After a lengthy delay and considerable controversy among the fanbase notably, an “Album vs. EP” debate somewhat overshadowing its release Nine Inch Nails reaches the endpoint of their trilogy, which began with 2016’s Not The Actual Events and continuing in 2017 with Add Violence. Bad Witch leans stylistically more toward the former’s dissonance than the latter’s gloom shtick.
In May 2018, it was announced that Bad Witch containing six tracks clocking in at just under 30 minutes would be released as an EP; but soon thereafter, Trent Reznor decreed that the effort would indeed be released as a full-length album, causing an outcry in the NIN community. It can be argued that many classic LP’s from back in the 60’s and 70’s were similar in length but that was chiefly due to the capacity limitations of vinyl.
One of the worst kept secrets within the industry is, Streaming services essentially handicap EP’s by not giving them the ranking and exposure of full-length releases. Consequently, the decision to have Bad Witch categorized as an LP is sensible from a marketing standpoint.
Having spent most of the prior decade focusing on Academy Award-winning film scores like 2010’s The Social Network and his How To Destroy Angels project, Reznor rebooted NIN with terse aplomb, training his voice once again on recurring themes of anger and pain.
The opening salvo, “Shit Mirror” is an aggro tour de force of dystopian lyricism (“not quite as clever as we think we are..”) coupled with a NIN’s gnashing trademark sonic tapestries. The lead single “God Break Down The Door”, proffered ahead of the Bad Witch release date and arguably the most radio-friendly song on the album foreshadowed some of the more organic textures to be found throughout, namely, saxophone of all things. This comes into play during “Play The Goddamned Part”, the first of two instrumentals on the release and a tune replete with some pretty far out percussion effects.
“Ahead Of Ourselves” is a blistering marriage of whimpering harmonies and double-time Drum ‘n Bass. The second instrumental, “I’m Not Of This World”, sounds more akin to Reznor’s film score work and is a peculiar fit in context of the rest of the album. Running at close to seven minutes long, the song wanes after about the five-minute mark. The closing composition, “Over And Out”, clocks in at about eight minutes, culminating with a return of Reznor’s favorite new instrument, yep, you guessed it, more saxophone. David Bowie Blackstar-flavored vocal stylings round out the cut.
While Pretty Hate Machine remains the measuring stick, 1989 is eons ago; but there’s no Flood or Al Jourgensen input here to buoy the production, resulting in vocals that are quite often buried behind a wall of noise. And some of the dramatic jumps in volume seem more like an attempt at assaulting the listener’s ear canal than any orchestral dynamics. However, Reznor isn’t exactly resting on the Industrial/Goth laurels that became the forbearer of the genre some risks are taken here. Additionally, there’s some assorted gimmickry attached to Bad Witch: hidden pictures are allegedly contained in the wave forms (something that needs to be run through a spectrogram in order to be viewed) and an Easter Egg hunt that will send the listener searching for a hidden lyrics tab on various streaming platforms. Happy Hunting.