A descent into sheer madness, Nine Inch Nails’ Bad Witch – the third instalment in their trilogy of releases since late 2016 – is chaotic, distressing and aims to capture the entirety of American politics and destruction in just six short tracks. To consider this to be an album and not an EP feels bizarre but, nonetheless, this is one record which will reach into the sickest parts of the human mind and make you question the very fabric of your reality.
Straight off the bat, this is definitely not an album which conventional fans of Nine Inch Nails will be accustom to and vocalist Trent Reznor aims to make this immediately clear from the start. The muddy overtones and grunge-like feel of leading track ‘Shit Mirror’ is dark, but thrives off the chaotic structure and unpredictability it has been given. The message of the ‘Shit Mirror’ is not only a nod to look at oneself in more depth but is equally a metaphor for American politics who need to look back over their decisions through the very own ‘shit mirror’ they have created. The punchiness of the track is definitely catchy and memorable but has shown that Reznor has come to this record to spread a very clear message for change.
The following tracks on the record all equally stress an intense level of hyperactive soundscapes which stress the band’s impending sense of nihilism, angst and aggression towards modern society. The following ‘Ahead Of Ourselves’ is a far more industrial-style track which wouldn’t be out of place in a 90s show. The horrifying level of reverb and monotonous backbeats explode into pure volts of sporadic electrifying sound, if I wasn’t mistaken, this track in particular could have easily been mistaken for something off of a Death Grips B-side. This is understandable as the other undoubted inspiration for this record comes from David Bowie’s Blackstar holding a similar sense of impending destruction and a message of running out of time. The sheer level of nihilistic uncertainty which Bad Witch upholds is definitely its driving force, yet feels like it is trying to capture something far more intense but not quite reaching its desired meaning.
As we continue the short listen we’re met with the two parter of ‘Play The Goddamned Part’ and ‘God Break Down The Door’, these two seem to work in harmony with one another as the first introduces us to a darkened soundscape through harsh basslines and a climbing metallic sound which instil a real sense of horror as a dreary horn section grows and grows into an unorganised mess of distressing sound, the latter then breaks into a fast paced electronic beat which finds Reznor narrating yet another depressing sense of misery through repetitive lyrics such as: “There aren’t any answers here” and: “Remove the pain and push it back in” whilst the beat proceeds to grow in angst and intensity.
As we leave the record with ‘Over And Out’, an almost eight-minute piece of shifting pace and intricacy, you can’t help feeling that Nine Inch Nails aren’t what they once were. Of course, this is to be expected from a band who have been in the game for over 30 years and are constantly changing their sound to reach new heights. The new direction is by no means a bad thing, but perhaps will surprise many. All in all, it feels like Reznor’s take of American culture and politics is littered throughout this record and truly does leave the listener with an impression that unless we change something soon, we’re all doomed to live in the horrifying reality which Nine Inch Nails have presented us with.