Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch (Album Review)

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During the eighth episode of last year’s Twin Peaks: The Return, viewers were treated to several unexpected sights. In the mist of atomic explosions, cannibalism and creepy hobos the leather-clad fixture of Trent Reznor appears to rock the faces off the residents of the titular town. Introduced as “The Nine Inch Nails” and performing a cut off their great Not Actual Events EP, Reznor and crew appeared for the first time in years to be fully investing in making music that terrified once again.

And that’s thankfully been Reznor’s MO since releasing that EP in early 2016, and following it up with 2017’s Add Violence EP. This return to the basics, harsh recordings, and darker subject matter, has been a return to form for Reznor and the band itself. Now in 2018, we have the capper to this trilogy of releases; Bad Witch, and while it doesn’t reach the highs of those last two EP’s, it serves a good end to this era of Nine Inch Nails.

At thirty minutes Bad Witch stands as the shortest Nine Inch Nails full-length record, but it uses its short run-time to pack in a lot of music and lyrical ideas. Early single “God Break Down The Door” finds Reznor wrestling with the questions of self that he’s been chasing all through his past two EP’s. But where Add Violence tackled that question externally, here he seems to target himself as the main force weighing his psyche down.

“There aren’t any answers here. No, no not any more,” he repeats over and over while the industrial sounds around him seem to be closing in from every direction and a ghostly sax plays in the background hinting at something beyond. It’s an anxiety attack in sonic form and finds Reznor sounding as hungry as he did in his 90’s heyday.

Another similar track is “Ahead of Ourselves”, where Reznor confronts old foes of his; God and the human condition. With a driving drum and synth sound behind him, Reznor edits his voice to sound absolutely demonic as he screams his feelings on humanities failures at God himself.

Clearly, the years haven’t softened Reznor’s worldview and Bad Witch has some of the more thoughtful lyrical passages from this trilogy of releases. Sadly though since he has been tackling a lot of this material across all of those releases some of it tends to feel like retreads here.

Opener, “Shit Mirror” sounds great with its hand-claps and fuzzed out guitars, but it slowly falls apart under the large concepts he’s attempting to tackle. And closer, “Over and Out” isn’t the epic sendoff that this album or trilogy deserves.

Surprisingly, however, two of the biggest highlights for me are the instrumental tracks “Play The Goddamned Part” and “I’m Not From This World” which are great showcases for what makes Reznor and Atticus Ross’ film scores work so well.

So while the album doesn’t start or end particularly well, the real meat of the album is still exciting and worth your time. As Reznor closes out this trilogy he finds himself pretty much where he started. He may not have got the answers he was seeking but that’s never going to stop his raging against the dying light to ask another day.

Bad Witch is out now.