There’s a decidedly retro vibe to the trajectory of Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails this year. Not only did they make an appearance on the revived Twin Peaks (where they were dubbed The Nine Inch Nails), but the lead single ‘Less Than’ could have stepped straight out of the 1980s with its electronica and synth beats.
Yet this is just one direction that NIN takes in ADD VIOLENCE, the new EP featuring a quintet of fresh material. It’s the second part of a planned trilogy of EPs, beginning with last year’s Not the Actual Events, one that actually reminds us of the importance of living in the now.
‘Less Than’ is certainly the most upbeat track on the record, even if its message is an angry cry against the political landscape the ‘added violence’ has wrought. Targeting apathy (“We awake in a place/We can barely recognize, yeah/ Hypnosis”), Reznor doesn’t mention any names but it’s not hard to imagine who he’s talking about: “Shut up, silence/Add a little violence/And offend and pretend/And defend and demand my compliance.”
This immediately gives way to a whispering Reznor (“I can hear you breathing…”) during the intro to ‘The Lovers,’ a track that contains some segued beats from the previous song, but reintroduces broken piano sounds that have been a NIN staple since at least The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. It’s also a lyrical continuation of ‘Dear World‘ from Not the Actual Events, with Reznor declaring “Everyone seems to be asleep but me.”
Indeed, the notion of self-medication and being caught between the dream world and reality runs throughout all five tracks on the EP. ‘This Isn’t the Place’ sees a lost Reznor lamenting “I thought we had more time” over a trip-hop beat that could have slipped into a Massive Attack album several decades ago. Similarly, ‘Not Anymore’ is the contrasting dirty grungy piece of the record with the repeated refrain “I can’t seem to wake up.”
The EP concludes with an epic 12-minute track called ‘The Background World,’ although it’s nothing close to being ambient. Realising “there is no moving past/There is no better place/There is no future point,” Reznor soberly concludes that “the world is bleeding out” as the back half of the track breaks down into a disintegrating loop of industrial noise.
There’s an overall sense of Reznor’s barely contained angst to ADD VIOLENCE, and despite the more downbeat tempo, it’s no less pointed than the Broken EP released 25 years ago. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he challenges in the closing moments of the final track, suggesting that his waking up comes with its consequences as well. Reznor might now have lived an additional “26 years on my way to hell,” being twice the age he was when he recorded ‘Wish,’ but he still appears to be wishing there was something real in this world.
ADD VIOLENCE is now available from The Null Corporation to buy digitally, physically, and on streaming services everywhere.