Review Summary: The calm before the storm...
COVID-19 "froze" a large portion of areas on the planet, rapidly turning into a pandemic. Over a third of the countries are in lockdown, while the streets begin to reminisce post-apocalyptic movies/videogames. People are stressed out, don’t always obey safety restrictions and those with weak immune systems constantly fear for their health. Meanwhile, eastern Africa battles the biggest locust invasion in several decades. Besides these thrilling sci-fi movie-like scenarios, we’re headed towards a sudden economic downward spiral that will likely shake even the most stable countries in the world. Of course Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have designed a soundtrack for these hard times. Offered for free download (very sweet of them), Ghosts V: Together
and Ghosts VI: Locusts
are the latest installments in Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts
series. Whereas the first four volumes were born out of 10 weeks worth of jamming alongside guest musicians on various instruments (including homemade ones), the latter two follow the electronic ambient approach of the soundtracks composed by the two members. Together
was designed lighter in tone, sharing at times a glimmer of hope, meanwhile, Locusts
wanders into darker territories.
There is no detailed artwork, just the song titles as guidance to creating your own plot. Ghosts V: Together
features a calmer, at times relaxed sound, yet you can feel tension slowly mounting around you. Reznor and Ross never allow you to completely let your guard down. Most of the album’s cuts go through several motions, ranging from lovely touches of piano and marimba leads to droning or even harrowing synthesizer pads. The overall atmosphere can be described as an uneasy mellowness for example. Something boils underneath, but for now you don’t want to be aware of that. You try to tend to yourself, as optimism is all you have at the moment and don’t want to lose it. This subtleness Nine Inch Nails developed during the past decade works wonders for them. They knew how easy can a song’s mood be switched with just one chord or brooding sound (see ‘Apart’, ‘Hope We Can Again’ or ‘Together’) and those have become key moments here. At the same time, placing these two chapters side by side, makes you perceive these vibe changes easier. You see things will get worse, yet you don’t know exactly when, so you attentively keep listening to the music.
If Ghosts V: Together
was a Lynchian cinematic score, it would reside in The Elephant Man
or The Straight Story
; not without its murmurings of mild peril, but largely acting out with a light-hearted comportment. As such, if Ghosts V: Together
is going to be the relaxing introductory, you can bet your ass Ghosts VI: Locusts
is the all-out Lynchian nightmare – something I was constantly reminded of whilst listening to it. This is the longest of the two parts – clocking itself in at nearly ninety-minutes – and in that time, you’ll be floating around helplessly in a black vacuum of dejected, sorrow-infused piano keys, whirring, rustic electronics, and the rare presence of programmed drum beats (a la “Turn This Off Please”). It’s essentially an endurance test that has an incredible conclusion at the end of it, if you’re daring to brace the repetitive loops and unsettlingly nuanced mood changes. Where Ghosts V: Together
is more organic and acoustic sounding, things sound and feel more industrialised here; adding to the authenticity of this dystopian hellhole. When I listen to this album, I feel like Thom Yorke’s Suspiria
soundtrack played a pertinent role in developing the ideas here. There’s a haunted, ugly beauty being displayed here, and it makes things sound all the more intriguing and esoteric because of it. - Simon
Ultimately, these two Ghosts
volumes vastly expand this particular layer of Nine Inch Nails’ output. Yes, we’ve heard similar material from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but this (dark) ambient complements very well the other parts in the series. You can also observe the band’s mindset developing on minimalist structures, relying on the dense atmosphere they can build. It is a lot to take in, Together
require patience and a certain mood, however, both are meticulously crafted and deserve their place in the catalog.