Trent Reznor hasn’t been the angry guy in fishnet stockings and runny mascara for quite some time now. In fact, he hasn’t even been a terribly angry guy in quite some time now. Married, smiling, accepting Oscars, scoring films…the originator of some of the most cathartic and powerfully identifiable with (by scores of anxiety disorder ridden youths and adults) music really isn’t the man he used to be. For some rock stars, this might be a bad thing. For Reznor, it’s more of an evolution and affirmation. Yes, the world (and your solipsistic mind) can be a dark, angry and hurtful place, but you can break out of it. You can channel that anger and anxiety into something positive. You can make an album that has social and political import (a la Year Zero), and you can evolve your art into something much more invasive and inventive than a wall of white noise, however powerful that can be, would ever be.
This is what Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig have done with their musical project How To Destroy Angels and its first major longplay release Welcome Oblivion. Reznor’s path from hard hitting industrial guitar and noise to a strange type of ambient-industrial electronica began on the aforementioned Year Zero, got a little more attentive on The Slip and finally exploded into full bloom with Ghosts, The Social Network Soundtrack, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack, and now How To Destroy Angels. Progressing alongside Reznor’s more NIN-lite sound was his ever growing articulation against of the evils that American society seems to continue to spiral downwards towards, socially and politically, and which were brought to the fore thematically on Year Zero. Reznor always had a bit of a socio-religio-political message though. One does not scream “God is dead! And no one cares!” over and over if one doesn’t feel passionately upset about the evils done in his name. This message is becoming much more explicit as Reznor’s music progresses though.
“How Long?” with it’s uber creepy and post apocalyptic video, discussed in length here, is emblematic of Reznor’s social consciousness. The theme pops up here and again on the rest of Welcome Oblivion, but it’s the album’s sound that is of more interest than Reznor’s new replicating theme. With only relatively small flashes of that old NIN thrash and industrial bash here and there, most of Welcome Oblivion appears oblivious to anything that is mosh pit worthy, like so many of NIN’s songs are. A little more electronic than is usual for Reznor, or rather perhaps as much electronic as Reznor has sounded since Pretty Hate Machine, Welcome Oblivion beeps, boops, dips, and skips with the best electronic music out there, but remains much more dense and dark than anything Deadmau5 could ever dream of. There’s little dubstep here, but the atmospherics of dubstep acts like Burial (which probably owe as much to Reznor as they do Kraftwerk) abound. Tracks like “Strings and Attractions” (a really cool meditation on String Theory…well, to my solipsistic mind anyway) are unmistakable Reznor-trance. Other tracks like the busy “The Loop Closes” bebops along to the tried and true Reznor-funk which buoys the synth washed NIN-like atmospheric guitar work. “Recursive Self-Improvement” actually sounds a bit like a bit of regurgitated Reznor-soundtrack material. It’s one of the few spots where the album falters. “Too Late, All Gone,” one of the album’s strongest tracks recalls the thump and electro-techo supernatural events of Year Zero. It even manages to channel a hint of that old Reznor-rowdiness.
It would be easy to attribute the change in Reznor’s music to the addition of his wife’s vocals (or the addition of her to his life period), but that wouldn’t be a correct assessment. She even gets a little loud on “Welcome Oblivion,” the album’s title track. “Welcome Oblivion” might just be the album’s absolute strongest track with it’s choppy and slinky NIN inspired guitar crunches and riffs. We’ve heard the echoing vocals before though, from Reznor himself, on “You Know What You Are?” off of NIN’s With Teeth. How To Destroy Angels is a different beast though, through and through. This really isn’t NIN-lite. It’s that unique musical creation that sound completely new and fresh, yet somehow strikingly familiar.
“Too Late, All Gone”
“Strings and Attractions”