Two words have dominated the discussion around the eagerly anticipated new release Bad Witch from Nine Inch Nails. Those words have been “EP” and “Sax.”
Amongst the NIN fanbase debate rages whether the new release—with a shorter than expected running time of just over 30 minutes—falls more in line with EP status than the album that was touted prior to it dropping.
As explained by Trent Reznor, the release is indeed an EP, but—and here’s the modern music caveat—it is treated as an album for streaming purposes so it gains the proper exposure in a music scene dominated by algorithms over talent.
The second word “Sax” is due to the surprising inclusion of saxophone on many tracks, an instrument not usually associated with the grit and industrial grime of Nine Inch Nails’ sound.
So what does Bad Witch sound like and is it a satisfying final chapter in the trilogy of releases that started with Not The Actual Events in 2016 and was followed by 2017’s Add Violence?
The album gets off to a kicking start with “Shit Mirror.” Filled with blistering beats and signature distortion, the song pounds along with a lyrical reflection on the current state of events in America and the larger world. Safe to say, Mr. Reznor doesn’t think highly of the current sitting President. With its song-in-two-parts approach, the energy shifts around the two-minute mark with a moment of clarity building to a cacophony of confusion.
“Ahead of Ourselves” is a heady mix of distortion and dread against a classic broody Nine Inch Nails groove of hard hits and intense guitars. The lyrical theme here is a discussion on God mixed in doubt and belief, and our own collective failed potential. “Ahead” is arguably the standout on the album and ranks as one of the strongest songs from the trilogy set.
“Play The Goddamned Part” offers an instrumental interlude that harkens back to the Nine Inch Nails we know, with wall-to-wall fills of industrial distortion with the surprising introduction of sax that dominates the tone of the second half of the song.
“God Break Down The Door” slightly underwhelmed when it was first released, but sequenced between two instrumental tracks, it feels like a better fit within the landscape of the album rather than as a standalone track.
If you loved David Bowie’s Earthling (1996), you might feel like this is an homage to that outing and Bowie’s later releases such as Blackstar. Reznor borrows many of Bowie’s stylings for the track that admittedly grows on you with each passing listen. Whilst it may not be the standout first single the album needs, “God Break Down The Door” does hold you in a comfortable embrace of distortion.
The second instrumental on the album, “I’m Not from This World” has a bigger, more filmic feel to it, a marriage between Nine Inch Nails and Rose/Reznor film scores.
The album closes with “Over and Out” that holds a menacing groove within its layers of sonic manipulation and punctuating instrumentation. Reznor sings of always being “Ten years ahead of you” and you get the feeling that he just might be.
Whilst Bad Witch might not be the “album” many longed for, there are compelling elements hidden deep within its tracks that will reveal themselves to you each time you venture back to listen. And as a final chapter in a trilogy of outings, it is befitting that it simultaneously rewards you and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps over the ensuing months and years (but hopefully not ten), the work will be appreciated for what it delivers and not for what many hoped it would be.
Notable Tracks: “Ahead of Ourselves” | “Over and Out”