Back when I was a moody adolescent Nine Inch Nails was one of my favourite artists. The destructive, suicidal ramblings of Trent Reznor balanced with his ear for melody and chaotic disorientation was the soundtrack to many a temper tantrum for little 8th grade me. Into the future, I’ve grown to really respect the important role he has played in alternative music. The Downward Spiral, The Fragile as well as the pummeling Broken ep are landmark moments in industrial rock music. Trent’s command of tension was transfixing and often times undeniably catchy. As of late, it seems Mr Reznor has drifted away from much of the angsty attitudes that built his career. Recently soundtracking many of David Fincher’s recent films including The Social Network, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Between the soundtracking and the prior release of the Ghosts I-IV instrumentals, the ambience has played a much larger role in his music than previously heard before. However, with Not the Actual Events, Trent cranks up the attitude back to 11 and dips his angsty toes back into a sound that he helped revolutionise in the 90’s. While simultaneously keeping his other foot submerged into the forward thinking waters of 2017.
This new five-song collection kicks off with the electrifying “Branches / Bones”. This track is fast, harsh and features one Trent Reznor’s best vocal performances in years. The chorus features an escalating vocal modulation that makes Trent sound like he’s spiralling out of control accompanied by a dizzyingly loud, buzzsaw guitar lead. It’s likely familiar territory for Nine Inch Nails fans; aggressive, fiery and tortured. The opener flows nicely into the more muted but equally emotionally disconcerting “Dear World”. A track the returns NIN to the apocalyptic themes lamented over on the politically charged Year Zero during the Bush administration.“Dear World” displays a unique musical marriage for Trent, tying together NIN’s past, present and future sounds, something this ep does consistently well. Bringing out Trent Reznor’s morose, gothic side on the whispery hushed vocals as well as the pissed off beats and he delivers surprisingly well.
“She’s Gone Away” is a much slower track yet the word ‘hushed’ doesn’t exactly apply. The lumbering bass line is repetitive, yet mesmerising as Trent drones about loss. Death possibly? Divorce, maybe? Either way, this is likely the most modern Nine Inch Nails has been able to sound thus far and it’s such a welcome change of pace. As opposed to simply reliving the heydey of his early work it’s clear the intentions of this album are to do something exciting and ‘exciting’ is a key word to describe possibly my favourite track the supremely disorienting “The Idea of You”. The chorus of this track is chaotic with over layered vocals that pan uncontrollably while the guitars and drums chug in hypnotic cohesion.
The outro here “Burning Bright” might be a bit too lumbering for its own good but still, displays Trent Reznor at the top of his production game. This is an extremely dense track that glides the album out on a fittingly sombre note with the emotional declaration “I am forgiven, I am free”. It seems at this point in his career he really should be, and thankfully so. This new ep features Trent free of any constraints to craft something that needs to be anything more than a solid return to what Nine Inch Nails is revered for. Not the Actual Events is cutting in a way the fangless Hesitation Marks was unable to be. This is Nine Inch Nails finding their sexy, dark, tension-filled roots yet again. Not the Actual Events is a tight collection of songs that reminds me of being in 8th grade yet feels a lot like 2017.
Top Tier: “The Idea of You”, “Branches / Bones”, “She’s Gone Away”, “Dear World”
Still Pretty Good Tier: “Burning Bright (Field of Fire)”
Words by Alex Frasier