Not The Actual Events, the latest EP from industrial rock legends Nine Inch Nails, seems to take a step back from the clean-cut electronic sound of their late releases in exchange for a more noisy, abrasive and heavy approach. This EP appears to blend the weighty aggressive sounds of The Downward Spiral with the dizzying production found in The Slip, as long time collaborator Atticus Ross has finally been adopted as an official member of the band.
The EP opens abruptly with Branches/Bones, a punchy track just under the 2 minute mark. Reznor’s vocal performance appears frantic and lost, abruptly shifting in tone. The chorus is short, repetitive and frantic – “Feels like I’ve been here before / And I don’t know anymore / And I don’t care anymore / Feels like I’ve been here befo – “. The abruptness of the track introduces the EP as the “unfriendly, fairly impenetrable” EP Reznor promised. The focus appears to be on production above all else, the stuttering delay and cracking compression dragging the listener in to a state of shock that is not easily shook.
The second track, Dear World, opens with a beat reminiscent of that found in Hesitation Marks. Metallic moans and drones soar above the mechanical base of the track, enhancing the unknowing in Reznor’s now spoken performance. The track seems simple and repetitive, similar to Branches_Bones, while also appealing to the more poppy side of the band as seen in Hesitation Marks. The final voice of the track murmurs “Yes. Everybody seems to be asleep.”
She’s Gone Away is where I feel the EP comes fully into it’s own. Reznor sensually moans over a slower and more crushing bass-line, reminiscent of the band’s sound on Year Zero. An echoing, pulsating delay adds more of a crunch to the already pounding rhythm, the crashing drums heralding a sense of melting disassociation from the self. As the track progresses, Reznor’s vocals are buried deeper and deeper in the sound, until his voice echoes as one with the great machine of the track.
The textured sound of She’s Gone Away is a stark contrast to the following track, The Idea of You. A lone MIDI-sounding riff occupies the newly empty space of sound, before being joined once again by the now more aggressive drums. Reznor makes a return, his barely-human whispers complimented by a nuanced integration of piano. This track feels like a great compliment to the last – the abrupt starts and stops contributing to the great mechanical aggressive theme that overlooks the entire EP. After the gradual crescendo of the track has reached it’s peak, Reznor’s vocals seem to shout in a crushing loop as they are once again gradually drowned in the chaos of crashing cymbals and arpeggio picked guitar. The track concludes with an abrupt stop, leaving the dizzying echo of Reznor’s final cry as a vertigo-inducing conclusion, the listener suspended over the void of silence.
The final track of the EP, Burning Bright (Field on Fire), opens with a weighty immensely slow riff backed by the now digital sounding drums. Reznor’s voice appears to preach and echo over the noisy sludge. The track is later complimented by subtle synth and guitar work, brightening the tone while maintaining the deep industrial instrumentation. The track closes with a stuttering repetitive lick similar to that at the end of Mr Self Destruct.
The EP seemed to bring together all of the most interesting stylistic elements of Nine Inch Nail’s discography, while integrating them to create an all new incredibly noisy and abrasive sound. If anything, the EP will likely leave you wanting to revisit the band’s back catalog with an all new appreciation of the subtle nuances between each release.
As the EP was incredibly short (clocking in at around 20 minutes) it seems to serve primarily as a promising sample of what we can expect from Nine Inch Nails in the near future. The album seems to shine most prominently in the context of their other work, meaning it is a must-listen for long time fans of the band. The tracks themselves seem to grow in aggression before concluding with a track reminiscent of the raw powerful aggression in Reptile from The Downward Spiral. I would highly recommend listening to this EP in order from start to finish.