How to destroy angels_ Welcome oblivion(Columbia Records) Buy it from Insound
The singularity is a theory emergence of superintelligence through technology, whether it is through artificial intelligence, human enhancements or a mix of the two. While such a moment and its after-effects cannot be predicted with any sense of accuracy, there are some who think that the singularity will lead to the destruction of humanity, whether through an A.I. takeover or through the loss of individualism. The way humankind removes itself is not with a bang, but with a whimper.
This theme is central to Welcome oblivion, a slow burn to the apocalypse by How to Destroy Angels. Not a bang, but a whimper can also describe the sound of Trent Reznor’s project with Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan. Whereas Nine Inch Nails often dealt with abrasive, pounding melodies and rhythms, HTDA is often a chillier, more texture-focused experience with riffs that worm their way into your brain. This approach fits better for the slow-encroaching theme of the album, but the songs aren’t always there to back it up.
The theme does work most of the time though. The wake-up sounds exactly like it the title suggests. Electronic beeps float over a trip-hop beat until they’re interrupted by a distorted keyboard pounding, like a storm growing stronger above your home. Maandig’s vocal are cut-up and masked, almost like she’s become part of the machine already, until she shouts 'Wait a minute,' seemingly jolted out of her reverie. And the sky began to scream fulfills the same purpose, mixing it up musically with a shuffling electronic raindrop background and putting Maandig’s vocals closer to the front of the mix. Unfortunately, the song doesn’t really go anywhere.
Those who listened to the band’s An Omen EP should find Keep It Together to be familiar ground, given that it was the lead single of that release. In fact, four songs from that six-track record are found on this album as well. Neither Keep It Together nor The loop closes really fit with the rest of the LP, mainly because of their already-used status.
However, Ice Age works much better, moving from being the strongest song on the EP to the focal point of the album’s theme. It follows the harsh title track that feature Maandig screaming lines like 'All the flashing lights take over/All the pretty little dots make trails' over a roughly warped guitar and speaker-shaking beats, a warning about the incoming destruction. Ice Age pulls all that aggressiveness back though, featuring a moment of isolation with its frozen guitar plucks, gradually overwhelmed by a wall of noise.
The first single, How long?, is also the turning point of the album, where the humanity really starts to fade into the singularity. Appropriately enough, it’s the most hopeful song on the album, with a wave of voices singing 'How long can we keep holding on?' The synths on the verses sound so much like mournful strings that it’d be hard to tell apart from the real thing. It feels like one of the last pockets of humankind singing together to try and stave off oblivion, a beautifully done song that combines heavy electronic rhythm with angelic vocal melodies.
The rest of the album is mostly dedicated to electronic rhythms and textures, with the vocals falling more and more into the background as you get towards the end. Song structures become far looser and melodies are not as apparent. Unfortunately, this is also where the album starts to drag. There’s no need for the mumbles and metal-scrapping sounds of We fade away to go on for six minutes. The same is true of the percussion-heavy, loud-soft seesaw dynamic of Recursive self-improvement or the plodding Hallowed ground.
Even though it falls apart towards the end and could stand to cut a few songs, Welcome oblivion is a powerful record, both musically and thematically. It is a very strong full-length debut for a band that’s only been playing together for three years. The varied percussion, beautiful vocal performances and varying textures song-to-song will entice any fan of Reznor’s previous work and may garner listens from those looking for not a bang, but a slow burn to the apocalypse.3 April, 2013 - 04:46 — Joe Marvilli