A dauntless yet compromised return to the industrial frenzy.
Since its breakthrough into pop music's avant-garde, the 'Nine Inch Nails' project has cemented itself as the rendezvous for society's outsiders and one in which could be considered to have received a slight rise in attention through its affiliation with the genres involved within a 9gag music levels meme which emerged in 2014, one year after 'Hesitation Marks' (2013) made its mark in bemoaning the loss of being as per the postmodern condition and adopting a gatekeeping honey-pot role to protect the self from total material negation. Trent Reznor's newest release, however, 'Bad Witch' (2018), offers the listener a slight burrow into the chaos lying within this negation; a dive into detachment 'from the social dogma'.
It comes as no surprise then that there is nothing of 'A Copy of A''s kind in 'Bad Witch', with Reznor and Atticus Ross (the latter of whom joined the project permanently in 2016) approaching album number nine through continuing on the process of throwing its predecessor 'out of the window'; with the two E.P.'s preceding the final installment of the trilogy symbolising a stylistic return to the harsher roots of 'Broken' (1992) through 'Not the Actual Events' (2016) and the more viscerally toned 'Add Violence' (2017). What should come as unprecedented in this respect, however, is the fact that the trilogy has sought to interrupt itself in presenting its final chapter as an LP, somewhat unconvincingly, with just six tracks totalling precisely thirty minutes; making up the minimal length required to be considered as such in industry terms. In response to unsettled factions of fans, the triggered founder of the project offered an explanation through the EchoingTheSound (2018) forum; stating that this was due to the previous EP's getting lost in 'Spotify and other streaming services'. One could of course challenge what could be interpreted as an embezzlement of the album format and simply out of line with the creative demarcation of past releases as a response, but like his online interlocutor, it would likely result in the challenger being on the receiving end of a flippant suggestion.
Nonetheless, this does not prevent the album from delivering on its promise to reignite the spirit of industrial noise, with 'Bad Witch' consisting of the non-diegetic sounds of a cyberpunk title projected in an abandoned and desolate warehouse with psychotic freaks lurking in its darkest corners. This vision stands strong in the opening 'Shit Mirror' which has its rhythm section masked almost entirely by electrically charged static in the chorus and its glitch-punk successor, 'Ahead of Ourselves', which serves particularly as a reminder to the project's ideological standpoint on the 'loudness war' with sudden bursts of harsh lo-fi noise being presented as a break from the tube-filtered bass. The aggressive minimalism is briefly turned into a wall of sound in 'Play the Goddamned Part' through a collage of saxophones creating a brief krautrock interlude with glimpses of film noir ambience, which the acid house driven 'God Break Down the Door' builds on whilst bringing the minimalism back to compliment the chimerical dissonance.
The ghost of 'Ghosts I-IV', which remains in some form throughout, settles most firmly in 'I'm Not From This World' which, if not intentionally, perfectly illustrates a long and uneasy wait for a lift in the midst of the warehouse's maze; courtesy of the looping alarm textures and the warbling LFO with the inharmonic fillers perpetuating intensifying breathing until all is relieved only by an unsettling ostinato. The album's and therefore the project's last moments arrive in the form of 'Over and Out' which in its preceding stages, carries the lighter techno influences of 'Hesitation Marks' before progressing to reminisce the looped wood percussion and atmospheres of Radiohead's 'Kid A (song); caustically meeting its climax in quieter and sweeter semblance contrary to the psychotic anger to which it broke the ice with.
All in all, there is little doubt, that despite the argument that the LP does not reveal anything new in terms of style or approach, it envelops the relentless tension and antagonism across the thirty minutes which vintage Nine Inch Nails always has. It is unavoidable however, that this is unnecessarily spoiled by a betrayal of the project's concept which misleadingly casts itself as something that begins and ends within the space of the six songs included whilst, unfairly with respect to where it creatively succeeds, transmitting the notion that the producers were simply not committed to making a proper job of presenting the works within an album other than through the distributional logic presented; almost as if to suggest that nothing goes amiss in the Matrix trilogy if one is reduced to assessing it after only watching 'Revolutions'. The real sour aspect of this though perhaps lies in Trent Reznor's vehement denial of this consequence.