Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch

Release Date: June 22, 2018

The trilogy Nine Inch Nails launched three years ago with Not the Actual Events is finally complete with Bad Witch. And it’s the weirdest, most ambitious entry yet. Whereas the first two trilogy releases sounded like typical NIN, this one goes for a different sound and feel. Trent Reznor goes full on experimental and it’s a weird, but intriguing ride.

The album lures you in with the hard hitting “Shit Mirror,” which has all the rage, and heaviness you’d expect from them. “Ahead of Ourselves” has a similar mood with a hook that explodes with aggression and noise that pummels you and leaves you rattled. These two tracks give off strong Broken vibes with their brutal, loud, and intense nature. But the rest of the album is where things get interesting.

Many of the tracks are instrumental featuring little to no vocals. It’s very reminiscent of what Reznor did on Ghosts I-IV, but here he pushes it further. We already got a taste of this new direction with “God Break Down the Door.” While the rapid fire electronic music and hard hitting percussion is undeniably NIN, it’s the fusion of Jazz and Reznor’s odd, melodic singing that makes it so different. As many others have pointed out, it sounds like David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, was a huge influence on the track. Something about the chaotic music and Reznor’s calm voice is unsettling. It’s an eerie song you’re unsure of the first time you hear it, but it eventually grows on you.

“Play the Goddamned Part” features high energy acid house rhythms broken up by spastic saxophone solos, played by Reznor himself. Odd muted noises that start to sound like screams are interspersed throughout creating this anguished mood. The way it builds up tension and the various experimental sounds make it a weird, disorienting entry. “I’m Not From this World” slowly builds up with instruments screeching and quiet atmospheric noises echoing that start to sound like a strange creature screaming in the distance.  Things come to a head with an ear piercing alarm like it’s signaling an incoming disaster. It feels like it could be part of a horror movie soundtrack – it makes you that uneasy.

The closing track “Over and Out” instantly pulls you in with its catchy groove. Midway through things get quiet as Reznor sings “Time is running out/I don’t know what I’m waiting for.” The groove picks up again and everything eventually fades out leaving only white noise droning in your ears. It’s hypnotic and a bit haunting. It’s like he’s constantly reminding us of our own mortality or perhaps, he’s addressing his own. Yet, it’s a track you easily get lost in trying to unfold the various layers he’s laid out for us.

Bad Witch is a weird, atmospheric experience that may not click with you after the first listen, but it’s worth revisiting to really appreciate it. While there are some tracks that are classic NIN, most of it goes beyond what we think they should sound like. Reznor packs some much in 30 minutes you won’t hear everything at first and you’ll keep you coming back to the LP. The complete trilogy seems to represent the many sides of NIN: aggressive and intense (Not The Actual Events), haunting and introspective (Add Violence), and a mix of the past and what’s yet to come (Bad Witch). Some of it is hypnotic, other times it sounds like something out of a nightmare. It’s like we’re hearing the future of NIN and it’s far more exciting than Reznor revisiting the past.

Bad Witch tracklisting:

Shit Mirror
Ahead of Ourselves
Play the Goddamned Part
God Break Down the Door
I’m Not From this World
Over and Out

Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, The Crypt 1331, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Reality-Comics. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Marilyn Manson, and Green Day.

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