How to Destroy Angels
Plenty of artists have constructed bands around themselves in order to fade into the background. Eric Clapton did it with Derek and the Dominos, David Bowie did it with Tin Machine and Jack White does it with whatever new iteration of players he has on the go. Trent Reznor's temporary dissolution of Nine Inch Nails and formation of How to Destroy Angels with regular musical partner Atticus Ross, his wife Mariqueen Maandig and Rob Sheridan is his chance to operate within the bounds of a collaborative group, something he's spent his entire career avoiding. But after a quarter-century of living with his music, Reznor's production style — always a potent blend of the digital and analog worlds — is so recognizable that it's impossible to not hear his sonic fingerprints all over the band's debut full-length. Far more restrained than anything NIN have written, save maybe his Ghosts project, the record sounds more like the soundtrack work Reznor and Ross have done for director David Fincher. The ace in the hole should be Maandig, so foreign is a female voice in the macho world of NIN's industrial muscle. But her vocals are too often drowned out, often intentionally, by the music. The beautifully restrained "Ice Age," which along with three other of the album's tracks appeared on last year's An Omen EP, is the standout on a sonically adventurous record that manages to avoid self-indulgence. But the long, often vocal-less tracks lack the commitment to hooks and song structure that made Nine Inch Nails superstars without compromising their primal fury. Coming from a guy whose biggest radio hit is literally about fornicating like animals, that's a bit of a letdown.
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