Nine Inch Nails: Not the Actual Events.
Treznor promised us new NIN in 2016, and this 5-track EP - the first studio EP in the catalogue since Broken in 1991 - snuck in just before Christmas. Longtime collaborator Atticus Ross has been promoted to an actual band member, and there's been some experimentation with the sound!
While this is unmistakably a Nine Inch Nails release, most of the songs here have a more raw, muscular sound to them - evoking but not emulating percussion-heavy industrial noise acts like Pigface or Einstürzende Neubauten, and even a little bit of Skinny Puppy's soundscapes (but not a blatant lift like when NIN sampled Dig It for Down In It). Here the vocals and guitars are brought down in the mix and become part of the traditional NIN wall of sound, with a lot more processing brought to the vocals to the point where they almost sound like an instrument in the same way Bill Leeb does in Front Line Assembly.
As well as Atticus Ross' contributions to the EP, there's guest appearances on three of the tracks from past Reznor collaborators- Dave Grohl drums on one, Dave Navarro plays guitar on another, and
DaveMariqueen Maandig provides backing vocals on a third. Navarro and Maandig suffer(?) from the EP's sound, their contributions are far, far down in the mix to the point I barely noticed Navarro's guitars on Burning Bright (Field on Fire) until I listened to the EP with headphones for the first time.
As I said above, the EP remains unmistakably NIN even with the changes - the traditional synth sounds are still there, and Reznor's vocal stylings are instantly recognisable. A lot of critics felt that the band had been getting stale between Ghosts I-IV, The Slip and Hesitation Marks, and this shakeup has been well-recieved. I've listened to the whole thing through a few times now and really enjoyed it, but there's a hell of a lot more to unpack in there. A full-length album to this level of quality would be a fine thing indeed.