When Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor originally announced a musical partnership with Mariqueen Maandig and Atticus Ross for a self-titled EP, puzzling and conflicting opinions on how the collaborative effort would pan out furiously surrounded the band. Upon the release, outlandish critiques were squashed as the Extended Play offered deeply soaked downtempo-electronic vibes, mixed with the standard songcraft that made Nine Inch Nails its driving force. How To Destroy Angels seemed to be delivering an underlying Trip-Hop inspired record that’s always been buried beneath the purposefully aggravated tracks in NIN’s discography and because of it, a follow up was largely and eagerly anticipated.
The Sophomore approach, An Omen_ contrasts the original release puts through an effort made up of experimentation and subtleties. Where the debut focused on accessibility and lyrically based creations, it’s processor deviates in pure opposition. While the follow up still maintains a formidable mixing focus on lead vocals, the six tracks exert themselves to demonstrate an equilibrium of sonics that interpolate the aforementioned details while integrating scatters of cinematic inspirations drawn from recent projects.
“The Loop Closes” is a smartly executed track that builds from instant rhythmic layers, drones, and accessibility. In a way, this track is the epitome of the EP. Dark dance vibes surround the indignant filled vibe through pale four-to-the-floor kick and snare that make its way into a Social Network and Girl With The Dragon tattoo juxtaposition.
“The beginning is the end, keeps coming around again” proclaims Trent, with Mariqueen harmonically following suit. The most intriguing portion of these vocals are the manipulated and distorted vocals that come in every so often, as the male vocal is panned low, but seems to contain a layer which is bumped in the lower frequencies to give it a unique and creative growl – perfect bass effect!
Continuing on through the more instrumentally based segments of the record, “The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters” creates itself to exist as the most monumental creation. It also sits at a healthy average dynamic range of about 8dB, which makes complete sense as there’s no palpable palette for aggressively mixed aspects to flourish. “The Sleep Of…” begins with a minimalistic synth melody before a sixteenth note melody fades in over top of it and focuses at the forefront for the majority of the song’s run. With aiding Maandig adlibs, everything continues to build off of a droning bass vibe that makes its way through the song. This is the most 100th Window (Massive Attack) sounding track on An Omen_ as it’s highly electronic, highly produced, in the box sounding, but wonderfully mixed to give a humanistic and emotional tone to it. During its four minute and a quarter run, the song is treated like “The Loop Closes”, in that it’s composition is forever evolving and infinitely creating tension. While the song certainly provides little glimmers of hope that shimmer and shine through synth melodies, they’re eventually taken by a cough, overpowering drone, and finally an abrupt end to the track.
Backtracking through An Omen_, the lead single from the Columbia Records released project, “Keep It Together” is occupied with manipulated percussive samples that are uniquely panned, delayed, and reverberated as a way to give forth a stereo image of which the low/low-mid frequencies of the synthesized bass thrives upon. As with most songs through How To Destroy Angels’ beginning catalog of music, Mariqueen’s vocals are intelligently recorded through a Blue microphone and bumped up in EQ in the higher frequencies. This sort of recording technique allows for a contrast in sonics that distinctly separates voice from instrumentation but uniquely allows the mix to stay together.
Lyrically, HTDA isn’t too far of a stretch from Nine Inch Nails. We’re still zeros and ones in “Speaking In Tongues” and we’re still anxiety ridden in it as well. However, this is the pessimistically aimed songwriting style that’s become signature to affiliated Trent Reznor-isms and is a vernacular world that’s always vague, evermore abrupt, and constantly praised. With the aid of a vocoder, Trent gives an extraordinary performance on “On The Wing”, the album’s most light sounding production. A tale of despair obscurely unviels itself through “I hear the warnings on the wing, I don’t believe in anything. I hear the voices rise and sing, but I don’t believe in anything.”
The most remarkable aspect of the band’s sophomore effort comes from the folk-ridden, guitar and back-mixed pad based “Ice Age” It reckons strongly on nominal instrumentation, allowing for basics and indistinct song structure to coyly reveal itself through each listen of the record. “Sometimes the hate in me is keeping me alive” laments Mariqueen while asking the ocean to wash us all away.
Along with the music, Rob Sheridan creates stunning analog Electronic art that you can easily follow along through his Facebook and Twitter profiles. They’re insightful and often comical updates with status updates such as “Way to go, Rob, set a visual style for How To Destroy Angels that requires you to run an image through an iPod to a VCR to a CRT monitor and then photograph it every time you need to do something as simple as add some text to the website… Seemed like a good idea at the timne.”
In a way, Sheridan’s creative direction through the photographical aspects of How To Destroy Angels demonstrates the mood set by the band, which is probably why he’s included as a member of the collective as opposed to just the visual sidekick he’s credited under through the Nine Inch Nails platform. As Electronic and despondent the band is musically, Rob lends himself to making painstakingly accurate and perceptible representations of art which equate and relate the senses generated through sound and into the visual world.
It’s the accessible melancholia, revamped through new mixing capabilities and genre bending triumphs that gives An Omen_ its shine and keeps us on the edge of our seat and begging for the full release which is slated for 2013. In keeping up with this band, hints of a tour have also been sprinkled through the press here and there. It’ll be interesting to see how these songs would be presented live because the band is so electronically influenced. The drum machines, the synths, the manipulations are all what makes How To Destroy Angels and An Omen_ a superior release. Things look promising, sonics sound pristine, and An Omen_ is something that we hope is an actual omen of what’s coming next.