When a band has a long career, it is inevitable that fans will disagree on what constitutes the “real” signature sound of that group. There are certainly many different schools of thought when it comes to Nine Inch Nails (or NIN for short), the industrial-alternative rock band founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor. On one hand, there’s the fans who think that 1999’s The Fragile was a bloated mess that came from a failed attempt to follow up 1994’s hugely successful Downward Spiral album. This school of thought tends to also embrace the stripped-down, noisy dance rock of albums like 2007’s Year Zero or 2008’s The Slip as great works of genius that prove Reznor is still culturally relevant. Then there’s the school of thought that believes The Fragile was a work of genius along the lines of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, who tend to shy away from the newer work of NIN, seeing it as too large of a deviation from the bands early catalog. Luckily, the music on NIN’s new EP Not the Actual Events might actually manage to appease almost all of their fans. Released on Reznor’s own label The Null Corporation, Not the Actual Events has enough old school sound to quiet down the purists, while still maintaining enough dance rock to please fans of NIN’s more recent work. The digital pre-order was released December 23 2016, with a “physical component” that will be shipped to buyers in late January 2017.
The first track, Branches and Bones, is reminiscent of 2005’s With Teeth album, which proved to be the transition period between the “old” NIN and the “new” NIN. It has the upbeat dance-able rhythm that has fueled much of their recent music, but also features fuzzy guitars, and creepy keyboards that give it a more 1990’s flavor. The next song on the EP, Dear World starts with a similarly up tempo beat, but then the chorus slows down into much more Downward Spiral era vibe with the keyboard finally taking center stage over the drum and bass style backing. Things start to get really interesting with the dark and atmospheric She’s Gone Away, which features a slow, churning drumbeat, bluesy bass line, and Reznor singing in a low raspy voice “She’s Gone, She’s Gone…”.Next up is the song The Idea of You. Similar to Dear World, this track picks up the pace again, but blends it with a melodic keyboard riff and distorted, chunky guitars. The standout on the EP though is definitely the last song Burning Bright (Field on Fire). This was the first song released from the EP with a video on Youtube that simply shows static on the screen while the song plays.Burning Bright (Field on Fire).opens with a steady, heavy beat, and unrelenting distorted guitar. Reznor does not even sing the verse lyrics, he shouts them under a wall of fuzz. Then the chorus comes in with Reznor singing clearly, “breakthrough the surface and breath!” This is repeated several times as the chorus builds up to a moment of silence, which is a pause before the heavy hit of the bridge smacks the listener in the face. This quiet and loud juxtaposition is a signature NIN move that always gets the blood pumping.
There is talk that NIN is working on the official follow up to 2013’s Hesitation Marks. Let’s hope they continue along the lines of Not the Actual Events. Who knows, maybe it’ll even bring together NIN fans into one cohesive unit again.