Nine Inch Nails is not a project that is expected to conform to any sense of normality. Every release from their 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine to their latest effort, 2013's Hesitation Marks, has been a distinctly different beast, tackling a different mindset or mood. That evidently has not changed in 2016, as Nine Inch Nails gets weird on their new EP Not The Actual Events.
Fans may recall losing hope for Trent Reznor's promise of new music in 2016 as the year drew to a close. He came through just in time, Not The Actual Events only being announced a week ago. NIN's lineup is constantly changing, and that's still so now: Trent Reznor and his long-time collaborator Atticus Ross are the sole musicians of Nine Inch Nails on this EP, though a plethora of musicians make contributions to certain other songs throughout the EP.
Don't go into this record expecting to find something. Prior to its release, Reznor promised that it was a very "unfriendly" record, and that is clearly the case. There isn't truly a sense of melody or even general catchiness at any point throughout this EP. It's more like a fight, where each blow is a different style and something you couldn't predict was coming. It starts off slowly with 'Branches/Bones,' droning synths distorting in and out in the background above a groovy bassline and basic beat. This song has traces of Nine Inch Nails, the distorted synths in the chorus harkening back to past material (though I'm not entirely sure about those screams that turn into shrieking moans that Reznor's doing there).
'Dear World,' follows through, elements of the song reminiscent of Hesitation Marks in that it has a general lightness to its electronic tones. It really could be a song from that album's sessions, it's sensual vocal delivery and glitchy synths playing to what that record had going for it at its core.
Things start getting weird after that. Very creepy distorted noise brings 'She's Gone Away' to its start. It has a slow moving composition, and listening to it has you feeling like you're trying to push your way through a thick, slimy substance that slowly becomes more and more resistant to your strength. Reznor's wife and How To Destroy Angels partner Mariqueen Maandig provides backing vocals to the track, accentuating the creepy nature to the choruses. The legend himself Dave Grohl provides drums for the next track 'The Idea Of You,' a much more aggressive track with urgent guitar and powerful drums driving it through. It honestly sounds like a cross between Evanescence and Slipknot, its atmospheric but pressing verses overlaid with creepy spoken word before bursting into blistering choruses.
The EP concludes with the single 'Burning Bright (Field On Fire),' a lethargic monster with a conviction. A destructive guitar riff slowly chugs the song through its progression as the track gains more and more strength. The song is a bit odd to start with, but its true message shows through in its massive choruses, Reznor chanting "I am forgiven / I am free / I am a field on fire" with a sense of new found power in his voice, as if something had awakened him. That's the essence of this track - walking through a fiery plains with a new flame burning within you, growing as you walk through the brush. It's an awakening.
Trent Reznor described this new EP as "an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that [Nine Inch Nails] needed to make." That could not be a better summation of this EP: the weirdness of Not The Actual Events channels several elements that burst out in different places and parts seemingly disjointedly, but all finding a home under the name of the EP. There's nothing uniting them besides their abraisivness, and perhaps that's all they need. Nine Inch Nails plans on releasing two major records in the coming year, so the legacy of Not The Actual Events will be seen soon. Whether that means a that the band has gotten all of their weirdness out of them or that the weirdness has only begun is yet to be seen.
Favorite Track: Burning Bright (Field On Fire)
Least Favorite Track: Branches/Bones
Rating: 72 / 100