It’s disappointing after releasing two excellent EPs (Not the Actual Events and Add Violence) that Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor leaves us with a thirty god damn minute “full length” album entitled Bad Witch (Halo 32) that feels more like another EP than an actual album. I have never been critical of Reznor really in the past, besides the time he accused Kanye West of “ripping off” NIN’s live shows production and stage design, but what upsets me about these two artists is that they both released anticipating albums last June that were too short. However, as both of these albums (NIN’s Bad Witch and Kanye’s Ye) may make the listener frustrated with how the artists might’ve left out tracks they shouldn’t of during the production or the sound they incorporate on both albums could’ve of been explored further.
Bad Witch was supposed to be an EP, but later developed into an actual “full-length” album, when Reznor noticed how overlooked EPs tend to be. The mini-album serves as the final installment of the planned EP trilogy.
For the past few years, Reznor along with frequent collaborator and now official NIN’s member Atticus Ross have been releasing a trilogy of recordings, where the sound is reminiscent of NIN’s pinnacle point throughout the nineties and early 2000’s, such as on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. However, Bad Witch is NIN’s most experimental records yet.
Here, Reznor dives deeper into the experimentation over the industrial rock genre he pioneered and commercialized. For example, on “God Break Down the Door,” Reznor contrasts the wild and spiraling industrial “Outside”-era David Bowie drumming by using an uncharacteristic crooning vocal style and later playing an alto saxophone that sounds like it was straight off Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Not only that, but the track gives off a style that is a combination of nu jazz and trip hop.
Reznor and Ross didn’t show any indication of this style on the previous EPs, which is interesting because Bad Witch serves as the final installment (sort of like a mix) of the past two EPs. Maybe on their next project, they’ll be serving up an industrial jazz album. That style would definitely fit for their score of the upcoming Watchmen series by HBO.
On “Less Than,” the opening track from Add Violence (Halo 31), the lead single incorporates the heavy and catchy synthetics heard of Pretty Hate Machine, but more modernized. This sort of style is absent on Bad Witch, except maybe on the track “Ahead of Ourselves.” Bad Witch seems to mostly borrow from Not the Actual Events (Halo 30), but it is more innovative and dark, which is why the cover art for both are fairly similar.
“Shit Mirror” is the opening track off Bad Witch. It may not be as memorable and proficient as “Mr. Self Destruct” from The Downward Spiral or even “Branches/Bones” from Not the Actual Events, but its raw vocal distortion and rough droning soundscape makes for an excellent and expected NIN’s opener. On “Ahead of Ourselves,” Reznor’s warping vocals sound like a protocol droid. Alongside the chaotic lo-fi chorus and the sped up rigid sonic sequences, this sounds like the digital hardcore programming from Error’s cover of 999’s “Homicide,” which Ross was once a part of.
Just like “God Break Down the Door,” “Play the Goddamned Part” includes sax layers, but now alongside these striking minimal drums. Not only does this instrumental sound like a blend of samples from the original game soundtrack of “Doom,” but it also sounds like a more distorted version of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” especially with the high pitched dissolving sax. These noises also give off an eerie and sinister feeling like something straight out of a David Lynch movie.
“I’m Not From This World” is the second and final instrumental that comes after “God Break Down the Door,” which is full of coiling ambience that is blistering and evocative. If you listen to Bad Witch while stoned in the dark, make sure you skip this track, okay?
The closing downtempo track, “Over and Out” starts off with sparks of synths and tip-toe ambience Air-esque textures that are aimlessly wandering with anticipation. Reznor’s vocals don’t arrive until the 2:50 mark. With a recurrence of “time is running out,” Reznor’s sturdy and calmed vocals echo a tribute to Bowie, especially the art rock style applied on the stunning Blackstar. Reznor’s vocals disappear, a wave of synthesizers and woodwinds rise and eventually fade away, making the space rock tune unforgettable and a perfect way to end a trilogy.
Even though I understand and agree with Reznor that EPs tend to be ignored with how the music industry treats them, but Bad Witch still shouldn’t be marketed as a full-length studio album. It is misleading and will now be placed next to hallmark LPs such as The Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine. No offense to Reznor, but only few bands like the Beach Boys or the Strokes are able to pull off short records. It might sound like I am generalizing styles and genres here, but NIN’s music is more complex and listeners of industrial and electronic rock deserve more.
In the end, there is no reason these EPs should be revisited more than the actual album. I mean, most people do prefer the first Star Wars film, Empire Strikes Back and maybe even The Star Wars Holiday Special to Return of the Jedi and some prefer their appetizers more than their main dish at restaurants. As much as I love the radical and innovative style on Bad Witch, it just feels like these songs especially “Over and Out” are unbalanced and don’t know what direction they are going in—they’re too loose and unfocused. Bad Witch is unfinished work that is both satisfying and disappointing. Yes, I am happy that that there is another NIN release, but after two EPs in the past two years and a delay, I expected something bigger.
Classic Tracks – “Ahead of Ourselves,” “Play the Goddamned Part,” “God Break Down the Door,” “Shit Mirror” and “Over and Out”
Ehh – “I’m Not From This World”
Listen to Nine Inch Nails’ “Bad Witch” here.