HOW TO DESTROY ANGELS. Welcome Oblivion.
Five years after his last vocal studio album, Trent Reznor returns with a new band, and a sort of new identity. Teaming up with his wife on vocals - ok, that sentence sounds terrifying, but at least it shows that his musical palette has changed -, as well as Atticus Ross (who has been Reznor's musical foil for many years on soundtrack work) and longstanding alumni in visual artist Rob Sheridan, How To Destroy Angels are both clearly children from the Nine Inch Nails camp, and a seperate identity. Musically, it follows the template of Reznors work for the past fifteen years, with densely layered, atmospheric pieces that unfold slowly with measured menace. Sonically, there's barely a guitar here, built on a slow and uncoiling air of general malaise, like a tense, angry Massive Attack.
Which is a nice way of saying that it is as good as a Nine Inch Nails record. There's little sense of a bold new musical identity - especially after the "Ghosts" double album and the soundtrack releases - but a more refined approach. Sonically it is the calmest release in his non-soundtrack work, lacking much in the way of organic instrumentation : it's all keyboards, drum machines, textures and the occasional vocal. But that is not a bad thing - the record operates largely as a duet , with Reznors icy whispered vocals and Mariqueen Maandig's monosyllabic, clipped melodies that are used more as punctuation, unclear words - aside from the odd sentence - in a way that sounds luxurious but uncomfortable.
Over the length of a full record though, the formula ages slightly. It all sounds the same - variations on a theme - as the record moves to a conclusion, slowly but confidently. If you liked his soundtrack work, were intruiged by the slower, more thoughtful edges to Nine Inch Nails then this is for your. In the old world, this is a record designed to be listened to repeatedly and which will reveal slightly more with every exposure, every listen. It is not, nor will it ever be, the kind of quick and instant rock hit that will be taken to the hearts of mainstream media, but a thoughtful, clever, dense record made for a world where intelligence is not a burden, where beauty is hidden, and where the answer is a question in itself.