Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. After profiling synth-pop outfit Lookbook, it’s time to highlight a new project from an artist who has been a force in electronic rock for over twenty years.
Last year, Trent Reznor pulled the plug on Nine Inch Nails as a touring band. While he left the door open to future NIN releases, he expressed a desire for something more than the relentless, exhausting touring that the band had come to represent. He married Mariqueen Maandig, the former lead singer for psychedelic pop band West Indian Girl, and sounded excited about other projects and opportunities.
A few weeks ago, his first non-NIN project, How to Destroy Angels, appeared on the web and across social networks. Offering just a few tantalizing video clips, not much was known about the band, other than it joins Reznor with Maandig and frequent collaborate Atticus Ross. As the band’s promo photos show, Reznor is in the background and behind the scenes, finally free from the burden of a 20-year old inscription in the Pretty Hate Machine liner notes: “Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.”
Still, Reznor’s invisible hand continues to pull the strings. How to Destroy Angels’ first song, “A Drowning,” would fit perfectly in the Nine Inch Nails discography if not for Maandig’s breathy, sensual vocals. The song sounds like something off The Fragile or Ghosts, with the same brooding feel of B-side “And all that could have been.” “A Drowning” pulses and builds over seven minutes, with sorrowful keys and dissonant electronic elements. Taking their name from a record by Coil, How to Destroy Angels opt for an ambient sound that owes much to the industrial innovators.
A six song EP is set to follow “A Drowning” this summer. Will it still bear the trademarks of Reznor’s earlier works, or will he take this opportunity to create music that would not have fit the Nine Inch Nails rubric? Only time will tell, but for an artist who has never shied away from controversy or innovation, I’m betting on the latter.