If there's anyone who knows how to blend obscurity with a story, it's Trent Reznor. In concluding a trilogy of releases, Nine Inch Nails dive deeper into chaos in Bad Witch, descending far down an unforgiving hole of sound - but does it work out?
The story of the band's last three releases is told in reverse: the first chapter of the trilogy, 2016's Not The Actual Events EP, looks closely at a certain time with a singular finality to it (in Reznor's words, it was "more of an internal fantasy of what if I lit a match to my life and just embraced burning the whole fucking thing down.") Then came 2017's Add Violence, a more penetrable effort but still unwelcoming all the same. There was less finality and specificity to it, though still a sense of impending insanity all the same.
And that's where we end up in Bad Witch: at the start while also at the end. The record feels like a combination of both prior efforts, though with its own sense of chaos to it, not yet on a path to deranged insanity but definitely on its way there. Opening track 'Shit Mirror' brings the album to a big start, it's loud, distorted guitar and metallic drums leading into an oddly anthemic vibe even if its start is aggressive and loud. The album descends into further chaos as it goes, 'God Break Down The Door' wobbly and jittery with just enough random saxophones to provide for a perfect amalgamation of anxiety.
Bad Witch certainly does what it sets out to accomplish, but in doing so, it ends up polarizing itself a bit. Such has been the case with nearly every moment of these last three records (save for the admittedly tame 'Less Than' and 'This Isn't The Place' from Add Violence). The tracks are so impenetrable and out there that all you can really focus on is trying to pry meaning out of them, even as they try so hard to prevent you from doing so. It's hard to really crack into the fast, glitchy drive of 'Ahead Of Ourselves' or the distorted anger of 'Play The Goddamned Part,' leaving you more confused than satisfied. Even the final two tracks, which are much less busy and more atmospheric, don't provide any lapse of comfort: 'I'm Not From This World' is simply demonic, terrifying in every aspect while closing track 'Over and Out' clocks in at nearly eight minutes and harkens back to more obscure fear à la Hesitation Marks. At least the final track shows traces of Nine Inch Nails' past - other tracks seem lost in self-hatred, loathing, or some strange, horrifying exorcism.
Nine Inch Nails dive deeper into chaos in Bad Witch, straying further from traditional roots in order to add further texture to an impenetrable story. The message behind the last three albums isn't clear, nor was it ever meant to be. In typical Trent Reznor fashion, it's more so the emotions elicited in the vapid chaos of the music than the individual elements themselves that build the big picture. So even as confusing and unclear as the narrative may be, that lasting sense of "was there something I missed" that'll leave you thinking is the confirmation that Reznor's mission in creating these last efforts succeeded.
Favorite Track: Over and Out
Least Favorite Track: Play The Goddamned Part
Rating: 70 / 100
Stream or buy Bad Witch on Apple Music, and follow our 2018 Playlist on Spotify: