Trent Reznor has been stirring things up this year with the return of Nine Inch Nails. Ever since its announcement, it has been one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Since being compared to his prior release The Downward Spiral it had high expectations to live up to and luckily, it went above and beyond them. Here you won’t find the tortured, broken Reznor like on other releases. Rather, he is looking back trying not to be that person and worried about fighting his demons all over again.
While there are some references to the 1994 release, it’s a relief that this album isn’t a repeat of that one. There are songs like “Disappointed” and “The Eater of Dreams” that have the similar heavy, industrial sound as the one found on that record, but this release is completely different. Yes, it has the classic heavy NIN sound, but the subject matter and themes are all new. Just about all of the songs are about Trent and his drug addled past in some way. Its an album about not letting your past haunt you, about trying to beat those demons and making sure they don’t come back. And when compared with that album, this one isn’t as aggressive and intense as The Downward Spiral.
Just as with other NIN albums, this one is stellar with each song being a hit. Two of the standout tracks here are “Copy of a” and “Came Back Haunted.” The first song has this great heavy, techno industrial inspired music that kind of sounds like something that should be in an old school video game. Just as with most of Reznor’s music, there are so many layers here. Every time you listen to it, you hear a new element or a new sound that you didn’t catch before. “Came Back Haunted” has more of the synth electronic sound that really pulls you in to the song. The music here is pretty similar to dance sound found on his debut. This is where we start to see the references to his past with lyrics like “Everywhere now reminding me/I am not who I used to be/I’m afraid this has just begun/Consequences for what I’ve done, yeah.” Also found here is a small nod to “Closer.” Toward the end of the track the three note riff from that song softly plays underneath the rest of the music. It’s not much, but it’s a cool little reference to his past.
Aside from these tracks, there are plenty of other great songs with one being “Satellite.” It has an upbeat sound with a groove to it that gets you moving. The music buzzes and vibrates throughout as Reznor talks about spying on you. The theme of having your every move monitored really fits with the recent controversy regarding the NSA and Edward Snowden, yet he manages to make being spied on sound so damn good. This is definitely one of the catchiest songs on the album. But what’s interesting about Reznor singing “I know you’re up there somewhere” is he doesn’t sound threatening or creepy; instead he sounds cunning and snarky. “In Two” is a fast paced, erratic track that sounds like Trent is trying to start a riot. What’s cool is that he has so many different sounds here. During the bridge he sounds like a robot master while during the chorus he goes into this eerie falsetto. Then the music abruptly gets soft with whispering vocals before the intensity comes back.
“Everything” stands out from the other tracks only because it’s the most upbeat one on the album. In fact, it might be the most upbeat song Reznor has ever done. Compared to the dark sound we expect from NIN it takes you by surprise, but after a while it grows on you. Actually, there’s an interesting duality going on here. During the verses it’s bright, upbeat, and positive with Reznor singing “I survived everything.” But during the chorus the music gets intense as Trent lets his insecurities about staying sober show through. “Find My Way” is a somber moment on the record with creepy, ethereal music humming throughout the track. It’s a slower number with him trying to find his way back from addiction and depression. The evolving music keeps the listener’s attention.
Overall, the album gets 9/10. This is one of the best Nine Inch Nails albums released in the latter half of their career. Every song is amazing with moments that remind you of his past work, yet the music is new and exciting where it doesn’t sounds he’s ripping himself off. The theme of the album is also refreshing. No longer is he talking about how depressed he is or how lonely he is. Rather, he talks about looking ahead and doing his best to not let those inner demons get a hold again. This release shows that Nine Inch Nails isn’t done yet; they still have some tricks up their sleeve.