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The background world bleeds through in NIN’s Add Violence

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In early June, an email update to fans from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails asked, “Did you know Not the Actual Events was the first part of a trilogy of related EPs that will be released about 6-8 months apart? Now you do.” The second instalment of the trilogy, Add Violence, was announced the following month, and saw its digital release soon after on July 21. On the official NIN website, it is described as “Part two. The view widens and everything is in question.”

Where NTAE is loud and abrasive, embracing the more gritty and harsh side of NIN’s industrial sound, Add Violence is seductively sweet and sullen, while simultaneously giving us the sense that there may be something slightly sinister lurking somewhere beneath the surface.

The EP opens with “Less Than,” an energetic, ‘80s-tinged track that’s catchy as hell and reminiscent of Hesitation Mark hits “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted,” featuring sexy synth bass and pulsating percussion. The guitar-laden chorus comes crashing in with Reznor demanding: “So what are you waiting for? You got what you asked for / Did it fix what was wrong with you? / Are you less than?” “Less Than” was released early along with the accompanying music video, which features a young woman playing a trippy looking retro arcade game called Polybius by Llamasoft a real game for the PlayStation 4 that is based on an urban legend about a video game supposedly used by the government to data mine people.

The song ends incredibly abruptly, transitioning into the soothing, sensual, much slower tempo of “The Lovers.” The effect is a bit jarring at first, the song starting off almost silently, followed by a steady beat and Reznor’s softly spoken vocals. An example of one of the many connections between the two EPs, this sound very much mirrors that of NTAE’s second track, “Dear Word,”; both songs also contain lyrics noting how “everyone seems to be asleep.” Plinky synth drops fall like rain, somewhat unsettling, along with piano notes that build to deep, beautiful chords for the choruses. Reznor’s voice becomes more melodic and begins to rise higher, even higher during the last before fading to barely a whisper as he sings, “Take me / Into the arms of the lovers / Free me / Into the arms of the lovers / Please / Into the arms of the lovers / I am free…”

Taking it down even further, we come to “This Is Not the Place,” which feels almost akin to a dirge: dark, lonely, and haunting, but at the same time intoxicating, the heavy bass flowing through you as the creepy piano and slight dissonance keep you just a tad on edge. The first half of the track is almost purely instrumental, before Reznor’s gently quavering voice takes over: “And if you see my friend / I thought I would again / A single thin straight line / I thought we had more time.” He laments the last line repeatedly in a harrowing, mournful tone, following us down as we drown in the remainder of the song.

Breaking up the more solemn, somber mood, “Not Anymore” is hard and belligerent, marching in angrily and creating an ever-increasing feeling of pent up and feverish frustration. During the chorus, Reznor screams over and over, “Well not anymore! Not anymore!” while at the same time, his voice begins to echo in the background, “And I can’t seem to wake up,” again and again, later with more and more intensity towards the end, until the song cuts off suddenly without warning. (The last 30 seconds of this track may arguably be the most danceable of the entire album.)

The final, and by far longest track (again, in a similar fashion to NTAE) at just under 12 minutes, “The Background World” is more steady and subdued. The lyrics are deep and poignant, urging introspection and closer observation. “The world is bleeding out / It folds itself in two / Behind the background world / Is always bleeding through.” The lyrical portion of the song only lasts for approximately the first four minutes, however, before the song closes off the EP with a loop that runs for the remaining time — 52 repeats, in fact, as it slowly becomes more distorted and deranged until it’s barely more than garbled static. There have been many different guesses as to what the exact meaning behind this may be, such as it being possibly representative of aging, as Reznor turned 52 this year, or maybe having something to do with there being 52 weeks in a year — people love to theorize, and Add Violence offers plenty of clues and opportunities for speculation and the discovery of hidden secrets and connections to other previous albums besides NTAE, notably 2007’s Year Zero.

Familiar in many ways to a lot of different older work by NIN while still bringing fresh and creative elements, Add Violence is easily the more accessible of the two EPs in the series so far. It is an evocative, emotional experience that I instantly fell in love with, and one I would definitely recommend. All of the subtle connections and correlations are weaving together a very intriguing narrative, and I’m excited to see just where they’ll take things in the final part still to come. No date has yet been announced for the third EP, but it is expected to be released within the next six to eight months.

So what are you waiting for?

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