Following last December’s Not the Actual Events, Nine Inch Nails have come through with the second in a trilogy of planned EPs. With Atticus Ross now on board as an official member, the industrial outfit feels just as creative and refined as they’ve ever been – like the first EP, it’s only five tracks, but Trent Reznor and his companions have crafted an intimate set of songs drawing on influences in industrial rock, synthpop, and trip hop.
Less Than opens with a quintessential NIN sound – raw synth arpeggios cascade around the mix, vintage drum machines march forward, both nestled in a certain sense of industrial grit – all clearing the way for Reznor’s powerful, angst ridden drawls to drive forward and take control. Each piece of this tracklist might feel minimal at first, but as added layers of instrumental flair and dark ambience come into play, every one of these songs find their true potential. Less Than evolves into an industrial rock anthem, cloaked in distorted guitar feedback, Not Anymore transforms itself from a lowkey garage jam into a beautiful mess of lush industrial metal, and closer The Background World descends from slowburning synthpop into a crunchy mess of of dying noise.
But it’s not just old sounds that Nine Inch Nails do well to reflavour here – the band find themselves experimenting with new directions too. Both The Lovers and This Isn’t The Place find a fascination with trip hop and the darker side of downtempo, pulling from the gloomy atmospheres of Massive Attack’s later material and Portishead’s gothic cabaret. It’s easy to see where Reznor and Ross intertwine, their individual ideas and styles conglomerating in the seamless way that the pair combine electronica-laden rhythms with the uneasy listening of dark ambient. There’s hints of Reznor’s typical synth lines throughout The Lovers, but This Isn’t The Place opts for a far more faithful approach to late nineties late night electronica – urban ambience, disorienting string sections, restless sub-bass – even Reznor’s vocals are clouded by his own soundscapes.
Once again, Nine Inch Nails prove that they have as much to offer now as they did twenty years. Reznor’s come a long way, and picked up a whole bunch of new friends too, but those classic flavours of industrial rock, synthpop, and metal still linger in even his most progressive musical experiments. We can only hope that the finale to NIN’s trilogy turns out to be as exciting as the first two.