It’s hard to get excited about new Nine Inch Nails music nowadays. Maybe it’s because their last batch of releases has consisted of a pair of inconsistent, inconsequential EPs, or because Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have worked together so much in the past that there’s a lot to expect, but for a band who are often seen as legendary within alternative music, they’ve felt a bit lacking recently. And it feels like Reznor himself knows that too, deeming Bad Witch – formerly the third in their trilogy of EPs – a full-length album to prevent it getting lost in the shuffle in streaming libraries. That all means that Bad Witch is now their shortest album to date, with six tracks clocking in at just thirty minutes, something that has proven fruitful recently with Kanye West’s associated projects, but as far as creating expectations that this will finally be a good, substantial listen from Nine Inch Nails, it’s still not doing much.
Thankfully, Bad Witch is the best of the three, but just about. Anyone expecting Nine Inch Nails to return to their crushing industrial roots will especially be disappointed here, as they’ve decided to once again build on the splatterpaint, avant-garde electronica that they’ve previously worked on, only now taking well-documented cues from David Bowie’s Blackstar in its approach of an experimental jazz angle. And while both Not The Actual Events and Add Violence had the issue of throwing out much structure in favour of the aural equivalent of a chainsaw to the face, that hasn’t exactly been rectified here, and thus the screaming synthpunk of Shit Mirror or the saxophone squeals on Play The Goddamned Part and God Break Down The Door (played by Reznor himself, no less) feel as though they’re there to build up harshness and little else.
But that does come into what the point of Bad Witch is, and Reznor’s open dislike of the Trump administration and the tribalism that’s arisen from it in the US feels as though it underscores everything that’s done here in no small part. There’s a sense of huge catharsis in this noise, be that from the very interpretive, tight blasts of noise on Play The Goddamned Part and God Break Down The Door, to something a lot harsher and more violent on the whole with Shit Mirror and Ahead Of Ourselves. It’s a primal, human expression of frustration, something that Reznor has never been shy with in the past, particularly when juxtaposed with the cold, clinical nature of electronic music, and with his sonorous, ominous bellow of “Time is running out / I don’t know what I’m waiting for” on the closer Over And Out (the finalistic moment where the Blackstar comparisons feel the most recognised), it plays to the bleakness that Nine Inch Nails have always morphed into something powerful and compelling.
Even if the outward execution doesn’t exactly evidence it, Bad Witch is definitely a more focused prospect than Nine Inch Nails’ recent releases have offered, and can scantly claw enough portentous presence to earn the title of an album rather than an EP. And sure, there are still better options littered throughout their catalogue when it comes to Reznor screaming and making noise, but Bad Witch illustrates a band who continue to be forward-thinking and avoid resting on a legacy that could so easily see them coast by. It won’t be for everyone, but neither are Nine Inch Nails as a whole; for those who want it though, there’s plenty to be enveloped by here.
For fans of: How To Destroy Angels, Puscifer, Ministry
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bad Witch’ by Nine Inch Nails is out now on The Null Corporation.