Atmosphere Reigns Supreme
Trent Reznor has always been a prolific iconoclast and his recent brainchild has him experimenting with new forms. How to destroy angels_ is his pairing with wife Mariqueen Maandig, Oscar-winning partner in crime Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nail’s visual art director Rob Sheridan for a new sound. Their sophomore EP, An omen_, comes two years after their self-titled debut EP and treads unchartered water for the band, while still retaining some of Reznor and Ross’ trademark sounds. The new EP succeeds in setting the stage for something bigger as How to destroy angels_ prepare for their first full length in 2013 on Columbia Records, but this release will undoubtedly fail to appease some of Reznor’s most diehard fans.
An omen_ EP sees How to destroy angels_ displaying themselves in a more subdued light, with fewer instantly gratifying tracks than their self-titled debut. The album is nuanced with subtleties in the trip-hop and industrial genres, but you won’t hear anything with the same immediacy as “Parasite” from their last EP. Mariqueen takes the stage first in a scene set with a heavy and ominous mood, but does so in a way that seems to neither enrich nor subtract from the ambiance. Reznor appears vocally in the chorus, where the couple forebodingly sings, “I can’t keep it together.”
“Ice age” is the most universally satisfying track on the album. Mariqueen’s straight-laced vocal approach is suitable here amidst minimal instrumentation. Clocking in at 7:00, this is also the longest track on the EP and showcases Reznor and Ross’ ability to slip away from their signature style, surprisingly showcasing acoustic instruments like the banjo.
The two subsequent tracks are the most ethereal of the release. “On the wing” reintroduces heavy electronic soundscapes with faint piano and tripped-out vocals, giving listeners the feeling of being sedated underneath a stockpile of crashing waves. “The sleep of reason produces monsters” fittingly borrows its title from a haunting Goya sketch and delivers on its promise. With an etherized curiosity and feeble chimes from Mariqueen, the track never evolves much or has the need to.
“The loop closes” is reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo OST in a way that perhaps detracts from its power. Listeners might wonder if this was a B-side from one of Reznor and Ross’ film scores, but nonetheless, the track is worthwhile on a philosophical level. With instrumentation that keeps building and unwinding, Reznor’s meditation on the essence of loops gives way to cyclical wisdom: “The beginning is the end / Keeps comin’ ’round again.“
To those intrigued by the avant-garde, “Speaking in tongues” proves to be one of the most compelling tracks on the album. It’s hypnotizing, ripe with eastern influence and alienating by nature. Though, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this would make the perfect soundtrack to a cult gathering.
And just like that, An omen_ has been delivered. There are moments of surprising beauty and tension, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to not imagine this as a placeholder for How to destroy angels_’ first full-length release. As expected, production quality is incredible and for that reason, the chief successes of this release are all in the details. Atmosphere reigns supreme in this release that surely warrants multiple listens. Nonetheless, it’s hard to walk away without mild disappointment, but perhaps this is an unfortunate effect of Reznor being a highly accomplished artist. For those who crave more, fret not, there is always a rising sun along Reznor’s horizon.