“Null” and Void
Off and on, the Trent Reznor side project, How to destroy angels_, has progressively brought about teasers. From one EP that sprouted up in 2010, to yet another unexpected release in late 2012, to now with, in typical Null Corporation fashion, a 2013 full release. Welcome Oblivion, the first bona fide LP from Reznor, wife Mariqueen Maandig, frequent collaborator Atticus Ross, and NIN mainstay Rob Sheridan, proves that Reznor and company have the same amount of patience as has been proven over and over. It’s not too uncommon for Nine Inch Nails records to release years apart from one another. However, in the mid 2000s, Reznor was astoundingly prolific. With multiple soundtracks and NIN releases, Htda_ seemed to take a back seat.
That all changed after the release of An omen EP_, after which was promised a full length soon to follow, which has been delivered. Though a few tracks are left over from Omen, Welcome Oblivion is one of the longest releases from The Null Corporation since NIN’s Ghosts I-IV. And, despite the wait and continued criticism from fans, patience has been rewarded.
It all starts in typical Reznor style. Like Ghosts I-IV, “The Wake-Up” drags you in with stripped-down saw-bass drawl, 808 blasts, indecipherable spacious vocal passages and crunched, spitting 303 bursts. This isn’t too unfamiliar in the NIN sound spectrum, and it’s welcome if you’re a fan. The emotional and melodic pace is kept with “Keep It Together,” where sparse drum sequences complement loosely syncopated anthemic “singing.” The desperation, the reaching: it’s everything you’d ever want from a release associated with Reznor. The degrading, symbiotic pulse continues to beg with the track, “And the sky began to scream.” Voices chant, “Tear it down / To the ground.” Will do. It’s hard to deny this is every bit as difficult as anything off 1999’s Fragile.
A shift takes place with “Ice Age.” Once meaning something different in context to the An omen EP_, the unrelenting sense of un-ending and the acceptance of cascading loss is persistent. Welcome Oblivion makes it perfectly clear: you’re fucked. “Sometimes I’m waiting for this ice age to arrive / Sometimes the hate in me is keeping me alive,” it goes. “Ocean, oh, help me find a way / Ocean, oh, wash us all away.”
This sentiment is further solidified by the follow-up track, “On The Wing,” where Maandig and Reznor’s chorus rings, “I don’t believe in anything.” It’s safe to say the sheer feeling of hopelessness isn’t in any way close to a halt. However, there are some more “pop”-esque breaks in terms of hooky chorus lines, such as “Too Late, All Gone” or the Queen-like “How Long?” with nods to Brian Ferry and perhaps Bernard Sumner. Regardless, it still maintains its Reznorness, and, to a different degree, its Htda_-ness.
The last three tracks present the most interesting stylistic shift while still retaining the claustrophobic mania of the previous tracks. “Recursive self-improvement” has a cross of Kraftwerk, early KMFDM and Gary Numan, while “The Loop Closes” brings you back to classic-era Nails, à la The Fragile. In fact, the chorus of “Into The Void” from NIN’s 1999 release could almost be sung behind “The Loop Closes.” But, again, this isn’t necessarily a problem for those who enjoy a good Reznor romp or two.
The album closes with a track similar to the soundtracks of The Social Network or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. An expansive, drawn-out instrumental soft-pedals vocal passages that reluctantly exhale rather than thunder. It all slowly fades away—no sense of trying to grab on. And that’s what makes Welcome Oblivion so interesting: It’s so typically Reznor that it unashamedly beats you over the head with distance, misanthropy and char-black cynicism. It both ignores and embraces all relevant connections to Reznor’s prior works and begins a new life by reliving some of them. Maandig brings a quality reminiscent of Massive Attack or late ’90s electronica that is so opposite of 2013, it might as well be 2013.
The fans can be silenced: They’re going to listen anyway. Like the last My Bloody Valentine release, it’s about time a veteran act released something so expected that it might as well be welcomed. Then again, it’s hard to welcome something that is so hard to take in all in one listen. Like most Null Corporation releases, Welcome Oblivion may top your list for most difficult listens this year. But it’s worth it; an album so unforgiving should garner your forgiveness.