Buckle up: this is the one that almost got away from me, and it’s my favorite non-metal album of the year.
There’s a degree of irony to the fact that the Old School Renaissance is producing some of the best and hottest artwork, modules, and GM resources in the tabletop roleplaying game industry right now–isn’t “old school” by definition staid and played out? As with all gaming communities, there’s a component of tabletop RPG culture that is grounded in nostalgia; the best OSR content is like a classic car that’s been retooled with all-new parts, parts that have emerged from thirty to forty years of deep thought, experimentation, and winnowing on the topic of game mechanics. The folks behind that movement might have grown up on AD&D or the white box, but me and mine, we grew up on version 3.0 or 3.5.
I’m probably past the point of providing an unbiased review of a Nine Inch Nails release. Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in Trent Reznor’s music to such a degree that I feel I can address his work in totality, with a scope encompassing the ongoing life cycle of Nine Inch Nails, and, to a degree, industrial music in general. Given that, I regret to report that Bad Witch is kind of a lackluster release, and presents a less-than-fulfilling conclusion to the trilogy of EPs that began with Not The Actual Events and continued with Add Violence.
In my senior year of college, I wrote, directed, and acted in an adaptation of Hamlet set to the music of Nine Inch Nails. After the final performance, while being grilled by my professors, I realized that, with no intention of doing so, I’d created a misogynistic piece of art. (For those of you unfamiliar with Shakespeare, there are two female roles in Hamlet: Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and Ophelia, his girlfriend. Neither of them fare terribly well in Shakespeare’s script). In my desire to keep the play’s story intact and get inside Hamlet’s head, I had consigned Getrude and Ophelia to their tropey fates and validated the tired Madonna/whore complex that Hamlet uses to reduce them to caricatures. This would have been understandable if I were staging a more traditional Hamlet. But somehow, even though I was bringing in projections and smoke machines and rewriting the entire script and replacing huge chunks of it with sordid industrial rock numbers, there was some part of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that was sacred to me, that I couldn’t bring myself to reshape or discard: the fundamental arc of its story. I was blind to two things at the time:
- That story uses the death of women as plot points to amplify the desires of men to kill each other, and if I was comitted 100% to telling that precise story, I could not escape that crappy trope, and
- If rearranging, recontextualizing, or completely destroying the plot of Shakespeare’s masterwork was going to offend anyone, I was probably going to lose those people right around my version of Act I Scene 2, where Claudius lip-synchs “Big Man With A Gun” accompanied by lasers and lots of gyrating pelvises. No one who remained would be upset if I gave the women more agency and depth.
So, yeah, that’s how I put about two years of mental energy and weeks and weeks of blood, sweat, and tears into a piece of art that betrayed my principles. All of which is to say, let’s talk about intent of the artist vs. message of the work.
Since The Faceless started falling apart and Meshuggah had a brand-new genre label foisted upon them, Beyond Creation have been my go-to band for technical death metal. The Montréalais quartet don’t sound like every other tech death band, and honestly, given how samey tech death tends to be, that’s enough to get me interested. But Beyond Creation went beyond getting me interested and got me well and properly hooked.