A striking meld of old and new...
The past years have been heavily criticized by anyone interested in the world’s welfare. Positive changes seem to be outweighed by negative ones and more musicians have started to insist on these issues through their songs. Complaining about the lack of ethics regarding the environment’s safety, politics or issues of our society in general, the right messages have easier found their way to fans who are not up to date with all the events taking place. Whether people do something about them or not it’s an entirely different discussion. Industrial music has always worked very well with these subjects due to its aggressive nature. Bands like Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, KMFDM or Filter have always militated against multiple government-related or social matters. In 2007, when it was released one of the career highlights, Year Zero
, Nine Inch Nails presented a nihilistic depiction of the not-so-distant future. The noisy structures that buried guitars under washes of synthesizers became an excellent canvas for this concept, whereas the extroverted lyrics melding dystopian tales of battling political factions masked opinions on actual disasters caused by the Bush administration. They were something rather new for Trent Reznor, whose lyrics focused mostly on personal topics. Nine years later, we discover a slight return to the respective mindset, but focusing more on the current direction of things. As a result, Not the Actual Events
is a short, murky EP that offers the frontman’s impressions as if written in a diary.
Reznor (and Atticus Ross, who became an official member of NIN) mentioned the unfriendly nature of the EP, yet it isn’t a complete departure from, let’s say, Hesitation Marks
. Not the Actual Events
uses as a foundation some electronic elements of the mentioned LP and Year Zero
, but are topped by more organic features such as noisy guitars, nostalgic piano lines and heavily distorted bass used on The Fragile
and With Teeth
, respectively. The results are vibrant, the two bursting right into action via frantic opener, ‘Branches/Bones’. In typical NIN fashion, records start with high octane numbers, yet being a shorter affair, the energy here is maintained until the last second. For the most part, the vocals are buried under sonic layers, occasionally kicking in full power. ‘Dear World,’ shares a hypnotic vibe enhanced by sequencers and percussion as Trent speaks his thoughts on the downward path our society has taken. Some eerie passages are present, like short breaks, still, we are dragged through the throbbing rhythms again and again.
Moving on, ‘She’s Gone Away’ is a steadier cut, using “factory” noises and a deep bass groove as the main engine. A pungent, How to Destroy Angels-esque synth, similar to the one used on ‘We Fade Away’ breaks in, while Reznor repeatedly mutters the track’s title. With the way it builds up and the overall pace, the song reminds a bit of ‘Reptile’, but within a futuristic context. Towards the end, ‘The Idea of You’ combines narratives reminiscent of Year Zero
’s closer ‘Zero Sum’ during the verses and dynamic, shouted choruses. The syncopated rhythms receive additional embellishments the second time around, making for an intense, chaotic end. Meanwhile, ‘Burning Bright (Field on Fire)’ feels like a march to the end of the world. Over a huge drum beat, the low-tuned guitars are only a support for the uber dirty bass lead (think of a more melodic ‘The Line Begins to Blur’ cranked to a maximum level of fat). Halfway, besides the high pitched keyboard lines, the two start manipulating several sounds to great effect. The reverbed vocals resemble an apocalyptic speech, however, it is hard to pinpoint on whose perspective the lyrics were written: secular, political or simply a personal battle. Either way, this is a striking end to an impressive EP.
A cold feeling passes through me each time I listen to Not the Actual Events
. The fairly impenetrable wall of sound Nine Inch Nails created here is admirable, especially since everything is presented in just over 21 minutes. At the same time, I wish there were more tracks, mainly because I am used to hour-long NIN records. Hopefully, this is only a sample of what Trent and Atticus have in store for us. The current direction can be further explored on a more ambitious project. Those who feared the band got soft will easily change their mind after spinning this EP.