Music Reviews
Bad Witch

Nine Inch Nails Bad Witch

(The Null Corporation) Rating - 7/10

Over the last two years, Trent Reznor has been searching for answers through a trilogy of Nine Inch Nails releases. The questions? What is our place in the world? What is the core truth behind everything?

On Not the Actual Events, the music raged against a world out-of-balance. Add Violence dug a little deeper, wondering if that sense of wrongness came from a force we couldn’t comprehend. Bad Witch theorizes that there’s no outside cause for humanity’s problems. It comes down to our own failings. That viewpoint leads to the bleakest record by Nine Inch Nails in 20 years. But it’s also the most experimental they’ve released yet.

“Obsolete, insignificant/Antiquated, irrelevant/Celebration of ignorance/Why try change when you know you can’t?,” Reznor screams in the middle of Ahead of Ourselves. In between guitar blasts, the song features his distorted voice over an industrial clang. Shit Mirror goes further. It’s a pure, driving salvo of aggression and fury, like flooring the accelerator, because it’s the only thing you can control. 

While David Bowie is never far from Reznor’s work, the most exploratory songs on Bad Witch are heavily influenced by the legend’s catalog. The saxophone-heavy God Break Down the Door takes the jazz-infused sounds of Blackstar and filters them into a percussive, trip-hop atmosphere. It’s a glance into an alternate universe where Nine Inch Nails and Bowie did a full-length collaboration in the 90s. Lyrically, the song is the thematic center of the record. “You won't find the answers here/Not the ones you came looking for,” Reznor croons (yes, croons!), denying himself and us an easy way out. The instrumental Play the Goddamned Part covers similar territory, placing its saxophone in a musical warzone. But it plays like a throwaway interlude rather than an essential track.

The other instrumental, I’m Not from This World, has the opposite effect. Its breathy, scratchy atmospherics create one of the most disturbing settings of Reznor’s career. If he ever wrote a score to play alongside the most horrifying of David Lynch’s images, this song would fit right in. In ways, it echoes the sinister tones of The Fragile, but with more restraint.

To close, Over and Out takes cues from Nine Inch Nails’ other apocalyptic LP, Year Zero. The song is pushed forward by digital beats, a laid-back bass grooves and icy, dissonant piano keys. A cacophonous chord rings out louder and louder, overwhelming all else. Then it quiets and slow down, like a tsunami washing over everything, only to leave a wiped-clean surface as it pulls back to the sea.

With Bad Witch, Nine Inch Nails has crafted a purposefully-unsatisfying conclusion to the journey that began two years ago. For Reznor, if there’s a truth to be found in our place in the world, it’s darker and more complicated than we would like. While he denies us simple solutions, he uses this album to open sounds and atmospheres stranger and more daring than he’s used before. Rather than looking for answers, maybe the questions are what truly matter.