NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS by Nine Inch Nails
Genre: Industrial Metal/Rock
Favorite Tracks: “She’s Gone Away,” “Burning Brights (Field on Fire)”
Nine Inch Nails is a band you have to make a lot of logical leaps and assumptions to enjoy. You have to believe that Trent Reznor’s overly-simplistic, on-the-nose, and repeitive lyrics are actually a brilliant tool to showcase his rawest and most primal emotions.You have to believe there’s a mad genius behind the impenetrable cacophony of noise that is his music rather than a raving homeless man. Most of all, you have to believe that even with almost 30 years of acclaim for his studio albums and his recent soundtrack work, he still has something to vent his angst about. If you can make all those leaps, than you will learn to appreciate NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS as you learned to love Reznor’s previous work.
Reznor’s particular slice of industrial metal has always been a game of tug-of-war between a more ambient, spellbinding portion dragging the listener into Reznor’s inner turmoil on THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL and THE FRAGILE, and a visceral explosiveness that fuses industrial dance and hard rock on WITH TEETH and PRETTY HATE MACHINE. He has never had a project that manages to seamlessly combine atmosphere with aggression, but the unexpected NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS comes close. While there are some abrupt transitions and endings, it features a surprising amount of vocal and musical diversity over its five tracks and is packed with plenty of substance for a 20-minute EP that should appeal to newcomers and NIN veterans alike.
Much like Metallica’s last release, NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS kicks the door in with its most propulsive track, “Branches / Bones,” though it suffers from over-exaggerated vocals and a chorus that gets sloppily cut off by the verse. Such jarring transitions are nothing new to Nine Inch Nails, but it doesn’t feel like an intentional attempt to further the harshness and works better on other, more industrial cuts like “Dear World.” Outside of this opener, Reznor’s vocals are consistently impressive and confident. He can still emote and puts a genuine human face to mechanical noise, even when delivering such varied tones as a deep, guttural moan and anguished shout on “She’s Gone Away,” or the static monologue out of a black box on “The Idea of You.”
One of the biggest improvements over Nine Inch Nails’ last album, HESITATION MARKS, is the more punchy and organic drumwork instead of synthetic percussion, most clearly demonstrated on the closer “Burning Bright (Field on Fire),” with its almost gunshot-like drum-hits. Furthermore, Rezner’s lyrics are just as blunt as always and traverse most of the same wayward, nihilistic grounds as he always has, but “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” features a massive proclamation of “I am forgiven, I am free/I am the field on fire” over a rising stadium chant. It’s a surprisingly confident boast from an artist most known for self-mutilation and introspection, and tops off one of Reznor’s best songs in a long time.
The entire album ends with Reznor in the distance, mumbling, “It’s getting hard to know which side is the dream/I can’t tell if I am dreaming anymore.” Even after all this time, he still wrestles with his own self-worth and questions how he has risen to the top of the musical world, but NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS is a good reminder of how he became one of the biggest figures in music by delivering material that was dark, layered, and frenzied. It borrows a lot from past Nine Inch Nails’ projects and isn’t as experimental as GHOST I-IV or THE SLIP, but it’s a solid indicator that Reznor, deep down, is still the one-man musical madman who managed to make an inhuman genre human and who still has plenty of wounds and scars to pick open and sing about.