Release Year: 2017
Nine Inch Nails’ Not the Actual Events EP, the first in a trilogy, wasn’t the fury and fire we expected. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t all that memorable. The songs were decent and the mood was forced aggression. But with Add Violence, the second EP, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross hit their stride. They give us a record that successfully mixes new NIN ventures with the challenging and often chilling songs they’re known for. The result is ugly, unpleasant, and unfriendly, something Reznor actually wanted. But this doesn’t mean the EP is bad; it may be the best they’ve given us since their return.
Reznor lulls you into a safe space with opening track “Less Than.” Not as compelling as other songs, it’s the most accessible. It has catchy synth heavy music reminiscent of old school video games that makes you dance. The memorable hook doesn’t hurt either. The song gets a kick to the gut during the chorus when the music explodes in distortion. It’s reminiscent of Hesitation Marks’ sound and while it may not grab you at first, it grows on you over time. The mood shifts when we get to “The Lovers.” The music starts out quiet with an atmospheric air that slowly builds up around Reznor’s unnerving muted vocals. There’s a sense of unease with this song – the music creeps along as if waiting for something bad to happen. And lyrics like “Please don’t leave me here/I could stop it/Maybe I could stop it (if I wanted to)/But I’m not the one driving anymore” are haunting. It sounds like someone trying to regain control as they’re slowly losing it. It’s a great song that sets up the EP’s uneasy mood.
The stand out track on this EP is the chilling “This Isn’t the Place.” It opens on a fragile, haunting note with an eerie piano and synth that’s constantly swelling. It keeps you on edge letting you wonder where the song is headed next. It finally breaks when we get to Reznor’s fragile, broken falsetto vocals. He sounds scared as he sings “I thought we had more time” a harrowing reminder that life is short. Soon, the music swells once again drowning out Reznor and leaving you shaken. It’s a track that’s uncomfortable and unnerving, something NIN excels at.
“Not Anymore” breaks up the atmospheric mood and gets back to the rougher side of NIN. The music starts out fuzzy and rough sounding before everything explodes and speeds up during the hook. This is more akin to their typical sound since it’s bursting with energy and aggression. While it’s not as unnerving as some of the other tracks, it’s the hardest one on the EP. It’s a frantic track that gets your heart pumping and your fists in the air like every good NIN song should.
The final track “The Background World” gets into the ugliness Reznor wanted to tap into. Clocking in at 11 minutes, the first half of the track has an electronic soundscape steadily building up to something heavier and darker. The last seven minutes are filled with an electronic loop that gets more distorted and garbled as time goes on. Everything gets more broken up until you can’t recognize the music anymore. It’s a compelling, yet uncomfortable experience. It’s easy to stop the song before it reaches this part, but it’d sound incomplete without it. Somehow Reznor managed to make this wall of noise an integral part of the song rather than unnecessary garbage to fill up the record.
Add Violence is a moody, atmospheric experience that shows Reznor can still make compelling music this late in his career. Whereas the previous EP sounded like blind fury and aggression that didn’t leave a lasting impression, this EP successfully mixes the old and the new. It’s a record to get lost in and once you come out, you’re left shaken. Reznor succeeds in giving us music that’s uncomfortable, which is where NIN shines. It’s clear that NIN is working up to something bigger and with this release. We’ll be waiting eagerly to see what it is.