The biggest question surrounding How to Destroy Angels is how the new project from Trent Reznor would differ from Nine Inch Nails. Even with former West Indian Girl frontwoman (and Reznor’s wife) Mariqueen Maandig on vocals, how far would the project veer from the sound, aesthetic, and attitude of the groundbreaking rock mainstay?
The band didn’t take long to start answering questions. After slowly dripping out teaser clips just over a month ago, the band has released it’s debut self-titled EP. How to Destroy Angels follows Reznor’s music-label-free distribution model: embrace the fact that music is essentially free, give the album away, and sell exclusive versions and premium material. However, it also follows Reznor’s recent musical endeavours.
Putting Nine Inch Nails on the backburner after nearly 20 years was supposed to give Reznor a chance to experiment with music that would not fit under the NIN banner. HTDA flows logically from Year Zero and The Slip, but it doesn’t break new sonic ground.
As a diehard fan of Nine Inch Nails, I will happily and eagerly devour new material from Reznor. Still, I can’t help feeling that this is a missed opportunity, especially with so many exciting trends in electronic music. Reznor owes much of his success to drawing on underground influences and giving them a mainstream shine (Skinny Puppy’s “Dig It” became “Down In It,” for example). I can just imagine the results if Reznor decided to make some Burial-style dubstep or Salem-ish drag music. Unfortunately, nothing on the EP would feel out of place in the recent Nine Inch Nails discography.
On its own merits, HTDA is worth the download (and not just because it’s free). The somber atmospherics of a song like “A Drowning” reveal more layers on each listen, and the four-on-floor attack of “Fur Lined” is as aggressive and sexy as ever. “The Space in Between” is accompanied by a grim video that finds Reznor continuing to push the envelope. So even if the answer is the easy one, we’re lucky that Trent is still answering questions.
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.