Album Reviews

Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events


It’s not unlike Nine Inch Nails to blindside you. The release structure for albums like The Slip and the Ghosts series have been very much an ad hoc affair and their latest, Not The Actual Events, is no different. The record, announced with the introduction of new full-time member Atticus Ross, owes a great deal to NIN’s past as well as Reznor and Ross’s soundtrack work over the last decade. While the EP isn’t groundbreaking, it’s been a welcome Christmas treat or long time fans.

Proceedings blast off with the incendiary ‘Branches/Bones’ and it’s as though the last ten years never existed and we’re back in With Teeth territory. It’s rather fitting that Reznor spends the majority of the piece howling about he’s been here before as this is well trodden ground for him. Yet it doesn’t feel reductive or like a regression, there is real vitality running through it. It’s quick and to the point and it does a great deal within its limited timeframe to impress. That seismic chorus, the kind that brings to mind Soulwax, is fantastic as are the crisp drums that cut through the mix with such ease, but the real masterstroke is a blink and you’ll miss it trick at the end of the first chorus. Just at the crest of the crescendo, the band opts to return to the minimal verse with such a speed and control that it immediately grabs your attention. It’s a small move, but one that forces you to take note of what they’re trying to do here.

‘Branches’ earns the EP some good will while ‘She’s Gone Away’ and ‘Burning Bright (Field On Fire)’ add a great deal more. The former is truly excellent NIN. Built around a looping, pounding bassline that is solid as a rock, the song throws all manner of instruments and atonal electronic wails at the listener. The groove of the bass and the menace of the backing vocals ground the more abstract elements and lends this mesmerising atmosphere of dread and the oncoming doom. The latter has a similar, if more direct approach, as its bass feels like some kind of unstoppable colossus is looming towards you. A smidge too long, there are large shades of the Fragile’s texture based rock here. This is most apparent within the cycling refrain, which wouldn’t be out of place on either of their 1999 efforts. This trio show that Ross’s impact on the group is something to get excited about, but sadly the other two pieces add some doubt.

‘Dear World’ and ‘The Idea of You’ are not bad, per se, but they are definitely lacking. The first of these two commences and concludes with an awkward sprechgesang which seems to gesture towards foreboding and lands firmly in the comedic. The other vocal effects are trying at times and nowhere near as interesting as the group seems to think they are. The piece does belong to the same family as the duo’s past soundtrack work and it does possess this suitably off kilter vibe with the drums tripping over one another and the melody fitting in the least typical manner possible. ‘The Idea of You’ is the weaker of the two. In spite featuring the legendary Dave Grohl on the sticks, it feels like a retread of ‘March of the Pigs’ minus the manic fury and energy that drove that masterpiece. There is a great bridge and verse at the heart of the song but it is really let down by a sub par chorus.

Not The Actual Events does have some excellence within its mix, but there is also this simmering sense of deja vu. The expanded group has promised more music in the coming year so it’ll be interesting to see whether these are teething pains or inescapable flaws. Will Murphy