Trent Reznor absolutely succeded with this EP; he wanted to make something difficult, and, well, here it is. But it rules, and if you like industrial music, it’s immediately clear that it rules.
After the paranoia-pop of 2013’s Hesitation Marks met mixed response (I liked it a lot, for the record), Nine Inch Nails’s creative mastermind started working on a trilogy of EPs with frequent collaborator and now full band member Atticus Ross. The first, Not The Actual Events, came out at the very end of 2016; Add Violence, the second, came out this summer.
I might be projecting, but I can’t help but feel like these EPs, at least the two that we’ve seen and heard, are fraught reflections on politics and current events, moreso than any NIN album since 2007’s Year Zero; the recurring lyrics that tie these two EPs together are “everyone seems to be asleep” (on “Dear World,” and “The Lovers”, respectively) and “we didn’t even notice (on “Dear World,” and “Less Than”), and both EPs are incredibly sinister, desperate, “unfriendly” pieces of work (not to mention the physical component to Add Violence, which is a manual for the reality simulator [the ultimate system of control] depicted on the cover art of the EP).
Add Violence also begins with something that strikes me as pretty unusual for Trent Reznor; “Less Than”, a synthwave banger, conforms pretty solidly to a style that was hitting its so-hot-right-now popularity peak at the exact time the EP came out, making it clear that Reznor has been paying close attention to the music scene around him. Seemingly eager to undercut any assumptions we might make about Add Violence based on its first track, though, “Less Than” ends with a hard cut into the slinking, creepy “The Lovers”. It’s almost as if Reznor has shaken the danceable song out of his system and is getting down to business. “This Isn’t The Place” is just as haunting and gloomy as “Not Anymore” is jagged and acerbic.
And then we come to “The Background World”, one of the finest tracks in Nine Inch Nails’s catalogue, where Reznor’s existential seething meets Ross’s cinematic subtlety, and the two interweave to an absolutely destructive climax drawn out over seven minutes. “The Background World” has a lot going on in it, and I’m sure I could write at length about this one track. Maybe I’ll publish something about the message I got from it another time.